By Michelle Railey
Let’s discuss That Time I Went to a Psychic.
Marie Laveau was allegedly a witch in New Orleans. Back in the day. People still stop by her crypt to draw an “X” on the stone; a chalk-mark “X” will deter any witch, no matter how old or how powerful. Crayola and the living cannot be denied.
But, in honor of Marie Laveau and all things vodou in New Orleans, there in the French Quarter is contained Marie Laveau’s House of Blues. No, it’s actually Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. It has the absolute coolest (not sure that’s a kosher* word to use here) altar in the world. You’re not allowed to take pictures of it, it being a working altar and all, but it’s fab. Cards and votives and a mish-mash of Catholicism and the eighteenth century and chicken feathers and wax. And, well, you should visit it sometime. You feel something, even if you’re agnostic, you swear you feel the floor move or the wind stir or maybe you just want to.
Well, the air of New Orleans is different than the air in other places. There’s nothing quite like it. There’s no culture on the planet quite like the gumbo-ajiaco mix of the Creole French Quarter. And maybe the hucksters have had their way and it’s all a sham. But I don’t think so. The French Quarter is the closest thing this country has to Old World and to mystique. I have been in the French Quarter looking at ferns and I have seen (or wanted to) lace curtains move in a breeze that was never there, in humid and stagnant air. I have heard drums that were not playing. Not in this century.
But I’m a sentimental old soul, especially when confronted with very old bricks.
So New Orleans, in its shimmering heat and its painted verandas and its shabbiness and its grandeur: it speaks to me anyway and even my agnostic person finds a kinship in the red twine and feathers and playing cards, lit by endless votives at Marie Laveau’s.
A shiksa in the south: I vacationed in New Orleans and, seeking experiences, said “why not” to a psychic reading at Marie Laveau’s.
If you’re thinking this would have been like Cher’s “Dark Lady” or like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, this was not that. There was nothing Cher about it. There was nothing cinematic about it.
There was a card table in an ill-lit room. Maybe one candle, not enough for atmosphere. It was, and I mean no disrespect here, very High Trailer Park: bug lights, indoor-outdoor carpeting, the faintest whiff of mildew and a shaky, mostly-standing wreck of a naugahyde-covered card table.
I looked at it, regretted the loss of the altar, and thought this surely would be a sham. But still, New Orleans and Marie Laveau and something I have never done. And so I sat.
A scarecrow of a human greeted me. He wore a Mr. Rodgers-style and moth-eaten cardigan. He was dangerously thin. He coughed frequently. I thought he might be ill. I longed to give him sandwiches and flowers and warmer rooms. But I was a visitor. And he shuffled the cards (Bicycle. Not exotic. Not marked.)
In lieu of hello, he asked me when I had lost all the weight. (I bet you say that to all the girls.)
“I haven’t lost any.”
“Well, it’s coming, then.”
Shuffle. Table shakes. He’s shaking, too. He’s so thin and so obviously cold. Where is his coat, his blanket, his center? Marie doesn’t have it. God knows I don’t. But I’m here for a reading and I’m told to pick a card.
He pulls cards, which I touch first, lays them out in a cross shape. He shivers. And I feel like an ass who has given thirty dollars to the First Charity/Scam of New Orleans, House of Voodoo, Dammit Marie Laveau. After all, thirty dollars would have bought me three drinks and a great tip at the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone. It would have purchased one piece of mediocre “art” from an “artist” hanging around Jackson Park. Thirty dollars would have gotten me a great many frozen beverages from the endless string of Fat Tuesdays on the street (which equals one really good day, if you know what I’m saying here). Or I could have bought twenty cakes of African black soap at the French Market or enough beignets to save my soul at Cafe du Monde. Thirty dollars in most of the U.S. is only thirty dollars. Thirty dollars in New Orleans is eternity, if you spend it right.
I spent it on the eighty-pound psychic at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.
He told my friend, who also spent a sound thirty, that he was a carpenter. He is and was and has never been such a thing.
And I’m still waiting on the weight loss that is coming. Perhaps it was the thrift store sweater I wore, which added both a knitted cat* and thirty pounds?
No. He says that to all the girls without wedding rings. He is skinny but canny.
He flips the cards but seems kerfuffled by them. He reads my hands instead. And me, having been curious in the past, already know at which lines he is looking. Google is funny and so is the girl in the cat sweater. And this shivering psychic is funnier still.
It’s Marie Laveau’s and the altar is convincing. And maybe “magic” is real. It’s New Orleans. Anything is possible.
“You have had two loves. You are not done with the last one and you will not be yet.” (Yeah, well, those are just two lines. And it’s a convenient coincidence: the ex-husband and the love who shall not be named…your sweater is fraying. Please eat something. And a shred of relief as I’m very fond of the last one. Though: many women have appeared at psychics. A good proportion of them have also loved only two. What of it?)
“Three children. You have no children yet. You will have three.” He got that wrong, my skinny psychic. But, for what it’s worth, Marie and him, the three phantom children I see on every swing set are called “Henry,” “Lily,” and “Ian.”
There are always three. Never one. Never two. I blame the skinny psychic for that. I wish he (and Marie) had been right. I would very much have enjoyed purchasing Christmas presents for three lovely children.
Sometimes psychics are wrong.
But I have two cats, perhaps he meant them?
The last thing he said to me was that I am a writer.
I am not.
If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
And the reading was over. The ex-husband was mentioned. That was as it should be. It was years ago. My focus was split.
The second love is still my love and the psychic was, in that respect, correct: we are not done. And god willing, we’ll never be. I don’t thank or blame or credit Marie Laveau or the shivering boy in the strange cardigan. Somehow things turned out okay. I don’t know what to think of the fates. I like my boy and I think he likes me. That’s luck, if ever there was.
No three children. I am not a writer. I blog now but I didn’t then. How can I help that he said the career I would choose above all others?
That was a strange coincidence.
But then, I was the one with ink-stained hands in a hand-loomed cat sweater. Looking at me, I could be a pretty good psychic too (“and when was it that you lost all that weight?”)
I did not expect much from the New Orleans psychic. It’s for “entertainment purposes only.” Still, New Orleans makes one think magic is possible and maybe belief is not misplaced.
Mr. Shivering Marie told my friend, in his reading, that he was a carpenter. My friend is not a carpenter. And I have no children. I am not a writer. I still carry pounds which seem, to me, extra.
I hope the shivering boy in the cardigan has found a sandwich by now and good health.
I hope Marie Laveau’s altar burns forever in its strange waxy, feathery, cheap and extravagant strangeness.
I had my fortune told. Was he right? No. Was there magic or fortune or future present? No, of course not, not really.
Do I still think of my friend as a carpenter? Of course I do.
Do I still look at every swing set in every park and every slide and every ice cream cone and voicelessly celebrate the non-existent if predicted Lily, Henry and Ian? Of course I do.
And I am glad the shaky cardigan at Marie Laveau’s was right, in his way, about the boy with whom I am not done.
I wanted more from my psychic experience. But…well, even in New Orleans, the vibes can’t always be right.
There’s always next time, my friends. There’s always next time.
*ha-ha. “kosher.” I know, right?
*cat sweater: (a) of course (b) what was I thinking? It added, like, thirty years. I no longer have that sweater. In fact, I only wore it there. I sure wish I’d kept it to turn into a pillow, though. It would have been a fantastic pillow (another sign that it was Bad Wardrobe).