Love #15 & Catalyst: Mercury in Retrograde
Chas met Dawn in Adelaide. She was a university student, in her final year at medical school. He had taken her flying to the Gulf and Kangaroo Island. He could see she adored him, but she told him that she was not ready for a serious relationship. She said: “It doesn’t matter that you are older than me.”
Chas didn’t believe her. Back at Woomera, he confided his problems in Labrinth. The night before temporal testing was due to commence, Chas and Labrinth drank a couple of bottles of South Australian beer. In an advanced state of intoxication, they came up with a fail-proof plan. It was Labrinth’s idea. Labrinth would dress up as a fortune teller and give Dawn a future that was all about Chas.
The plan looked pretty miserable in the bright morning light of the temporal trial. Then things took a turn for the worse; the temporal trial was going smoothly until a boy had blundered into it. A day after the trial, Chas flew to Adelaide to undertake a series of medical tests. Seven hours after the accident, he had experienced a sudden loss of vision and fell to the ground. Chas described it as being in a small earthquake. Others reported that he had memory problems.
Agent Labrinth cadged a ride in the bi-plane, to keep an eye on him. On the way, she told him that she had improved the plan. It still involved taking Dawn to the fair. She shouted, over the roar of the engine and the wind, “Look for an old lady telling fortunes.”
When they arrived at Adelaide, Chas went for his tests and then Labrinth disappeared. Chas went to pick Dawn up.
Dawn was keen on the idea of a trip to the fair. She was sick of preparing for mid-year exams and grabbed the opportunity to get out into the evening air. She said she was even keen to try some of the fast rides, but when tested, the enthusiasm only extended as far as the Cha-Cha.
Darkness fell early, the evening star appearing in the west.
Cha asked, “Have you ever had your fortune told?”
Dawn teased, “Not that nonsense. Please don’t tell me you believe in fortune tellers.”
Chas thought a bit, “I don’t believe in fate. I think we can change the future. Fortune tellers are just for fun, like the Cha-Cha.”
“I heard on the radio that Mercury is going backward at the moment. Mercury in retrograde! Don’t travel and don’t make plans. What a silly superstition.”
“I dare you to have your fortune told.”
“What? You would get yours done as well?”
“Sounds romantic and you know I don’t do that sort of thing,” she watched his face fall. “Ok. Maybe this once But you are paying.”
They wandered back to the fair, the pumped sound of Skyhooks and Sherbet competing for ear space. After an encounter with hotdogs and dodge-em-cars, they heard a horse snickering and came across a tent next to a wagon.
Nearby, in the dark, a man and woman were arguing in low tones. He was holding a brace of rabbits. The man said, “The bitcherin’ mush has ...”
The woman saw Dawn and Chas and hushes him. She walks into the light and says to them, “Kushti Divvus! Good Day! Welcome. I am Shalaye. You have come for a reading, eh?”
As the man turns and stalks off, she whispered, “Don’t mind Bavole; he draws trouble like a candle draws moths. It is always his way.”
Chas looks at Shalaye. An older woman, skin burnt dark with the sun and the years, a lovely dress, her accent distinctly New Zealand.
She directs them into her tent and then gives a brief apology. They hear running water, and she reappears, wiping her hands on a small towel which she places at the back of the tent.
Shalaye said, “What can I do for you? Both seek your fortunes?”
Dawn jumps in, “My friend has dared me to come and get a reading. I do not believe in this stuff.”
Shalaye laughs, “What a relief, we can sit and enjoy our time together instead of being too serious. Now, who shall I curse with knowledge of the future first? Wait...”
She turns to the back of the tent and calls, “Adria! Where are you?”
“I am coming” a young woman’s voice answers.
“You will not mind if my daughter sits in during the reading? She has a sharp eye.”
Momentary confusion crosses Chas’s face, “I did not know... No, that will be all right.”
“Adria has been sitting watching me for these last two years, as I did when I was young. It is how we gain experience and helps perfect our art. My mother taught me that it is only through experience that you can give advice. You learn by hearing people’s problems”.
They hear running water and Adria appears, like Shalaye before, and they introduce themselves before Shalaye renews her question.
“Do him first,” Dawn pointed to Chas
Quick as a flash, Shalaye threw a small ball at Chas’s face. He caught it with his left hand. She held her hand out for its return, smiling at him and grabbing his hand. “You use your left hand to write?” He nodded.
“Show me your other palm please, your right hand.
We will start here, to see what you could have been.” She puzzles through the lines on his right hand and, after a moment, calls Adria to second-guess her.
“I see a work-life complicated by war.” Adria smiles, “I see an uncomplicated home life. One love, one marriage and no distractions.”
“Adria, these are times of war. Every man who passes through this tent has a work-life complicated by war. This man and woman are skeptical of our art. Tell them something we cannot know, eh?”
Adria becomes severe and still. She says, “You will fly. You will test. You will guide. And you will have a son.”
“You fly but you serve in the Navy” Shalaye was frowning. “I do not understand that. Of course, the first hand is simply a starting point. Now, your left hand please, and we will see where your real fortune lies.”
Chas smiled at her, wondering if he could risk a wink, but instead he shot a quick grin to Dawn. Labrinth had outdone herself this time. Even her hands were old, battle-scarred. He gave her his left hand, palm up.
She was silent for a moment before she gasped,
“Mandi can kek ker lis!”
She thrust his hand away, her upset building, rubbing her hand where they had touched, “You have broken the rules of the world. You have traveled forbidden paths. I can’t do it; I cannot read your fortune. You, we, do not exist.”
“Come on. Just read my fortune, ok?” Chas was surprised; this was not in the script.
“Get out! Get out!” Shalaye was screaming in great distress. She started to gasp for air. Chas stood, his chair falling behind him.
Dawn turned to him and said urgently, “Wait outside Chas. I will sort this out.”
Chas backed out of the tent, tripping over the chair, not stopping until he was some distance from the tent, feeling confused.
This was not how this was supposed to go. A frown crossed Chas's face, and he decided that Labrinth would have some fairly serious explaining to do. He stood, listening to the sounds of the upset in the tent, which rose to a crescendo and then slowly started to fall.
He was not alone. A little distant, in the flickering light of a campfire, Bavole was laughing at him quietly. He says, “You think that this is hokkeny baro, hanky-panky, a fraud? Think again. This is not the time for extended plans.”
Chas watched Bavole turn the rabbits on the spit with his knife.
Chas asked, “Are you part of all of this?”
Bavole looked up into the sky, “All of this? Of course.”
Chas said, “I mean, Labrinth - Stephanie,...”
“The woman with the gun? Yes, I know her,” he put the knife down carefully. “She told me about your plan to deceive. Cheat. Many ask us to cheat.” A cold wind blew through the clearing. He brushed some ash off the rabbits, “So I taught her a little. I rented her a stall. She paid well, but for nothing. Your mouse plan failed.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your friend, the woman with the gun, is still waiting for you. But she is on the other side of the fair.”
He then nodded at the tent, which had been quiet for a little while, “Your girlfriend is finishing. Listen to me. Listen to my advice. I will give it to you for free. Do not let your girlfriend get lost.”
Chas looked at the tent, and then he turned back to Bavole. Bavole and the rabbits were gone.
Dawn looked serious as she left the tent. They paused to have their picture taken on the way out of the fair, her face still cloaked.
“So, what happened?” he asked.
“She just needed some air and to wash you off her hands. She was frightened and upset with you. I think because of your job. I stayed and let her read my palms, nothing in it. She told me you needed someone to protect you, and that I could do that.”
“Maybe you could.”
“I don’t believe in fortune telling.”
She held him tight, and never let him go.
They wandered back into the center of the city from the fair as it had started to drizzle on Don Dunstan’s city of churches. In this city in the middle of deserts, a town further away from the civilized world than any other, it had come alive with music and culture. They took refuge from the crowds and the rain in a wine bar and ordered a pizza. While they waited for the meal, they played with the jukebox, his Rod Stewart “Sailing” to her ABBA “Mamma Mia.” She surprised him after the meal by inviting him back to her apartment when the rain cleared.
Later that evening, she opened her eyes and smiled at him. Sleepily she said, “You should try to rest a little, you have to fly early tomorrow.”
“I want to stay in this moment, right here, forever.” “You are my very best and my very worst decision ever.” She opened her eyes and said slowly, “My parents are going to freak out when I tell them I am not going to marry some cattle thief from beyond the protected areas.”
He laughed, “So why did you change your mind, about the cattle thief?”
She squirmed out of his hold and crouched over him and pretended to growl, “Because I found someone tastier. You are now in my power. Move at your peril.”
“I will not surrender that easily.”
“Do not make me bite you.”
He tickled her, and she collapsed on him laughing.
“Are you laughing at me?”
She raised herself to his head and smiled, “Yes. Everything. Tonight. You were like a little kid. Going to the fair, eating fairy floss and coming on rides with me. We did stupid things together. I can’t believe that you got me to go see a fortune teller.” “I have a confession to make about that.”
“The fortune teller already told me everything,” she paused. “She scared you didn’t she?”
“I do not understand what happened. One moment we were going along fine and the next the Gypsy was yelling at me to get out. You know, I expected she would tell me that I would travel to Europe and meet some German princess...”
She smiled and said to him, “Stop it!”
He continued, “...and we would live happily ever after in a castle on this side of the Berlin Wall selling Czechoslovakian crystal we smuggled.”
She bit his hand.
He pretended to look hurt. While he was checking his arm for teeth marks, and perhaps blood, she sat on him and said, “Pay attention.”
He looked at her. The moon illuminated her face, her bright eyes smiling at him. “No princesses. Just me. Ok?”
“Ok. But no more biting.”
“I am sorry. It is in my genes. I may bite from time to time, but only when you deserve it. Ok?”, she reached for his hand and brought it up to kiss.
“Ok, but no blood ok?”
She slid down next to him. She said, “I wish you could stay.”
She held her palm to his, tightly. She said, “You showed me a lot about yourself tonight. You showed me that you are not some invulnerable fighter pilot. You are ordinary, capable of being frightened by an old woman. You are willing to accept advice and let others handle situations outside your expertise.”
He said, “I do not know all the answers. I usually work as part of a team, working stuff out with others, listening to people. For a moment, all I knew was that I could not help, and you could.”
He had something on his mind, “But, I demand some repayment for the injury you did to me.”
She pressed her palm against his tighter, “You got what was coming to you. But, I will take requests.”
He said, “What did the old woman, Shalaye, actually tell you?”
“I already told you. Shalaye told me you needed someone to protect you, and that I could do that.”
“You do not believe in fortune tellers, though. What did she say?”
She smiled and said, “Alright, but you asked for this.”
She pulled his left palm to near her face and squinted at it. She said, trying her best to copy Shalaye’s accent, “I have described your past, eh? Now we will trace your heart line.”
She traced his heart line with her finger, moving from just below his little finger up to just below the start of the middle finger. She continued, “The line is strong and deep, eh? There are no others. I see his name written here. He is yours, and he needs you because there is darkness all around him. He does not exist, but he is important. He needs someone strong to protect him, and you are that person, eh.”
Then she paused and looked into his eyes, “When was the last time you looked at your palm?”
He said, “Um, every day? Twice on Sunday.”
She twisted his palm to his face and made him look at it. He sat bolt upright, staring at it. Then he smiled and gathered her into his arms and kissed her until he felt tears falling.
He said, “Don’t cry.”
“I am not crying. You are.”
“How did you do that?”
“The heart on your palm?”
“No. Why did you choose me?”
“I like your curls.”
And then she kissed him.
When he called the taxi and went off to pick up Labrinth, she went back to her studies and tried to ignore him until the darkness engulfed them both. And then she found him and dragged him into the future. And the future was darker than either could have imagined.
Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021
Return to Love (Short Story Series) INDEX
This is a story from the online edition of 'Catalyst', first published on G+ a couple of years ago. A new piece of the story will be published to the site every couple of days. Return to the Catalyst INDEX.
Image: Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino - a traditional music ensemble from Salento, Italy.