Halloween. Kids strolling from house to house, their plastic pumpkins half-filled with sugary treats. But that was in the happy parts of town. Not where I now stood. Here it was dark and lonely. Somehow the street lights seemed a little dimmer. The air was damp and chilly. I looked up and down the empty street before reading the sign once more, and even then I paused before entering. The sign was wooden and hand carved, perhaps once colorful, but now weatherworn and dull. It read: 'Madam Anastasia's Divinations and Magic'.
"What the hell," I thought to myself, and then stepped through the doorway.
The door led into what was once a large parlor that might have once been filled with children and laughter, families growing in their day to day adventures with the joy of life. Now however it was musty and dingy. Dark curtains hung from the ceiling to the floor on all walls. In the center of the room was a round table covered with a faded old cloth. The table was embellished with a deck of Tarot cards, and there were 3 chairs around the table with dark red velvet cushions, dusty and thread-worn.
From behind me a voice with a strong Romanian accent spoke, "Do you seek wisdom and knowledge Anglo?"
Startled, I turned. Standing before me was the old dark-haired woman whom I had met but once before. Her eyes were piercing, one dark black, the other blinded by a cataract. She was dressed in an emerald colored gown covered in rhinestones. On her hands were at least a dozen rings. Her neck was adorned with a silver necklace and with the pendant of a crescent moon. Ruby earrings hung from her lobes, and a turban with a star in the center was wrapped about her head. Our paths had crossed months ago...
... She had been on her way home, pulling a small hand cart with a couple bags of groceries in it. She was dressed then as she was now. I was at that time across the street from her when two teenage punks came upon her. They were demanding her money, and if not her money then the jewels on her neck. It was obviously costume jewelry, for if even one of the jewels had been real, she would have no need to cart her own groceries.
She fended them off fairly well on her own until one got behind her and held her by her arms. The other attempted to rip the necklace from around her neck. That was when I intervened.
I'm not any type of hero, I wasn't then and I'm not now. But I will react when driven by desperation. One old woman alone, against two thugs, simply triggered a rage in me.
I ran across the street and without hesitation body slammed the 'would be' thief against the wall, his face striking the cement, brutally busting his nose. Then grabbing the man holding the old woman, I slammed him into a nearby tree. I heard his teeth crack as his mouth hit the bark. Mr. Nosebleed had by now picked himself up, and seeing his bleeding friend, took off down the street away from us. There is no loyalty between bullies. Toothless, seeing that he was alone followed as quickly as he could. The old woman was sobbing.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," I said with concern in my voice. "I don't think they will be bothering you again for a long time, if ever."
She looked up with tears in her eyes and said, "Thank you sir, thank you so much."
"Do you live far from here?" I asked.
"Just a couple blocks down the street," she said while gathering her cart and straightening her clothes.
"I'll walk with you, if you like," I offered, "By the way, my name is Simon, Simon Welch."
"That would be nice Simon, thank you," she replied.
As we walked she told me that she was a medium. I was confused at first, thinking that she wasn't that large, that she was very petite for an old woman, but I quickly learned that she was a medium in the fact that she told fortunes. She told me that she read palms, Tarot cards, foretold people's futures. She told me that she was born of Romanian immigrants, but that both of her parents had passed on. Her mother had been a gypsy, and she inherited her gift and learned her trade from her.
"And I bet you have a crystal ball too," I said jesting.
"Of course, what modern day fortune-teller wouldn't have one," she giggled, finally able to smile.
We walked and I pulled her cart along as we spoke. I talked of the weather and the crime in the city, and of all sorts of things, everything but what she was all about. Eventually we came to her home and place of business.
"Thank you for everything Simon," she said, "I am forever in you debt."
"Aww, it was nothing," I said in my most humble voice.
"No it was very much something," she said, "But now I have to prepare, I have several appointments coming up within the next hour. Come visit me sometime, before the noon hour when we will have time to talk."
With that she picked up her cart with the three small bags of groceries and went in. I waved goodbye to her through the window and walked back to my car. That was nearly a year ago...
... The gypsy repeated her question, "Do you seek wisdom and knowledge Anglo, or perhaps your fortune?"
"Wisdom and knowledge," I answered back while turning towards her, "No, I don't think so Madam Anastasia."
The old woman stared at me for a moment, and then a smile crossed her face.
"Oh Simon, it's you," she said, "My rescuer. What brings you out on a night like this? It's been such a long time, I didn't think I would ever see you again."
I was surprised that she remembered my name after all these months.
"I'm sorry I didn't come back and check up on you," I said, "But right after that night things went a little crazy for me. My wife died, she was shot."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, "It must have been terrible for you."
"No, not actually, but yes in some ways, I mean ... oh I don't know what I mean."
Then I told her all about Cindy as I sat down at the table. She joined me and listened intently as I told her my story.
"Cindy," I began, "Was someone whom I fell in love with. I don't know why actually, I mean she and I had totally different ideas on everything in life. We had met at a Super Bowl party. Somehow after the party I took her home and ended up spending the night with her."
I paused for a second and then Madam Anastasia encouraged me to continue, "Please, go on ... don't be embarrassed to tell me anything. I'd like to know about the man who saved my life."
"Oh, I doubt I saved your life," I said, "I think those guys just wanted your money or your jewels."
"No," she said, "They may have started to rob me, but I think they might have done some things much worse to me afterwards ... please go on with your story, tell me about Cindy."
"Well, I feel a little funny about talking about Cindy in this way, but to tell the truth, she was sexually insatiable. I mean our first night together we did it four times, and if I could have continued to perform she would have wanted more. But after hours of continuous intense sex I was exhausted. Just too tired to go another round. Still I promised to give her a call after I got off work the next day. Which I did, and that led to another round, and then another.
"Within a couple of weeks she moved in with me and for the next several months I was with her all the time and we were having sex three times a day. I admit I enjoyed it, even if I was always tired. Now, I'm not bragging," I said, "But the truth is that I'm ... well I'm larger than most guys in that department. And I think Cindy liked that part about me. Unfortunate for me perhaps, but that was what attracted me to her I think."
"It's your story," she said, "And I'm sorry to interrupt, but now I'm curious, just how large are you?"
Turning red I blurted it out, "About 8 inches or so when I'm ... you know, excited."
"Oh," was all she said, and then softly she added, "Oh my."
I continued, "Anyways, after a couple months of incessant sex, we got married. But it wasn't the perfect marriage or even near it. I would come home and the breakfast dishes would still be in the sink. The house was dirty, the bed not made. She did nothing during the day. I was busy, working 10 or more hours a day, and then coming home and servicing her like a rented stud, and still had to be the one to fix a meal or take her out to eat. I was tired, and I told her that.
"Well, she didn't like it one bit, accused me of being cruel, of not loving her, that type of thing. And I would end up apologizing to her, trying to be the peacemaker. The only thing that was great about our marriage was the sex. Cindy was up to anything and everything ... and believe me, we did everything and then some. Her only demand in bed was that I keep going until she climaxed. The few times that I simply just gave out from exhaustion before she came were the worst times for me. She'd call me names and belittle me until finally I would do something to get her off. I may have been married, but I had never felt so alone in my life.
"After about six months of this, I got a call at work one day. It was the police. They found Cindy dead and asked if I could come down to the morgue and identify her. I was in shock. The detectives said that she had been shot by a jealous wife. I didn't understand at first until the detectives told me the whole story.
"It seems that Cindy had been going out during the day when I was at work, not every day, but plenty of them. She would frequent this bar near our home and pick up guys and then spend the afternoon having sex with them. Not just one guy either. The detectives discovered at least a dozen men who she had slept with. Cindy's problem was that one of the guys was married. It seems his wife came home one afternoon to find Cindy riding her husband cowgirl style, and without any warning, the woman shot Cindy dead ... and then shot her husband too."
"Oh my god," Madam Anastasia exclaimed, "How terrible, how tragic for you!"
"Thank you," I said, "But it really wasn't that terrible. You see, I felt relieved. I felt happy for the first time in months, my problem was suddenly gone. It was like a great weight was lifted from me. I know that is wrong, but that is what I felt. I was glad she was dead."
"I can understand that," Madam Anastasia said softly, "It is normal I would think after all that you suffered through. But I can see there is still something bothering you, will you tell me what it is?"
"Well," I said, "It's just that I never had the chance to say goodbye to Cindy, no closure, no nothing. And today is 'All Hallows Eve', the real event, not the candy-grab festival that is going on across town. And I know that Samhain, the original end of summer ritual is also thought to have been a time of communing with the dead. Then I thought about you and Cindy. I thought that maybe I could find some closure if I could formally say goodbye to Cindy. I mean I realize that you can't really commune with the dead, but just the fictitious semblance of saying goodbye might help me to move on with life and overcome my guilt of not saying goodbye."
"I can feel your need for closure," Madam Anastasia said, "And I will help you, it is the least that I can do for you."
Madam Anastasia stood and walked over to the front door and locked it. Then she turned off the light in the parlor and flipped the small sign over in the front door so that it would read 'closed' to anyone who might show up.
"Follow me," she said softly.
I followed Madam Anastasia though a small hallway to a bedroom in the back of the building. The room was unlike the parlor. It was warm and cheery. A small fire burned in a stone fireplace. Colorful lamps at each side of the bed helped brighten the room.
"Please sit," she said motioning me to sit on the side of the bed.
I sat down saying nothing. Madam Anastasia then went to a vanity table with a large mirror on it and sat down on the only chair in the room. She unwound the turban placing it on a table next to the vanity. When she did this, long golden hair fell down to her shoulders. I thought it strange that an old woman would have such beautiful hair.
"What you see out there," she began, "Is all eye fodder for what my mother used to call marks. It is what people expect when our type travel with the carnivals, or when we settle down and set up shop, like my parents did in this town when I was but a child."
"You mean it is all fake," I said, "All an act to make money."
"Yes, I suppose that is true," she said, "Though my gift of mediumship is real enough."
As I watched, she took a cream and wiped her face. The wrinkles and age magically disappeared before my eyes. Then she removed her earrings and necklace and laid them aside. Finally she removed a pair of contact lenses followed by a prosthetic dental device that had made her teeth seem crooked and uneven. Then she turned to me.
In front of my eyes was the most beautiful young woman I had ever laid eyes on. Bright blue eyes, a small turned up pixie nose, smile lines that ended in dimples. Soft pink lips, skin so smooth and blemish free that she could easily have been a model.
"Wow," was what I said, and it was the only thing I could say, so I said it again, "Wow!"
"Let me change out of this gaudy dress and I'll be ready," she smiled back.
With that she walked over to the corner of the room and stood behind an old dressing screen. Within a few moments the jewel encrusted monstrosity was hanging on the screen, and then she walked out, covered only in a thin pure white cotton gown that went from her neck to her ankles.
"That thing weighs like 20 pounds," she said as she walked in front of the fire.