Madame Daphne rarely went out, but when she did, high-heels were nonnegotiable. She liked her shoes black, shiny, and pointy-nosed, as much as she liked her shawls to have fringes and the sprinkles of beads at the ends, and her nails oxblood-red. Perfect.
“My dear, we must go to the store,” she said to her assistant, Lakiss, first thing in the morning. Madame was in a bad mood today. She hummed moans as she moved through the shop, and she wrapped her cardigan tight around herself.
“I’ll get the candles and the incense, then,” Lakiss said without looking.
What a routine reply. Whenever something minor went wrong in the seer shop, the candles were usually either the reason, or a crucial part of the solution. But not today.
Madame stopped by the stained-glass window and sighed, her hand rubbing her throat, toying with the garnet necklaces intertwined with silver chains. “I have to go myself. I have to.” When she was certain she got Lakiss’ attention, she added, “I have to get a new orb. I had a dream last night.”
Lakiss pressed a hand to her chest. “What happened?”
“What will happen, darling,” Madame said solemnly. “What will happen.”
By the last strike of midnight, the old one would shatter. A Madame without a grand orb was as good as your next-door neighbor who predicts weather changes due to her arthritis. In other words, a charlatan.
Out in the scorching sun, Madame wore a wide-brimmed hat and cat-eye glasses. Some people have to fit their persona at all times. Without it, they feel naked and unsightly. So while Madame hated the rush and din of the brick-lined streets, she put on her best clothes, her deepest bordeaux lipstick that etched into the many creases of her lips, and the expression of somberness and magnanimity she wore so well. Some people have no choices in what they do and why. They’ve chosen so much in their lives, and at some point, all new choices vanished. When one knows exactly how they will behave at any given moment, is their future at all a mystery? No. Only fate, Madame supposed.
Besides, she absolutely had to come. Only a knowing person could choose a good crystal ball, and Lakiss didn’t have it in her. The girl barely had a talent at all — she was good with reading the manual at the back of Tarot card decks, or coming up with a random bout of inspired interpretation the very next moment, but that was it.
Poor girl. In this business, she would be eaten alive.
The store door chimed, and Madame stood at the threshold, pulling her gloves off, finger by finger.
“Orb. Show me the most potent ones you have,” she said to the owner, not bothering with the mousy customers shying in the corners. “Whatever the cost.”
“Of course, Madame,” the owner said. “My condolences for your old one.”
She chose a pure beauty — selenite, heavy, swirling with milky blurs and the vague promises of what may come. Lakiss had to get three shoulder bags, each stacked into the other, to be able to carry it back across half the city to Madame Daphne’s Crystal Seer shop.
At ten-forty in the evening, Madame escorted Lakiss out of the shop and gave her dry pecks on the cheek, thanking for the help. Lakiss would have a wonderfully mundane evening tonight, and Madame was delighted to tell her that.
At eleven sharp, Madame checked all the doors and windows in the shop and went to get her kettle off the burner.
She liked her tea with a fair amount of milk and a single petite madeleine, a taste that lingered on her tongue long after she went to sit in her armchair to read a novel she chose because she’d had a premonition that she would love it. And she did. The novel was quite good.
So when the clocks started striking twelve, and Madame closed the book over her finger to wait for the chime to go its way, she was ready.
The old orb, lead crystal, was on the table at her right. She watched it, unamused.
She had to brush an invisible hair off her pant-leg and clear her throat, waiting. The clock climbed to seven and then eight strikes, the dull old thing. Before the tenth, she put her perfectly manicured finger to the orb’s side and gave it a tiny push.
That was enough. It cracked in half on the floor, the bits and pieces scattered under Madame’s feet.
Madame watched it for a thoughtful second, then went back to her book, a busy “hmph” on her lips.
“As expected. Exactly as expected,” she said to the empty room as though not sure. As though in need of an audience. Sometimes she felt she had one.
With this, she crossed her legs and turned the page.
Amelia Sirina is a Russian-Buryat speculative fiction writer currently living in Fairfax, Virginia. Her works previously appeared in the anthology Guilds & Glaives, and Liminality magazine.
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