Layla’s Other Life
Happy 7 Years!
Here’s the story I’ve been working on this summer:
She thought of herself as a reader, but most people called her The Gypsy. Whatever. As long as she could pay the bills on her townhouse, she’d answer to just about anything. Old woman. Crone. Heretic. Con artist. Witch. She’d heard them all.
The guy banging on her door right now had a new one. Homewrecker. She hastened her pace down the steps from her apartment into the storefront. Once on the main floor, she flicked on a light and glanced at the clock. She didn’t open for another hour. But unless she wanted her neighbors to start phoning with complaints, she’d better see what he wanted.
As she turned the locks, she thought over her more recent readings. She hadn’t predicted a divorce for anyone, hadn’t exposed a cheating spouse. That wasn’t really her way. She tried to be more subtle than the cards, but even the cards had been kind and calm, basking in the energy of a new moon.
Just before she opened the door, she took a tiny can of mace from her skirt pocket and positioned it at eye level.
“Do you want to get me evicted?” she asked the young man in front of her. Not a wino or a homeless. Not a salesman or a clown. He looked ordinary, in the way people did before the new government closed down most of the retail outlets.
Shit. She knew this day would come. Oh, she’d read many of her students through the years, but none had recognized her. She’d lost weight and wrinkled up from years in the sun. A tooth still hadn’t been replaced because of the medical hiatus. And then there was the costume. A bright paisley scarf covered her salt and pepper hair and her full skirt swept the floor like a broom, courtesy of The Church of Amer-Asia.
“I’m Layla,” she said, lowering the mace, not denying who she used to be. “What can I do for you?”
He was already brushing past her skirts to come inside the room. She turned and saw it from his eyes: a small room divided by a tattered silk hanging. Mismatched sofa and chairs on one side, and on the other, her sanctuary. Just two chairs, a tiny table, and on top of the table, a deck of worn cards, still tucked into their taffeta bag for the night.
He pulled back the curtain and sat at one of the chairs. She flipped her OPEN sign toward the townhouse square and walked with far more serenity than she felt to the table. Last night’s vision hung her over like an empty bottle of tequila.
She shook it off and sat. The cards, of course, were a prop. It was the only way she could stay open for business in the current global system. She’d signed an oath that swore she read the pictures on the cards for entertainment purposes only and did not possess or use any intuitive or magical insights.
She coaxed the cards out of their bag. She wouldn’t call what she did intuitive or magical. It was simply a part of her, of who she was and how she worked in the world. Layla had visions. Not for every customer, not even every day. Only certain people at chosen times. But it was enough to give her a reputation for being spot on with her predictions.
She looked at this kid, a man now she supposed, since he wore a suit and had claimed to have a home she had somehow wrecked.
“Well? Tell me what your wife said. Leave nothing out.”
It still amazed her, the things she could ask. The things people would tell her.
“You seem so different,” he said.
Layla didn’t bother telling him that she was different. It had happened in her fifth decade. One day she woke up and saw with clarity that a certain student, not an A student, just an average girl, had been in a car accident. Layla had seen the accident happen, saw the young woman leave her crushed body and hover above the accident scene as paramedics tried to revive her, as traffic was tied up on Hall Road for the morning commute, making many people angry and late. They didn’t know. Someone had died.
Layla had gone to work that morning, not surprised that the girl in her vision was absent. Twenty minutes into first hour the announcement was made, school was dismissed. Layla had never gone back. She hadn’t even finished out the year. Everyone put it down to grief, but Layla knew different. She had a calling.
“She left me.”
It had finally dawned on her customer. She was not going to elaborate on the past, at least not so he could hear. She waited for him to continue.
“She said the gypsy told her I was dead. Now she thinks I’m a zombie. Also the King of Cups,” he added.
“Another gyspy, perhaps. There’s a house on Garfield Street.”
Layla shuffled her cards. This would be a lame reading; she’d had no vision of this man or anyone his age. There had been something late last night, something with the President. He’d been in heated discussion with his cabinet. Someone brought him coffee and Layla knew it was poisoned. He drank it and died. Layla of course had no way to call the President of the country to tell him not to drink his coffee or trust his servants. It was already too late, anyway. The visions happened as events occurred. Only sometimes Layla could offer guidance about the aftermath.
“Today, the President will die,” she said, laying out the cards in the Celtic pattern she’d learned from a book. “He is already dead.” She made a show of studying the cards. And in a way, they did tell a story. There, after all, was the King of Cups. “Your wife will be, the world will be, struck with grief. Our country will be in chaos, perhaps another coup. Tell your wife it is not you who is the King of Cups, but our President.”
The young man looked at Layla as if she had grown snakes for hair.
“I assure you, your marriage is safe. Go home and turn on the news.”
Layla watched him leave. The townhouses were beginning to come alive now. The tavern at the end of the block opened its garage door and a waiter set out tables on the sidewalk. The vegetable vendor filled his bins. Perhaps it had been unwise to tell him what she knew. Perhaps he would talk and she’d be hunted down as a conspirator. But no, more than likely, he’d just go home and continue his life until his wife betrayed him with his best friend.
Well, that is, if the Three of Swords was to be believed.