Copyright is held by the author.
“FOLLOW THE setting sun and you will meet him,” the gypsy lady said as she curled her gnarled fingers around her crystal ball. “I see him . . . there . . .” she gasped putting a hand over her heart, “oooooh. He is tall, dark and wait. What is this?”
“What?” I cried my gaze transfixed on her weathered face.
Her eyes opened wide and flitted across the table to meet mine. “But you know this man already,” she began again in her thick accent, “He is no stranger to you. He looks at you with familiar smiles.”
“But —” she raised her hands for silence and bent closer to the ball.
I confess, I came to her with a discouraged heart, convinced after two failed relationships and a series of really bad dates, that there was no one in the world for me. I was destined to be single but somehow still clinging to the hope that someday I might meet my true love, my soul mate the man of my dreams, I succumbed to the taunting of a friend. She was so convinced that this gypsy lady could help she even presented me with a gift certificate. What could it hurt, I’d thought. Surely, anyone who sells and accepts gift certificates had to be legit.
And there I was in a candle lit room, filled with dangling amulets, dream catchers and over stuffed pillows. The heavy velvet curtains were drawn over the windows, perhaps more to ward off the suspicious neighbours than to keep in the deep, dark secrets of her clients. The air was filled with frankincense as sticks of it sent curls of smoke spiraling toward the ceiling.
And in that moment when she described him, this man she saw in her crystal ball as tall, dark and… well, my heart quickened. How could it not? But surely it wasn’t someone I already knew. All the men I knew were creeps or they were married and some of the married ones were creeps too.
She raised her hands and waved them over the glass as if trying to draw the image closer to her. “No, is no use,” she slurred. “The vision is now gone. The crystal grows cloudy. I see nothing more.” She sat back and looked at me with a satisfied smile, as if she’d imparted some miraculous revelation, expecting no doubt some gratitude in return.
“That’s it?” I cried. “Follow the setting sun and I’ll meet him? And he’s tall and dark and someone I know.”
When the knobby fingers of her left hand flitted toward the door indicating the session was over I pushed back my chair, grateful I hadn’t wasted my own eighty dollars on such foolishness and made my way to the door. Somehow I just couldn’t leave it there. I had to know more so I pressed her for another answer. “Please, can’t you tell me how I will know this man or if not that his name, at least?”
The gypsy groaned, rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and sat up straighter in her chair. “Young people, you have no patience, no sense of adventure,” she sighed realizing I wasn’t going to leave. “Very well, but…” Her gaze fell to my purse.
“Oh, you want more money?” I fished a 10 out of my wallet and laid it on the table. The tilt of her head suggested another ten was in order. And when she’d scooped up the money she motioned toward the chair and I sat, again.
Her eyelids dropped, her face lifted toward the ceiling as she placed her hands flat on the table in front of her. Soon she was swaying back and forth, back and forth until she came to an abrupt halt. “M” she said, followed by “Manuel? No, not Manuel?” She turned her head to one side, eyes still closed as if consulting someone to her right. “Michael. No? Maxwell?”
“Max!” I couldn’t stop the outburst. “Oh, surely not Maxwell Anderson.”
Her eyes snapped open and her head bobbed once, twice three times. Bracelets of various metals, silver, copper and gold jangled as she raised her arms overhead. “Max!” she cried pointing a crocked finger at me, her head bobbing in agreement. “That’s the name the spirits are trying to tell us.” Her hand flitted toward the door. “You will go now.”
As I made my way across the park to my apartment on the east side my mind whirled back in time to the only Max I knew, a former boss at the first job I’d had after graduating from university. Max Anderson was tall and he was dark, but Max was not the handsome “man of anyone’s dreams” kind of guy. He was more likely the “nerd of no one’s dreams” with his thick, bottle bottom glasses and pocket full of leaking pens. And don’t get me started on his breath when he leaned over me to look at something on my computer screen. We were convinced he ate garlic for breakfast?
I left that ad agency after a year but Max had stayed on and oddly enough he was promoted to account manager and last I heard was dating his personal assistant—poor girl. But, that was at eight years ago. Who knew what Max was up to these days? He might have had laser surgery and it was possible that someone had given him some fashion lessons. He might even have discovered breath mints. Though somehow I doubted it. No, the gypsy lady had it wrong. It simply could not be Max Anderson.
Just to be sure though, for the next few evenings I avoided going to my favourite bench in the park; her words ringing in my ears, “follow the setting sun . . .” I stayed inside because avoiding the sunset seemed to be the way to avoid seeing Max.
Eventually, I realized the ridiculousness of it all. Max was probably working in another office in another city by now. And it occurred to me that my friend might have set me up, paid the woman and given her Max’s name as a joke. After all we’d both worked at that agency and we’d shared many a joke at Max’s unknowing expense. And then I thought about how ridiculous the old woman looked dressed in her gypsy clothes, her flaming red hair and her sun dried, wrinkly old face. And that room, laden with incense and things dangling from the curtain rods. Surely this had all been arranged. Maybe her accent wasn’t even real.
Convinced I had been the brunt of some horrible joke, I sent my friend a quick and snarky text thanking her for the joke at my expense and resumed my evening strolls in the park. Once again I settled myself on my favourite bench to watch the sun set over the river. From my vantage point I could watch the sun as it sank below the skyline of the city with its brilliant splash of colour dancing across the water. The ripples glistened with shades of apricot and pink like tiny fairies frolicking on top of the water.
And as the last rim of orange was about to disappear and the lights came on to brighten up the path in front of me a huge Bernese Mountain dog came barreling down the path. Shy of his leash and delighting in his new-found freedom, he bounded up to me and planted a slobbering wet kiss on my folded hands. He was gone again in an instant, chasing a grey squirrel to the base of a nearby tree and barking fiercely as it hurried to safety.
A man, huffing for breath rounded the bend after the dog and stopped a few yards away. “Sorry . . . about . . . that,” he puffed, doubled over in exhaustion. “He doesn’t usually . . . get away . . . on me.”
“It’s all right,” I chirped fetching a tissue from my pocket.
When he straightened to full height I realized who he was and when his familiar smile greeted mine I smiled back. “Double shot latte with soy milk right?” he grinned.
“Right.” I grinned back at the new owner of the café where I picked up my morning coffee. There was no disputing this man was splendidly tall and he was deliciously dark and just about the most handsome man I’d ever seen. I’d said as much to a friend several times when we’d met for coffee. We both assumed he was married. Gorgeous men like that usually are. And his name was Gary; it said so on the nametag he wore when he was working. Not Max like the gypsy had promised. Still, he was tall and dark and two out of three ain’t bad.
He perched on the other end of the bench. “This is going to sound like a cheesy line and I promise it isn’t meant to be . . . but . . . do you come here often?”
“It is pretty cheesy,” I said, laughing, “but, yes I do usually. Just the past couple of weeks I’ve been . . . well I haven’t but it’s my favourite place to watch the sunset. I love this park.”
“Me too. I discovered when I moved into the building over there.” He jerked his thumb toward the iron gates at the south entrance.“Oh, that’s a nice building,” I offered. “A little over my budget though. I’m over there.” I pointed to the row of brownstones opposite the east gate. When his eyebrows raised I added, “In the basement.”
The Bernese gave up teasing the squirrel then and pranced up to join us. With a heavy sigh he plunked down at his master’s feet. Gary reattached the leash and gave his dog a pat while I admired the wonderous love between a man and his dog. I could love a man like that, a caring man, someone who would caress my soul with the gentleness Gary showed that dog. And then I heard him talking; not to me but to the Bernese.
“How on earth did you get off that leash. You’re a naughty boy, Max.”