The Quotable

Step with Caution

My mother always told me that I was too romantic. When we read fairy tales, I loved the moment of the kiss the most. It wasn’t even the happily ever after part. It was just the kiss—the one that wakes up the princess or turns the beast back into a man. My mother said that I was the type who would get her heart broken. The world isn’t filled with princes, she’d tell me.

By the time I was fifteen I had stopped believing in true love. I stayed away from men, expecting them to turn into Bluebeards before my eyes. I turned my romanticism to other things. I fell in love with the future.

I started visiting psychics, palm readers, astrologers. My meager earnings from The Taco Hut didn’t go to clothes or CDs, instead it went to women with long hair who sat crouched over tarot cards in back room stores that smelled heavily of incense—bitter and thick with just a hint of sweetness, like a memory of something good buried beneath years of sadness.

I met Nadia the summer I was sixteen. It was the hottest July since the year I had been born. I almost didn’t go out to the carnival—the thought of the sun beaming down on me and the uncomfortably un-air-conditioned tents. But I saw that there would be three fortune tellers. It seemed such a strange sort of surplus, as if droves of people were rushing out to have the future revealed to them.

I decided I’d only visit one. I went to each of their tents in turn, trying to pick out the one which would be true. Two were as I always expected them to be: glittery curtains and wafts of that bitter smoke. Nadia’s was small and made of dark blue cloth. It looked like it had been set-up in a hurry by someone who had only ever read about what a tent should look like–more  the idea of a tent than an actual tent. The sign outside simply said: Nadia: Past/ Present/ Future.

I stepped inside. There was no incense, or at least not any incense that I recognized. The tent smelled of something old, dust maybe, or of books from old libraries, never taken off of the shelves.

She sat behind a little card table, the kind topped with fake wood veneer. It should have looked chintzy but for some reason it didn’t.  She wasn’t old and she didn’t seem faintly exotic as the other psychics always tried to be. Her hair was that certain shade of brown which some people called “mousy.”  She wore no make-up, no elaborate jewelry or embroidered silk scarves, and her clothes were simple—blue jeans and a black t-shirt.  The only visible concession she gave to the theatricality of her profession was a pair of thin black gloves that she wore despite the ridiculous heat.

“What’s your name?” she asked. She had a low voice, but one that I could tell was naturally so.

“Diana,” I said as I sat down.

She studied me for a second, staring directly into my eyes until I felt uncomfortable and blinked. She looked down then and said, “Palm or cards?”

“Um, which is better?” I really did want to know.

She thought about this for a couple of moments, as if she really were thinking about how to answer an impossible question. “Cards are good for quick answers. But palms, palms always tell the truth the way you need it in the end.”

“Okay, then, palm. I guess.” I wondered how one could need the truth to be told. Truth didn’t seem like something which could be changed one way or the other to suit someone’s needs. The truth should be impermeable. “Which palm do you use?”

“That depends. The right will give you absolutes. The left—the left is trickier to read, but it’s also more adaptable.”

I began to hold out my right hand but something changed in my mind. I’ve gone over that quick switch decision a thousand times since then. I’ve never figured it out. Maybe I wasn’t really interested in absolutes. Maybe I wanted magic. Maybe I was still a romantic only interested in the moment of the kiss. I placed my left hand on the table, palm up. She caught my eyes for a second. There was something there: sadness or maybe just an understanding. She blinked first this time.

She touched my hand gently. The cloth of her gloves was soft; it didn’t feel like cloth, it felt almost like young skin, unscarred by time.

“You have good lines. A strong mind.” She ran a finger along my head line. It tickled like someone breathing on my skin. “And, your heart line. Look at that. So long.”

She touched my heart line and I felt my heart beat a little faster, a little stronger.

“But, oh, your life line. So short.”

I stared at her. No psychic had ever told me that. They always gave me happy fortunes.

“My life line?”

“It ends at twenty-five.” She said, almost a whisper.

I thought about that. Twenty-five was only nine years away. There wasn’t much room for the future in nine years. “That can’t be right.”

“It is. But it is adaptable.” Her voice was strange suddenly, cooler and deeper.

“How?” I asked. I didn’t even think about how I was being so easily pulled in by her. There was something in her that I couldn’t not believe in.

“Well, your love line is so long. We could just change them around.”

I thought about my mother, about princes and ogres and how easy it was to be too romantic.


“Okay?” She seemed surprised by the quickness of my decision.

“Yeah, what do I have to do?”

“It’s a quick process. A painless cut.” She took something out of her pocket. A little thin knife, the kind that sculptors use on clay.

I stared at the knife and wondered if I screamed how fast someone could get into the tent. Yet there was something I wasn’t afraid of.

“You’re absolutely sure?”

I thought about it. The possibilities I’d never get a chance to experience if I died at twenty-five. “Absolutely.”

She placed the knife to my heart line. I expected pain, the quick sharpness of the cut. Instead, I felt happy. I felt my breath quicken. My mouth was warm, it felt like waking up with someone beside you. I gasped a little as she pulled something from my palm. It was a little thread, translucent and thin like a spider’s web. She carefully set the thread down on my life line and I watched as it connected up. The new bit of line was a little white at first like a scar. But that quickly faded and my hand now looked as it had always looked only with more life in it.

“That didn’t hurt at all.”

“Nothing ever hurts right away,” she said. I didn’t really listen. I was still marveling at having finally seen magic that I couldn’t explain.

She pointed at the door, showing that the reading was done.

“What do I owe you?” I asked.

She shook her head. She seemed much older than when I first came in. Frown lines were etched across her face. She again pointed at the door, as if she were too exhausted to even speak.



I met Smith when I was twenty-three. We had friends in common and always ended up at the same parties. For a while, I thought that people were calling him by his last name. I wanted to find out his first name, but I didn’t know how to ask.

He had a perfect jaw line. It wasn’t square or pointy or rounded but somewhere in between. I liked looking at him in profile. And he had a nice voice, not overly deep but resonant.

I found out later that the best thing about him was his laugh, it was loud and never uncontrolled and exuberant, it was as if being joyful was the thing he was best at.

We were at a party given by a couple we both knew. I was friends with the guy and he was friends with the girl.

Finally I asked him, “Why does everyone call you Smith?”

He raised his eyebrows slightly, smiled, and said, “What else would everyone call me?”

“Well, your first name…” I started and then he laughed. But he wasn’t laughing at me.

“My first name is Smith; everyone always thinks it’s my last name. My mom gave me her maiden name as my first name. Yes, she thought that Smith was an unusual enough name that it needed to be preserved, apparently.” He smiled and I wanted to kiss him more than anything else, but I didn’t.

Later, that night, he asked me out. A little nervously. I loved the way he was nervous; he smiled more.

Our first date was to a movie. It was a romantic comedy and I tried not to fall under its spell.  But at the end of the night he touched the side of my face and kissed me. His kiss felt like jumping into cool lakes on a hot day, like cups of hot cocoa, it warmed my mouth.



On my twenty-fifth birthday I woke up and felt Smith’s arms wrapped around me. I loved the way that his body, in sleep, curled around mine. I stayed next to him for a while longer.

He woke up, yawned, said, “Happy birthday, my heart.”

I rolled over to face him, kissed his lips, which tasted just slightly salty. I wondered how it was possible to be so in love with someone. My heart beat faster every time I saw him, still even after two years. It still does, years later, whenever I think of him. Someone will laugh a certain way and I’ll feel my heart begin to pound until my chest physically aches as if I’m being hit from the inside.

He moved on top of me, we kept kissing, and afterwards he held me for a while, neither of us wanting to leave the space of the other.

“I’ll go get something for breakfast,” he said.


“I’ll surprise you,” he smiled. Kissed me once more.

I took a shower, got dressed, and didn’t start to get worried until I realized an hour had passed. I called him but there was no answer.

It was his sister who called me, two hours later. The police had called his parents, the next of kin. Next of kin, a phrase which had always startled me in its unfeeling. Next of kin, the next in line and the first to get heartbroken when something terrible happened.

He saw a woman being mugged, some man tugging her purse from her grasp. Smith went up to help. The knife went in. The first thought that went through my mind was: how easily does a knife go into skin? Did the man have to put all of his weight behind it or was it easy, like cutting butter? I threw up.



I started seeing him everywhere. He was always going around corners, too far away for me to catch up to him. I sometimes stared at the palms of my hands. I noticed how my heart line looked ragged, scar-like, enflamed.

I started going to fortune tellers and magic shows again. I wanted to find her, to make her change it back.



It was the hottest summer on record when the carnival came to town. I almost walked right by the little blue tent without noticing. But there was the sign, still so simple: Nadia: Past/ Present/ Future. I walked inside.

I expected her to be the same, to be the ageless nightmare that sometimes popped up unexpectedly in my dreams. In my dreams, she was always spitting blood as she read my fortune, cut me open, tore out my heart. She was older, though. She was young for it, but her brown hair was streaked with white. She looked up at me as I came inside.

“So, you finally return to me,” she said. She sounded like she would have cried then if she were a different person.

I sat down across from her and set my left hand on the table, palm up. “Make it go back to the way it was.”

She sighed, her breath shook. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Just take that stupid, little knife and cut out my life and put it back into my heart. Make him come back!”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“Why didn’t you warn me?” I started crying. The tears felt cold.

“I’m not allowed to. It has to be an unbiased choice.” She was pleading with me, I think.

“That’s not fair. That’s not fucking fair. Change it back!” I was pleading with her, I know.

She looked me in the eyes. Then she held up her left hand and pulled off the black glove slowly. Her palm was covered in scars. The lines were all marred with the white of damaged skin.

“You can only cut once without scars. Things can’t be undone.”

I stared at her for the longest time. Then I stared at her hand. The scars were so permanent. They were absolute.



Chloe N. Clark is a poet and writer with work published or forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Fogged Clarity, Weird Tales, Fractured West, and Rosebud.

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