Madame Sosotris huffed and puffed as she scrubbed the wooden table. The table rocked and rattled; its legs were uneven after years of being dragged around a rough-planked floor with no consideration. Madame Sosotris didn’t particularly mind, as its occasional tilts and jolts added atmosphere when she was reading Tarot cards for people. It was more of a nuisance when she was eating soup, but she’d taken to eating that standing up in the kitchen as the soul of a chicken that she’d accidentally imbued into her cast-iron frying pan was summoned by the smell of fresh soup and would cluck around the kitchen for hours if she didn’t exorcise it immediately. She huffed and puffed some more, scrubbing away at what she hoped wasn’t a bloodstain. Her dress fell open and her breasts sagged across the table, but she didn’t notice. Her mind was concentrating on the performance ahead.
The door shuddered under the weight of the blows hammering on it, and Madame Sosotris’s head snapped up like she wanted whiplash. She looked at the grubby cloth in her hand and tossed it in the fireplace, where it sprawled across cold logs. She swaggered to the door and flung it open, stretching her face into a slightly manic grin.
“Welcome!” she shouted. “Welcome one and… one?”
The woman – short, dumpy, wearing a maid’s uniform – looked rather shocked, and it took Madame Sosotris several long seconds to realise that she was feeling a draft from her dress blowing yet further open in the brisk breeze. She clutched her clothes about her, and tried hard to glare her embarrassment away.
“Who are you?” she said. “I was expecting milords and miladies for the table turning.”
“I was sent to find out if you were ready yet,” said the dumpy woman. Her face was scarred with ringworm and her nose looked as though it had been eaten away by something. Madame Sosotris couldn’t get close enough to confirm her suspicions that it was rats, so she contented herself with jumping to that conclusion instead.
“I am always ready,” she said, ignoring that nagging voice in the back of her mind that said that this ugly little woman was going to go back and tell them that she was dressed now and hadn’t been before. “Skyclad or no, womb-born or zombie, I am always ready.”
“Right,” said the dumpy woman. “I’ll go and tell the gentlefolk that you’re not wearing any knickers and that you want to see them anyway.” Madame Sosotris responded by slamming the door in her face, and then hastily tying her dress back together. Something important seemed to have ripped, so she pulled the sash-cord from the curtains and tied that firmly around her waist as well. As she coughed with the sudden constriction, someone knocked on the door again.
“Welcome?” said Madame Sosotris, peering around the edge of the door, this time applying caution. There were a group of people, all wearing heavy, hooded cloaks and acting edgy: they switched their weight from one foot to the other, swung their hoods from side to side trying to see if anyone was watching, and pushed closer to the door when it looked like it was opening. Recognising their need, Madame Sosotris backed away, pulling the door open, and they flooded into her room.
“You may leave your cloaks on the couch,” said Madame Sosotris, gesturing in the direction of the paired couches that faced each other. One looked mildewed, and the other only smelled like it. The participants muttered amongst themselves, hoods being placed close together to keep the conversations private. Eventually a consensus was reached, and they all left their cloaks on the floor and took a chair at the table.
“Welcome,” said Madame Sosotris again. It crossed her mind that she was sounding like a broken record. “We are here today to contact the spirit world. Is there anyone in particular you wish to speak to?”
The men and women, beautiful people all, looked at one another, and their gaze said the same thing: Is this woman really this stupid? And is she really wearing a curtain sash as a belt?
“We wish to speak to the fallen City Director,” said a man, whose name was known to everyone in the room, and whose face would be instantly recognised by anyone of the street. Madame Sosotris, her face impassive, nodded.
“Let us join our hands,” she said.
The instant the last two hands connected the table shook and jolted as though there had been a small earthquake. The men and women around the table looked at each other, their faces grey and apprehensive, and Madame Sosotris gasped. She had started the movement with the pedals under her chair that lifted the table from the floor, but the rest of it had come from somewhere else entirely. For the first time in a long time she felt afraid.
“Is there anyone there?” she said, her voice thinner and more whiney that she would have liked. As if in response the table leapt, and the circle barely managed to keep the hands joined and above it.
“Arthur?” asked a woman sat at four o’clock relative to Madame Sosotris, and the table gyrated, grinding out a low growl against the floor. “Oh Arthur!” said the woman.
“How do you know it’s him?” said a man sat next to her, his eyelids painted with blue false eyes.
“That’s his orgasm noise,” said the woman, and everyone shifted, feeling slightly uncomfortable.