Chapter 3


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No palm reading business known to humanity had managed to open seven branches on seven continents… until Madame Polonaise’s. North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia… and yes, even Antarctica, for the benefit of those valiant researchers who’d chosen a life of near-solitude for the betterment of science.

You might have laughed at me (or worse, thought me a liar) way back when I said I used the words “objective,” “logical,” and “accurate” in my bio. But well, that part was the truth and the whole truth. I’m not some befuddled silly little mystic from la-la land. With the advent of affordable high-tech transportation systems, there was no reason in the world anymore why anybody with a thriving business shouldn’t or couldn’t open global branches. Not just that, remote palm-reading had become possible.

Yes, remote palm-reading, folks. That’s ground-breaking. I admit that it’s not as important as enabling surgeons to perform surgeries across oceans, but remote palm-reading uses the same exact technology. AR and VR are incredible. Don’t gotta grab them palms directly anymore.

That explained my ability to run seven branches simultaneously while constantly being on the road. Most recently, me and my team had opened a branch in Germany. I’d spent the past two months there. That was the same amount of time I’d spent at each of my new branches (the six that I added to the LA branch) in the past year. A full year abroad—a global palm-reading enterprise. It had only taken that one year for me to accomplish that historic feat.

I also had seven assistants:

Number One coordinated my global schedule with the private flying company, dubbed so generically because these days, “flying” involved a lot more than jets. It could be a jet, sure, but also a chopper or a drone. It did not matter. Get me where I need to go. And once on land, I used the chauffeur services that Number One booked. That kept the overhead low, compared to hiring a whole team of in-house transport staff. Also, imagine the tax and legal nightmare if I were to hire people from seven continents as my employees. Not good.

Number Two kept my real estate properties across the world in pristine conditions.

Number Three was responsible for reserving the best restaurants at the precise time I wanted. She also got me the floor plan ahead of time so I could pick the exact table. When I wasn’t eating at restaurants, she had fresh fruits and the most exquisite cheese and wine delivered to my door.

Number Four arranged press appearances, digital media collaborations, and other marketing efforts, including the hiring of bodyguards. It paid off to hire bodyguards who were beautiful and capable.

Number Five shopped clothes for me. She actually loved the bohemian, hippie, and gypsy style. Everything she wanted to buy for herself but couldn’t afford, she bought for me using my credit card. Then, once I’d worn the outfit seven times (one time each for the remote palm-reading days at the seven branches), she got to keep my clothes. It was a win-win.

Number Six booked spa treatments, personal training sessions, and hairdresser appointments.

Number Seven always stayed on standby, in case Numbers One Through Six failed to deliver. Because they were so busy, they always missed some little detail. Hence Number Seven also stayed busy.

I lived the life of a queen. A very busy queen, one who’d actually earned her queendom instead of inheriting it or taking it away from someone else who’d inherited it. Lots of media folks interviewed me, all asking the same question: how did you do this? I mean, who the heck thinks of turning a palm reading business into a global enterprise, even with the ready availability of affordable technology? Why is it that nobody else can replicate your success? Are you that good, palm-reading-wise? Enough for people to wait for an appointment with you for months instead of going to any random reader down the street?

Whenever such questions were asked, my right palm prickled. It was the one part of me that hadn’t been given to me by my parents, who’d been raised on this earth, which was made of all things that used to be others. The prickling was the alienness in the palm awakening. It was getting ready to bend the truth.

The simplest truth was that in order to experience this kind of success, you had to meet an alien who wanted to give you his palm in exchange for yours. But if I’d said that, I would’ve landed in a lunatic’s asylum, not on the cover of Fortune 500.

So what I told people was some parts of the following:

My shift from a nobody to an international entrepreneur hadn’t occurred overnight. Ever seen one of those graphs depicting exponential growth? That. It’d been like that.

First, the clients who came to the Los Angeles location began to double and triple. No, wait. Before that, those who visited Madame Polonaise’s started leaving more four- and five-star reviews. And before that, I noticed a key difference in how I reacted to the palms of people and how people reacted to my reaction.

Nothing. There was going to be absolutely nothing of note in the life of this person whose palm I held right now. They could eat all the sugar and processed food they wanted, and not even a heart attack would occur to make their life more exciting. Nobody was going to get angry at their lack of work ethic because nobody expected anything better from them. Their spouse wasn’t going to leave them because just like them, their spouse didn’t have the capacity to be a passionate lover.

Except, I didn’t say it like that anymore. I didn’t solely rely on the mystical interior decor of my salon either. What’d changed was only my right palm, but just as the honey-and-raisin smell could seep through its pores, its influence permeated throughout my body. It had an especially magical effect on my tongue.

“You’re invincible,” I told the clients whose lives were going to be utterly unremarkable because of that invincibility, which was a euphemism for insensitivity and ambitionlessness. “You will never get hurt”—because you stake nothing—“you will never hurt anyone”—because no one stakes anything in you—“and never feel discontent”—because you’re exactly the kind of person who wants that kind of invincibility.

The clients left, beaming. Lots of tips. Repeat customers. Word of mouth. And these days, words traveled globally.

“So, telling the truth,” the interviewer would say, who’d only heard what he’d needed to hear, because I’d only told him what needed telling. “Positive thinking. Good vibes. Inspirational gratitude.”

“Pretty much,” I’d say.

It wasn’t a lie. It was a slight bending of the truth.

And for the record, when tragedy was written all over someone’s palm, of course I told them that too. You might say, That’s the part I’m curious about: how you read the palms, not whether or not you say the latest hype words that some people actually believe in.

My friend, if the science of palm reading, that humongous field of statistics, could be summarized in a few paragraphs, it wouldn’t be so mesmerizing. Add to that how significantly your palm lines change over your lifetime, and it becomes doubly fascinating. Study, folks. Study. And practice. Practice makes perfect.

And like in all fields where not everyone succeeds, intuition does matter. Saying that, if palm reading really were science, then everyone should be able to read palms like me, is tantamount to saying that everyone who saw the apple drop should’ve been able to come to the same conclusion about gravity as Isaac Newton.

Did everyone come to the same conclusion? No. That’s why we know Newton and none of the everyones.

Is gravity nevertheless science? Sure.

Anyway, I traveled alone. None of my seven assistants followed me around when I flew on a jet, on a chopper, or a drone. It was because of my new palm.

When alone, when I didn’t need to bend the truth, that was when my palm showed its truth. Just as it had done when it’d been part of the alien, it revealed the lines that should more correctly be called crevices. The smell of whatever I’d eaten that day for breakfast began oozing out.

And let me tell you, it might be tasty to eat scrambled eggs, but constantly smelling them is no pleasant task. That was why I stopped eating egg dishes. I subsisted more and more on sweets. Honey and raisins were the obvious choices, because they were served at every Madame Polonaise’s branch. We had a philosophy, me and everyone involved in the operation of our business: we gotta offer the same service no matter where and when—become the McDonald’s of palm reading.

I say this without the slightest sarcasm. If you’ve ever traveled over Christmas and found yourself in a country that celebrates it with a lot more religious seriousness than you’re accustomed to, you’ll know what it’s like to be surrounded by closed restaurants. There’s nothing to eat except at McDonald’s. Truly, that company saves lives. I hoped that Madame Polonaise’s could do something similar, just less literally.

Anyway, the cabin of whatever aircraft I happened to be in, alone, was always filled with a sweet smell. My habit was to gaze out at the clouds drifting past. The aircraft always droned gently: a lullaby that knew not how to discriminate.

Gently, I massaged my right palm with my left hand. I’d found out over the past year that it didn’t hurt when I touched the nearly-separated palm-parts. The parts never actually detached from each other completely. Always, the thinnest web of tissues held them together. I imagined them as the truth that kept the lie together, or the lie that kept the truth together. It didn’t matter whichever way. This hand used to be an alien’s, but it was mine now. Did that make it alien or human? It didn’t matter. The connection was seamless. There was no blood. Perhaps aliens, in general, didn’t bleed.

You might say that claiming I traveled alone “because of the palm” doesn’t make sense. If I don’t want it to show its true side when I’m alone, why don’t I just surround myself with people all the time?

Because I needed this alone time, this facing-me time. Even when an alien gives you the secret to success, running a global business is no easy task. After the rush of being surrounded by clients, assistants, and staff, you need a moment to yourself.

Besides, I needed to sleep at some point. I usually did so while flying. Whoever would want someone to stare at them while they slept? What if while sleeping, in my dreams, my mind tricked me into thinking that I was alone, and my palm’s crevices deepened and the cabin suddenly filled with the smell of honey and raisins? What a nightmare it’d be! Sure, we’d have fun with the extra press attention once my travel companion went running to the highest-bidding news outlet, but after that, I strongly suspected that someone might try to kidnap me to perform military experiments.

So, alone. This time, in the cabin of an unmanned drone.

All blinds stood open. This was the closest to what it felt like to float in sunshine. Somewhere below the clouds, it’d been snowing back in Germany. But for a while now, I hadn’t been able to tell the state of affairs on the ground level. It was almost as if this world weren’t connected to the world below. Everything was peaceful. Once I landed in Los Angeles in five minutes, I’d be surrounded by people who might never have seen snow first-hand. Some, of course, would be people who had traveled outside of LA and therefore had seen snow. Either way, the two groups would share a characteristic: they were going to be grateful that I’d revived the economy in the area where the first Madame Polonaise’s location had opened.

This economic contribution, by the way, was why it’d been so easy for me to live without human fingerprints on one of my hands. Remember the candles, the fire hazard? Those. I told people that I’d burned my fingerprints off in a fire, and they believed it right away. Who wouldn’t believe whatever the economy reviver had to say, if they didn’t have to worry about earning rent for the first time in several decades?

This Burned Fingerprints Story was an overt lie that my brain told, not the alien palm. And it would’ve been a brilliant reason to remove candles from all branches, but I didn’t. Compared to the lie that my right hand was really mine, candles were such harmless little distortions of reality. They didn’t even count as falsehood or evasion or deception. In fact, after all that’d happened, candles had almost become a symbol of innocence. It’s kinda cute, isn’t it, to try to create an air of mystery using those?

Anyway, the fans at the landing station were going to cheer for me, ask for autographs and selfies. Some were going to ask me, casually and almost unwittingly, What’s my fortune?

The beautiful bodyguards who awaited me at the landing station would push such people back. Then someone in the crowd, quite wisely, would tell the casual and unwitting folks: Will you just stop? She makes her living by reading palms and you’re asking her to do it for free. You do realize that she’s only staying for a month, then leaving again? Which means that those who did get an in-person appointment paid a shit ton of money? Unless you wanna stand in line for the pro bono cases, get back. Move back. Give her some space.

I’d never asked him what he was going to use my old hand for.

That thought popped up in my head without any sort of warning, without context.

I immediately tried to divert my attention. Folks, let me tell you: don’t ask a palm reader to read your palm for free. It doesn’t make us feel better. Why would it? You think because you deign to pretend that you take us seriously, we’ll fawn on you?

Speaking of which, don’t ask the painter to paint your portrait for free. Don’t ask the songwriter to write you a love song. And especially don’t tell the Computer Science major to fix your laptop.

But I hadn’t asked him what he planned on doing with my hand.

I need human fingerprints of a very particular kind: the kind that stays authentic even though it doesn’t belong with my body, he’d said. Funny how he’d thought a truth-teller’s palm would be the most suitable for such a purpose. Wouldn’t a truth-telling palm simply tell the truth, that it didn’t belong? Apparently not. It would hold its internal truth even in a situation in which it should’ve paid attention to external changes.

A sudden blast threw the drone off its route.

Immediately, an alarm rang, threatening to rupture my eardrums. As if you needed this kind of warning in a one-person aircraft! Of course I could see I was in danger, even without the alarm! The whole drone was just a simple fishbowl shape. There was no separate cockpit.

I scrambled to get a good look out the front window. The drone was steering left at a steep angle, trying to get back on its pre-calculated route. The binyeo charms trembled in my hair. They were one of the few things that had stayed consistent, no matter what outfit I wore for the day, no matter where I was, and what hand was attached to my right wrist. Ages ago, I’d found that bone ornament morbid. These days, I appreciated being able to carry around a weapon that people underestimated because of its beauty. After you encountered an alien, you worried about all sorts of things. No amount of money and success could stop you from worrying…

On the horizon, clouds rose: green.

Polar lights? Impossible. I wasn’t in the pole region. But the clouds had a similar bewitching effect. Green, which seemed to dominate nature, looked so unusual when it popped up anywhere except on plants. Think about it. Green around the gills. Green with envy. Green for hazardous chemicals.

Green for aliens.

Alien clouds were rising above the natural ones.

“Finally, almost full circle,” the familiarly impatient alien voice said from all directions.

© 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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