Modern Prophets

Yanni had shrunken himself quite a bit to fit inside the building, and when I looked at him I could tell.  He seemed squashed, somehow, as if his mighty body was pinched inside itself.  I watched him walk into the room, padding in on his lion paws, and I blew out a smoke ring.   There was a heaviness in his front haunch that I had come to know denoted that he’d just had a very bad reading.  His feathered wings, which were the rich gold of an eagle’s, sagged with exhaustion. 

            “Do you ever feel a little degraded by this job?”  He wondered, accent thick and middle-Eastern. 

            “Boy, do I ever,” I agreed.  He used his mouth to dig his cigarettes out of his locker and I withdrew my lighter in preparation.  It was hard to light a smoke without opposable thumbs, and I knew he would need fire.  Before me, the thread of Yanni’s life glittered between us like spun stars.  My youngest sister always made beautiful yarn.  “Why don’t you tell me a riddle?  It’ll cheer you up.”

            He sighed and rolled his eyes.  “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

            I grinned.  He would never ask the one where the answer was ‘a man.’ It was a matter of pride for him.  “Quills,” I replied.  “They both have quills.”

            Yanni smiled a little with his well-formed human lips and luminous, dark eyes.  His face was handsome behind its aquiline nose. “You know what irks me, Atropos?  They just want to know when they’ll get married.  When their husbands will quit cheating.  If they will win the godsdamned lottery.”  He managed to get his cigarette into his mouth through some amazing trick and I flicked my Bic at him.  Yanni leaned his head in, and the lighter flared below his features, shadowing them.  Smoke coiled toward the ceiling.  “Don’t ever tell them, leave him, or get a job.  That is the worst sin.  Ingrates.”

            I smiled.  “You think that’s bad?  The only future I can see is how they’ll die.  Sometimes teenage kids come in here on a lark, daring each other.  They never really believe they can die until I tell them that they’ll be hit by a bus on the way home.  Do you ever wonder why I’m always alone when you need to talk?  Nobody wants to know the truth when they ask for a prophecy.” 

            Yanni leaped into one of the chairs like an overlarge cat, lion tail dangling onto the carpet.  He took a pull on his Camel, closing his eyes in obvious pleasure, then blew out a stream of white smoke into the dim light of my parlor.  “What a state this country is in.  A personage such as yourself reads the future for their pleasure, and you are a joke to them.  They would rather have some hack with a Tarot deck sell them lies than to know when the threads of their fates stop.  Ah, well.  It’s a paycheck, right?  There is little enough work for the likes of us. At least this keeps us in canaries.”

            I laughed out loud this time, wondering where I had put my yarn shears.  For all his talk, even Yanni would not want to know how quickly his own thread was spinning out.  There was always plenty of work for me whether I told the future or not.  “Yanni?  You’re the only one who eats canaries.”

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