If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”
Wednesday is occult night at Stenny’s. From 8pm to 10pm, a self-professed seer sits in a small booth by the bar, passively waiting to be approached; there’s plenty of customers eager to be relieved of $25 for 15 minutes of undivided attention. Services vary depending on the purveyor– Tarot or Angel Card readings, communication with spirits, the offering of “energy medicine,” which claims to heal injuries and cure illnesses via the channeling of neutrons.
Tonight, Joanna is seated at the bar, playing the video game What a Mess with Leigh, when a middle-aged, slightly-built woman she has never before seen begins to set up—she puts a thin fuchsia-colored scarf over the tableside lamp, lights a small low-lying candle, lays out some printed material, and stacks what looks like business cards.
“She’s new,” Joanna says to Leigh. “Wonder what her specialty is.”
“Don’t know,” Leigh says. “Nail polish. Got it.”
“4000 points. Good pick.” Joanna and Leigh are Stenny’s undisputed What a Mess champs; it makes no difference to anyone but them.
Several months ago, Joanna sat down with a woman who billed herself as Clairvoyant Clara; she was feeling particularly open-minded that night and was willing to drop a few bucks to have what she hoped was an enlightening experience. It was almost eerie how everything the woman said was exactly wrong—that her father was dead, her mother was alive, she had strong Midwestern roots, she needed to be more assertive, she had a fear of the water that rivaled Natalie Wood’s, she had a lifelong dream of being a geriatric nurse.
“Well, that was a waste,” Joanna said to Matt as she settled back into her bar stool. “Thirty bucks down the drain.”
“I thought it was twenty five,” Matt answered.
“I tipped her.”
“Jo, you don’t tip those people. It’s like tipping the owner of the barber shop. It’s not done.”
“Tipping rules are confusing. I didn’t want to look cheap.” Matt shook his head, but in fact he understood. He too disliked cheapness, and tended to overtip in all situations; it’s no surprise that he and Joanna were well-liked by Stenny’s bartenders. Good tippers, and (usually) not jerks.
Now, as Leigh selects the kitchen knife she knows is worth 5000 points, the woman approaches them.
“Hello,” she says. “I don’t mean to disturb your game, but I wanted to introduce myself. I’m Rosa.”
Joanna presses EXIT GAME to Leigh’s protestations, but it’s only wasting a quarter.
“Hi Rosa. I’m Joanna. This is Leigh.”
“Nice to meet you both. I wanted to tell you about my services,” Rosa says, as she hands Joanna one of the papers she had noticed earlier. “In a nutshell, I channel spirits.”
“Nutshell. Good word,” Leigh says. She’s not a believer.
Joanna sees she charges the same $25 for the same 15 minutes; either all of the seers are in collusion or they really do have psychic abilities that allows them to sync their prices.
“OK, thank you,” Joanna says. “But may I ask why you approached us? Usually you guys just wait for people to come to you.”
“Ahh yes,” Rosa says. “It’s about your mother.”
“What about her?” Joanna asks.
“She’s here. Standing over your right shoulder. Looking at you.”
“That’s just wrong,” Joanna says. “Why would you say something like that?”
“I’m sorry, Joanna, but it’s true. She’s here with you.”
“If I chose to believe you, which I’m not saying I do, why is she here?”
“She wants to tell you she’s sorry,” Rosa says, with a warmth and a sadness in her deep-brown eyes that Joanna, disconcerted as she is, can’t help but notice. “She knows she wasn’t always kind to you, not terribly maternal, and that she feels terrible because you were such a sweet little girl, no trouble at all, in fact she had to force herself to spank you…..”
“Oh shit,” Joanna says. “Stop. Please stop.” Her mother often told her that same thing about her rare childhood spankings.“Did Matt put you up to this?” She asks this knowing that Matt would never do such a thing; he has no fondness for pranks, especially not cruel ones.
“I don’t know who Matt is. Is there something I can say to your mother for you? It looks like she’s about to leave.”
Joanna finds herself wondering what the etiquette is of addressing your dead mother. “Tell her thanks for coming by, I appreciate it.” The words sound ridiculous to her own ears, like something you would say to someone who brought you chicken soup when you had the flu. But Rosa nods, looks over Joanna’s shoulder and, after a few seconds, smiles.
“One more message. She said ‘Take care, Annie.’ Maybe she meant take care of Annie. Who’s Annie?”
“Me,” Joanna says. “My childhood nickname.”
It’s only when Leigh reaches out and hugs her that Joanna realizes she is crying, two narrow streams of silent tears. Before she walks away, Rosa touches her arm, says she hopes she hasn’t upset her too much, and hopes that ultimately Joanna will see this as a positive experience.
Joanna tries very hard to think of a wisecrack, fails, and says to Leigh, “Gonna find Matt and head home. Don’t ever tell Russ this, OK? It will freak him out. Anything paranormal scares the shit out of him. Goes back to those Chucky movies.”
Leigh kisses Joanna on the cheek, and says, “I’ll never tell. I won’t tell Jim either, because he won’t remember not to tell Russ, blabbermouth that he is. Try to rest. I’ll text you tomorrow.”