There’s a Guy Fawkes festival every year. Late in spring, the weather is just about good enough for people to wander around picking at thread bits of candy floss and trying to win a plush cuddly toy for their beloved, as if the toy won’t get shunted aside by Christmas. It’ll be pushed off the bed to make space for sleep, passed along to a passing child who takes a fancy to it, or just kicked off one day and forgotten about. Lucky then that diamonds are supposed to last much longer. I’m walking through the mini-city full of bright lights and canned noise, winding through dozens of people. It’s a Saturday this year, so it’s date night, family night, teenagers getting their fill of Instagram-shots. The fireworks won’t be ‘til eleven, but I think I’m safe in saying that by 11:03, the fireworks will have concluded and there’ll be another few hundred short videos loaded up online. By midnight, there’ll be dozens of hashtags, hundreds of likes. It’s the last big thing before Christmas. I’m one of the very few coming here alone. My professional-grade camera hangs on a bulky lanyard, wrapped several times around my wrist, as much for easy access as for not having it around my neck. Coming in the gates alone, I felt like the outlier at first, the one everyone was staring at, but once I got to finding my photos I managed to shut that out. As I walk, I catch mingled bits of conversation, but nothing I could ever pin down into one logical thing. Three conversations flow and converge in on each other, and if I wanted to, I’d spend longer trying to decipher them. There’s a row of booths dedicated to fortunes. Tea leaves, palms, crystal ball, Tarot… I rule out the palm and tea right away. When I was younger, fortunes were all the rage: we folded bits of paper and hid messages that revealed themselves with the right fold/unfold configuration; we wrote algorithms which required a pair of dice to show who we’d marry and when; we devoured fortune cookies by the hundred, and when a message repeated it was clearly of the divine. With all that complication, it’s no wonder I one day turned to deduction to tell my future. If school equaled university, and university equaled a specific degree – well, I didn’t need to be psychic to start seeing where I would end up. I’d almost turned away before the last booth caught my eye. Hidden in plain sight, it was a shabby tent, a small blackboard with psychic printed across it. There was nothing fancy, nothing eye-catching at all about it. I walked inside. There was a woman behind a folding table, and her set-up inside was just as inconspicuous as the outside. She wore no costume: just jeans and a warm jumper which I envied. Summer might be approaching, but spring still had strong chills at this time of night. When I walked inside, fumbling to hide my camera in my bag, she looked up at me, no expression or effort of welcome. “You’re searching for self,” she said, lingering on the words – slowly, tonelessly, and I sat back to wait. “You want to know who you are, where you should be,” she continued, and I felt my eyelids begin to grow a little heavier. Instead, I did my best to suppress a yawn – it was generic, of course, most psychic information is, but the hidden gimmick had made me want more from this woman. Her low-key approach had almost tricked me into becoming a believer. We watched each other in silent stand-off. The thin tent walls did little to dampen the noise outside, the cheery people celebrating another anniversary of anarchy, and I tried to stay as neutral as I could. I knew she was probably scanning me even as I sat there, trying to find clues she could use to personalize this reading and secure her credibility in my view. Suddenly, she collapsed the folding table, tucking the money she’d earned from the night into a bag I hadn’t seen, and stepped over it. She walked past me, out the tent door, and bent back inside – “Coming?” was all she said, and I blinked. She was holding a hand out, waiting, and I took her hand. I don’t know why, but I let her pull me up from the flimsy little chair and outside, where the air felt fresher, smelled better after being inside. My watch said I’d only been in the tent with her for fifteen minutes at the most, but the difference in how the air tasted was palpable. Standing here, I realized now, was downwind of a churros truck, and I inhaled the taste of freshly-fried pastry and sugar. We began to walk. Our hands were still linked, and I felt awkward about extricating mine now. Pulling away from her would have felt like damaging the thin bond we seemed to be forming, and I walked a step behind her as she moved. The crowds had begun to thin, probably people beginning to converge on the lawns for the best views of the fireworks, and so she led me from one stall or ride to another. At her impulses, I bought a scarf I didn’t need and would probably never wear; we split a small cone of ice-cream, a different-flavoured scoop on each side, both her recommendations; I tried to win her a penguin stuffy and failed; she cheered me on as I played a second round of a probably-rigged game to win us festival coupons. She was grinning at me; I found my face wouldn’t let me make the requisite smile back, but it didn’t seem to dim hers. We continued to walk, her pulling me this way and that, her suggesting what food I ought to try, what games she thought I’d be good at – and it bled over to the outside world. She’d recommend me books to read, a TV series she thought I’d love, restaurants and vintage stores to try. We finally stopped walking when we got to the fireworks viewing, 10:55 and just a few minutes to spare. My head was swimming with things to try and remember, things that were well-intentioned in their spirit but felt a bit like tiny ways to reshape me. After the fireworks, I looked around and she was gone. The bangs and whizzes were still ringing in my ears, and the streaks of colour were slowly fading from my vision. People were already filtering away from the field, walking away in clusters and as I made my way back, the lights were already beginning to dim. Final orders were being made and last-minute purchases were taking place; when I walked back along the fortune-tellers’ row, I found the tents were already going dark and quiet, signs put away. My fortune-teller was gone already, her little dull tent packed away and pulled up from the ground entirely. The bond I thought we’d begun to form had clearly snapped, just as the carnival was beginning to fall asleep. Already, I could feel the sugar-hangover beginning to form. I pushed off from the bench at the exit, ordering an Uber, and promised myself that tomorrow, I’d forget about my fortunes.
Sarah Little is a sometimes-poet who scribbles when she remembers and gets tetchy when she goes too long without writing. Her work has appeared in Pink Plastic House, L’Éphémère Review, and Alien Pub, among others. Her first poetry micro-chapbook, Snapshots was published with Broken Sleep Books in July 2019. Blog: writeonecraftone.wordpress.com, Instagram: @writeonecraftone, Twitter: @writeonecraftone.