Madame Cazee could tell the future, but not yours. At least, not if you asked her. If someone else came to her for a reading, she might tell them your future. If you went to her, she would tell you someone else’s. For a long time, Little Aleppians believed that the only sure bet in the neighborhood was that whatever Madame Cazee predicted for you couldn’t possibly happen to you. Then one day, she told two clients in a row that they were going to drown in Bell Lake, and they both did within a week. After that, it was universally decided that Madame Cazee’s visions were a math problem that hadn’t been figured out yet, and and that impressed locals even more than the fortune-telling.
Her prognostications were studied by both experts in both Numerology and Number Theory; many chalkboards were filled with equations and the occasional Summoning Sigil. Decades of doctoral theses had been earned analyzing the relationship between the client and the vision. Finally, at an international convention of mathematicians and orthodontists (the convention center had been double-booked), the Math Department of Harper College was ready to reveal the truth behind Madame Cazee.
“We believe that the process is stochastic,” the Math Department of Harper College said.
And all the other colleges’ Math Departments said,
“That’s just a fancy word for random, you asshole!”
And then there was a riot. The orthodontists had no fucking idea what was going on.
Madame Cazee had not paid any of that any mind. School was for scholars, and she was a psychic. She believed in revelation over instruction, the sudden flash over the long grind, and preferred magical books to textbooks. The difference between the two is that if you study a textbook closely enough you will understand it, whereas a close reading of a magical book usually brings about insanity or maybe a runny nose. Her shop was on Sylvester Street next to the Wash-and-Slosh, across from the Wayside Inn; the plate-glass window was opaque from the giant eyeball painted on it. Green like the Verdance in the summer with thick black lashes
There were Tibetan bells attached to the door so that when it was opened it went TINGtingydingBONG, and the magazines in the small waiting room were always about the subject you were least interested in. A teevee in the corner showed Super 8 footage of other families’ vacations. There used to be a rug, but it got dirty too quickly, and now there is not a rug. Checkerboard floor, blue and white. No cat.
The curtains separating the waiting room from Madame Cazee’s sanctuary were batiqued with mandalas, and had stitched-in runes and also an airbrushed portrait of the Christ like you might see on the side of a particularly bitchin’ van. Pentagram, too, and a ≠ marking that denoted Abaddon the Unforgiving. Along the hem were the Shema, which tells O Israel that the Lord is our God and the Lord is One, and the Prophet’s Prayer, which went O inmates of the graves, salaam on you; Allah forgive us and you all; you left first and we will be coming later. The curtain on the left also had a large middle finger rhinestoned into it.
In addition to the curtains, there were hanging beads like in a Chinese restaurant. There was no meaning to them. Madame Cazee enjoyed the clacking noise they made.
And she was there in front of you. Palms on the circular table covered with an embroidered and heavy cloth. Same color eyes as the window. For an extra five bucks, she’d wear her turban with the great big fake ruby pinned to it. Madame Cazee. She was not White. That was obvious, but she was also clearly not Black. Similarly, she was not Asian, and she was the least Mexican-looking woman that Little Aleppo had ever seen. She was some sort of woman from somewhere, and it was no use trying to interrogate her about it, as Madame Cazee enjoyed lying about her past as much as she did telling the truth about the future.
Sometimes she wore saffron robes, and other afternoons she would sit there stark naked. Having psychic powers meant you could make your own dress code. Madame Cazee was wide at the shoulder and full across her hip, and had no wrinkles in her face at all even in places where there should be wrinkles. If you had not paid her the extra five bucks for the turban, then you would see that her hair was long and the same color silver as a freshly-cut key.
Phases. Madame Cazee was like the moon, and she went through phases. Tarot cards for a little while, then she’d dig the crystal ball out of the closet. Fancy stationery and fountain pen for psychography. Chicken bones for augury. She never let the spirit world speak through her, though, as it hurt her throat.
All that bullshit was bullshit, anyway.
Madame Cazee knew. You’d pay her niece Webby in the waiting room and be called from within–DaaaaAAAAAAAAAARRRR-ling! COME!–and you’d pass the batiqued curtains and the Chinese beads into an oval-shaped room with a circular table in the middle, and she would know. Detectives figure shit out, but psychics know.
“Your drug dealer is going to give you twenty dollars worth of dope to set a billboard on fire,” she said to a straight-arrow schoolteacher who had come in asking about his dying mother.
“You’ll save a life that you’ll regret saving,” she told a woman asking about the winning combination for the Mother Mary.
“All positions are still available, even the ones that no longer exist,” Madame Cazee told a father named Heinrich looking to speak to his dead child.
A skull was in a niche in the rounded wall; it had a mauve marble in one eye socket and a spy camera in the other. Tons of mystical crap: Sankara stones, and translucent jewels that would translate text as you peered through them, and a briefcase with a large gentleman’s soul trapped inside. Monkey’s paw throwing up a peace sign. A cup plain enough for a carpenter, and a box with a note on top reading, “Do not open again.”
There was a cat. He was black with white paws, and named Sylvester. Clients thought he was named after the cartoon, but he wasn’t. He was named after the street the shop was on. Places are important in magic.
Madame Cazee had a ring on every finger, two on each index, gaudy and clearly fake. Sometimes, she would deal the tarot deck.
“Fourteen of infidels. This card refers to the insoluble problem of theodicy. Have you recently inquired as to why an all-powerful God would allow evil?”
And the person across the table–who had come in asking whether her husband was cheating–said,
Madame Cazee dealt another card. The Jack of Instance.
“Your mistake is thinking that God is free from time’s fascism. Time and gravity. The Lord made them and is now enslaved by them just as His creations are.”
To which the woman whose husband had been acting suspiciously lately said,
And Madame Cazee would laugh, she had a low and accusing laugh that sounded like HUHHHhaha. She would laugh because she knew she was right, and also because she had already been paid.
“They’re not as extinct as you’ve been led to believe,” she told Big-Dicked Sheila. Sheila was regular client of Madame Cazee, and Madame Cazee was a regular client of Big-Dicked Sheila’s Hair Salon for Rock Stars and Their Ilk. The two had an arrangement.
Sheila had been beaten by people who should have loved her, and Sheila had seen the universe all at once with total strangers. Her back had been caressed and stabbed. Men had been cruel to her in measures that she could only ascribe to Satan, and she had seen kindness from her fellow man that could only be explained by the Lord. She chose to believe that the extremes of human nature were outside our control, and ruled by spirits and demons and angels and genies. Sheila was in no way the first person to choose to believe this.
“Do you hike?”
“I walk to the bar,” Sheila said.
“The Hills are brimming over with the past. The wilderness is the other, and it is beyond you. Do you understand?”
Sheila had chain-smoked two joints on the walk over to Madame Cazee’s, and so she said,
Which was good enough for Madame Cazee, who had been in a slight trance, and now her summer-green eyes focused again on Sheila and she said,
“I love your hair.”
Sheila had dyed her short, spiky hair the color of a summer-blue sky. She reached across the elaborately-illustrated cards on the table to grasp Madame Cazee’s ringed fingers, and she said,
“How good do I look?”
“There are no words.”
“Not to toot my own horn.”
“If you don’t toot, who will?”
It was late in the day, and Sheila’s shop would be getting busy. She kissed one of the gaudy and clearly fake rings on Madame Cazee’s left hand. When she got up from her seat, she put her palms together and bowed, and she backed out of the oval room with a circular table. The Chinese beads made a clacking noise, and then the door out to Sylvester Street made a sound like TINGtingydingBONG. There was a plan, Sheila comforted herself as she fetched a cigarette from her purse and lit it FFT and blew out the smoke PHWOO and thought again: there was a plan. It may be for someone else, someone you’d never meet, but there was plan. Sheila was wearing big, black boots with black laces, too, and she walked west on Sylvester toward the Main Drag, which runs north-south through Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America