Chapter 2

Chapter 2

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Past the rustling newspapers and fliers, I ran. I didn’t care I hadn’t closed up Madam Polonaise’s. If some miserable loser wanted to steal my fire-hazard candles, so be it. I had to run.

An alien. That was who that man was with the invisible face and sweet-smelling palm. If he had been a ghost, I would’ve noticed. If he had been a demon, I would’ve noticed. But alien—that area was, well, alien to me. Hence my cluelessness when he’d waltzed into my salon.

The sun had set a short time ago. The fringes of the sky were still somewhat orange-ish, but not enough to calm down my pumping, panicking heart. A few street lamps illuminated the empty two-lane road covered with crumbling asphalt. Half the lamps were broken. Brilliant. Just as expected from this neighborhood.

There was no one walking around on the streets. That, too, was as expected. Whoever walks around in Los Angeles, especially at night? This wasn’t a bar-and-restaurant district. Not residential either. And it definitely wasn’t the inside of a movie that glorified and glamorized the reality of Los Angeles to the point of bordering on fantasy.

This was abandoned-industrial. That was the closest description.

The loudest sound, once I left the vicinity of the rustling paper stuff flying around the streets, came from my wardrobe. These useless gypsy, hippie, bohemian cloth heaps! I should’ve stuck to my clean and professional dentist look. Then I would have had a better chance of surviving an attack from an alien.

Attack.

Attack?

I slowed down, panting. Still no sound from anybody else. I glanced back. Came to a full stop.

I was alone. The sun had disappeared completely. A few pale-yellow lamps dotted my surroundings. Their reach wasn’t great. I found myself in the shadow.

Then, suddenly, the whiff of honey and raisins returned.

I whirled around. In front of me stood the man with the invisible face and elegant long limbs. Instinctively, I frowned and squinted to figure out if the man had a watermelon belly—one of the key features of a stereotypical, unimaginative humanoid alien depicted in cheap conspiracy literature.

“Don’t be scared,” he said.

That prompted me to take a step back. The ocean-colored jewel charms on my binyeo trembled. He was using the tone of a highly irritable serial killer who wasn’t very good at convincing his would-be victims that he meant no harm.

“No need to run,” he said.

I took another step back. What a fucking liar.

He said, “Madame Polonaise, is it? Pretty name.”

So he didn’t know it wasn’t my real name. Or he thought it didn’t matter.

He held out his right hand. On his palm, the lines—the crevices—had become even deeper, so that the various sections they separated looked like mostly unrelated parts. Only a thin layer of tissue held them together. I almost threw up.

“Yes, you see how it can be quite inconvenient to have hands like these,” he said. “Seems that we have very similar problems at hand.”

“I don’t know what you want from me,” I stammered.

And I almost threw up again. God, why did I have to be such a cliche? Why couldn’t I be the self-respecting palm reader that I’d set out to be when I’d first begun studying this field to follow in the footsteps of my mother, may her soul continue to rest in eternal peace?

“Nobody believes you,” he said.

I grimaced—offended by past memories despite the danger of the current situation.

“It’s because of your palm,” he said.

“What?”

“Your palm. Your human palm of specific roots—of your mother before you and her mother before her. It cannot lie.”

I am the palm reader. I don’t let other people read my palm. So, thanks for your opinion, but I’d better get going—”

“Precisely. You’re the palm reader, not me, not anybody else. Yet why is it that people don’t believe the expert? Why is it that they think whatever they want to think despite claiming they want the truth? Because when you hold their hand in yours, they see what they don’t want to see: the truth. It doesn’t matter how you cloak it, how you sweeten it. It still hurts them.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“Oh, but I am. I am making the most sense that you’ve ever encountered. As a truth-teller, you should be able to see this truth. You cannot lie. You always tell the truth—some version of it, at least. Yet nobody believes you. Because of your palm.”

I shook my head. Ever since I’d abandoned some of my self-respect, I’d become a lot more open to various, somewhat deceitful tactics. Because I’d joined this culture, some people called me society’s abomination. They said I spread information that people shouldn’t believe in. I’d always disagreed with them and secretly thought that they were the abominations because they dwelled in their limited perceptions.

But they were right, partly. I wasn’t a truth-teller—either to me or to anybody else. And now this guy shows up and tells me that I am one? Because of my palm?

“When you tell the truth and only the truth, people don’t believe you,” the alien man continued, openly impatient now. “Haven’t you experienced that? Isn’t that why you wear those tasteless clothes that you obviously hate and set up your shop so that people can smell the incense from a mile away?”

I blushed. I was glad it was dark.

“A little bit of lie is what it takes to make people believe, Madame Polonaise. Nay, it’s not even necessary to call it a lie. Let’s just call it the slight bending of the truth. You’re already on the right track, is what I’m telling you. Who cares you aren’t really into gypsy fashion so long as what you say sounds more believable to your customers thanks to the prejudices against or for the gypsy people? Nobody cares, is what I’m saying. But what I’m also saying is this: whatever you do won’t suffice so long as you have that palm.”

Was this guy for real?

He said, “Now imagine what other very useful, very harmless bending-of-truths you could utilize if you hadn’t had your particular palm.”

“My palm that cannot lie,” I said, just to be one-hundred-percent sure.

“Precisely.”

“What are you proposing?”

“Give me your palm.”

“What—”

“And I’ll give you mine.”

I was speechless.

“I need a palm that cannot lie,” he said rapidly. “I need human fingerprints of a very particular kind: the kind that stays authentic even though it doesn’t belong with my body. And in your case, you need a palm that will seamlessly integrate with your body, physically speaking, and yet remain usefully out of place in a mystical, esoteric, cryptic sense. Stay alien, basically.”

They were words I disliked: mystical, esoteric, cryptic. And yet, I’d thought about them often. It was as if this alien had read my mind. And by now, I was sure he knew the name on my birth certificate wasn’t Madame Polonaise.

“It won’t hurt,” he said. “Take my offer. The world of scientific palm studies will be yours.”

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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