She walked into the tent, urged on by her giggling friends. She sat at a table which was bare except for a small glass globe. Its outside was opaque, almost certainly painted so, but Claire felt certain that inside was a model of some famous landmark like the Eiffel Tower, which would find itself in the midst of a violent snowstorm if she shook the globe.
A curtain at the back of the tent was dramatically pushed aside to reveal a woman clad in Morticia-black long hair, a long flowery dress, bangles, exotic perfume and extreme stereotypism.
“You haff come to have your fortune told?” she said.
“Er, yes, please,” said Claire. “Claire and the Clairvoyant, eh?”
This joke was intended to break the ice. Judging by the frosty look on the other woman’s face it hadn’t worked.
The Clairvoyant sat down opposite Claire, putting a teacup on the table. There was silence.
“You are supposed to cross my palm with seelver,” hinted the Claivoyant. “Twenty Euro, please.”
Claire handed over the blue-coloured note. “That’s not exactly silver,” she pointed out.
The Clairvoyant indicated the snow-globe. “You theenk that’s a real crystal ball?” she said. “Times moof on.” She took Claire’s hand and studied it.
“You painted your fingernails ziss morning,” she said.
“Er, yes,” said Claire. The other woman nodded in satisfaction, as if she had done something difficult. “You haff met someone with the initials M.Z.”
“That’s true,” admitted Claire, “because it says ‘Madame Zalinski, Fortune Teller’ on the sign outside.”
“You haff travelled a great distance.”
“This Fair is ten miles from the nearest town,” pointed out Claire. “That’s not rocket science.”
“Madame Zalinski does not meddle with the science of rockets. She does only the telling of fore.”
Claire’s brow furrowed as she grappled with this sentence. “You are confused at present,” ventured Madame Zalinski.
Before Claire could say anything there was a loud ringing. “The Spirits haff sounded the Bell Of Completeness,” said Madame Zalinski. “Your time is up.”
“That was an alarm clock,” snapped Claire, “and you haven’t told me anything about my future yet.”
The two women glared at each other. Madame Zalinski could see trouble in her own future if she didn’t give in. She lifted the teacup and dropped the accent. “No wonder your teacher Miss Gilhooly said you were precocious. Very well, let’s see what the tea-leaves say.”
Claire could see that there was only a tea-bag in the cup, but was too stunned by the reference to her teacher to complain. “How could you know that?” she gasped.
Madame Zalinski smiled. “Look, I have all these crap props because I’m only starting out at this but I do actually know what I’m doing. Now,” she said, “you will meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger. Oh wait, he’ll be a traffic cop and you’ll have been speeding, let’s forget about him. That gym you’ve just paid a year’s membership for is going to close down in four months time. You’ll become best friends with a girl called Jean Byrne – gosh, I didn’t see that coming, because that’s me. You’ll marry someone with the letter ‘e’ in his name somewhere, it’s no fun if I tell you more than that. You’ll have babies when you’re 31, 33, 35 and 36 (“!” said Claire). Oh, and 42. You will develop an allergy to asparagus. Your husband will run off with – shit, sorry, I should have read the whole of that sentence before I said it aloud. Never mind, you’ll meet another tall, dark, handsome stranger and – wow, Claire, you cougar, you! You will live to a ripe old age and at your 90th birthday party I will get them to play “Grapefruit Moon” by Tom Waits, because it will be your favourite song, just as it is now.”
Claire was awestuck. “That was amazing, Madame – er, Jean. But why do you do it that way – spend ages telling people what they already know and then rush the prediction bit at the end?”
“Force of habit,” said Jean. “I used to read the weather forecast on TV.”