Phlebitis paused at Madame Sosotris's door and re-read the sign on it. At first glance he'd thought it said Oriental Palmistry but now that he was closer he could see that it in fact read Dental Palmistry. He hesitated, his calloused fist a couple of centimetres from the door's surface, wondering what it could mean. Indecision wracked him for several seconds; his visits to Madame Sosotris were not made for pleasure but out of painful necessity and the opportunity to not visit was tempting.
The door opened just as he was deciding that madness was as good a reason as any to not knock and not find out his future from her. A small woman who barely came up to Phlebitis's waist walked into him and said, "Ow."
Phlebitis lowered his fist, seeing Madame Sosotris emerging from the gloom inside her house. Her eyes seemed dilated and unfocused, and there was a trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth.
"I said, 'Ow'," said the small woman, looking up at Phlebitis. He pulled his gaze from the slightly vampiric-appearing Madame Sosotris and looked down.
"Watch where you're going," he said. "If you were a sailor you'd be over the side in no time, making friends with the sharks."
"Are you saying I'm clumsy?" The small woman squeaked when she was excited or angry.
"No, I'm saying that the other guys would think it funny to trip you over and watch you fall over the side. Don't worry. You look like you'd float for quite a while."
There was a noise like a boiling kettle whistling, which Phlebitis slowly realised was the small woman. She was so angry that her face had turned a deep purple and she was standing on the very tips of her toes.
"Are you going to move?" he said. "Only I'm here to visit Madame Sosotris and you're rather in the way. You seem to be blocking the entire doorway."
The small woman was actually vibrating with anger now and was having trouble staying on her toes as she did so. Seeing an opportunity, Phlebitis stepped to the side and tugged gently on her shoulder as he did so. A spasm of panic passed over her face as she lost her balance completely, her hands reflexively pushing forwards to break her fall and pushing her center of gravity further out of alignment, speeding her fall. Phlebitis stepped over her and pushed the door shut behind him.
"I'b god a midderable code," said Madame Sosotris.
"You always do when I visit," said Phlebitis. "It's almost like it's been written about somewhere and we just have to play our parts out over and over again."
Madame Sosotris gave him a penetrating look and produced a lace handkerchief from one of her sleeves. As she lead the way into her drawing room, where she performed séances, table-turnings, read cards and ate dinner, she blew her nose. It was a long, drawn-out, mournful honking process, at the end of which she dropped the sodden handkerchief into a bucket
"What's dental Palmistry then?" asked Phlebitis sitting down in the high-backed chair that didn't wobble. Madame Sosotris glared at him but sat on the other one without saying anything. She rocked slightly as she tried to make it balance.
"A mistake by the sign-writer," said Madame Sosotris. Phlebitis could see that her eyes were red as though she'd been crying, and her wrinkles seemed to get deeper and dirtier everytime he came. "Although, a couple of nights ago I did get a visit from a man who had mouths in his palms. His future was very hard to read, but eventually I figured out that he'd misunderstood the sign and was hoping for Palmal Dentistry."
"Is there such a thing?"
"Ye–e–es," said Madame Sosotris trying not to look at the builder's wrap of hammers and chisels on the sideboard. "How have you been though? Surely another eight months alone at sea must give a man certain... urges?" She winked.
Phlebitis tried to ignore his stomach doing somersaults and forced a smile. "I'm not alone," he said. "I'll just have the usual please. The future for the next six months in strange images and dire pronouncements.
Madame Sosotris sighed softly, suspecting that Phlebitis was somehow mocking her, and leaned back in her chair. For many clients she would draw out cards or a crystal ball and use them to distract the customer while she engaged the trance, but she'd been trying and failing to seduce Phlebitis for years now. He could see it all done the real way, warts and everything. Her eyes rolled up back in her head, revealing jaundiced whites, and her fingers tensed until her hands looked like claws.
"I see a marriage," she said, and Phlebitis snorted.
"You tried this two times ago," he said. "You do not see me marrying you, you just wish you could."
"No," said Madame Sosotris, her voice now oddly thick. "I see you marrying a shape, an intelligence that is not moulded by earth into a human form. The ceremony is under a moon, and there are people and ... and un-people watching. There are boiled frogs for the wedding feast. There are... wait, the image is changing. There is a chair, a golden chair with eyes in the back. They are watching you, they are looking for you. Then they cannot find you and the chair warps and twists. It is angry. There are more chairs, and they gather around a table to discuss you."
She sat forward, her wispy grey hair spilling over her eyes and gasped for breath.
"Great," said Phlebitis standing up. "Married to something not human and it looks like one of the wedding gifts is going to be a carnivorous dining suite. You've outdone yourself this time, Madame."
His money tinkled on the table. "I should have asked for the Dental Palmistry," he said. "That might have made more sense."
As the door closed behind him Madame Sosotris finally got air back into her tired, ancient lungs, and called out. But Phlebitis was already gone.