The Cardinal and I had been up all night (both quite sober for a change). Sometime after 4:00 he said in a quiet voice that there was someplace he had to go and asked if I would come along. At first I didn't question where we were going--it didn't matter. We set out on foot (naturally) and talked about nothing until we passed into the Zone of Heightened Reality. Then he grew quiet. We walked in silence for a good thirty minutes before I asked him where we were going. "To have your fortune told," he said.
The arcade is one of the places they got right. It is a flawless replica of the midway of a cheesy seaside amusement park in a port town: a place of sailors and whores and the remnants of garish painted signs chipping and peeling off concrete walls. You'd swear you can smell salt spray and popcorn and stale beer. The mocking laughter of a malevolent clown--his face clenched in a rigor mortis grin, his crude movements mimicking the spasms of a botched kill--dominates the entrance to the arcade. Warmbodies, greedy for amusement, feed their tokens into the engines of diversion within.
In one corner stands a gypsy-fortune-teller booth. Signs on the booth proclaim "Delphica knows all! Sees all!" and "The future is certain!" Confined to the booth is a slender figure with dark hair and golden eyes. She is only visible from the waist up. Oblivious to the tawdry world outside her box Delphica placidly shuffles cards and deals them out in precise patterns until someone puts tokens into the coin slot. Then, while a mechanical timer counts the seconds, she can see and hear the world beyond the glass.
Every morning at dawn she bathes. It's hard-programmed into her. She cannot foretell the future unless she performs her cleansing ritual at first light.
First she takes off her blouse and the scarf that holds her hair and hangs them to one side. She leaves on her gaudy costume jewelry. From a small gold faucet beside her she fills a clay bowl. She begins to hum a sad tune as she pours the water over her head. The water must not be heated because even though she does not flinch or shiver as she pours, her nipples grow hard and goose bumps rise on her very pale skin. She finishes her tune as she empties the last bowl of water over herself. From the little shelf in front of her she picks up a gold comb and combs her hair as fans in the top of the booth blow her dry.
Once she is back in her Gypsy costume the Cardinal gives me a small handful of tokens and tells me to feed them into the coin slot. As the first coin clatters into the gullet of her cage the beautiful woman with the golden eyes looks up from her cards and sees us.
"Hi Delph," the Cardinal says. "How are you?" I've never heard this gentleness in his voice.
"I'm fine, Edison. I've missed you, though."
The Cardinal tries to reply but decides to introduce me instead. "I've brought a friend I'd like you to meet. He's come to have his fortune told."