I choose India like the options are offered to me by a magician. In the back of a meeting I arrive for the last five minutes of, I sit on a musty lecture hall chair that smells like church and hold the brochures for Botswana, somewhere in China, and Pune, India on top of the worn-out messenger bag on my lap. I skim their photos, leave two on the foldout table by the door, and take India with me, thinking only of curry and the freedom everyone older than me insists is waning.
Six months later, a decade before today, I walk along the black sand that shores the Indian Ocean when someone teaches me to want.
My host sister and I wander down the beach, young, unsure, and sick to our stomachs after fried samosas in the triple digit heat. We walk a distance that we know is probably too far from our group. But we don’t want to talk to the boys offering our friends fresh squeezed juices, we want to know what’s down the way, around the bend.
The sun falls behind a bright sheet of cloud-cover, and a veil of mist develops hanging only a few feet out over the silver water. Like a wall to hide against in a haunted house, it keeps us walking.
Entirely out of context, a little white house appears, sitting atop a pair of stilts and looking not so unlike the college housing that spots the downtown where, on the other side of the world, I left my conflicting wants behind to sort themselves. Rather than lived-in, the house looks traveled—weather-worn—like maybe it did just blow in all the way from Colorado.
A sign, dirty from beach air, claps against itself. “Psychic advisory. Palm readings.” We take turns in the living room to sit cross-legged on the humid-damp carpet, with a man so short and slight his white robes seem a tangle of sheets around a boy just up from a nap.
I’m first. There is something grave about the way he looks at my hand. Sympathy fogs his green eyes to grey. In fact, it seems the whole day has slowly turned to grayscale, like in a movie or a dream. He pets my life line with a long finger and tells me things he shouldn’t know.
Many trials, before he finishes the thought, I can tell by his gesture, in the beginning…
You’ve lost someone. He says all this while still looking into my hand. Your father…
You have the writer’s line. You have always written. You will always write.
His knowing of my past bolsters me, gives the most honest version my want permission, makes me feel that if I asked for something—even telepathically—it might come true. Turning then to look me in the eye, he tells it to me, all that I hope, without even a shade of uncertainty. He tells me about my soulmates and which one I will marry. He tells me when my words will sell and what my family will look like. His opaque gaze a looking glass for me to peer into and tell him what I want to hear.
So far, what the man in the house on the beach said has come true, and each time another prediction passes I think of him. Maybe, no one teaches you to want, but doesn’t someone show you how to take? Sometimes I wonder if instead of telling my future he put the purpose in my palms on which the past was already carved. If when he looked in my eyes he could see the want, but in my hand he was looking for desire. What had I gone through? How strong was my will? To what lengths would I go to keep drawing the cards?
After my turn, I stand on the porch waiting for my host sister and watch the sun crack through the clouds again, taking it—of course—as a sign. After all, what are we talking about when we talk about magic? The trick, or our ability to believe in it? To pull a card with enough hope that it’s just the one the world shows you back ten years later.
Sammi LaBue is the author of the creative writer’s guided journal, Words in Progress (DK Sept 2020), and the founder of Fledgling Writing Workshops, which hosts generative courses online and in person in Brooklyn. You can find some of her other creative work in Literary Hub, PANK, Glamour, Hobart, The Feminist Wire and beyond. She earned her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and pens historical fiction with a touch of magic. Her latest work, Welcome to Hooverville, is an SMK Prize winner and was long listed in Mslexia’s 2020 Novel Contest.
Sammi urges you to contribute to the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund. Visit nyimmigrantfreedom.org/donate.