We started setting up booths after fourth period. I stood holding on to the corner of the folding table while three other girls took their corners. We kicked the metal legs in place, spread the tablecloth. On to the next tent, before the banner even unrolled. I glanced back over my shoulder. Decorated with crystal balls on each end it read “Madame Zola.”

When we came back in the twinkling twilight the booth wore glittering drapes of fabric, dark designs under splashes of light. Madame Zola did brisk business, a popular attraction. We stood in line, glad to be out on Friday night, in awe of the boys around us, and proud to wear something other than our plaid uniform skirts. The line took forever, Madame Zola passing out fortunes and collecting money at a snail’s pace.

Finally we were there. One friend would be beauty queen. One would travel far. Another already knew her true love.

“What about me?” I demanded, spreading my naked palm wide. She looked down, then up.

“I’m done,” she glanced at my money on the table but didn’t touch it. She flipped her naked wrist, checking the time on an imaginary watch. “I’m on break.”

The table held a cheap crystal ball, some feathers. I stared at it, not sure how to respond.

“I need a cigarette,” she declared, rummaging her heavy purse. My friends left. The line behind me dispersed. I took my money back, crumpled up the bills, but I didn’t leave. Her cigarettes fell out of the purse, and I grabbed them.

“Give them here!” She snapped her fingers like I was a dog, then changed her mind. “No, put them on the table.”


She just tapped the press board surface. Understanding dawned: she didn’t want to touch me.

“I want a cigarette,” she repeated, tapping the table.

I moved to put the pack down, then twisted, grabbing her wrist. Children don’t touch adults that way. Teens sure don’t.

“What happens to me?” I let my voice get loud, let myself insist. Her face when pale, her voice high.

“You die, all right? Car accident, before your twenty-fourth birthday.” She jerked her arm back, grabbed the pack and started smoking hard.

It was a side show, a charity fair. It was a meaningless lie, a superstitious falsehood.

But I believed her, just a little, even after I turned twenty-five.