During law school, Harry shared the second floor
flat with a classmate, Peter Saunderson. His
lumbering presence, in the tiny rooms, cramped
Harry. One night, Peter made a pass at him and he
jumped back, banging his head against the wall.
Peter pretended innocence, but Harry caught the
lonely, hungry look in his eye. The thought
disgusted him, but he refused to consider moving
that year. After all, the lovely Katrina lived
downstairs. An uneasy truce was reached but
Harry spent many hours with Madame Odella and
her daughter in their front parlor. From what he
could tell, Peter lived a solitary, rather furtive life
and that suited Harry just fine.
Unless a reading were in progress, Madame
Odella kept the red velvet curtains drawn back to
keep an eye on her tenants. She sat at a card table
with a purple robe draped over her mountainous
body. White wisps of smoke curled up from the
cigarette in her ashtray, turning the room blue with
“Tonight, I will read your cards, Harry. Come. Sit.”
Harry laughed and shifted the immense tabby cat from the chair. “And pray tell, what will Madame Odella see tonight?” The cat’s green eyes glimmered up at him.
Harry watched her place the cards in a mysterious pattern known only to her. The first card she turned up was The Fool. With good humor, he examined the brightly colored card, which depicted an idiotic looking young man, in a green peasant suit, stepping off a cliff. He smiled and thought the game ridiculous.
Madame Odella drew solemnly on her cigarette. “You are a young man, Harry, with many challenges ahead of you.” Her yellowed finger tapped the card. “See how The Fool steps confidently into the unknown?”
“He looks pretty stupid to me,” he laughed. The tabby cat hissed and slunk under a chair in the corner.
“The Fool represents the blithe spirit in you. You must cherish him, Harry. He is the force that teaches you to let life happen in order to find happiness. To learn, you must take risks.”
Solemnly, she made a fist in the air, then relaxed and opened her hand. “You must not cramp life out of fear and misunderstanding. That way you will conquer the emptiness within.” Across the red and white checked cloth, she reached out and grasped his wrist. “If you fail in this, you will drive love from your life.”
Impatient, Harry frowned and shook his head. “Where do you get all this? I mean just from this one card?”
“You must listen carefully, Harry. It comes from the forces within and outside you.” Her eyelids flickered. “But The Fool also represents naiveté. You must guard against this in your nature. You are very trusting, but your chosen profession may change that.”
She turned over the next card and sighed, “It is as I thought.”
“What?” Harry heard the trepidation in his voice.
But, of course, it was only a game. He stared at
the card with the pale moon looming over a dark
and barren landscape. A sense of unease crept
“The Moon card warns of someone in your life who hides behind curtains like a cowardly puppeteer.” She stared deep into his eyes. “He is an enemy, Harry, who will prey upon your naiveté. He is an instrument of your destiny.”
“Who is he?” Harry demanded.
Madame Odella shrugged. “The cards do not say, but he is close by now.” She bowed her head in study. Shadows flickered on her broad face. “He is the trickster who erases all your carefully constructed boundaries to make way for the new. You are paired with him and he will follow you along your life path.”
Glancing about the room, Harry wished he could open a window. The old woman was talking nonsense. Where were the usual, happy predictions like your true love will last a lifetime?
“You will have three women in your life, Harry,” she said. She turned over the Priestess card, which showed a bejeweled, ethereal being with eyes cast upon some distant world. “But your true spirit guide, the third woman, will come only later in life when you need her most. She is beautiful beyond all your imaginings and you will be in her thrall.”
Harry grinned and shoved back his chair. Without warning, the huge tabby cat sprang to his lap from a bookcase.
“Sit,” she commanded. “You must accept this woman just as she is. She is the good in you.”
“Terrific, Madame Odella. I’ll think about all
that.” Harry caught a glimpse of Katrina in the
kitchen. He stood, almost knocking over the
table. Katrina smiled over her mother’s shoulder
and pointed upward to his bedroom above. Harry
hurried up the stairs.
Still gaping up at the Cecil Street house, Harry suddenly realized how odd he, a middle-aged man, must look, lost in reverie on a street corner. So much time had slid by. His thoughts darkened as images of Katrina swept over him.
He remembered her as young and lovely, lying on his narrow bed tucked up under the eaves of his bedroom. As she set down her philosophy text, she tossed back her long blonde hair. Her eyes came alive with challenge and readiness to argue. Laughing when she scored a point, she would beckon him to the bed. Sliding in beside her, in awe, he touched her lips and traced the line of her neck with his fingertip.
He never understood what went so terribly wrong. Suddenly, she was no longer there. He searched for her downstairs, outside and on the bridge. Climbing the stairs, he found her at last in the upstairs hallway with her books and notes clutched to her breast. The winter light from the tiny dormer window cast a sickly glow upon her face. Edging past him, she rushed down the stairs.
Whenever he tried to talk to her, she drifted further away. He would see her walking across the campus or in the library stacks. When he did catch up with her, she was always polite, but cool and distant. Better if they had argued or she had simply left him for another guy. Nothing. No explanation. He shook his head and turned back to the car. Any fragment of the past was always waiting to surface.
What could he have known at twenty-one? Back then, he saw only a well-lit path leading ever upward. No dark twists or cavernous pits in sight. For his eager classmates, admission to law school was like boarding the train for the land of riches and comfort. How like the blithe fool! But when Katrina left without a word, his world darkened and he thought the emptiness of spirit would always be with him.
Turning the ignition of the car on, he wondered if his father plunged into the same void when his sister, Anna, died. He never saw his father shed a tear, but his pain was written in the twisted lines on his graying face.
As he edged the car back to Dundas Street, he smiled in recollection. Madame Odella had predicted the appearance of his spirit guide later in life. She could only be Natasha, who had come into his life last year like a soft breeze when he needed her most.