The New Country
In New Orleans, a sign reads: “until further notice, celebrate everything.” On the stone slabs of Jackson Square a man in a multicolored, felted patchwork jacket and a leather Stars and Stripes ball cap dances as a teenage brass band plays. You are not sure who the crowd has gathered to see. Perhaps both—one plays off of the other, they gather more together than apart.
It is New Years Day and you are drinking bottled beer out of a paper sack, thanking your lucky stars you’re not too hungover, you’re not back in Oklahoma, there’s still time to become a new person. Promise hangs thick and low like fog. Because it is cold and January, nothing here smells too rank, yet. Fireworks ring in your ear from the night before—fireworks and the din of the crowd at the house party on Malais, the drag queen’s syrup voice as he said he wanted your boyfriend, your boyfriend who squeezed your hand at dinner, leaned over and said, “I feel like we’re in another country.”
This is a sort-of other country—a new year with illegible fine print, laws to be made and broken, wars to be fought. The past, it’s own country, lies behind you and you are unwilling on this day to look back, for fear that the past will front-flip over your head, will lie flat before you, become a sheet you get tangled in. These thoughts justify what you are about to do; they justify the paper sack-swaddled beer in your hand. You think with some comfort that you are not home and then realize, maybe, home is a country you haven’t yet visited.
There are four palm readers within earshot as you scan their tables and try to intuit which one looks the most legitimate. The lady at the purple table catches your eye, arches an eyebrow and, palm up, raises her left hand as if to ask, “Well?” Her eyes return to her cell phone. She noticed you. You! Standing out from the crowd. This signpost has guided you for years: who is paying attention?
Hand in your boyfriend’s hand, you both walk over. She tells you the price and what she will do. Palm reading is a general reading, looking at your past and future; an overview of who you are, your likes and dislikes, your tendencies. You agree and place your right hand on the purple-clothed table. It is dingy with dirt, wear, and candle wax. She is wearing a black fleece with holes in the sleeves. Her hair is long and wavy and once was dyed. Her sunken eyes are outlined by thick blue eyeliner, her jaw, retreating from her face, reveals the inner slick of her lips.
For a few minutes you are suspended between the person you have been and the person you will be. You hold one belief at bay to make room for another—the impossible quiets, allowing the possible to speak. You shush the smallness inside of you that says surely, if she is a fortune-teller, she could’ve worked out a better deal than this cold gig, ratty tablecloth, and holes in her sweater. That voice has no place here.
The lady begins. You place your right hand on the table, palm up, and your boyfriend leans forward to listen. You are a very private person, she says. You are a good friend, but short on patience. You work better as your own boss. You will live into your nineties and keep most of your marbles. You will have three major relationships in your life – the first: a hell-bent tiltawhirl, the second: passionate but void of love, and the third: strong and rooted in friendship. You don’t look at your boyfriend. You could be sitting in her spot, doing her job, because you are intuitive. She says that. This is the one thing you disbelieve. You swallow beer, hand her money, and walk off into the future.
Liz Blood is a writer living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received her MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is working on a chapbook of personal essays. Her work has appeared in Numero Cinq, Hunger Mountain, Oklahoma Today, and elsewhere.