On the outskirts of town, in a building that once contained small offices: an accountant, an herbalist, a criminal lawyer, there lived a fortune teller. She specialized in wine readings; something I had never heard of before, Oinomancy. She read the sediments in your glass or the pattern spilled on a white napkin or sometimes she would simply study the way a person held and drank their wine. I know this because I had a reading with her. I guess you could say that I was searching for something. My life had become erratic. I was on a trajectory I didn’t understand and wanted answers that would help me figure out how to fix things before it was too late.
I was seated at the round glass table in the room she used as a kitchen with its grubby linoleum floor and beaded curtain hanging in the doorway. From what I could tell she was middle-aged, dressed in a long skirt, brown boots and a flowing paisley top. Her long hair was a perfect mass of auburn streaked curls and she wore black eyeliner in a way that suggested regret, and an evil eye necklace. She moved like someone trying to control the impulse to do something crazy. The room was lit with candles: a green shaded lamp on the table, a notebook, small glass and bottle of Mavroudi red wine; a vintage she ordered specially from Greece.
I discovered that lots of people who liked the idea of knowing the future went to her for readings. People who liked the idea of a glass of wine did too. Some said, ‘she is amazing’ and ‘she can accurately predict a birth or illness or even a divorce’. Others thought she was an angel brought to earth to help mankind. And then there was a percentage who said, ‘she’s a pathetic phony who will steal your money’.
She sat across from me and I drank from the glass of wine she had poured. She watched me the entire time, studying me; the way I held my glass, how fast I drank it, which I didn’t. I had to drive home afterwards. She had a frenzied way of speaking, like the words were trying to overpower her mouth and some kind of foreign accent that could have been British, but I wasn’t sure.
“Right, right, let me tune in…yes, I see…you are in the eye of a hurricane – this is going to be a hugely intense period in your life.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. I felt I had been through enough as it was.
“But,” she continued, holding my glass up to the light of the lamp, “it also would appear… no-no, this is true…you hold universal knowledge that you do not wish to share”.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Her gaze was intrusive yet I could see a glimmer of what looked like awe.
“Why?” She demanded. “Why will you not share this knowledge?”
I told her I didn’t think I had the knowledge she was talking about. She seemed annoyed and said I needed to schedule another reading, explaining that her philosophy was ‘the more readings you have, the more evolved you become. And you are on an enviable path to evolution’.
I asked her, “how does this work exactly? I don’t understand”.
“With each reading I go deeper into your Levels and clear what blocks you from attaining higher consciousness,” she said, her dark green eyes dazzling aggressively in the candlelight.
I thought that sounded completely made up and it seemed not out of the realm of possibility that she could start arguing with me any second. So, I left.
In a white house in another part of town, there lived a man who set up as competition to her. He also claimed to possess this gift and used Lambrusco for his readings. I made an appointment. I had to see for myself and wanted to compare. He was known as the ‘Lady Killer’. Not because he actually killed any ladies. At least I don’t think he was a murderer, but his eyes were a shade of rheumy blue that made him look untrustworthy and cold. I heard someone say he had a Dionysus Complex.
Readings were conducted in his kitchen as well. It was a depressing room that reeked of bleach and burnt coffee. There were dated and worn appliances; the fridge looked close to vintage and the floor was tiled in pale marbled pink. Drab net curtains hung statically on the big window looking out onto the backyard and the entire picture made me think his mother either lived or had lived there. It didn’t seem like a man’s house.
He dressed for the occasion in a pure white toga and flip flops. His thick, dyed black hair sat regally on his head, his eyes sparkled with imperialism as he spoke. He looked like someone who might enjoy throwing gladiators to wild animals in his spare time. But surprisingly, his reading was positive and enthusiastic.
He offered me a second glass of wine saying, “I want you to achieve a state of enthusiastic elation because if you can do that, your soul will be set free to experience enlightenment”.
I declined saying, “I really just want a reading”.
“I am a divine messenger between the living and the dead. I can give you so much more than a reading.”
I think that’s where the Dionysus thing must have come in; next he would probably ask me for a blood-offering (which got me wondering about his propensity to murder after all) and besides, I thought it was a weird way to get someone to drink more and I didn’t fall for it. The majority of people fell for it though. But those, like me, who did not were referred to as ‘heretics and non-believers destined to roam this earthly plane of existence apeish, groping for awareness’.
Anyway, I didn’t get any ‘enlightenment’ out of his reading and I hated the toga and the garish flowered pattern of the dish towels and despite his urging me to come back, I left without making another appointment.
My life went on with its bumps and knocks and all the time I wondered about the fortune tellers. I was pretty sure they were phonies and being an inquisitive type of person, I did some investigating. I found out that it had gotten to the point where, desperate for business and in a constant state of comparison, they were trying to one-up each other. The readings were now much longer, more wine was poured, the stories and predictions became more elaborate often laced with rich and vivid detail about ‘becoming a superior being’ and ‘gaining the ability to glimpse heaven’.
I decided to go back to her one more time and it was pretty much like the first reading, except she kept repeating herself about absolutely nothing. I left with a slight headache. I figured I might as well have another one with him, for comparison’s sake.
“You are special. I can see into your soul. I believe you have, The Gift”, he said.
“The Gift?” I asked. “What is that?”
“Here,” he said filling my glass with wine. “Drink this and I will tell all.”
Ninety minutes later he had told me nothing other than, “I can teach you to do what I do for a reduced cost because I think you have talent. You are very wise”, and then he said if I slept with him it would accelerate my ‘learning’. He leaned over and tried to kiss me. I smacked him across the face and left.
Months passed with me still looking for answers. The next time I saw the fortune tellers was in the Autumn, at a health and psychic fair. I don’t know why I went, curious most likely and a friend wanted to go too. It seemed like it would be an interesting afternoon out.
The place was packed and there were all kinds of people exhibiting. As we passed the Meditation booth I heard one man say to another, “you know, I’ve been meditating for fifteen years and all it ever does is make me nervous”.
People with expectant faces were lined up at the Tarot booth, the Kirlian Photography booth, the Green Smoothie booth and the one selling fat greasy funnel cakes (which seemed out of place). It wasn’t until we were almost at the end of the event hall that we saw them. Amazingly, their booths were across from each other.
His was draped in white; a numinous grotto with two plastic statues standing as sentinels at the entrance and a mirror ball suspended from the highest point in the middle. Inside I could see a table covered with a white cloth, an open wine bottle and empty glass. Cases of wine were stacked in one corner. In the other, he sat slumped in a chair, a man without an Empire in his rumpled toga and hair crowned with a wilting laurel wreath.
Hers was dark and brooding; an Erebus cave of secrets and bad prophecy. Bottles of wine were shoved towards the back, a few were scattered across the floor, there were upturned glasses and abandoned corks. She paced back and forth in her long blue sleeveless dress, a glass in her hand. Her red lipstick was smudged and her big perfect hair looked as if she had slept on it wrong.
They must have been expecting business to be brisk. Except there was no one at either booth. I thought I saw a flash of hopeful recognition in their eyes as we passed but I couldn’t be sure. They both looked very drunk.
‘Comparison’ first published in ‘At Love’s Altar’, Labello Press 2020
Revised version (c) 2022 Deborah McMenamy
All Rights Reserved