Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s story “The Tent”

I’m in a tent… and I’m staring at a crystal ball as milky as an oracle’s cataract.  The octogenarian gypsy is perfectly stereotypical: dressed in a purple and white, with the face of a crone and jewelry more fitting for someone a fraction of her age.

But her eyes….

As I meet her gaze, I am certain she knows all the secrets of the universe, and I’m more intimidated than Tweety Bird was when he had that photo op with Big Bird on Sesame Street.

I remember to breathe, and I wonder if the curiosity that led me here was more a sense of fatalistic abandon, since all of the sudden – I’m okay being the cat.  Because even if curiosity kills it, that cat learns more than a thousand inquisitive dogs, and looking back into her eyes – I want to know what she knows.

The tent smells like a lavender farm someone placed inside a head shop.  She still has not said a word, so I reach for the chair in front of her and sit down.  After what felt like hours of her mystical scrutinizing crystalline.  It carried a jaunty resonance comparable perhaps to Eric Clapton playing on an angel’s lyre.  She asked me what it was I wanted to know.  My mind flashes back to 15 minutes prior, outside the tent, musing overt the faded yet authentic  ‘Fortune Teller’ sign.  At that moment, I was innocently nonchalant, if not skeptical.  I recall thinking that as an individual what at this time in my life doesn’t know what direction I want to take- the profundity of having someone tell my future to me seemed like an ironical and speedy solution.

Back in the present, suddenly transfixed by this mercurial crystal ball, that notion seemed exceedingly petty.  I’m lost in some impenetrable trance as I contemplate the multitude of new questions going through my head: I want to know the secrets of Stonehenge or Socrates’ last thought as he drank his lethal sentence.  I want to know what a rainbow smells like or exactly what blind kids visualize when they dream.  The key to alchemy.  The possibilities of immortality.

Here so far, I hadn’t broke my enchantment from said crystal ball, which at this point is filled with swirling flames, captivating the pyromancer inside me.  I finally breach the mounting silence.

“I want to know the meaning of life,” I proclaim.

As soon as I uttered the last word I snap out of it, grasping the fact that the fire has extended to the entire tent, and the gypsy is nowhere to be found.  In a hazy panic, I make my way through the flaming occultist debris, and as I take my first gasp of fresh air, I hear the gypsy laughing.  A transcendental, euphonious laugh.

She was not laughing at me though. In my stunned silence, she most assuredly was not laughing with me.  Somehow, in that instant, I knew with all the clarity of my being that the laughter was, in actually, the answer to my question.


Jen McColl


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