Episode 1: Bound and Kneeling
I met Lydia twenty seven years ago, and i’ve kept her secrets since then. I’m telling you now, because I know she’s not coming back here. She told me that herself. Where she’s gone? Not telling that either. You don’t get to know, like you don’t get to know her real name, or any identifying marks.
Let’s say she’s medium. Medium dark, medium heavy, medium sort of looks. You could literally pass her on the street and not see her, if that’s what she wanted to happen. She could see right through you, so maybe it’s her idea of payback, letting herself go transparent. Maybe not though.
Doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is the day and way she learned to serve the Gift. We are all here to serve the Gift, and that’s pretty much what makes your life real; neglect that, and you never really live. Lydia’s piece of the Gift was the Sight.
She’d been afflicted by it all her life, long as she could remember. But this day was different.
She’d just rolled back into the city from some other farflung adventure, and needed a little start-up money, so she walked into a restaurant with a sign in the window and, smiling enough to look pretty, signed on as a waitress – a quick way to gather up some capital, in those days of open-ended tipping policies.
Looking around, she set herself to brightening up the echoing dimness of the empty dining room. She didn’t need to be told, these people were not restauranteurs, no point acting like she was waiting for their ideas.
So, while the management was in the back, arguing their way toward failure, Lydia moved a table or two, cleaned up the windows, arranged things. She was up on the bar counter, using a broom handle to nudge a ceiling pot to the left for better lightfall, when the little vestigial uncle came in. He tried to look up her legs, she rapped him gently with the business end of the broom, and they agreed to avoid each other going forward.
Not a word spoken, then or ever, between them. He went on with his odd-job duties in the back end, and she went on arranging things so that, when the place opened, it looked at least somewhat inviting.
Her confidence in the short tenure ahead was borne out in the days to come. People didn’t flock in. Some custom came, attracted by the bright windows and a certain comfortable feel inside. Lydia served them well, as unobtrusive as a good English butler, and employing that same air of infallibility.
She made a habit of poking her head in the back and giving a good sniff every day, to get a good idea of what was going to go well for Leroy, the perpetually hung over head chef – a cousin of some sort, and indebted to the owner.
When a customer asked her recommendation, they were always pleased, and tipped Lydia well in return. But there was no avoiding that there would be no success here, not even a brief spasm of novelty to give false hope to the owners. Lydia, unworried, ate her lunches from the best of the menu, smiled enough to be pretty, and calculated how much she’d need to make in the weeks before the whole thing folded.
And one day, she got bored.
Two thirty something women had come in, late for lunch, unfazed by the otherwise emptiness. Lydia perked up, watching them, aware that there was something special and fragile between them. But she was as astonished as they were when she said, refilling the pot of loose-leaf tea they’d ordered, ‘I read tea leaves, by the way.’ Instead of laughing, the bright haired one said, ‘Oh, Tam, you really have to do it! Why not?’ There was something slightly desperate in the way she blazed her blue eyes at the other woman.
Tam, for her part, was darker and sleek, like one of those dogs who are naturally well-groomed looking, without seeming overbred. Her eyes, Lydia noticed, were hazel with a golden sheen, deeply kind and yet somehow shuttered. For a moment, Lydia wondered why she’d said anything so flakey; then Tam flashed a piratical grin and said, ‘Sure. Read mine.’
Lydia sat down. She let her eyes go vacant for a moment, looking around and past Tam. She waved her hands airily, for affect. And then, starting with a deep breath, she dropped her voice a few tones and began to read.
She started with the obvious, the cues anyone can read from clothes, haircut, skin and stance. It’s easy to discover patterns in damp leaves that echo the stamps of socio-economic positions and markers of occupational habits.
Then, buoyed by a surge of recklessness, Lydia started freewheeling, picking out the most ridiculous looking things she could from the mess of leaves. She soon had the women chuckling, the while never abandoning her slightly booming lower register and slightly over-widened eyes.
‘Look here,’ she said, ‘it is a woman, bound and kneeling, bowing to the Queen of Heaven; this is your greatest challenge in life.’ To her astonishment, the bright-haired woman gasped, and Tam gave a physical start. ‘You see that?’ she said softly, and suddenly, they were all three alone in a place apart.
‘I do,’ said Lydia, plainly, in her own voice, unable to lie to those brilliant hazel eyes.
‘Well, then,’ sighed Tam,’Well then. It’s true,’ she said, this time to the bright haired woman, who was nodding and tearing up. ‘ I didn’t want to tell you, Ro.’
‘That’s my mother-in-law,’ Tam continued, ‘and you have seen exactly how I feel. I am so scared, sometimes, because I know she hates me.’ And Lydia sat quiet then, as Tam laid out the tale, Ro nodding all the while, reaching out to squeeze her elegant hand. The marriage, how much she loved her husband then, how little his separate faith mattered. How she studied it herself, intellectually intrigued. And then how things changed when her father-in-law, a quiet man of books and chess, died suddenly. The mother-in-law moved in with them, of course, of course.
Once there, she began campaigning for Adi to take them all home; and she also began her stealthier campaign to undermine Tam, to make it easier and easier for Adi to imagine that his duty to take his mother home could not include this foreigner wife.
Lydia waited her moment, and slipped away from the table as Tam finished her tale, in time to keep the vestigial uncle out of the room. She busied herself with things behind the empty bar, and when she approached the table again, Tam and Ro were pulling on their jackets, smiles of sisterhood glimmering on their tear-stained cheeks.
‘Thank you,’ said Ro, pre-emptively thrusting a fifty dollar bill into Lydia’s hand. ‘You’ve saved my cousin.’ At which, Tam ducked her head for a moment, but came up with a twinkle of the pirate grin again, for her devoted cousin. ‘Yeah. Guess we’ll sort this out.’
Then, she turned to Lydia one last time. ‘I don’t know how you saw that, but thank you again. Amazing. Amazing.’ And she reached out quickly, wrapping her slender arms briefly around Lydia, then tucking her arm through Ro’s, she led that way out the door, into a brightening afternoon.
Lydia cleaned the table. Under Tam’s plate, another fifty lay. Lydia tucked both bills into her vest pocket. She knew that the vestigial uncle had seen something, but at that moment, she didn’t care. The spell of it was truly cast, and she lingered in the glow.