by Carol Deminski
The town of Seaside Beach was in decay. It was once a wholesome family destination with a Ferris wheel and salt water taffy stands. Now its worn boardwalk was lined with tattoo parlors and bars where leather-clad bikers and their women danced to loud music and drank beer into the early hours.
Florence sat re-reading The Witches of Eastwick at her cramped bistro table in her booth on the boardwalk. On the table she had a deck of oversized tarot cards, a piece of quartz, and an incense burner.
A young man approached the booth. His black hair was in a ponytail. He had green eyes framed by long lashes. He was tall and rail thin.
“I’d like a reading,” he said. He sat in one of the chairs and his bony knees barely fit beneath the table.
She picked up her cards and began to shuffle.
“Tell me about yourself.”
“My friends call me Luc. I work at the Crab Shack down the boardwalk.”
“What kind of reading do you want?” she asked.
“Just tell me what you see,” he said.
“Alright. Cut,” she said.
His left hand hovered over the cards, then he cut them.
She turned the first one over. The Devil. Violence. She revealed the second card. The Magician. Sickness and pain.
She shifted in her seat; these were difficult cards to get in combination. She hoped the third would be better.
The Tower. One of the worst in the deck. Deception. Misery and ruin.
“Well? What do they mean?”
She detected his impatience. “You’ve had severe difficulties in your past, perhaps with family.”
“I didn’t get along with my father. I wound up on the street at a young age.”
She nodded. “Yes, that makes sense.” Rivulets of blood flashed through her mind.
“Violence has been a big part of your life.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “If someone gets in my way, they get hurt.”
She pointed to the second card, the Magician.
“This tells me that you are a skillful negotiator.”
“Many have said that,” he said with a smile, revealing a mouthful of perfect white teeth.
“What did you say you did at the Crab Shack?”
“I didn’t. But I won’t be there much longer.” His lip curled into a snarl. “Those people treat me like dirt.”
She gestured to the last card.
“If you’re thinking of changing jobs, this would be a good time.”
She began to reshuffle the deck.
“Change jobs? Isn’t there anything else?”
She shook her head. “That’s all I see.”
He leaned over the table.
“What the hell kind of reading is that?”
“I can only tell what I see,” she added, “but perhaps you should meditate on it.”
His eyes narrowed and became bloodshot. He got up and threw a crumpled twenty on the table.
“Respice post te, mortalem te esse memento, Madame,” he said and stormed off.
After he left she couldn’t shake off their encounter. She wanted to see the Crab Shack for herself and find out more about this mysterious stranger. She walked down the boardwalk and found a ramshackle hut with a broken screen door. She stepped inside and called the waitress over.
“Is Luc here?” she asked.
“Who?” the waitress said, snapping her gum.
“Luc. Tall, thin, dark pony-tail?”
The woman shook her head.
“We’ve got Jesus,” she pointed to the busboy, “and Joseph,” she pointed to the grill man who was busy cooking. “I’m Maria and that’s everybody.”
“But he told me he worked here,” Florence said.
The waitress played with a gold cross around her neck.
“You know how some men are, honey,” she whispered. “They’ll say anything.” Maria rested her hand on Florence’s shoulder. “C’mon in. We’ve got an excellent special tonight.”
Florence took a seat at the counter and noticed Maria’s cross.
“Are you religious?”
“I go to church everyday, if that’s what you mean.”
“What does this mean?” Florence handed her a piece of paper. “The guy I mentioned said this to me.”
Maria’s smile disappeared.
“It’s Latin. It means ‘Look around you and remember you are mortal.’”
Florence’s eyes widened.
“That guy must be big trouble,” Maria said. “I wouldn’t keep looking for him if I were you.”
Jesus came and pushed a plate of fish in front of Florence along with a basket overflowing with rolls. “You like. Pescado.” He made an eating gesture.
Florence smiled at Jesus, saying, “Gracias.”
The food smelled delicious. She took a bite. The flavors transported her to her childhood Friday night family dinners. Feelings of love flooded through her along with the memories. She looked back down at her plate and realized she had finished every morsel.
Florence caught Maria’s attention; the waitress sauntered over.
“What do I owe you?” Florence asked.
“It’s on the house; do something good for someone else,” Maria said.
Florence left the Crab Shack feeling content. It wasn’t just the nourishment of the meal, but the experience had created a deeper satisfaction. She walked along the boardwalk and looked out at the Atlantic.
He startled her when he appeared in front of her.
“What are you doing here?” Florence asked.
“It could have been so easy for you,” Luc said. “You could have told me something nice, something… different than the others.”
Florence shook her head.
“You know you need to work this out with them. Why don’t we go back to the Crab Shack? Talk to them; they’ll listen.”
“No, they won’t,” Lucifer said.
“You won’t know unless you try. They invited me in and fed me, I think they would do the same for you.”
“I don’t know…” he mumbled.
“Do you want to change jobs?” she said.
They walked towards the Crab Shack together in silence. Luc’s eyes bespoke his desire and apprehension about reuniting with his family.
They approached the broken screen door; Florence opened it for him.
“Go on,” she said, “they’re waiting for you.”
CAROL DEMINSKI was born and raised in New Jersey and currently resides in Jersey City, which is near Hoboken but much, much bigger. She published her first short story in the Summer 2010 issue of the Aroostook Review. She has never seen, and has definitely never dated, the Jersey Devil.