Perhaps some people have mentally staged Astrology in a romantically-tinged, historical light; strong, half-nude men steadying their chin on a solid, worn fist, begging their brains to reveal the mysteries of the stars; weaker, but wiser older men with long white beards pointing to the sky to a crowd of followers. Maybe one would imagine a worn map with beautiful illustrations of constellations with barely-legible, spotted cursive. Sadly, nowadays I can only picture a small paragraph written about my future money problems published next to a story about a woman who set her kid on fire. No shit, I have money problems, and now you’re telling me that if I stop being an asshole, I’ll have better relationships with people? When did the stars become my psychic therapist? I have to give astrologists credit, though, as every horoscope I’ve read has related to my life in some way. In some vague, overreaching and nonspecific way. I also ignore the stuff that doesn’t apply to me.
One windy morning, I half-hopped my cramping feet down the crooked brick sidewalk towards CVS. I needed smokes, snacks, and sips. CVS is a delightful store if you hate saving money on absolute crap. Five dollars for five granola bars the length of my middle finger? Anything for that cash back option so I can buy some weed! The first breaths of the store blew past me in a wave, created by the vacuum of the heavy, automatic doors. Wavering in its wind, I heard the faint echo of a pop music station. One of the overhead lights flickered as if to frantically catch up to the beat.
Some old woman had folded up her walker and held it far away from her body, leaning up against it like a cane. The arm secured against it wobbled wildly in a passioned effort to steady the maybe 70 pounds it was trying to support. She took up the whole aisle in an effort to stay standing. The lady would scan each row of each section, grumbling occasionally in response to her mobility ordeal. I left the aisle to avoid her, only to hear her croak “Excuse me!” indignantly at a fellow shopper. It became a chant that quickly faded out as she calmed down.
I grabbed some peanuts or something, I don’t know, I don’t pay attention to what I spend so I don’t fully feel the guilt of spending it. I looked down at my feet and listened to the cashier chit chat with a person who spent the last half hour begging the pharmacist to fill his prescription early. After she verbally fought him off, she put up a sign indicating the register was closed and silently pointed to the cashier next to her.
This woman was a bit different. I envied the length of her hair, but it was unkempt and looked like she got ready in the dark. Her makeup looked like it was picked out by a stripper and applied with a pressurized gun. Despite the store’s air conditioning, the eyeliner had sunk to her lower lid and pooled under her yellowing eyeballs. She looked exhausted. She had been eating store-brand popcorn and reading a magazine about George Clooney’s balls before being interrupted by my presence, and she started to while sheepishly grinning. “Sorry, I was just pigging out and reading. It’s easy to do that when your fat.” She turned away from me to adjust the plastic bags.
“No, no…” I started, trying to word my sentences carefully. You can’t simply lie to a person when they acknowledge they have fat on them and say that it doesn’t exist, but you obviously don’t validate their own low self-esteem with your own opinion. “I’ve… I’ve seen much worse. Much.. much worse.” I felt like a fucking idiot. Just get out your card and wait for the chip reader to angrily beep. I handed her my ID, face flush, and asked for cigarettes. She raised her eyebrow and scanned the card quickly. She held it to her face and squinted. “Oh, Scorpio, huh?”
I sighed. I had to make small talk. I forced out a laugh.
“Yeah, I don’t know what my future holds today. I’ll have to check when I get home.”
She rasped out a low chuckle. I had seen her puffing on some brand of long cigarette every time I passed the store, and I suppose I was getting a sneak peek into my future as she swirled some phlegm in the back of her throat.
She grabbed the cigarettes off the shelf and eyed me. “Us Scorpios sure are wild, right?” I laughed, entertaining the thought. “We’re pretty good at sex, too.” This is where I forced an emotion to hide my bewilderment. She apparently noticed this and hung her head, embarrassed, apologizing while handing me my receipt. I grabbed the other end and tried to force out the thought of her flumping around. As I touched the receipt, I noticed the cashier’s eyes had glazed over completely. She remembered a moment she had that morning, sitting in her recliner and sipping cold, store-bought coffee. She gazed across the funnies before reaching a particular predictive advice column:
“Scorpio! Your care-free attitude is to be cherished, but today it may get you in trouble. If you find yourself in an unpleasant situation, take extra care today to control your emotions. Resist the urge to succumb to negativity.” The warning had made her nervous, but she finished off her drink and stumbled towards the bus stop.
As she came back to the present, receipt still pinched between two chipped nails, she stared into my eyes. I saw her eyebrows furrow and relax. Suddenly, I felt a hot breeze cling to my face like wet corn starch. She looked startled. I then realized she had the audacity to fart right in front of me. Right in front of everyone. Not only that, but she let a smile creep onto her paint-stained face and coughed out an “oopsie”, as if “oopsie” is the proper, adult term for apologizing. Oopsie, she muttered, and that utterance became a sing-song echo reverberating through my hot, angry brain. I didn’t know what to do. I just broke eye contact with great speed and fast-walked out of the store. Who did I just meet? Why did she subject me to her arresting presence? Why was it so hard to walk away? All at once, I felt a tightness in my fist. I was angry, and I had no time to compose myself before my arms and legs returned me back to the building, balled-up fist and all. Before I could send down a crushing, vengeful blow, I was seized by a memory that sprung a leak in my brain.
I was sitting in my recliner, drinking expensive cold coffee, and skimming over the comics. I grimaced at the Mark Trail strip and hastily flipped the page. There I read, in tiny letters, grazing a classifieds ad for discreet massages, my celestial advice for the day.
“Keep your emotions in check today. A stressful situation will test you. Because of your careless attitude, you will most likely get into trouble.”
My hand was shaking like an old dog forcing a bowel movement. I almost laid a stinker on her before I convinced myself to resist the urge. My hand relaxed and reached for my pack. I offered to keep her company outside by a splintered old bench outside the store. As we sat outside, her hair whipped in the salty, egg wind. I noticed her dirty coat had a unique embroidered emblem on the sleeve. A scorpion. Bright red, cartoonishly smoking a butt, stinger poised to strike.
I tried to ask her something about her real life, but she just kept on with the horoscope babble. “Yep,” she sucked at her Virginia Slim, “us Scorpios are ruled by desires.” She nodded at the smoke as I exhaled. “Uh, yep. I gotta quit. Gotta stop with the junk food, too. It’s very addicting.” I felt my pancreas wrinkle.
“Well, we’re also good at keeping secrets.” She looked at me and winked. I looked at her with bewilderment. She looked down at herself. I followed. My eyes caught a penis in her hand.
I looked her square in the groin and responded “Well, us Scorpios don’t please others. We don’t care what the world thinks of us.” I put my hands on her shoulders. Her eyes softened as she stared at my parted lips. She whispered that she was good at hiding her feelings, and it could cause a problem in relationships. I said, “Me too.” A new beginning wafted into my future. I was certain we would spend the end of our days buying nicotine patches and eating expensive frozen food. We’d do each other’s makeup, and then I’d touch up mine when she wasn’t looking. We would watch catheter commercials all day and drink coronas at night.
I woke up the next morning and immediately regretted everything. I forgot I had also taken some kind of pill I found on the floor and became super suggestible. I stumbled off of her bare mattress, crept out the dark bedroom and tripped over random children’s toys in the hallway. Weird, I didn’t see any kids in the house. Before I stumbled out the front door, I noticed a rolled up paper on the cement stoop. I yanked the elastic band off the roll so fast it kept the shape, unfolded the paper, and ripped through to the horoscopes section with my clammy bare hands. Vibrating against my own gripping pulse, I strained to read. My body and brain screamed for a predictable future. Every day I silenced a screaming voice inside, begging for reassurance that the next moment won’t be a fight for survival. Now, at my most vulnerable moment, I desperately needed guidance. It read:
“You’ve made a terrible mistake. Your lucky number is 299.”
The brevity startled me. I felt my stomach drop to what I felt was my anal floor. I threw the ripped paper to the ground and stomped on it. Windex was sprayed on it for good measure. Before I could get to the sidewalk, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and was pelted with a crab-like figure.
I then noticed that she was elbow deep inside of a scorpion farm. Ten or twenty small scorpions scattered in all directions around the thick of her forearm. She was hucking scorpions at me like throwing darts. I felt a pinch on the back of my neck. Another on my cheek. Before I could brush the crawlies off, my entire body became stiff and swollen. I felt a hot wave of pain crash into my chest. As foam billowed out of my nostrils and clouded my vision, I saw my regretted lover squint and strain the muscles of her face. The creatures obediently returned to their farm as my muse strained further. Another hot wave wafted over me. Again. She did it again. I was in hell. I could feel something laying eggs in my ear. I opened my mouth to scream but only expelled warm saliva and guttural choking. She carried me back to her barren living room and opened a window. I was propped up on a couch, bug-eyed and wet-faced, trembling with the animal urge to resist the restraint of scorpion poison. The pain was unrelenting. She dusted off a baseball cap and placed it on my head and took a broken pair of sunglasses to prop on my greasy nose. A lit cigarette was placed in between my stiff fingers as the cherry burned menacingly. She flipped on the rabbit ears and adjusted a tin foil wad until the static disappeared. The faint sound of applause and a deafening bell-ish ringing echoed through the den.
“I love the Price is Right.”
My captor put an ash tray under my numb, stiff hand. Through the roaring tinnitus and hallucinations of baby wails, I saw the prize they were bidding on: a six-setting toaster oven washed in seafoam green and chrome. I felt the muscles in my face soften. The cigarette smoke burned my eyes.
“Six thousand.” The cashier coughed, ashing onto the patch-riddled carpet. This is where I got kind of pissed off. She clearly didn’t know the value of a dollar. The production of saliva began as the paralysis wore off, albeit slowly. My sting-addled face was swollen and tight, but my mouth began to relax. I forced out an angry retort.
“Too … na na.”
The cashier side-eyed me through her own cloud of dust and smoke.
“T .. nan nan.” I felt a blood vessel burst in my cheek. Every contestant had given their responses, none of which matched my own. One man had answered 301. An old woman with tiny lips quivered behind number 290. The static glow of the old glass screen distorted the rest, but I was determined that they were mistaken.
“Two.” It came out of my lips like a wad of gum. My legs trembled awake. All at once, I grit my teeth and lifted myself up. All but my feet were functional. My face slacked as if I slept on it funny. The cigarette braced against my stern fingering. I took a drag of confidence and intensely focused.
CVS Lady reclined backward in her chair with intense anticipation. She probably expected me to put out the butt in her eye, set her scorpions on fire, or bite her neck. They were all great ideas I mulled over. But I was watching the Price is Right.
“TWO NINETY-NINE!” I grabbed a glass full of stale whiskey and pelted it against the wall. It burst and shimmered around me in celebration. The announcer’s throaty repetition of my answer fueled my recovered body. I ran over to the lady and hugged her as hard as I could. She began to cry and jump up and down. I put my hands on her shoulders and followed. This continued until the commercials about faulty vaginal mesh surgeries came on, and she ran off into her room and cried.
It’s not as bad as you think. Sure, I did almost die from a coordinated stinging attack. However, I would argue that it made the relationship stronger. I don’t really get anything out of it, but I know that our horoscopes totally line up, and it can’t all be a coincidence. We’re doing pretty good right now, and I haven’t looked back since. I didn’t actually win the toaster or anything, but it was a pretty validating experience. Please do not judge me. Don’t tell anyone how I live.