Dark Mysteries of the Palm...... Or Sticking Your Hand Into a Friendly Computer

Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,

The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents,

Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty

The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:

For there's no human life at the full or the dark.

THE SIGN in the street said "Mrs. Murray. Card Advisor and Palm Readings." The building was very narrow and very decrepit. After hesitating a moment, I walked in and read the sign: "One flight up to Mrs. Murray." As I climbed the winding stairs, a dark-haired woman, olive-skinned, appeared from a decaying red-carpeted, red-furnished living room. She came out so quickly I was taken aback. Cynically. I wondered how many months, it had been since the last likely mark had wandered in.

"Uh, I'm very interested in astrology," I stammered. "I was wondering if you give readings." Actually, there wasn't much to wonder about; the sign outside had already established the preliminaries. But she was very understanding.

"Yes," she smiled. "Would you like one now?"

I really wasn't prepared. I told her I'd be back the next day.

"Fine." She smiled again.

"What's your fee?" I remembered to ask.

"Five dollars," she said.

"Fine."

She headed back to the living room, in which I noticed the figure of a bearded man. I galloped down the stairs and out into the all-American, midtown-Manhattan air. I had had my first face-to-face meeting with the forces of the occult.

When I was small. I exhausted the racks of fairy tales in the neighborhood library. Tales of witches and trolls, goblins and potions, never failed to enchant me. I was dazzled by the sorcery of Merlin and his professional colleagues, by the scheming of astrologers and the cauldrons of brooding witches. This was the world I was entering. No wonder I was apprehensive.

IT WAS three days before I returned. I ascended the stairs a bit more self-confidently and entered the living room; the bearded man had been replaced by two little children on the couch and a baby in a bassinet. They too were olive-skinned. I asked for their mother and looked about me.

The white paint was peeling off the walls. In the corner, a stand was crammed with icons and religious figures. The dark woman I had seen before- who I presumed was Mrs. Murray- entered, and I turned around.

"Would you like a reading now?" she asked

"Yes."

"Do you know the fee?"

"Five dollars."

"That's right," she smiled. "One moment. please."

She went back into the adjoining room, and in a few seconds a girl, about 18 years old, emerged. She had a heart-shaped face, and the same olive skin. dark hair, and brown eyes.

"Would you like cards or a palm reading?"

Being a novice, I didn't really have a preference.

"The palm reading is better," she advised, and I obliged.

She motioned me to sit down on a red couch of velvet crushed beyond respectability, and sat down beside me.

Taking my hand, she examined my palm and smiled beatifically. I was glad she was so pleased.

"Make two wishes and tell me one."

I have never been a good wish- maker. I thought a few minutes and apologized for the delay. She smiled sympathetically and suggested a few popular wishes. I finally spat out some noble, selfless thought. She complimented me on my wish. I relaxed. The serious palm-reading commenced.

"You are honest," she informed me. That much she could have perceived from my telling her mother the correct fee. She spoke with a slight accent, as had her mother.

Her words began to flow out. rushed together breathlessly. "You don't like to boss other people around, and you don't want other people to boss you around. Am I right?"

I agreed.

"I see a long life ahead for you. I don't see any sickness for you. You will marry someone like yourself, but not soon. I don't see any marriage for you in the next two years." My barber could have told me that. I thought silently. "You have not yet met the girl you will marry. You will have four children, two boys and a girl, twins."

I looked up. Perhaps I had misunderstood her, with the accent.... I decided not to say anything.

"Understand?"

"Uh, no, not really."

"You will have two boys and then twins, two girls," she explained.

"Ah." I thought the boys were the twins.

Then she started to pump me for information. I decided not to let her have any without a struggle.

"Do you go to school?"

"Yup."

"What kind of school?"

"College."

"What are you majoring in?"

"I haven't decided yet." I was getting to like this. It was like playing Twenty Questions.

"Oh. you're just starting."

"Yes."

"Well, I can see that you will be a success in whatever career you choose. You're going to have to work at it, though; it won't just come to you." This girl must have a maternal fixation, I thought. Probably an occupational hazard.

SHE ASKED me if I had any questions. I wasn't prepared for that, although in retrospect I realize that this must be the reason most people come to a place like this. I asked if she could tell me what my career would be. Unfortunately. it seems my palm isn't that specific. I inquired if I could ask her a few questions. She acquiesced.

She told me that she came from a long line of Rumanian fortune tellers, dating back thousands of years; Now, however, she and her family are all American citizens. I asked about her accent. "When you speak another language besides English," she told me, "you have a little accent."

What could I say to follow a line like that? I started to rise.

"Come back soon," she said. "Bring your friends. I know you will come back." Well, I thought, that's one prophecy that won't be fulfilled. "Good luck," she smiled softly. "Thanks," I said, handed her the five, and walked by the icons, the baby, the peeling walls, past the crimson living room, down the winding stairs, and out into the Manhattan street.