“Lady Nadya Parts the Veil of Mists” (short story)

title: “Lady Nadya Parts the Veil of Mists”
by Amy Gaertner
genre: fantasy, magical realism

Lady Nadya has been parting the veil of mists and reading fortunes for the patrons of the Cirque Mystique’s sideshow for a little over a year now. Originally hired as yet another fire-eating belly dancer to work the crowds, she’d filled in one night when Madame Zsa Zsa’s cat was sick, and had done well enough to take over the position full-time when the Madame’s cat failed to recover and grief forced her into early retirement. Nadya fits into the role so well, the other performers and employees of the show have forgotten that her real name is Nadya and call her “Milady”, even when she’s not performing.

It’s not a very complicated character she plays: Natalie’s slightly swarthy complexion (one quarter Filipino on her mother’s side) and the affectation of a vaguely Eastern European accent hint at a gypsy ancestry; a liberal smudge of eyeliner and mounds of gold jewelry that tinkle when she moves complete the look. She works in a silky red tent hung with gauzy drapes and lit with the soft flicker of artificial candles. Pyewacket, the carnival’s communal black tabby, likes to lie on a green satin cushion set atop an old oak chest full of curiosities. Bundles of herbs and crystals tied with feathers hang from the ceiling. In her costume, in this setting: for any performer with even half her skill, the mood and the atmosphere created in that tent would do more than half the job.

But the people who came to see Lady Nadya do not come for mood or atmosphere. Lady Nadya has a gift: people come to the sideshow from miles around to hear her fortunes, walking right past the “For Entertainment Purposes Only” sign without a passing glance. The line for her tent is always the longest, and every night dozens of people are turned away when the night grows too dark, and local performance ordinances force the company to shut down the fairgrounds.

This night is no exception. Nadya’s ‘show’ isn’t scheduled to start until 8:30, and already at twelve minutes past eight, she can hear the crowds of people milling restlessly outside her tent.

Patrick, dressed as a medieval market slave boy, draws back the flap and steps inside. There’s an anxious look on his face. “Hey, Nadya?”

She looks up from the pile of tarot cards she’s shuffling and smiles. “Yes, Merek?”

He stands up straighter at the mention of his stage name – squares his shoulders in a physical preparation for the role he’s playing tonight. “Lady,” he begins again, “the crowds are gathering. Does it suit you to begin before the appointed hour?”

With her left hand, Nadya sets the cards aside. “It does. I am more than ready. Please send in the first patron.”

Patrick disappears outside again, and when he returns, a nervous young man in jeans and a college sweatshirt follows him. His eyes are blinking to adjust to the dimness of the tent. Bit by bit, as the interior of the strange tent comes into focus, the boy’s anxious fidgeting increases. He looks back nervously at the flap through which he entered.

Before he can bolt, Patrick steers him toward the middle of the tent, where Nadya sits at a claw-footed table scattered with crystals and cards. “May I present to you, Sir, my mistress, the Lady Nadya. Hers is a strange gift. If the spirits are willing, she will tell your fortune tonight.” He gestures at the plush, padded chair that sits empty, but the boy doesn’t move.

Patrick moves behind the boy, and over his shoulder, meets Nadya’s eyes with a smirk. “Please, Sir: do not be afraid. Sit.” He accompanies his words with a gentle, urging shove.

Finally, the young man sits, and Patrick retreats to a corner of the tent, sitting on his heels and awaiting his mistress’ next instructions.

Nadya smiles at the boy kindly. She greets him in the smooth, honey-tongued voice she has practiced for just such a purpose. In her short time as Medium, she’s told the fortunes of many a nervous young man. She has just the touch for this one.

Before speaking, she smiles at him, sweetly.

“What is your name, child?” He is no more than five years her junior, but the epitaph suits them both.

“N-Nathan,” he stammers. His voice is thick as if he’s just woken. “Uh, Nate, really.”

“‘Nate’”. She repeats the name with a smile. “A strange name, to be sure: but I like it. Why are you here today, Nate?”

“I, uh…I just came with my girlfriend…”

“I understand!” She interrupts him before he can finish his explanation. He doesn’t need to: she knows the story. If he won’t play along by the script, she’ll fill in the blanks for him.

“You come to hear your future,” she offers. “I can show it to you, if you are willing.”

Dumbly, he nods.

With the women, she suggests the cards. Women love the tarot cards: to see their life spelled out before them in the strange, mysterious pictures. For the men, though, it is always the palm.

“Give me your hand,” she commands softly.

As if against his will, the man’s hand raises.

She takes it gently, places it on the table before her. She runs her fingertips lightly over his palm as she looks into his eyes. This is the important part, right here: the touch, the look, the connection. A beautiful, exotic woman holding his hand and looking into his eyes. For most men, this is all the convincing they need. She could say anything. During a really good reading, the man will go away with only a vague idea of what she’s told him. All he’ll remember is that he believed her.

As for Lady Nadya, the moment she touches his hand she can see it all. She stopped wondering a long time ago if these pictures that come to her are true prophecy; she’s followed up on enough of her predictions over the years to know they’re always right, with 100% accuracy.

She could tell this man his whole life. About the blonde-haired girl who brought him here, who’s waiting outside in the line with her sister. She sent him in alone because she doesn’t want him to come inside with her: it’s him she plans to ask about.

The first part of the story, Nadya will tell them both: he is going to marry her. He’s already decided that he will ask her on a camping trip to the mountains next month. She doesn’t know that, but she’s suspected for awhile that the question is coming, and she’s already decided that she will say yes.

That is the part she will tell. The rest of the story goes like this:

They will be married for 10 years: many of them very happy. The divorce will be emotional, but largely amicable: they’ll both agree that they’ve grown apart and just don’t have the same interests anymore. (Their friends will politely refrain from pointing out that they never did.) She will get primary custody of their two kids, Joshua and Caitlyn, and he will get them on the weekends and for three weeks in the summer. They will alternate holidays.

She will remarry almost immediately, and for awhile this will make him very jealous. Eventually, he’ll get re-acquainted with an old girlfriend from high school who has been divorced several years longer than he has. She will buy him a drink, and they will swap stories about their kids and their exes, and in another year’s time they will marry quietly at the courthouse in the small lake town where they like to go camping.

His job will be steady, but never exciting. He will enjoy golfing on the weekends with his friends, but always be jealous that he can never quite beat Jim’s drive. His father will die early of a heart attack. His mother will move to a seniors’ community and take up clog dancing. His brother will be more successful than he is, but will always invite him up to his cabin in the summers for fishing and in the autumn to hunt wild turkeys.

Nadya can see all of this and more the instant she touches the young man’s hand. But this is not what she tells him. This is not what he will want to hear.

It’s so very easy to guess what it is he does want to hear. He wants what everyone wants, really: a little romance, a little success; a chance to be surprised.

She tells him about outer insecurities and hidden inner strengths; she sees him nod along when she talks about the mask he must wear over his deepest feelings. She doesn’t need her strange powers to tell her any of this: it’s true of almost anyone.

By the time she’s finished, his posture is relaxed. He’s looking back into her eyes with a dreamy stare. He’s agreed with everything she’s said.

When he goes back out to join his girlfriend, she will ask him what the psychic told him. Was the reading any good?

Yes, he’ll tell her. Yes, she was pretty good.

He will avoid the specific details. When his buddy asks if it was a good time, and should he take his girlfriend, Nate will say yes.

Because Lady Nadya, nee Natalie Christopherson, is a very good fortune teller.

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