Who’s Reading Whom?

by


Mrs. Hope isn’t down on River Street—the tourists’ hub—even though a psychic could probably make a good living downtown amidst tipsy tourists looking to experience Savannah through candy shops, souvenir stores, and the open container law. Getting your fortune told, for most, has that fleeting vacation charm, like getting henna tattoos or caricatures drawn of yourself. We’re intrigued by psychics in the same way that we’re intrigued by the guy at the carnival who can guess anyone’s weight, so you can usually find them wherever people flock to spend a little time outside of their routine rationale. But, maybe Mrs. Hope can predict better than I can her prime location.


Instead of downtown, she works out of a house much farther south than tourists venture. It’s past where the art school students linger and closer to where Savannah lifers reside in suburban neighborhoods. The front door of her house faces the racket and rush of Victory Drive. According to the sign out front, “Mrs. Hope is truly gifted and is the most renowned and accurate psychic in the Savannah area. Mrs. Hope advises on love, marriage, business and all problems in life.” I knock on the door and hit the red button on the recorder in my purse.

I had called the day before to schedule my appointment. Mrs. Hope had no secretary or scripted greeting for calls.

“Hello,” a man’s voice said on the other end.

“Yes. I’m trying to reach Mrs. Hope.”

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“Yes. What you need?” But, I realized this was not a man. This was Mrs. Hope. I explained to her that I would like to interview her in addition to getting my palm read.

“You want to ask questions?” she asked.

“Yes. Ask you questions before my reading.”

“That goes with the reading darlin’,” she said. “Your questions go with your reading.”

She had a foreign tongue and I couldn’t determine the accent. She sounded mystical—like her face was veiled and she was clouded by incense. My stereotypical mental image nearly went so far as giving her a crystal ball.

She penciled me in for the next afternoon and quoted me at $20 for the reading. I prepared my interview questions meticulously so I wouldn’t get duped by the spirituality of crystals and tarot cards and leave empty-handed.

Now I’m reciting the questions over and over again in my head and I make sure the red light of my tape recorder is on—armed for battle. My knock gets no answer, so I ring the doorbell and peer through the glass door, past the sheer curtains. All of the lights are off inside and the formal living room looks like a place where no one lives. There are a few variations of the fat Buddha statue on the fancy coffee table and upholstered, chairs are positioned in uncomfortable corners.

A man meets my gaze, pulling the curtain to the side and looking right back at me. He mouths and motions for me to go to the back door—I oblige. On the back door, there are three signs:

“Call to Schedule Appointment.” Check.

“Please Ring Bell.” O.K.

“No Video or Recording Devices.” The red eye in my purse is peering out. Glaring. If I’m going into this as a believer, I turn it off, because she’ll know, right? And it will sacrifice my full immersion into the experience. But if I’m going into this as a cynic, then I ignore the sign. None of it’s real, anyway. This is all just for a story. But I go in as best I can, as a respectful journalist. I turn off the red eye, and ring the doorbell.

The same man, Mrs. Hope’s husband, lets me in.

“Sit right here,” he says, smiling. “She’ll be out in a minute. She’s on the phone.”

This back-door living room has wicker furniture and a TV with faux wood paneling. I hear Mrs. Hope and her husband from behind a door speaking what sounds like Greek, but more fluid. My English-trained ear thinks they’re arguing, but given the language barrier, it could just be a heavy discussion.

Upon her reveal, Mrs. Hope has no veil or bulk of beads. She’s wearing a faux denim muu muu and her faded red hair sits in a stump at her neck. Her glasses are large and thick and I can’t see clearly through them to the other side, but she can.

“You’re pretty,” she says like a grandmother, leading me into to a modest closet-turned-multi-spirited shrine. There is a card table snug inside and a chair on either side of it. This closet with me, Mrs. Hope, crucifixes, Buddhas and crystals inside is at maximum capacity.

She says, “Tell me your dream.” But I had only prepared questions, not answers.

I stumble for a dream, mentally scrolling through my bucket list of life goals from what job I want to places I want to live. But, I tell her, “Just to be happy, I think.”

For what seems like five minutes, she only gives me silence and nods as she looks at my palm, face up in the middle of the table. She doesn’t hover over it, touch it or trace the lines. Just looks at it, from her chair and starts listing off things about me.

“You have a temper,” she says.

False.

One beat passes and she says, “But you don’t stay mad for long. A couple minutes and you’re fine.”

True. O.K, and true to the first one.

“You have a lot of white friends. Not a lot of black friends.”

True, but who’s counting?

“You tell a lot of people things to their faces not behind their back.”

True. To a fault.

“You don’t let nobody tell you what to do. You’re your own boss.”

True. Some people may say that’s a fault too.

“You have a lot of friends, but some are jealous of you.”

False. I think.

“You smile a lot, but you aren’t always happy when you smile,” she says.

True, but who is always happy when they smile?

“You may not know this, but everything gets bad at once and it’s hard for you to start over again.”

True.

She says she’ll pray for me, and then it’s over. I’m attempting to root every word into my memory while working my interview questions in during our final transaction—payment. She doesn’t seem to understand that this is my interview. So I try to ease into the big questions as I hand her my cash.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“I been here a long time,” she asserts.

“Yes, but where did you move here from?”

“Rome. I’m from Rome.”

She’s looking for my $5 change (which, I don’t realize until later, means she charged me $5 more than the quote). She pulls out an immense brown book with ragged edges and she flips open the front cover to bills and bills of cash. This Bible is her cash register.

“Why did you decide to follow this line of work?”

“I have a gift,” she says with a smile as she rummages through $1 bills.

She leads me out of the closet and to the back door, and I’m thinking over what I just paid for. It’s a strange idea, giving someone money to tell you something about yourself that you already know, or maybe you know, but haven’t realized, or maybe you’ve realized but haven’t accepted. Or maybe you don’t believe in any of it anyway. It’s the temporary nature of fortune telling that gives it a kitschy presence. There’s no threat of hell if you don’t believe or a “one free sin” card in the afterlife if you do. Because whether you go in as a believer or a cynic, Mrs. Hope will pray for you and as the sign says outside, you can always call her “for your next event or private party.”
 
Republished with permission from katelancunningham.com

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