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"Er... excuse me."
Mia Phoenix diverted her attention from the swirling mists of her crystal ball to investigate the newcomer to her tent. He turned out to be a gangly youth with stringy blond hair that Mia estimated was overdue for an encounter with a bottle of shampoo.
"Yes," she snapped. The fortune teller was usually short-tempered while she fine-tuned her equipment.
"Do you... I mean... are you open... well... for business?" stumbled the boy.
Mia mentally calculated the day's takings, which amounted to very little, she weighed that against the prospect of having her quiet day disturbed, and replied, "Yes. Yes, of course. Come right in. What is your name?"
"Jason," he replied.
"Ah," said Mia, mysteriously. "You look like a Jason. Pisces?"
"What?" asked the confused boy.
"Never mind."
By this time, Mia had managed to arrange a broad, convincing smile across her unusual, striking features. The young man, still standing just inside the tent flap was suddenly reminded of a raven as he took in the image of the gipsy sitting before him. He tried to place exactly what is was about her that brought this comparison to mind but could not. Perhaps it was her long charcoal curls and quick birdlike movements that sparked the analogy. Whatever it was, he found his gaze fixed upon her and realised that he was staring. He remembered his manners and hurriedly averted his gaze. He blinked rapidly, then shook his head slightly to clear it.
Many of Mia's customers were instantly drawn to her because of her appearance and her relaxed charm. This was a fact that Mia was well aware of. She played up her good looks, emphasising the contrast between her dark tresses and pale skin with blood red lipstick. She used her charisma to manipulate her customers and maximise her income.
"What can I do for you?" she now inquired invitingly.
"Well," began the young man, "my... my life has been rather... difficult... I mean... complicated lately and I knew... I mean... I thought that perhaps by knowing the... er... outcome of... events to come would help to..."
"I see," Mia interjected, cutting off his avalanche of incoherent words. "Sit right down and I'll see what I can do to help."
Jason gratefully sank down onto the plush velvet covered stool that she offered him. Many customers appreciated her brisk attitude. They often felt awkward and out of place in the alien environment of her richly adorned tent and were thankful for the orderly, slightly commanding tone that the fortune teller adopted.
"Now, let's find an appropriate method to disclose your future," Mia murmured meditatively. After a slight pause during which she lowered her eyelid, she continued, "I see the cards in your eyes. The fates have informed me that I must use their power to help you discover your potential."
Mia sensed her customer's naivety and used these words to see him her services. He appeared to be in awe of her power.
"Cards?" he almost breathed, enthralled. "What cards?"
"The cards of Tarot," Mia whispered mysteriously. "Messages from the gods."
"Oh yes. Yes, of course," Jason replied quickly to hide his ignorance. "I see."
Mia deftly produced a small silver case from the sleeve of her white, ruffled blouse. She snapped open the lid and placed the cards contained in it on the silk cloth draped over the table between them. She instructed her client to select one at random from those spread face down before him. Jason deliberated, then gingerly pointed to one of the elaborately decorated cards.
"I'll... I'll have that one," he decided nervously.
Mia turned it over without hesitation and smiled reassuringly at the boy who was almost beside himself with anticipation.
"Hmm," Mia wetted her lips and contemplated the view before her. She conjured a thoughtful expression to bide her time in enlightening her client about his future. She considered the snatches off insight that she gained into his personality and concocted a plausible, yet heartening prediction for his days-to-come.
"Well?" the youth prompted impatiently. "What do you see?"
"Great things are in store for you," Mia began promisingly.
Jason's eyes lit up excitedly. "Really?" he asked disbelievingly.
"Yes," continued Mia, "I see great success shall come your way." She paused reflectively.
"... events that shall be shaped from a source across the seas."
"But... but, I don't know anyone from abroad," Jason spluttered doubtfully.
"This is all in the future," Mia explained soothingly. "Great changes are in store for you."
Jason nodded, trying to take in all these unexpected predictions.
"Allow me to see your palm," Mia commanded suddenly. She wanted to ensure that Jason was absolutely convinced of her powers. He hadn't rewarded her for her services yet. "Just to confirm my visions," she added hastily. The youth willingly placed his hand on the table, ever-watchful of the fortune teller's expression. She traced her long red nails along the lines of his palm and shivers crept down Jason's spine, like talons gently toying with his nerve endings.
"Aha!" murmured the gipsy triumphantly. "I see further evidence of your expanding wealth and good fortune. It shall come soon but you must work patiently and selflessly before a windfall tumble into your lap."
Mia was pleased with her eloquently chosen words.
"So," she concluded, "Now that you know what lies ahead, enjoy your life and look forward to prosperous days to come."
Jason's broad smile betrayed his pleasure at her words. "You saw all that?" he inquired incredulously.
Mia closed his hand into a fist and wrapped her claw-like fingers around it, raising it slightly above the table. "It's all in your hand," she breathed. "Your future lies in your palm."
Jason lowered his eyelids in relief. He had feared an ominous future concealed within his clumsy hand. Suddenly he remembered himself, reached into his pocket and deposited its entire financial contents on the table before the gipsy.
"I... I hope this is sufficient," the youth began. "I mean that it is an... adequate reward for your... er... services and that..."
Mia hastily interjected, already accustomed to his roundabout manner of speech. "I love my work and rejoice in the contribution to my client's lives," she lied shamelessly. "The financial rewards are merely a bonus. Now, be gone! As you leave this tent, keep in mind that you must throw yourself at the world with gusto!"
Jason was so inspired by her words that he almost knocked over his stool in his hurry to put her advice into practice. As the tent flap fell to behind him, Mia eagerly gathered the coins and smiled in satisfaction at her financial gain. A pang of guilt struck her suddenly as she realised the extent of her manipulation. After all, the lad was young, naive and innocent and she had used these factors to her advantage. She hurriedly dismissed this train of thought, explaining to her troubled conscience that she had done the young lad a great service by helping him to discover his inner confidence. Perhaps, she had changed the course of his life by invoking belief in himself and his future, she told her protesting subconscious, self importantly. Besides, she mentally concluded, regretful thoughts and moral misgivings are out of place in this business. As she counted the day's takings, Mia heard the rustle of her tent flap parting.
"Oh, you're back, are you?" she inquired, without looking up. "Haven't you learned enough about your future yet?" she scolded, assuming that Jason had returned.
"One can never know enough about one's future," intoned a deep voice, with a hint of menace.
Startled, Mia glanced upwards, to find a tall figure in clown's attire in her presence. A false red nose was, perched precariously over his own. The twinkle in his eyes and his broad smile contradicted the large down-turned lips and teardrops painted on his whitened face. This unnerved Mia.
"Oh, excuse me," she hastily apologised for her ungracious greeting. "I mistook you for someone else." She giggled suddenly as a thought struck her. "Though how I could, with you dressed as you are, is something of a mystery," she added nervously.
"Everything in life is a mystery," the clown informed her darkly.
Mia assumed he was a new addition to the circus' clown troupe as she had not encountered him previously.
"I am not from these parts," he confirmed her unvoiced thoughts evasively. "Yet I should like to be enlightened of the events to come."
Mia's interest was sparked. This foreboding newcomer intrigued her and the anticipation of payment added to her excitement. She regained her composure and took charge of the situation. "Take a seat," she instructed, indicating the stool. "We'll see what we can do."
The harlequin obliged her as she uncovered the crystal ball in the centre of the table.
"You seem to radiate a complex metaphysical aura," she commented. "I shall have to employ my most powerful future-telling instrument to reach into your tomorrows."
The emotionless grunt that the clown emitted in reply, puzzled Mia. Although in actuality she was not in possession of mystical powers, by her own admission, her intuitive skills were extremely sharp and compensated for her weakness in the esoteric department. It was to this that she attributed her great success in her chosen profession.
The ability to psychologically analyse her present client evaded her. She came to the conclusion that he was a remarkably complex individual, harbouring many dark secrets. She warned herself to be cautious with the explanations that she gave him of his future. She did not wish to anger him by unwittingly touching upon some hidden events in his life.
As Mia placed the clown's gloved hands on the crystal ball she cleared her throat loudly to disguise the audible click of the electric switch she activated with her foot beneath the table. Mia peered into the swirling mists that formed beneath the pearliest glass. She clucked theatrically, raising her eyebrows and widening her eyes for added effect. Her intuition informed her that it would take an elaborately staged performance to convince this customer of her legitimacy. The clown waited patiently, betraying no eagerness to learn of his future, Mia considered her client's profession and, on a whim, decided to include it in her prediction.
"Ah..." she sighed, peering into the swirling mists before her. "I... I see great personal fulfilment evolve from a professional pursuit and therefore..." Mia stopped abruptly as the hazy mist reflected before her vanished, suddenly exposing the naked, unexceptional glass sphere to the client. She gasped as she realised the widespread consequences of having her deception exposed among her fellow circus members.
Mia glanced upwards from the transparent sphere that held her mesmerised gaze. The twinkle in the jester’s eye vanished, replaced by a cold, evil glint. He spat a single word at her. “Charlatan.”
Mia’s heart raced. She realised that the harlequin threatened not only her career but her personal safety as well. Her breath came rapidly and shallowly. “What do you want?” she almost whimpered.
He ignored her plea for an explanation, simply stating, “Deception is the root of evil. You shall not escape unpunished.”
The callous manner in which this mysterious visitor conveyed his message almost caused Mia’s cardiac muscle to cease its contractions. Despite the midday heat, Mia began to shiver convulsively. The clown held her gaze as he rose from the stool. Mia let out an uncontrollable gasp as he edged to wards her. She lowered her lids and held her breath,bracing herself for the worst. After what seemed to Mia to be an eternity had elapsed, she cautiously squinted from beneath her thick, dark lashes at her tormentor. She was taken aback to find him stand ing rigidly at the entrance to her tent, regarding her coldly. When he spoke, his stentorian voice caused her to tremble once again. “I cannot leave without rewarding you for your extraordinary services.” The words flowed sarcastically from his lips. Payment was the furthest concern from Mia’s mind as the identity-less visitor approached her. When he reached the table once again, he stood over her for a moment and in a flight of fancy, Mia was convinced she saw a flicker of doubt pass over his face. It vanished and he produced a small, intricately decorated wooden box from the folds of his costume. Carefully, he placed it before the fearful gipsy woman. Without another word he was gone, like a puff of smoke. Mia, shaking her head to clear it, wondered fleetingly if he had ever been there at all. The sight of the box, resting precariously on the edge of the table, was proof that the entire episode had not been a product of her fruitful imagination. As some of the fear drained from her slight frame, curiosity seeped in, and Mia flipped open the lid of the wooden container. As she did so, the name ‘Pandora’ drifted across her mind. She hurriedly chased it away. She peered inside apprehensively, then sighed in a mixture of relief and disappointment. All that she found inside was a cluster of jigsaw pieces jammed haphazardly, almost to the brim. She snapped the lid shut irritably, withdrew her digital watch from the folds of her skirt and judged it to be time for a break. Breathing deeply and still attempting to calm her frayed nerves, she rose and left through the back flap of her tent. Sometimes, she liked to think of it as her office or in more ambitious moods, her consulting room. She strode purposefully towards her caravan, a false smile plastered across her beautiful face. She gave jovial greetings to all she met along the way. Sighing thankfully, she spotted her jade coloured caravan and fumbled with the key in her haste to fit it into the lock. At last, she managed, crossed the threshold and slammed the door behind her. She sank against it, sobbing quietly. Her little boy, five year old Jory engrossed in a colouring book on his top bunk, became aware of her presence and climbed down from his perch. He ran over to her and threw his arms around her quiv ering form. “Mummy! Mummy!” he cried, concern clouding his angelic features. His fair toning was the ultimate contrast to his mother’s dark complexion. Mia regularly reminded him of his resemblance to his father; a man she had loved — and lost justweeks before his birth. Mia constantly praised him and assured him that if his father had lived to see his son, he would be an extremely proud man. This thought crossed the widow’s mind as her son showed his touching and sincere concern. She felt ashamed for allowing her son to witness her in such a state. She sniffed, wiping her eyes and straightening up. She forced a cheerful demeanour to emerge.
“Oh, it’s nothing Jory, dear,” she assured him casually, patting him on the head. “Mummy just had a... a difficult client to deal with.”
“Oh,” said Jory softly, confused at her dramatic change. He seated himself at the small wooden table that made up a large part of the furnishings in their makeshift home. Some bright rugs and wall hangings, basic cooking equipment and two bunks completed the picture.  Mia realised she was still clutching the wooden box that she had absently collected on the way out of the tent. She quickly placed it down on the table. Jory immediately commented on it. “What is it? Mummy, what’s it for?” he iped up eagerly. Mia busied herself with the preparation of a mug of coffee. Despite the rising temperature, she still felt chilled.
“Oh, it’s just a... a form of payment from a client who had no money to offer,” she replied absently as she waited for the water to boil. When it did, she poured it carelessly into a chipped mug. She cried out as some splashed onto her bare arm. She spun around clutching the red patch to find Jory regard ing her curiously. She realised that his intuition, like her own was highly developed and that he was aware of her unsettled state of mind. Ignoring the steaming mug that would have done her so much good, She turned back to Jory. “It’s late,” she said.
“The show is due to start soon. I must go to the Big Top to help prepare for the opening performance.”
“Okay, mummy,” he replied cheerily. “I can look after myself for a while.”  Mia grinned as he pulled himself up to his full height, summoning every bit of maturity in his little body.
“I know you can,” she assured him, “but if you need me, just come and find me in the Big Top. Oh, there’s some milk and sandwiches in the cool box for your lunch and if you look carefully, you might find a cookie or two.”
Later in the afternoon, when Mia returned to the caravan, exhausted and perspiring from the heavy work she had thrown herself into to occupy her mind, she found it empty. She thought nothing of Jory’s absence. He was often outside in the sun shine, playing with the other circus children. She sank onto her bunk, closing her heavy lids thankfully. She did not even have time to reflect upon the day’s events as she fell into a dreamless slumber. When she awoke some time later, it was still light and she gazed around the room, trying to orient herself and clear the remnants of sleep from her mind. Something on the table caught her attention and she rose to inspect it. On the well worn wooden surface she found a half–completed jigsaw, surrounded by the remaining loose pieces, lying beside the closed wooden box. She smiled ironically.
“Well, at least Jory has found a new past time,” she muttered to herself. “Some good came of that unfortunate encounter.”
Having some idle time on her hands, she sat down at the table and began to fit the remaining pieces into their positions. She was doing this rather absently, occasionally gazing dreamily out through the red–bordered window pane. Suddenly she glanced downwards and analysed the picture that was forming. It was a circus scene; she could re cognise the red and white striped Big Top in the background and the  haphazardly placed caravans in the middle ground. She paused as she saw Jory kicking a soccer ball around the sandy field,through the window. He felt her eyes on him and looked up to wave. She waved back, before returning her attention to the puzzle that had caught her interest. Soon it was almost complete and she reflected on the striking resemblance it shared to the scene outside her window. When she fitted in the pieces of the frame, her heartbeat quickened. The coloured pieces enclosed the picture just like the red border surrounded the picture outside her window. As Mia began working on the foreground she periodically compared it to the scenery that she looked out on. As the grey shapes in the foreground took the form of the elephants tied up not far from the caravan, she began to rethink her conclusion of an uncanny coincidence. Soon figures of children, engaged in a game of football emerged from the jagged, hand-painted pieces. She realised with a start that the children were playing dangerously close to the lumbering grey giants. She fitted in the pieces that formed the children’s faces, her breath drawn in sharply. Suddenly she realised that she was a piece short of completing the jigsaw. There was but one obstacle preventing her from seeing the entire picture — she could not find the last piece. Frantically, she scoured the tabletop and crouched on the rug feeling for it withthe palm of her hand underneath the table. Her search was fruitless. In a last attempt to discover the whereabouts of this crucial piece of cardboard, she snapped open the lid of the box lying on the table top. All she found inside was a plastic clown’s nose. Guardedly, she picked it up and retrieved the final piece of the puzzle from its depths. Her worst fears were confirmed as she fitted in the face of the child crouched over a ball underneath the raised foot of a clumsy elephant. She glanced out the window and flung the red nose across the room. As it rolled away into a corner, the name of her precious child formed in a silent scream on her lips.

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Copyright 1994 Ilanit Tof, All Rights Reserved.