Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Fortuneteller

Sometimes I think the oddest thing about Minerva Gosgold was her name. I was never sure if she grew into the name or the name was what defined her. But I suppose if you’re saddled with a name like Minerva you have no choice but to grow up to be a fortuneteller.

A professional psychic was something of an anomaly in Sliver Creek. It was, and is, too prosaic a town for palm reading or crystal balls. It was considered a bit strange to read your horoscope. But Minerva somehow managed to make a living from her tiny shop on Ascot Street, sandwiched between a dry cleaners and a Chinese deli with chickens hanging in the window. When you walked down the street you got an interesting blend of starch, incense, and hot sauce.

Minerva was an interesting mix of contradictions. She had short hair and long legs. She had a big noise and small eyes. She was a psychic and also, most unexpectedly, a Catholic. Whenever Our Lady of Angels had a spaghetti dinner or bingo night, Minerva was first on the list of volunteers. She proclaimed this duality by always wearing both a crucifix and ankh pendant and she saw no strangeness in going to confession every week and then spending her afternoons reading other people’s auras.

Minerva’s family was riotously normal – the only unique thing in their lives being the name of their daughter. For a couple named Mary and Ralph, the name Minerva seemed so unexpected. I don’t believe anyone ever had the nerve to ask them why, and Minerva never said, so the origin of her name always remained something of a mystery. For a while during my childhood the Gosgolds lived directly behind our house. We shared a back fence and occasionally we’d find one of their cats lazing on our back lawn. I remember going into their house for some reason and being intrigued by the orange shag carpeting and autographed picture of Rudolph Valentino.

Nobody could ever understand how Minerva made a living as she never seemed to have customers and I don’t recall anyone ever going into her shop. But she made enough to stay in business and was even president of the Silver Creek Chamber of Commerce for a time.

Her shop looked the part with a purple bead curtain in the door that clacked in the breeze. And that curiously charming dichotomy of faith was illustrated by a giant neon eye in the window, with a poster of the Virgin of Guadalupe underneath. Truthfully that poster always freaked me out as the Virgin was surrounded by disembodied cherub heads with wings. No bodies, just heads with wings. To this day thinking of that poster gives me the creeps.

Minerva certainly looked ever inch a fortuneteller in flowing caftans and long crystal earrings. But then, on Sunday’s, she became a proper Catholic woman in a dark dress with a scarf and a garish set of bright green rosary beads that she held even when no rosary was being said. And in spite of having no musical talent whatsoever she was an enthusiastic alto in the congregation, usually singing just a few seconds ahead of everyone else and reducing those nearby to giggles.

Yet it was hard to make fun of her because for all her eccentricities she was a sweet and kind woman who always had a smile and frequently had hard butterscotch candies that she’d slip to the kids. She was also quite sincere in who she was. Being a psychic was just part of who she was, like being left-handed and tall. She never talked about it. Never said proclaimed that she believed she could tell the future and predict fortunes – she just was.

After her parents died she lived alone with two cats. A Persian and a Russian blue. Abdullah and Leopold the Great. Leopold was, of course, the Persian and Abdullah the Russian. She never dated, although she had many dear friends. But no man was ever seen to cross the threshold of her tidy house on Locust Avenue.

When she was in her 50s, Minerva went to the wedding of a distant cousin and came back with a fiancĂ©. He was a retired high school teacher named Herbert Hayes and he was obviously besotted with his exotic Minerva. Within the month they were married at Our Lady of Angels and they really did live happily ever after – Minerva telling fortunes and Herbert painting Napoleonic soldiers.

I remember a beaming Minerva at the wedding and overheard her saying to a friend that when it came to Herbert “she never could have predicted it.”


Kittie Howard said...

Decca, this is such a warm, feel-good story it's delicious. I liked how Minerva just was, happy in both worlds, but couldn't have predicted getting married, which, I guess, says why there weren't any customers. Curious, that is. Anyway, loved your story, your voice flowed beautifully. Thank you.

Duke said...

Nice story Decca, thanks.

Here is one of the better movies about fortune telling:


It's a very, very, good take on a twilight zone type story of what happens when the fortunes start to come true....or maybe they aren't....neat stuff.