THE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION • by Anahita Ayasoufi

The parking lot was empty. It had to do with the stormy spring, otherwise people would be here to see the palm reader. Briana walked to the concrete stairs that led to the one-story residence/office of the psychic. A neon hand flashed a pale pink on the window, and a brass knocker in the shape of the wheel-of-fortune tarot card invited her to climb the stairs, but she stood still.

Her hand moved to the deck of tarot cards tucked in her pocket. She carried them, even though she had made a New Year’s resolution not to.

She looked down. The concrete was fractured on the first step of the stairs. The crack branched over the length of the tread and made it seem like a dry riverbed.

The saying was that if she stepped on a crack, it would break her mother’s back. She lifted her foot to step on the broken concrete but hesitated. There was a tremor in her knee as she held it up above the crack. She teetered on her other foot. Her mother was the reason she had come to see the palm reader. Her mother was old, and the doctors had told her the time was approaching. No one could do anything. She hated those times when no one could do anything. It was the uncertainty that she could not bear. So, she had made an appointment and come, despite her New Year’s resolution.

She was still holding her foot up. Her breathing had become faster, and even though the wind was cold, she began to sweat like those times when she used to sneak a sugary snack out of the pantry. But this was no snack stealing. There was no real connection between her stepping on a crack and the health of her mother. Taking one tiny step forward should not feel this difficult.

She closed her eyes. She could imagine how this superstition was born. It was perhaps a creative person who started it. Someone, maybe a grandma, looked at the cracks and pictured a child catching their tiny foot, falling, and breaking a bone. Yelling ‘You will break a bone!’ would not cut it. What child listens to that? Instead, the grandma invented the myth. She said that if they stepped on the cracks, they would harm their mother. The myth was powerful. It grew roots in the fertile grounds of fear of perishing without a parent. It still haunted Briana, made her heartbeat rise, made her foot teeter, made her think twice standing before a crack.

If she could not even step on a crack, was it a wonder that she had broken her resolution and had come here?

She looked up. An invisible hand lifted the blinds. An orange glow appeared at the window. The psychic had spotted her. She could not retreat now. The wind had picked up. It beat at her spine and reached her bones as if the coat was made of paper. The psychic nonchalantly opened the front door and left it ajar. An aroma of oranges and cloves wafted out. A hint of cozy heat. A sneak peek of oriental cushions in warm colors of crimson and magenta.

All of her wanted to leap over the unkempt first tread and run up the stairs to the calming arms of the palm reader, but she did not.

At forty, she wanted to get over her superstitions, all of them — holding her breath while passing by a cemetery, knocking on wood when something good happened, and reaching for tarot cards every time the future became uncertain. She was tired of them, predictions that calmed but pulled her farther away from reality. 

The psychic poked her head out of the door, eyes alert and searching. Her crescent moon earrings caught the last rays of the setting sun.

“Want to come in, dear?” the psychic asked, her voice soft and dreamy.

Briana let her foot drop. What she really wanted was close contact with the messy, chaotic, and real storm that raged in her life. She wanted to be able to embrace the uncertainty, to thrive in that rise of heartbeat, quickening of breath. She did not want to alleviate it with soothing lies anymore. This was the first mile in a long journey she had promised herself to complete — a step-by-step dismantling of the flimsy scaffold that falsely calmed her.

She wanted to see what would happen if she succeeded.

She felt the rugged edges of the tread under her boots and steeled herself. She lifted her foot, and with a thump that echoed on the brick walls of the building, slammed it smack dab in the middle of the crack. The psychic’s eyebrows rose, then fell. A squirrel froze in place for a second, then resumed climbing the porch.

A pang of liberation washed over Briana — tiny and fragile like a sapling carrying a promise. She fancied clearing out ghosts and goblins whose moaning faded in the wind. What would take their vacated place?

Eventually the tension in her jaws released, and a wide smile creased the corner of her eyes. She reached into her coat pocket and took out the deck of tarot cards. She climbed the stairs and extended the deck toward the palm reader.

“I want you to have this. It’s handmade. Belonged to my mother, and she got it from her grandma.”

The psychic’s eyes sparkled. She took the cards in two shaky hands and examined them with awe.

“Are you sure, dear?” she asked.

Briana nodded. Her hand went to the wooden handrail, but she dropped it back to her side. No need to knock on wood.  

Anahita Ayasoufi is a senior lecturer at Auburn University and a graduate of Odyssey Online classes. Her fiction and poetry have appeared online and in print, including in The Mantelpiece, Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Forging Freedom Anthology, and See Spot Run Literary Magazine.

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