From a back room came the voice of a woman speaking what must
have been Creole; she sounded annoyed. Adjusting to the dim lighting,
Talia took in a table draped with satiny cloth, where glass bottles of various sizes held flowers with petals of white fabric, and feathers, and a
stubby lit candle. On the wall hung a large glittering sequined cloth and
a surprising number of posters of Tom Brady in his New England Patriots uniform.
The man reemerged without the baby. “I am Pierre D. Pierre. Please
have a seat.” He motioned to a smaller table cluttered with seashells,
unfamiliar-looking coins, scattered cards, a bell, a sort of rattle, and
many small round plastic chips shaped like scarabs. Understanding
now, Talia said quickly, “I didn’t mean I wanted to do a reading.”
“Mine are inspired by vodou tradition. You are of Haitian descent?”
“As I said, I just want to know—”
“Divination is not a simple answer to a question. It is the first step
toward an answer.”
Talia cleared her throat. “I apologize for the misunderstanding.”
Pierre D. Pierre handed her a small laminated menu. “My fee sheet.”
“I’m sorry,” Talia said, “but I don’t believe in any of this.”
With no change of expression, Pierre D. Pierre took the fee sheet
back. He tugged one of the chairs out from the table, sat down. Even
seated he was tall. He leveled his gaze at Talia, the gray curls framing his
face. “You have been trying to preempt fate.”
Something in these words struck her. The creeping sense, ever since
the hospital, of being punished for some poor decision she didn’t even
know she had made. “Look, I’m just trying to find out—”
“Often the real question isn’t the one we seek to answer.” Pierre D.
Pierre gestured toward the other chair, but Talia remained standing.
“Like when you visit the doctor. What sends you there are merely symp-
toms. We must diagnose the ailment before we can find a treatment.”
At the mention of doctors and ailments, Talia felt a terrible burning
behind her eyes. She wanted to explain that she already had a diagnosis:
there was a hole—a hole!—in her brain. But the thought sent her pulse
racing, the simmering fears rising. And now here it came, panic, at the
hole and at the great slithering question mark that was her future. At
the medical bills, and ancient Mr. Figueiredo dying, and having to leave
here, all she would have to give up.
She let herself drop into the chair.