Sabina meets Kao Yang in the Dark.



W 111th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10025

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Seven o’clock isn’t late, but already it is dark in New York City. On the corner of 111th and Broadway, two women meet; they stand in tune to the pull of wary strangers. The duo, a short Hmong girl and a thin white woman, stand beside a portable table. Kao Yang has on a long, black coat. Sabina, the tarot card lady, is wearing a loose white t-shirt underneath an unzipped orangey windbreaker. The heavy cell phone that Sabina clips on to the belt loops of her jeans bulks against her thin frame. The light from a Duane Read shines on the surface of the table.

They are five minutes into the session. Sabina has just stated matter of factly: “Somebody of great import is going to enter your life.”

“Can the person who is entering my life be dead,” Kao wants to know.

“Rinnnnnnggggg!” The ring of Sabina’s phone interrupts the transfer of information. Mia, Sabina’s regular, a heavy middle aged white woman with a brown bob, and thick reading glasses, is calling. Sabina rolls her eyes impatiently as she picks up the phone.

“I’m in the middle of a reading.” She looks apologetically at Kao. Kao looks back. Sabina rushes the phone conversation.

“Hon. Yes. I’m on the corner of the Duane Read—yeah, yeah, if they don’t kick me off, I’ll still be here. Depends on how the night goes. I have to go. Okay. Yes, you might have to wait. Alright, I’ll see you in a bit, then. Okay. Okay. We’ll see what the cards say. Don’t tell me.” She groans as she presses the “end call” button on her phone, and smiles, in the dim light the stains in her teeth look black. “Mia. She’s a sweetie, but really, too much, she lingers.”

Kao doesn’t answer in words. She smiles up at Sabina, shifts the muscles on her mouth into an expression of patience. She is not in a hurry. The wind blows and her black hair flies around her face. Her shoulders rise a little as she sticks her hands deeper into the pockets of her jacket, her toes move a little in her brown boots.

“Okay, where were we,” Sabina mutters as she picks up the cards, reshuffling them. Expertly, Sabina flips a number of the shuffled deck over with her right hand, her left holds on to the remnant of a cigarette. Her fingers are dark with grime. The edges of the cards are tattered, their colors rubbed away in spots. Kao looks at Sabina’s shoes. They look like they belong to a man, they are worn, white, round toed, not a fashion choice.

“Okay,” Sabina says.

Sabina begins, again: “Like I said earlier, somebody is going to re-enter your life, not romantic, but full of warmth, moments of celebration, a lie of little significance…this is a fruitful time for you.” Sabina looks across the street as her right hand fingers each of the cards; her eyes were trained on the Citibank, the blue light emanating from its sign.

“Things are happening,” she says.

Kao listens, her teeth playing lightly with her lips, her hands still in her pockets, her eyes alternating between Sabina’s white tennis shoes and her own brown boots. Kao is looking for possible causes. Astrology.Com had predicted bad luck, an instability of emotions, upheavals of the heart and mind. It would seem practicalities are getting in the way of emotion for Kao Yang.

Sabina reads Kao’s face; her eyes, outlined in black, the pupils dance in small motions as she looks from Kao’s brown eyes, to her chin, to her hair. Kao notices, for the first time, that Sabina has make up on. The noise from the street, the shadows of the night lull them into a moment of looking, and seeing. The dry lipstick remains of Sabina’s mouth, the circles underneath her eyes. Kao sniffs: Strong cigarette smells come from Sabina.

“There is a mature woman who is financially stable, she is going to be an influence in your life. Very important.” Sabina’s husky voice cracks at the ends of sentences, her hands wave in the air, the left with its cigarette, the right prompting herself along.

Kao nods to this, shows that she is paying attention, as she mulls over the reading. Who is coming into her life? What woman? Shouldn’t psychics and tarot card ladies say something about romance? In her case, some man who is going to enter? The heart and the mind—what’s causing their upheaval?

Kao removes her right hand from the cool warmth of her lined pocket. Her eyes are trained on a tattered card. That of a man in black on a black horse, the shadow of cartoonized death, portrayed underneath a yellow moon. Kao looks up at the sky. There are white puffs of clouds visible in the dark night. The moon. Only tinged with yellow. Not full. She licks dry lips. She points to the table, to the death card.

“What does this mean?” Kao asks.

Sabina looks down at the small finger on the card.

“That’s nuthing. I mean. Sometimes I see that card, and people die in minutes.” Sabina is uncomfortable saying this, she squirms, she raises her left hand, and takes a heavy drag at the cigarette, expels the polluted air, she swallows, the knob in her throat goes up then down, she looks at the CitiBank, across Broadway, she looks at Kao looking at her, she throws the cigarette to the ground, steps on it with the tips of her tennis shoes, rubs it into the concrete.

“You are fine. The direction of your life is good. The road you are walking will bring reward in the end. Come on, you are a student. Young.” She shrugs.

Kao’s eyes follow Sabina’s movements, at once agitated and lethargic. Heavy, distracting.

“I’ve had a rough day,” Sabina says.

“I just got up 3,4 hours ago. I never take sleeping pills. Man, I was knocked.” Sabina shakes her head.

Kao looks at the tall thin tarot card woman, the wind blows.

“They tell me that sleeping pills make you slower for the rest of the day.” Sabina smiles down at Kao.

Kao nods. This reading isn’t helping. She conceals a sigh underneath the lip motions of a smile.

“Thank you,” Kao says, as she fishes a five-dollar bill out of her right pocket. Sabina reaches out for the money with both hands, hands that look old; they are dry and chafed.

“You got any more questions?” Sabina prompts feeling the dissatisfaction.

Kao shakes her head.

“Thank you,” cracks Sabina’s voice.

The stretch from the Duane Reade to 535 West 111th Street, about half a block, stretches in shadows. Hand in pockets, Kao walks the distance. The branches of the trees, on either side of the street, wave in the wind. Kao turns back, Sabina is looking at her, she takes out her right hand and waves to the lady. She keeps her hand in the air, waving to the trees. The motion completed, she puts the right hand back in the right pocket. The clicks of her boots on the cement lead her away deeper into the dark outlines of an unlighted stretch of street.

The mystic air wafts through the open window. The beads of the feathered dream catcher, Native American style, click against the pane of glass. Kao Yang yawns on her pink bed. She gets up, walks to the door, the wood cool against her bare feet, quietly she turns the brass knob, and gently swings the door open. She stands on her tiptoes and reaches up to center the Chinese evil reflector hanging on her red door. Looking up, she is pleased. She softly closes the red door to her white room. She leaves the desk lamp on as she crawls under the beige down quilt, pulling the pink sheet up, she ponders the ceiling; she wonders if Sabina will take sleeping pills again tonight, she turns to her left side, she closes her eyes—investing in Nyquil might not be a bad thing at all. Visions of dark knights on dark horses hovering underneath yellow moons sweep across the scape of her closed lids.

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