by Emily Gaither

Editor’s Note: This is part two in a series. Part one may be found at

It was almost like meeting a rock star or celebrity that you’ve built up in your mind, only this one was probably simultaneously more and less ostentatious. She was shorter than Meredith had envisioned, for one thing. The way people had described her made Meredith build her up in her head to a Paul Bunyan-like height, but she couldn’t have been more than five feet, four inches tall, and she wasn’t dressed particularly “gypsy-esque” or “witch-like,” as legend would have it, but was outfitted more for a New Age convention, garbed in a flowy purple tunic, black leggings, and comfy sandals, with rings adorning numerous toes. Her shoulder-length dark hair framed her olive skin, and her eyes could only be described as piercing pools of emeralds. Madame Zelda was stunning.

Most shocking, perhaps was her age. She didn’t appear to be more than 45 years old, if that, and Meredith had pictured a craggy, wise gypsy lady, replete with the wisdom of her years lending to her visions. This was a mild disappointment. Adding to the flair of her entrance was the presence of a yellow finch perched on her left shoulder with a laser focus directed at Meredith. Of course that would be happening. Why wouldn’t it? Nothing about this had gone according to plan so far, so why wouldn’t a bird be giving her the same look her mother had when she said she’d change her major from business to English. It could melt an icecap.

The girls giggled a little nervously and weren’t quite sure what to do.

Madame Zelda swept into the room; the bird did not move, nor did it remove its gaze from Meredith, and she sat down at the table placed in the middle below the dangling chicken feet.

“Sit, sit! This wunderkind sitting on my shoulder is Copernicus. He’s been with me for 8 years. He came to me with blessings, and he gives me love and strength. My community has a strong ornithological connection. But you look at me with skepticism. And you’re all so fancy and pretty. Sit. Copernicus is telling me which one seeks my knowledge.” She was looking directly at Meredith.

Samantha said, “Well, it’s our friend Meredith’s birthday, and she’s always kind of wanted to have a reading from you, so we want to give that to her…you know…as a gift. We thought it would be a trip for us to let her get it out of her system and just hear whatever it is you have to say already, and then we’re taking her out for her real birthday night, for dinner and drinks, and to try to find her a boyfriend. Um, no offense.”

Madame Zelda affixed them with a bemused glance, and said, “Yes. Such nice friends to give your friend the gift of future. Zelda not take any offense. Only thing is, friends may not stay for reading. Zelda gets energy from one-to-one interaction, and it loses its power, like watered down, how you say, milkshake, if you stay in room. Much more power to reading if I can do it with just Meredith.”

The girls look bereft, and in seeing that, Meredith briefly considers calling the whole thing off. Who does this Zelda think she is? But there is a stronger urge telling her not to listen to that instinct. Looking back on this later, Meredith will wonder what propelled her forward. If she had just said that if her friends could sit in, it lost the inclusive birthday nature of the experience, so no dice, and they’d gone to dinner, none of the ensuing chaos would have happened. However, if chaos is meant for you, it will always find you, so you can never really say.

Samantha, knowing more than Zoe how forward to this Meredith had been looking, finally said, “That’s fine. We will go down the street to the Elbow Room and have some pre-cocktail cocktails. Here is $100. I assume that covers everything?”

Madame Zelda, looking completely innocent, said, “Dear, that covers all. I will throw in some lucky numbers for this high dollar bill. Come back in 30 minutes. Copernicus and I work quickly and efficiently. He has been telling me things already. I have been, how you say, cheating?”

Zoe, who had been quiet until this point, was annoyed, and rolled her eyes. “That’s great. We’ll be down the street until then. See you in 30.”

Samantha threw a gleeful smile towards Meredith, a shadowed look towards Madame Zelda, and the two left the dark storefront. The door let the tell-tale bell of a strip-mall space sing-song behind them as it shut.

Meredith sat uneasily across from Madame Zelda, who was looking at her with those green eyes that seemed to invade her, coupled with Copernicus, who could frankly give “The Raven” a run for his money for the creepiest bird, and Zelda, grabbed Meredith by the hands suddenly and forcefully…..