When Simon surfaced Sunday morning in his lounge in Pee Pee, Ohio, the great hangover that is life hit him full square in the chest.
Sundays were usually about he and Eva lounging in bed, mock fighting over whose turn it was to drag themselves to the kitchen and back to get morning coffee. This Sunday, though, was all about hangovers.
Firstly, there was the beer hangover that throbbed behind his eyes and made his stomach heave at the slightest thought.
Then there was the separation hangover. The hollow, achy, feeling that crunched into his reality as soon as he awoke.
And of course, there was the no-job-no-money hangover, which was continuing from the preceding days and weeks – that dark awareness of dwindling supplies in the cupboards and of expiring resources with which to buy more.
Finally, there was the string cheese hangover…
Ugh, no wonder he had such a weird taste in his mouth.
Simon groaned and delicately rolled himself off the sofa, trying not to see the six empty jumbo packets of string cheese that lay on the floor. Nevertheless, his mind helpfully did the maths for him. Twelve portions in each jumbo packet. Twelve by six makes seventy two. His stomach revolted, propelling him to the bathroom, where he managed to get his head over the sink just in time.
Afterwards, he gulped great mouthfuls of cold water straight from the tap, relieved at least that the fermented curd in his digestive system had come back up rather than blocking the other end for days to come.
Straightening up, he caught sight of himself in the small mirror, noticing a smear of orange-coloured trickle on his chin. He reached into his pocket for a tissue, bringing it to his face in the hope of restoring some sense of dignity. It was only the rough texture that alerted him to the reality that he was, in fact, dabbing at his face with lace panties. The same lace panties he had shoved into his pocket the day before in anticipation of a hot, solitary, evening in front of the television.
Simon sat down heavily on the side of the bath, the panties falling to the floor, and stared at his feet. Toes. Crooked toes, with a fungal infection that had turned the nails black. Big feet with black toes on a fluffy white bath mat. How could anyone have loved toes like that, he wondered. He didn’t even like them himself. No wonder Eva had left him.
‘Tho, Thimon, can we talk now?’
Like a bad penny, the voice had turned up again. The same lisping, latino voice that had so unnerved him the night before. Simon slumped further down onto the bathmat and leaned his head on his knees. It seemed that madness had finally caught up with him, as his family had foreseen.
‘You’re the only company I’ve got, dude, so I guess we may as well have a chat, even if I’m just talking to myself.’ Simon said wearily.
‘I am not you!’ the voice answered indignantly. ‘I am me. I am Agador Thpartacuth.’
‘A-ga-dor Thpar-ta-cuth,’ the lisping interloper repeated slowly.
‘Agador Spartacus? Seriously?’ Simon laughed. Even his befuddled brain couldn’t have come up with that one. Clearly, the voice wasn’t his. That was a relief at least. And the name had a certain familiar ring to it that he couldn’t quite place.
‘I am your thpiwit guide.’
‘My what guide?’
‘Thpiwit,’ Agador repeated.
‘Thpiwit?…Oh, spirit! My spirit guide. So where have you been hiding for the last few weeks when I could have done with your help?’ Simon was not in the mood for tolerance.
‘You were dehydrated – I couldn’t get through,’ the voice answered without hesitation. ‘But the beer helped. Simon. you need to drink more water. Beer is only a temporary fix.’
Oh come on. Was he having a laugh? Eva had always said he didn’t drink enough water.
‘But I am new so my fault too,’ Agador continued. ‘I am trainee guide.’
‘A trainee spirit guide? Do they even exist?’
Typical, Simon thought, I get the cheap version and he can’t even speak English properly.
‘No, not cheep! I am good…but not very well in English,’ Agador responded heatedly, perfectly reading Simon’s thoughts. ‘It is not my language. I am from Watamala.’
‘Watamala. You know – in Thentwal Amewica.’
Agador continued, ’When you are no longer trainee psychic, I will not be trainee guide. We both graduate together.’
Although Simon could feel Agador’s happy anticipation of promotion through his words, he himself was anything but happy at being called a trainee psychic. Surely five years as a tarot reader had earned him some stripes – even if he’d only ever had a handful of clients?
‘We will help each other graduate, yes?’ came Agador’s enthusiastic voice once more.
‘You help me get my girlfriend back and I’ll help you graduate.’ Simon snapped back, his hangover fading into the background behind the weirdness of the conversation. ‘Deal?’
‘No…we help eachother graduate and MAYBE girlfriend come back.’ Agador was obviously no sap, despite his trainee status and lack of fluency. ‘Maybe girlfriend no good.’
‘Okay, I can buy that.’ Simon smiled, sitting up a little straighter, optimism rekindling. ‘So, where do we start?’
The doorbell startled them both into unexpected action.
Outside, on the step, stood a dark haired woman, nervously shifting from one foot to the other.
‘Terence? As in Terence’s Tarot?’ She asked, indicating the sign by the fence.
‘Um, yes?’ Simon ran the back of his hand over his mouth, belatedly remembering the earlier vomit.
‘I didn’t make a reservation or anything, but I need a reading kind of urgently? Can you do it?’ There was no sign of a smile or anything that could be mistaken for warmth on the visitor’s face.
‘Yeth!’ Agador Spartacus’ enthusiasm washed through Simon.
Simon repeated, ‘Yeth,’ with a lilting, lisping, lift to the word.
The woman looked at him strangely.
‘Yes, of course,’ he said in a normal voice, brushing aside the embarrassment of having slipped into Agador’s accent. ‘Come in. It’ll just take me a few moments to get ready.’
Almost frog-marching his new client into the bathroom to buy time, he made for the lounge and manically man-handled the bottles and wrappers into the DVD cupboard, tossing the cushions back onto the sofa. Drawn curtains, the quick flick of a lighter to an incense stick, and a deck of tarot cards on the table transformed the room from the Slough of Despond to the Enchanted Ground. And by the time Maryam had taken the armchair opposite, Simon had managed two or three deep breaths and appeared a vision of tranquility.
‘Now, how can I help you today?’ he asked smiling. He felt oddly confident.
‘Well, to be honest, I don’t usually do this…kind of stuff,’ she said crisply, dismissing his life’s passion in one word. ‘And I don’t really want to tell you what’s going on. So just do whatever it is you do and we’ll see how it goes.’
Unflinching in the face of such skepticism, Simon drew three cards and laid them out on the table. The King, the Hangman and the Seven of Swords.
He looked at the cards and hesitated. Was Agador going to be able to offer anything? Or should he try to interpret by himself? He cleared his throat and leaned forward, peering more closely at the cards and hoping for inspiration from the beyond.
‘He ith no right for her, thith man.’ Agador’s adamant voice sounded clearly in his head. ‘Tell her! He ith no right!’
Simon had no idea what he, or the cards, meant at that moment so there was nothing for it but to trust.
‘This man is not right,’ he muttered, altering the words slightly and continuing to stare hard at the cards. He had no wish to see Maryam’s response.
‘He ith no king!’ Agador persisted.
‘He’s not a king,’ Simon repeated, arranging his face to appear lost in deep divination.
There was a moment’s silence, while Simon squirmed inwardly, eyes still lowered to the cards. Then a loud strangled sob was heard, followed by soft crying. Simon lifted his eyes to see the woman burying her face in a tissue.
‘Oh, thank you,’ she eventually gushed. ‘That makes so much sense! I thought I was losing my mind but I wasn’t. He IS a fraud!’
Simon was stunned. It had worked.
‘I know what I must do. I must confront him and make sure this never happens again!’ I have to take a stand!’ She continued, her eyes and nose still streaming from the unexpected emotional release.
Getting to her feet, she pulled her purse out and slipped five twenty-dollar bills onto the small table.
‘I have no idea what you charge but I hope this is more than enough. You got straight to the point with no bullshit – and so quickly too! Thank you so, so much. It was more than I could have hoped for. And thank you for restoring my faith.’
With a final honk in her paper hanky, she was gone, a trail of unfamiliar perfume wafting out the door behind her.
‘We are good together, yeth?’ Agador lisped in his ear.
‘Yes, maybe we are,’ Simon agreed.