And that same night, seven years to the day he left, one ex-parson came wheeling into town on a chopped Harley with radically extended front forks and a side car, bent on returning a promise he'd screamed long ago to the howling mob at the edge of town. He was back to claim his heart.
For seven years, Parson Thoroughgood had done all he could to forget about his passion for the fortune teller. But without success. For seven years her name careened non-stop through his thoughts, regardless of how much he drank or smoked or snorted. Occasionally, at high speeds on his Harley, when his very life was on the line, he could obliterate the thought of her. But that was rare. That he was still alive at all, after the breakneck life he'd lived for seven years, was the necessary stroke of fate that allowed him to be there this night, carrying in his pocket, of all things, a wedding ring. Yes, he had a date with destiny and she didn't know he was coming.
Parson Thoroughgood rolled his machine to a stop in front of the town bar, set its kickstand with his heel, and climbed off. The place was about to close. The last call had been given.
"I need a shot of tequila," said the parson in a soft, hoarse voice, standing up to the bar.
The bartender didn't even turn to acknowledge the request and just shouted, "Bar's closed," over his shoulder.
There were three sorry looking drunks sitting in a row at the bar nursing their last drinks. The nearest one to the parson thought he recognized him–even with the beard, long hair, and renegade attire. "Aren't you somebody that was once from around here?" the older man asked.
Thoroughgood pounded his fist on the bar so hard the second man's shot glass lifted into the air and tipped over. "I think two men need a drink," he said in his full oratorical voice.
The man beside him lit up, remembering the voice. "You're the old parson, ain't ya?"
The bartender was about to pull out the baseball bat he kept under the counter, when he also recognized that was who it was. He broke into a broad smile and let go of the bat and reached for a bottle of tequila instead. "This is a guy who fucked the fortune teller."
"The witch?" chorused the three drunks, clearly impressed.
"The witch," said the parson with a twisted grin. "And you can all have one on me for that," he called out as though the bar were full. "Cause I plan on fucking her again–tonight." They all burst out laughing, and the bartender set them up with a shot of tequila, including one for himself.
After they'd tossed down the tequila, the old guy who'd first recognized the parson spoke up. "What's she like in bed?" The question quieted their laughter and drew them all up close for the answer.
The parson tapped his glass on the bar top and the bartender set them all up again. The parson threw down the second shot, licked his lips, and wiped his overgrown mustache with the back of his hand. "It's like making love to a woman with three cunts," he said, straight-faced.
The three patrons and the bartender looked at each other, not sure what to make of this description. "How's that, Parson?" said the man on the end, his eyes wide with intrigue.
"She can suck with her asshole the way a whore gives head, and her mouth beats any pussy I've encountered but hers–and that snaps so tight, it whistles while she works."
The house came down.
It was three in the morning. The fortune teller sat alone in her house. The only light was the flickering candle in the center of her divining table. She had been sitting without moving for the last hour, shuffling and reshuffling her favorite deck of Tarot cards, pondering her fate as she never had before. All of a sudden, she cut the cards three times and drew the top card off the deck. It was the mage. Herself. She dealt again from the top of the deck–the Fool, no doubt who that was. Her third card was the two of cups. Union. "Then it must be," she said to herself. "Either I accept this truth or I am an infidel to my own art." She hung her head. "I am an infidel." Full of derision for herself, she turned over the fourth card. Her eyes narrowed. No one need be told what the Grim Reaper portend.
Outside, the sound of a gentle purring in the distance grew to the thudding roar of a powerful engine that suddenly cut off with an ominous silence right in front of the fortune teller's house. So full of certain dread was the fortune teller she did not move at all. She knew who it was without looking. She heard four long boot strides, a pause, then the front door opened slowly. Parson Thoroughgood stepped in. He wore jeans that probably hadn't been washed in the seven years he'd been gone and a black leather jacket, topped with a jean-jacket with the sleeves ripped off. A full red beard plumed about his face. His hair was braided in a rat's tail that hung nearly two feet down his back. A large gold ring pierced his left nostril. And on the side of his neck was a tattoo of Jesus Christ with a hard-on. The fortune teller focused on his dull gray eyes and knew he was very drunk.
"Nice of you to knock, Parson," said Maria, still holding the deck of tarot cards in her left hand, her right poised to draw a fifth card. "Maybe you should piss on the floor to complete your entrance."
The parson smiled. Three of his front teeth were missing. He lowered his hand and unzipped the fly to his jeans. The fortune teller reached into the pocket of her dress and withdrew a large pair of pinking shears. With no change of expression, she opened and closed them dramatically three times.
"God, Maria, you've only gotten more beautiful with the years," said the parson, pulling up his zipper with a grin and a nod. "And bit more testy too, it seems." He reached into his pocket and dug out the ring he'd brought. "I've come to retrieve my heart," he said, walking up to the table and placing the ring before her. "I want you to marry me."
The fortune teller's expression had yet to change. The scissors still in her right hand, she looked down at the ring, then up into the parson's half-cocked smile. She shook her head. "No, Parson. You and me got nothing to do with each other anymore. You turn around and walk right back out the door, climb on your motorcycle, and go back to wherever you came from."
"I don't think so, Maria," said the parson, pulling out the other chair at her table and taking a seat on it backwards. Leaning forward on his elbows, he grinned. "Let's talk a while. See if we can't dredge up a little of the old magic." He reached over to take hold of her hand on the deck of tarot cards. In one motion, she pulled back her hand and stabbed the scissors at his, piercing between his second and third finger and into the center of the deck of cards. The parson snagged her wrist and wrested the scissors out of her hand, then tossed them, one tarot card still impaled on the blades, across the room just missing a startled cat. For a moment, they glared face to face across the table. Then the parson let go of her wrist, leaned back and grinned with menace.
"See we're warmin' up already. Tell me now," he pressed. "How's the fortune telling business going? Maybe you should read ours? I'm pretty sure we got romance in our future."
Gomez could not sleep at all that night. He never undressed. He just lay on his bed thinking about his own death. And how it might be that he would die. He had never given his mortality much thought before, and it caused him to reflect upon the strange flower within him. It was something he often quietly meditated upon when he worked or was alone. It was like having his own piece of infinity. Something that could provide him with inner peace whenever he needed it. He wondered if that wondrous light would go out when he died or if it would live on after him.
Just prior to sunrise, the black flower bloomed within Gomez as it never had before, and it struck him powerfully that he was not afraid of dying. And the knot of shock he had incurred at the deathbed of his mother became untied by this reckoning with his own death. He suddenly saw his life with vivid clarity and radiance. He understood his own cognizance. He understood the deep metaphor that consciousness itself sustains. He even understood that his foster mother's love was a warped love, that he did owe her something, quite a bit in fact, but not his entire life. And so he decided that he must set out to see the fortune teller immediately and demand the meaning of what was written in his palm, because he no longer believed he was what his mother and the whole town had been telling him all his life. Something else was in his future, and even should death be part of that, he wanted to know what it was.
Just as Gomez was leaving the apartment, Louise called out to him from her bedroom where she had been wakened by his moving about.
"Gomez, where are you going?"
He came to the door of her room. Only as a profile could he see her in the darkness. He pointed to his chest and then out toward the door.
"But it's too early to go out to the Harrison's farm. It's still dark."
Gomez nodded to her, but again tapped his chest and pointed to the door.
"Go back to bed, Gomez," she said firmly.
Gomez shook his head, no.
"Go back to bed," she commanded.
Gomez just turned away and walked out the door of the little apartment. Louise jumped from her bed and ran to the door, but he was already down the hall and gone.
"Maybe you've forgotten what great love we made?" said the parson, standing to take off his jean-vest. "Maybe if we tried that spark again, you might realize what a mistake you made with me."
Maria got up from the divining table and crossed her living room to the door and opened it. "No, Parson. It's time for you to leave."
"Fuck me one time, Maria," he said removing his black leather jacket. "Then you decide if you want me to go. Fuck me one time. I dare you."
Maria's eyes narrowed, then turned to the card-bearing shears laying on the floor not far from her left foot.
The parson moved toward her, unbuttoning his shirt. "Nothing like fucking a witch," he sneered not five feet from her. "Nothing like something as nasty as you in a clinch."
Maria'd fought this man before, knuckle to knuckle, and he'd almost killed her. "Take your coat and get out of here now," she said, suddenly feeling afraid.
The parson removed his shirt and threw it at her as a distraction, then reached out and grabbed her by the right arm. She swung back at him with her left and hit him in the side of the head as he moved in and wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug, pushing her back and off balance. Maria let out a moaning scream at the crush of his weight when they both hit the floor. Straddling her body and pinning her arms down, the parson pressed his face into hers and kissed her a slobbering, wet, drunken kiss. She spat back in his eye and broke her left hand free, snagged the scissors by her side, and stabbed with all her might into his ribs, leaving the scissors, tarot card and all, standing upright in his side.
The parson only grimaced and managed to re-secure her left hand with his right knee. He yanked the scissors from his side, wiped the blades of blood and the card, leaned down, and sneered into her face. "Just like old times," he said, placing the point of the scissors up under her chin. "I think it's time to shimmy."
"Kill me first, asshole. Do what you will with my corpse," she snarled back at him.
The parson gripped the scissors in his teeth and slapped her open-handed across the face. She howled like a banshee. So he slapped her again, but she snapped out like a dog at his hand and caught his little finger in her teeth. Now the parson howled, dropping the scissors on Maria's chest. He yanked his finger from her mouth, shaking it, then took the scissors in hand again with no intent but bloody revenge.
Just as the faintest hint of sunrise creased steel blue to the east of town, Gomez reached the gate to the fortune teller's yard. He heard the screams from inside and in three strides Gomez was through the door. He stopped cold at the terrifying sight before him, then he screamed, "Get off her." The first words he'd spoken in some twenty years. With one hand, he grabbed the parson by the braid and yanked his head back. With the other hand, he took hold of the parson's chin and pulled him backward off Maria. The parson was no easy mark, however. He spun into Gomez as he fell back and swung wildly with the scissors, catching Gomez in the knee, but also knocking the scissors from his hand and across the floor. The parson stood into a sidearm right from Gomez. It caught him in the neck and he staggered back against the wall. Gomez came on. Another right landed fully in the parson's ribs. The parson was big and tough and drunk. He ducked his head and went in for a clinch, wrapping his arms around Gomez's waist. They both stumbled backwards, falling with the parson on top. The scissors lay beside them on the floor. The parson saw them immediately and lunged for them, giving Gomez a chance to gather his feet and charge at the parson with swinging fists. The parson parried with the scissors from his knees, catching Gomez squarely in the abdomen. Despite a flurry of punches, the parson stood into Gomez, pushing him back, jamming the scissors as far as he could into Gomez's stomach.
Maria had already climbed to her feet. From her angle, she had not seen that the parson had stabbed Gomez, but it was clear he had the upper hand. A large cast iron skillet sat beside the wood stove that heated the front of her house. As the parson drove Gomez back into the wall, Maria stepped forward, snatched the frying pan with her right hand, and with a full swing struck the parson solidly in the side of the head. The blow knocked him unconscious. He fell on top of Gomez who'd struck the wall and slid down. It was then that Maria saw the scissors buried to the handles in Gomez's belly.
Maria quickly pulled the parson off Gomez. She kneeled up close to Gomez to see what condition he was in. He was bleeding profusely at the wound and when he lifted his head to look at Maria, a maroon rivulet trickled out the side of his mouth. Then he lifted his right palm to her. And Maria knew he'd come back for the information she had not wanted to give him. When she peered into his face, she also saw that he expected his fortune to be death and that this was it.
Maria bent over Gomez and wiped the blood from his mouth with the hem of her skirt. He tried to speak and choked out more blood. He was dying. Maria touched his forehead, then his cheek. He looked up into her face and sought out her eyes. When Maria allowed their eyes to meet, she dropped once again down the long astral filament, directly to the heart of that thing dwelling within him. It wasn't the cleaving of life that she saw this time. It wasn't the horrible death of his mother that she saw. It was the balance of that view. It was eternity spun out like nebulae across the universe. It was time without space. It was the deep pool of tranquility where Gomez dwelled in his moments alone. And it entered Maria through her eyes and became hers.
When at last this powerful vision broke, Maria was kneeling over a dead man. She sat upright and stared out the open door of her house to see the sun just peeking up over the hills to the east. It stilled her and she knew that Gomez had given her the gift she was meant all along to receive. She didn't fully understand it yet, but she knew it would change her deeply. After a moment, she surveyed the room, first looking with tears upon Gomez, then to the parson, still unconscious and breathing weakly. Then her eyes caught the blood stained and pierced tarot card lying face down on the floor between the two men. With some hesitance, she reached down and turned it over. It was the six of cups–resolution in love. And so it was, she thought with sadness. So it was.
Maria stood and walked in distraction out to her front gate. Morning dawned upon her with unusual fullness and serenity for the horror she had just witnessed. She closed her eyes and felt the black flower illuminate within her. Opening her eyes, she looked skyward. A crescent moon was setting upon the horizon opposite the rising sun. There was deep suggestion in the plain meaning of day, and it was clear–that which she once feared and denied had occurred. The crystal ball had shattered. The mysteries were gone. The dark image had gone bright. She advanced to the post beside her broken gate and removed the sign she had placed there many years ago. There would be no more fortunes for her to tell.
Special thanks to Martina Hoffmann for permission to use her paintings with this story.
TWO NEW NOVELS BY DAN ARMSTRONG.