arrell couldn’t believe his luck: A college girl. College girls definitely had sex all the time, with as little fuss as popping open a Diet Coke. They also all smoked pot pretty much constantly. At least that’s what his brother DaShawn had told him, and DaShawn had been up to Fayetteville studying business for almost a whole year.
But this girl, Julie something, only looked at him strangely when he asked whether she had a J. And even if sex was going to happen at some point, you couldn’t just make a grab for it as if she was one of the hos down at the Go Go. You couldn’t even make a grab for it with a ho, DaShawn told him. No matter what you were doing and with whom — DaShawn actually used words like that: whom — it was important to do it with style.
Remembering this advice was what gave Darrell the idea to take Julie to the Futureama. He’d tagged along behind DaShawn there late one night. DaShawn told him how the old fortune teller lady, Jimmie Sue, left the windows cracked no matter how cold or hot the weather, so the spirits could move around and shit. She left her money, wrapped in a nasty old silk snot rag, in the top drawer of her big old carved dresser, right beside her magic cards.
Do not touch those cards, DaShawn had warned Darrell, taking half the money from the silk cloth and putting the rest back. Those cards are evil. They will bring you harm.
DaShawn showed Darrell how to screw off the head of the big black buddha, where the pot was stored inside. The old fortune teller lady must grow her own, DaShawn said, and it was fine.
So every once in a while, when he was feeling brave, on nights when he just needed to get out of the house and wander, he’d come over here, let himself in, smoke a little dope, help himself to a bill or two, and slip out. Never with anybody else, though. Not until tonight.
“What are you doing?” the girl, Julie, asked, looking around, rubbing her arms, as he raised the back window of the Futureama, gently lowered his banjo inside and prepared to follow.
It was fucking freezing, which they hadn’t noticed so much walking, letting their arms touch every so often, until Darrell had finally loosely taken Julie’s hand. He was definitely popping his cherry tonight.
“We can get warm in here,” he told her. “Don’t worry. The lady who owns this place doesn’t mind.”
Doesn’t mind because she doesn’t know, he neglected to add. Jimmie Sue lived right above the store, DaShawn had told him, so they had to be quiet. But not that quiet, because she was about 108 years old and slept like she was already dead. Plus even if they woke her up, Darrell privately figured, they’d be back on Bath House Row before she made it down the stairs.
“This place is spooky,” Julie said, looking doubtful.
“Nah, it’s cool. Come inside.”
He didn’t usually like to turn on the lights, but tonight he couldn’t resist, showing off for Julie. It was cool in here, with the flowy golden drapes and the velvet pillows on the furniture and the glow-in-the-dark planets and stars plastered all over the walls and ceiling. For the full effect, he left the overhead light burning longer than was strictly safe and then switched it off, so all those planets and stars burned bright green.
“Wow,’ said Julie. “What is this place?”
“It’s called the Futureama, though everybody around here just says Jimmie Sue’s. Everybody comes here sometimes to get their fortunes told, even if they don’t like to admit it.”
Even his mama came, and she was not the fortune teller kind of person. She didn’t even go to church, although Darrell’s brother practically owned the biggest church in town, if owning a church was actually possible, nor did she believe in God.
If you don’t believe in God, how can you believe that some old white lady can tell the future?, Darrell had asked her.
Don’t get fresh with me, his mother, LaTonya, said.
“Look at this,” said Darrell now to the college girl, moving in what was left of the light from the planets and stars over to the Buddha, unscrewing its head, taking out the little baggie of pot.
“What is that?” asked the girl, moving closer to peer at the plastic-wrapped herb in his palm.
“What is that? Pot. Weed. Marijuana. Don’t they have that where you go to college?”
“I don’t go to college,” she told him.
Whoa! That was disappointing news. “I thought you said you came from up in Fayetteville.”
“No, you said that. I’m from….further East.”
“Back east, wow.” He was suddenly a lot more nervous, his hands trembling as he took his trusty package of EZ-Wides from his back pocket, laid a paper on the top of the dresser, sprinkled in the pot. This might not be as simple as he thought. “Well, don’t they smoke joints wherever it is you come from?”
She burst into laughter. “Yeah, of course, I’m not from Mars!” she said. “I’d love some of that!”
He laughed too, as much from relief as from happiness. There was a little black metal pot like a witch’s cauldron filled with wooden matches on the dresser, right beside the Buddha, and Darrell struck one of them on the wood, bringing the flame to the joint between his lips, sucking down a deep lungful of the old lady’s potent weed.
This stuff was amazing, better even than the little bit that DaShawn occasionally grudgingly passed him. Darrell watched with satisfaction as the girl took an expert toke, and then helped himself to another hit, feeling it take hold already. He passed the joint back to Julie, who was looking more relaxed, and decided it was time to move things forward, before he was too stoned to take any action.
“Hey,” he said. “Check this out.” He slid open the top drawer, took out the silk-wrapped money, unwrapped it and held it out to her.
She moved in closer, holding the burning joint out to the side, and he saw her eyes widen. “Wow,” she said, making a grab for it. “I could use that.”
“No way,” he said, pulling it back, wrapping it up again as if it belonged to him, which, in a way, it did.
He was about to put the money back in the drawer when she reached around him and snatched up the other silk-wrapped bundle.
“Ha ha,” she said, laughing. “I’ve got my own.”
“Give that here,” he said, fear leaping into his throat. The cards. Everybody knew that you were not supposed to touch the cards.
“No way,” she said, yanking them out of his reach. When he lunged for them, she laughed and darted away.
“Really,” he said, truly worried now. “You’re not supposed to have those.”
He made one more serious grab and she leaped back toward the window and that’s when it happened: She dropped the cards, spilling them out of the silk that still fluttered empty in her hand, scattering the cards across the floor.
The girl gasped and Darrell dropped to his knees, frantically trying to decide whether it was worse luck to touch the cards or to leave them spread all over the place like that. He lifted one — a picture of an army of people, all carrying huge clubs — when the girl let out a cry and he looked up to see flame lick up the slick fabric of the golden drapery, to see a puff of air billow against the drape, the wind fanning the fire high toward the ceiling.
The girl started babbling something — Darrell couldn’t make out what, but it definitely did not sound like English — and through his undeniable highness heard the sound of heavy footsteps above, shouts and cries, saw the flames spread across the planets and the stars as if they were made from gasoline.
“Out, out, we have to get out!” Darrell shouted at the girl, just as the door to the room banged open, and Jimmie Sue the Fortune Teller bounded in.