‘Look, sit yourself down and relax. Okay? You’re making me nervous an that.’
The woman was . . . young, he supposed. Older than he was, though. Pretty in a kind of dishevelled way. Not that he noticed, of course. He was above things like that. Didn’t have time for them. No, he had much more important things on his mind. But she did have striking eyes, a crystal cornflower blue. And her mousy hair curled around them, and down across her shoulders, soft and thick and (he assumed) warm and sweet smelling. She hadn’t yet asked where his parents were either, which was a novelty.
He sat himself down on what looked like a randomly strewn cushion.
A quick tug rearranged his linen trousers, pulling the crease viciously back into them.
The woman returned, something in her hands.
‘Here you go. Shuffle these. Okay?’ she said, passing him the oversized cards. ‘Would you like a dram of something? Whisky? Er, sherry?’
He shook his head, instantly regretted it.
‘O that’s interesting,’ he said, to hide his embarrassment. He picked up the little string necklace, ran the stone through his fingers to feel the rough edges of the carved rune. ‘It’s an agate of some sort.’
The pretty woman shook her head.
‘It’s Virgo,’ she explained. ‘You know, the star sign an that.’
He shook his head automatically.
‘No, no, the stone. It’s agate. I’ve seen it before, lots of times.’
She looked at him blankly.
‘You can keep it if you like it. I sell em at the market come Saturday.’
Right. Shut up and shuffle, he thought, looking at the cards in his hand.
But he slipped the necklace into the breast pocket of his starchy shirt before he did.
The cards ruffled through his hands, and he found himself growing slightly nervous that he would drop them. That the pretty woman would laugh at him; show him how to do it properly. His fingers caught on the edge of the cards. It flipped the wrong way up - the cards were larger than he was used to - and he caught sight of a delicately painted portrait of a devil complete with horns and a third eye. The surprise nearly caused him to scatter all the cards, but he mastered it. The card was replaced face down in the pack.
‘These are Tarot cards, aren’t they,’ he said, almost smugly. Perhaps it was the comfortable feeling of knowing something, just some fact, no matter how small.
The pretty woman nodded, and took the cards from him.
‘Well, Tarock anyways. Tarot’s what the punters call em, but they haven’t got a clue. They’ve been around since forever. The cards, not the punters, like. They don’t understand but. The punters, not the cards. It’s no the cards themselves. They’re just a link, a connection, a symbol okay? It’s all stars and planets and influences they put on you since you were born. Take this one, okay?’
She pulled a card at random from the pack and showed it to him. A man in a long coat was stood behind a table of assorted odds and ends, in his left hand a wand pointing to the sky. The title beneath him identified him as “The Magician”, but there was something about his pale blue eyes and cold blond hair that suggested he might prefer a different name.
‘See they say he’s a magician so it’s all magic and that. But this Magician here is ruled by Mercury, the planet. See, stars and planets and that. Okay?’
He kept his mouth shut, almost sullen. There was nothing guaranteed to take the shine of a snippet of information than someone who already possessed bigger, better, shinier.
He almost caught himself thinking how she wasn’t all that pretty really, but then she started laying out the cards.
‘Right, let’s get started, eh?’ she said, and turned the first card over.
She looked down at the patterned back of the card.
‘Oh,’ she said, surprised.
She turned the card over again.
Again the patterned back looked up at her, the card’s identity safely hidden on the other side.
‘Oh,’ she repeated, looking up at her Questioner.
He looked awkwardly down at the cards that stubbornly refused to reveal his future.
He began to blush as he realised the problem, trying to hide behind his thick dark fringe instead. It was all stars and planet and their influence on your future, she’d told him. The influence they placed on you from birth, and before. What he hadn’t realised, of course, was that none of these stars or planets had any influence on him. Why should they? Their influence didn’t stretch to where he was born, did they?
He mumbled an apology and stood up to leave.
As he did, a stone necklace tapped briefly against a bright golden star, both secreted inside his breast pocket.