There was a tap on the door, and Madame Sosotris, once a famous clairvoyant and still a notorious prestidigitatress, opened it with flair and verve. And almost immediately tripped on the hem of her white lace dress and ended up in a crumpled heap on the floor.
"Oooh, very Lady Haversham," said a voice, and Madame Sosotris cringed to hear what she thought of as common-accents, accents which she'd removed from her own voice over five years and through three elocution coaches. "I rather like it, it suits you, you know. You've got the face for it."
"What?" Madame Sosotris couldn't help but notice that she wasn't being helped up, and so had to pull herself back to her feet using the small table that she kept by the door for post that she didn't want to read.
Back on her feet, she could see that her visitor was the short, dumpy woman with bad skin who insisted on being called Amelia. Madame Sosotris had considered telling her what amelia was, but had then decided to save it for when she couldn't stand her any longer. Which day, she now felt, was drawing closer.
"Please, won't you come in?" she said, trying for gravitas and feeling relieved that her voice didn't do the shrieky think it had started doing a lot lately, making her sound like a pubescent boy. Her doctor had advised her to take up smoking, but the cards had advised her to change her doctor and she was caught in the snares of indecision.
"Oooh, don't mind if I do! You know, I tell all my friends about this place, I say how nice it could be if you opened the curtains a little, but then I suppose you'd have to dust as well...."
"Is this a social call?" Madame Sosotris peered around the door as she closed it, checking for television cameras. Those Channel4 people got everywhere these days, and she was quite expecting a visit from the mad harridans who invaded people's homes and announced that they were so filthy it was astonishing that they weren't incubating tuberculosis and reviving the Black Death. The path outside was thankfully empty of lurking camera-crew or be-wellied women with a polishing rag and the twinkle of insanity in their eyes.
"Oh, if only! It would be lovely just to sit down with you one day and have a little coeur-a-coeur don't you think? But no, I'm on the cock agai– I mean, I'm on the clock again, how silly of me!" She tittered, and Madame Sosotris decided not to offer her a cup of tea. "Yes, I've only got a half-hour and I did so want to find out what this month has in store for me. You're the best fortune teller around, I tell everyone that. Even that Mystic Millie, I went to her to have my head read you know, and she thought I was a poodle! Can you believe the cheek of it? So I'm back here, and I want those cards laid out for me, pronto!"
"Mystic Millie? A phrenologist? A poodle?" Madame Sosotris felt rather confused; her circle of people involved in the mystic arts included an astrologer who was corpulent enough to have to include himself in his star charts as a significant influence on the life of anyone nearby and a fingerprint reader who she knew was actually working for the Met, but no phrenologist.
"Yes, she's got that shop on Abattoir Road. But like I said, I'm in a bit of a hurry, so can you sit down and do your thing please?"
Madame Sosotris gestured to a chair at her card-reading table and sat on the other side. The only shop she could think of on Abattoir Road that might fit was a dog-groomer's, and that kind of bemused confusion fitted her mental image of Amelia perfectly. She took a deck of cards out of the left-hand side of the table, from a hidden drawer. These cards were already stacked, just for visitors like Amelia. She offered them for cutting, and then had Amelia hold them firmly between both hands for several seconds, to imprint on your secret soul. Amelia giggled a little.
"Right," said Madame S. turning the first card. "This is the nine of clubs, which indicates that there are many secrets to be uncovered this month." She laid the card down in the middle of the table. "This then is the four of wands;" she laid this card crosswise on the nine of clubs, "and that indicates that not all of these secrets will come to light of their own accords. Wands signify wisdom, so you will need to consider events that are unfolding and seek reasons for them beyond what is presented to you. This is the eight of..." she paused, realising that she'd not turned the card over yet, and pretended to concentrate, "... the eight of coins–" she turned the card, revealing it was indeed the eight of coins and smiled as though pleased with her prediction, "which in conjunction with the other two indicates that there will be a cost associated with understanding some of these secrets."
"Oooooh!" said Amelia sounding like a steam-kettle on the boil. "What kind of cost?"
"Let us see," said Madame S., grinning. She turned the next card, and stared at it. It was not the two of clubs which she knew she'd set next in the deck. "This is the Tower, inverted," she said, laying it down below the eight of coins. "It suggests that the cost will be life-changing. You should take care what you're prying into."
"Well!" said Amelia, shooting to her feet. "Prying! Indeed!"
But Madame Sosotris wasn't listening. Instead she turned the last card for the layout and looked at it for several seconds before laying it down on the table. "This is the Fool," she said. 'It can indicate the start of a transformative journey."
She looked up and found she was talking to herself, Amelia had stormed out leaving the front door swinging to and fro. Madame Sosotris looked again at the cards, and quietly finished the reading with, "And death is very transformative indeed."