Next morning, I helped Miss Gray in the garden. We cut away the canes that had died over the winter, leaving the strong canes and fresh new growth. The roses would be splendid in June. I always think the names of roses are like an incantation: Cuisse de Nymphe, Cardinal de Richelieu, Comte de Chambord, Madam Hardy. We also cut back some of the clematis.
Then, I took the bicycle and headed into town. Hyacinth was somewhere or other (“You know, on Mother Night’s business,” said Mrs. Moth), so I borrowed a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt to wear under my cardigan. Miss Gray lent me a jacket.
I rode along, ringing the bell whenever I felt like it until I got into town, and then left the bicycle outside the café. Even in Shadow, there is a café. (The town is called Shadow. The countryside around it is called the Shadowlands. I’m not sure how far the Shadowlands extend. Sometimes I think they are everywhere.)
I had a cappuccino and a biscuit, and then I went to the bookstore and looked at the books.
There, you see? That’s my cappuccino and biscuit. In the bookstore I bought a notebook, because I had not brought one with me, and what is a writer without a notebook? I thought, perhaps later I will write some poetry. About roses, or cappuccino, or something.
When I looked out the window of the bookstore, I saw the sign: Madame Violette, Fortuneteller.
Of course I went over to the store front, looked in to see the necklaces with their astrological signs and saw mine, the swan. (These were astrological signs based on the stars of the Other Country. There are other stars, other constellations there.) There were incense sticks, books on divination and vegetarian cooking, small statues of Mother Night (which did not look much like her). I had not seen the store before; it had not been there the last time I visited the Shadowlands.
I went in. The girl behind the counter (really a girl, only about fifteen, hiding behind her long black hair) said “Can I help you?”
“Is Madame Violette in?” I asked. “I’d like to have my fortune told.”
“In the back,” she said, nodding toward a door at the back of the store, behind a rack of dresses that looked as though they were made of various things: peacock feathers, tree bark, snow. (Just patterns, as I saw when I passed them and put out my hand to feel. But so realistic.)
I opened the door. I had been opening a lot of doors lately: the door to Mrs. Moth’s house, the door to the café, the door to the bookstore, all of which had wonderful things behind them. What would this door have behind it?
A small room, with a round table at the center. It looked perfectly ordinary and pleasant. There were shelves filled with books, and on top of one shelf a brass vase with peacock feathers in it. A woman was sitting at the table. She looked perfectly ordinary and pleasant as well: in a white cotton blouse with a sweater, looking rather like a librarian. She wore spectacles, with a chain to keep them around her neck when she took them off.
“Hello, dear,” she said. “Shuffle the cards.”
There was a deck of cards on the table.
“I’d like my fortune told,” I said. “How much will it cost?”
“Oh, the fortune-telling is free. Of course we hope you’ll buy something in the shop afterward. My daughter will be happy to help you.”
So the girl hiding behind her black hair was Madame Violette’s daughter. They did look somewhat alike, at least around the nose (which was almost all I could see of the girl). It was a sharp nose, and Madame Violette’s spectacles were perched halfway down it.
I sat on one of the chairs and shuffled, then put the deck back on the table.
Madame Violette pulled a card from the top of the deck.
“This is where you are now: the Tree.”
“This is what you are leaving behind: Night. This is where you are going: the Moon. This is what will help you: the Cat. This is what will hinder you: the Snake. This is what you will need to find: the Book.”
She laid all the cards in front of me. A tree, rather like a oak, growing up to the sky. When I looked closely, I could see a small person climbing through the branches. Really climbing: the picture on the card moved. The Night card, dark although with stars. The Moon card, pale in the daylight but with all the craters articulated. The Cat card, on which the cat was washing itself. It looked like Cordelia. The Snake card, on which the snake looked green and poisonous. It reared back to strike, but of course it could not, being cardboard. The Book card. It was open to a page that started “I opened the door. I had been opening a lot of doors lately . . .”
“And this is your card, the card that represents you: the Singer.”
“Well, that’s ironic,” I said, “since I don’t know how to sing.”
“It’s not that kind of singer,” said Madame Violette.
When I looked closely, I noticed that the singer had red hair. She looked like me, except that she was carrying a harp. And I wouldn’t know what to do with a harp.
“It’s symbolic,” said Madame Violette, as though she had read my thoughts.
“What do they all mean?” I asked.
“I lay out the cards,” she said. “I don’t tell you what they mean. You need to find the meanings for yourself.”
Isn’t that always the way it is? In life. You always have to find the meanings for yourself. Sometimes I hate that.
I did buy something in the store: the necklace with the swan on it. The girl behind the counter gave me change without coming out from behind her hair.
“Thanks,” I said. And then, impulsively, “I’m Thea. I’m staying in town for a while. Well, outside town. With Mrs. Moth.”
She looked at me for a moment, then said, “I’m Violet. We just moved here.”
“Do you like it?” I asked her.
“Not particularly,” she said. And then she looked down and began rearranging the necklaces on the tray.
“Well, I hope you have a good day,” I said. She did not answer, so I took my package and went out into the sunlight. The Tree, Night, the Moon, the Cat, the Snake, the Book, the Singer. I had no idea what they meant. I put the notebook and necklace I had bought into the bicycle basket, bought some bread Mrs. Moth has asked for and a bouquet of daffodils, and headed out of town and back to Mrs. Moth’s house.