Lessons From Strangers: The Reading with Ms. Myrtle

By Chris Fryer

Capture - Reading With - Quote


She left on a blue and white bus that putted away and left behind a lingering cloud of exhaust painted pink and purple as it wafted up and away into the sunrise. The bus turned a corner, as slowly and permanently as turning the last page of a novel. 

The moment had come too soon, gone too quickly. 

 I wasn’t alone in shipping away a loved one this morning and the slow procession of cars away from the bus depot was like the losing team returning to the locker room with heads down. We couldn’t even look at each other.  

At home, every little thing reminded me of her, and so I left.

Not much was open this early on a Tuesday, so I drove in wide circles through the city until the warm glow of a coffee shop lulled me inside. The barista was grinding the first brew of the day. Soothingly mediocre music played softly from the radio underneath the counter as I ordered a pot of jasmine tea. 

I had a nice spot by the big front window where I could watch the city wake up and find its rhythm. Street cleaners droned along. A homeless man on the stoop of an abandoned hardware store suddenly bolted awake, gathered his things, then sauntered against the one-way traffic. I poured my tea into a white porcelain mug that had the faint echo of lipstick on the rim. 

The more I tried not to think about her, the more I did. She would’ve suggested I add honey to my tea, local honey, the kind that helps build defense against allergy season. This from a girl who loved to sneeze.

A few customers came and went. Another employee arrived and the first went out front for a cigarette. The sun was up. 

I held my spot near the window and finished the first pot of tea, staring for a while at the few bits of leaf left in the bottom of my cup and thought of the long journey those leaves made to create something so beautiful and so temporary. I thought of her things in my room, her tea leaves left behind. 

Then I heard this voice say, “Your future is in those leaves.”

The voice belonged to this angel-haired elderly woman half-hidden behind the Wall Street Journal. She’d bent over the top of the paper to catch my attention with eyes as big as blue Christmas ornaments. 

“You know how to read them?” I asked.

She said, “I don’t know much about tasseography. But I can read your palms.”

I looked at my palms, the lines and wrinkles, the callus I got from our camping trip last weekend, climbing trees. The dirt under my fingernails still smelled like campfire. Hands I combed through her hair just three hours ago for the last time ever. I closed my fingers to fists and said, “I’m not ready for the future.”

“Chiromancy is not entirely about fortune telling,” she replied.

“Key-ro-man-see?”

“Or palmistry. Palm reading.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t believe?” she said, a playfulness to the tone. 

I shrugged, my eyes glancing away to avoid her powerful gaze, drawn back in like bugs that can’t ignore the buzzing light. “I don’t really know much about it,” I admitted. “Guess I’ve got no reason not to.”

“I could show you,” she said, putting down the newspaper after folding it meticulously, like it was a dinner napkin. “You look like you could use it.”

“How’s that?”

“All I need is your palms.”

“No, I mean, why do I look like I could use it?”

She held up a frail hand and pointed out the pale space of her ring finger where the sun hadn’t been in a long time. “I recognize that look in your eyes. I was with him for fifty-seven years and he left me for a second cousin. You want to know what it feels like to fear the future, ask me. I’ll talk your ear off.”

I looked down at my tea leaves again. What were they telling me? When it came time to start saying goodbye, I realized how little I’d planned for that, for life after that. It was like someone removed all the color from my world and didn’t leave me any paintbrushes to fix it with.  

“Is that why you started reading palms?” I asked. “To figure out what you were supposed to do next?”

“No, no. I’d been doing it for years. That was how we met. I’d volunteered to be part of the county fair and his friends talked him into coming into my booth. He was the first guest and I talked his ear off before we even got to the reading, but it was because he wanted to know how it all worked first. I think we were both nervous. I knew it before

I looked at his hands, when I first held them, that we were meant to be together. It was like two puzzle pieces clicking.” She leaned forward. “I knew he was the one I’d seen in my own lines. Heart and head and fate.”

“It works, then.”

She nodded, taking a quick last sip of her coffee. “Every piece of you tells the whole tale of the universe,” she said. “Of course it works. The future of everything is written in your every cell.”

I laughed a little, not because it was hard to fathom, but because I found myself agreeing with her. Her aura had an intoxicating ability to arouse curiosity, and I asked her, “What did you call it before? Not palm reading, but the other thing.”

“Chiromancy,” she said. “Chiro meaning hand. Mancy meaning divination. Basically: predicting the future through the hands. Or recognizing that in these lines lies a map for the rest of your life.” 

Moments later, I joined her at the table where I wondered if she’d been sitting here this entire time, peeking at me over the top of her newspaper. I asked her if she wanted any more coffee or a pastry, but she declined. “Just your hands,” she said. I offered them to her and with fingers like feathers, she took my hands in hers. She closed her eyes, her white lashes flittered, and she pulled in a deep breath. I could feel her slow heartbeat through her fingertips against the back of my hand. 

She opened those ornament eyes. “Your fingers are proportionate to your palm. You’re intellectual, which is not to say that you’re necessarily intelligent, but you think before you speak, and that is better.”

What else?” I asked.

“Your first finger is not too long, which means you don’t seek dominance. Your middle finger is a bit crooked, which means you have generally bad lack, I’m afraid. Ring finger indicates you’re not a fan of the spotlight. And the little finger tells me you’re soft-spoken, find it hard to verbalize yourself, and you prefer to write. There’s an overall curving of your fingers outward from the palm that shows you’re creative, albeit a bit aimless, prone to feeling purposeless. I would argue your first and third fingers are equal in length, meaning you’re mentally well balanced between the right and left. That’s rare.”

“What about the thumb?” I asked.

“It’s long. You have good willpower. A waist-like second-joint. Gentleness. Diplomacy. You rarely get carried away with anything.”

“I thought palm reading was about my lines.”

She asked, “Do you know the lines?” and I shook my head, so she proceeded to tell me what each one meant, from the life to the Mercury line. “You’re a bad example because you seem to be missing a few,” she told me with a tinge of concern. 

“Which one don’t I have?”

“Your Mercury line says a lot about your health and communication, the two being so intertwined. How you feel affects how you interact with the world. The Mercury line shows the strength of that relationship, and you simply don’t have it.”

“Is that bad?”

She said, “I believe that means that relationship plays no role in your time as a human being. Your future doesn’t need it.”

“Huh.”

She studied my palm again, stretching it flat, massaging it. “I’m prodding your mounts now,” she explained, “which map out where you store most of your energy, and how that energy can affect the world around you by altering your perception. We’ll get to that later.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, soothed by the gentle prodding of her thumbs, the gentle pressure like a kitten rubbing its head against you demanding attention. I nearly forgot we were sitting in a coffee shop. 

“That’s interesting,” she said. 

I opened my eyes. “What is?”

“You don’t have a fate line. It’s usually here, between the sun line and the Girdle of Venus. That alone says a lot. Your fate has nothing to do with your emotional intelligence, or your emotional life. How odd. I’ve never met anyone whose heart has so little to do with their destiny.” 

Our eyes met for a while, and she looked like she had a lot to say in that moment but she stopped herself and refocused on my palms. 

“Unless this is it.” She stroked her thumb down to my wrist and said, “It stops just short of your head line, here.” She swiped her thumb sideways across my palm, like someone pointing out constellations across the heavens.  

I was following along. The lines were there, and with growing fascination I wondered why my fate line was off kilter. “What does that mean?” I asked. 

“Regardless, it has nothing to do with your emotions. Your fate is brief, which is not to say your life is brief, but more precisely how long it will take for you to fulfill your fate, and which areas of thinking you’ll utilize. You won’t use your heart to find your purpose, but your logic. See?”

For some reason, I took my hands away. This was starting to feel too much like your standard horoscope guesswork, where depending on which horoscope you read you could still find truth in it. I wasn’t a fan. She didn’t seem offended. In fact, she kept her hands in the air as if she were still holding mine, and as she slowly raised her eyes, she said, “There’s nothing wrong with loving with your brain. Matched minds are more powerful than matched hearts.”

“Still hurts in the heart,” I replied, glancing out the window, wishing her bus would suddenly park there in front of the coffee shop. It didn’t.

“This is not a commentary on your ability to love. We are born to love; we are born in love. You already know that. You love immensely when your mind agrees with it, but if the mind disagrees, the love begins to fade. And your heart has to close down a lot of positive feelings, which never feels good.”

Defensive, I told her, “I think my mind still agrees with my heart.”

“Probably. It’s too recent to listen closely,” she said. “The point is that you were still wise enough to let her go.”

“I had a choice?”

“If you did, you would’ve realized it.”

I shrugged. She reached across the table and took my hands, not to read the palms, but to hold them. “You’re a rational lover,” she told me. “You can recognize independence where many falter under codependence. You’re less likely to mistake lust for love. Honesty with yourself comes first, and you follow through.”

“Still feels like I lost.”

“Lost what?”

“I don’t know. Something.”

“No, sweet heart,” she said with a smirk. “You can’t think of it that way. You haven’t lost anything. All you’ve done, and all we ever do, is gain. We can only gain. Loss is an illusion. Even time apart is individual growth. You and her are inextricably connected in this life, regardless of how or when you see each other, and simply having those memories in your head has altered your fate. It is a rational reality that you already know.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. The words weren’t there. “Thanks?” was all I could muster, and it came out with a question mark.  

She smiled and turned to grab her bag. She checked the time with an old cellphone, then grabbed a business card from the side pocket. “Here,” she said, passing it to me. “My name is Crape Myrtle. Like the tree.”

“Crape Myrtle.”

“Before I go,” she said, gathering her things. “You should know that I’ve never met anyone like you. The good news is you’re going to figure everything out and you’re going to be fine. Much more than I was.” 

She stood and draped her bag over her shoulder, eyes on the exit, then back on me. “I’ve got stubborn, emotional, and impulsive written all over my palms.”

“You don’t seem it.”

She smiled. “So you’re the reader now?”

When Crape was gone, I pocketed her business card: PALMISTRY, it said in simple cursive script, above a phone number with her name. She was right. Any rational human being should know that goodbyes were not forever, that losing was a state of mind, and logical love outweighed the lust of the heart. The underlying sensation that I’d done something wrong suddenly evaporated. I’d done everything right. I’d loved at full capacity.

I wondered, as I left the coffee shop, if we might all do that some day, if we might be more in control of where we drew lines across our palms. 

About the Author

Chris Fryer was born to tell stories. Amidst figuring out what to do with the rest of his life, he’s been submitting short stories, working on a novel, and actively building the blog Thousand Thoughts. On a path toward a teaching career, he looks forward to teaching English and creative writing in the future.

This column was originally posted on Niche’s website on April 8th, 2014

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