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The Palm Reader
By Adele Annesi

The woman with the hennaed hair stood in the back doorway of her artists' gallery. It was in reality the downstairs of the apartment she shared with her husband, but it also functioned as a storefront, the place where they worked restoring and selling old paintings. She and her husband made almost no money there despite their varied talents. It was difficult being transplanted European dilettantes in South Florida in the sixties.

The woman stood with her hip jutted out, tottering on a pair of black-patent mules and looking at the slender fourteen-year-old girl standing in front her. Palm reading wasn't something the woman wanted to do anymore, but once in a while the old gypsy ways were pressed back into use, like a worn but comfortable coat she would otherwise have kept tucked away in order to be accepted in this demi-chic part of town.

"So, I should read your palm," the woman said in more of a statement than a question as she held the girl's slender hand in her own. She stopped for a moment, hesitant. But what could be the harm? This was a young girl, a girl she knew even, from down the street, a girl with few friends, quiet and shy, Italian, as she was, though second generation. The woman herself was born in Italy, though in some region barely known and unremarkable. But this girl was American really. It would be all right to read this palm, the woman reasoned, and turned the girl's hand over in hers.

She was silent for a moment while she smoothed the girl's palm, as if trying to splay out the lines there, lines not fully formed or deep enough to have collected the secrets of the future. The woman smoothed and smoothed, squinting through pince-nez glasses and sinking deeper into thought.

"Well," she said in an accent oddly guttural for someone from western Europe. "Well, I see you will have a long life, at least long enough. You will live to be seventy-ish," she said, and catching a glimpse of the girl's face, which had a look that seemed to ask if that was all, added, "Or maybe eighty. The line is deeper here and less deep here," the woman explained to the girl, who looked back, uncomprehending.

The woman could tell by her relative lack of interest that it was not her life span the girl wanted to know. No, she wanted to know what all fourteen-year-old girls want to know. The woman could see it in her face. She wanted to know if she would find a boyfriend, true love. Would she marry? The woman could see all these questions in the girl's eyes, deep brown like her own.

"But you are not wondering about how old you will be. I see that," said the woman, still looking at the face of the girl, who smiled in a diffident way, ducking her chin toward her shoulder. "No, I can see that. Let me look here," the woman said, her beige wool skirt and matching sweater set clinging to her in the mid-afternoon heat.

The woman smoothed and smoothed again. "Well, I can see that you will have a boyfriend, maybe more than one," she said. It pleased her to impart this bit of good news. "And you will have a special one," the woman added, gaining confidence. "Someone you like very much, but he will not be the one."

She continued tracing the same line along the girl's palm, then stopped. Instead of smoothing, the woman pressed her thumb beside the line, squinted, and pressed again. She shook her head slightly at what she found, at the sorrow she saw revealed there. She had been right after all. It was a mistake to read this palm, a curse for returning to ways she had renounced in favor of a less flamboyant way of life.

She heard, as if from a distance, the girl press for an answer as to what the woman had seen. Didn't it always happen that way, she thought? They always wanted to learn what was better left unknown. The woman's husband, who was from Yugoslavia, an engineer, although he had never said exactly of what, often told people, though usually not in the middle of a palm reading, that if they knew in advance what their lives would be, they would simply commit suicide and have done with it. The woman often wished her husband would shut up, even as she wished to purge the truth of his relative wisdom from her thoughts.

"Why do you want to know?" The woman asked in response to the girl's question. "You have your whole life ahead of you," she said with a laugh, but she caught the look in the young girl's eyes, so like her own, and stopped. "Well, let me look again," the woman said, and began pinching and smoothing once more.

"Well," she began with what she hoped was an even tone. "You will have a wonderful love affair. But, something happens here," she said, indicating a barely visible line, the meaning of which she knew would make no sense to the girl. "Something happens when you are about twenty-two or twenty-four." She looked at the girl's face and seeing the fear that whatever it was would happen to the girl personally, the woman sought to reassure. "But it does not happen to you. Although, it is a loss of some kind."

The woman looked at the girl, whose already pale face had grown still paler. She knew. She might be young and inexperienced, but she knew. That much was clear from the look in her eyes. The spirit of a person knew grief; it was instinctive. The woman could have bit her tongue for not stopping at the better news and let go of the girl's hand.

"But you are young, and these are not things to think of now," the woman said. But she could not bring herself to recant, despite the fear she saw in the girl's face. The woman chewed her bottom lip until the reddish lipstick was gone. Yet she could not take back what was in the lines. She had seen it. She looked at the girl's hands again and thought for a moment about viewing the other palm. But it would not be as clear. Besides, the girl knew, and there was no going back. No, she would not lie and looked again at the girl with the eyes so like her own. "I am sorry," she said, and turned on her black-patent mules and walked away.

Over time that moment, with its chill auger and long-cast shadow, receded. Now an older woman, whose eyes were once liquid brown but had filmed with the years, glanced at her hands as she put the drying towel on its rack. The hands were still slender but veined with age. The palms, by comparison, seemed fresh. The woman smiled softly at the distant memory of the reading of her future, but the smile faded as she looked at the lines, which had grown deeper and full. At twenty she had lost her father, at twenty-four her first love. Still, she had lived her life, was still living it. She recalled as if in a dream the woman with the hennaed hair and her husband and figured they must both be gone by now.

The woman wondered again at the lines. Had she in living put them there, or had they in coming yielded her life? She waited, as if for an answer, but knew that it would not come just in the waiting. She turned out the light in the small kitchen and saw through her window the pale glow of an early winter's moon coming up round and cold. She would not stand and wait, but she would sleep and when she awoke, would see what the day would bring.

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