I was really bothered after reading Sarah Ann's tea leaves today. It goes to show you that there's a sucker born every minute. Sometimes I think I'm the sucker since I got to listen to these poor folks in these back country hick towns spilling out their guts. Anyway, I'm sitting here in the Two Roses Saloon putting away a couple of belts thinking about the whole thing with Sarah Ann, and her old man, and the other sister, Olive. There was something positively indecent, something really strange about that family, but something I couldn't put my finger on. Maybe I'll see what I'm looking for when I look at my reflection at the bottom of this glass later on. I'm no bona fide doctor or anything like that. I don't sit in a big leather chair and puff on a pipe and nod every now and then when the person says something real significant. But I do wear a turban with a big genuine fake red jewel in the middle. A1ong with my natural dark complexion, I guess I look real enough for them to believe that I'm really telling their fortunes. And sometimes I get it right. After all, how many things could possibly change in these folks' real lives? I travel all over, living out of the trunk of my '67 Buick Le Sabre. I guess I'm a one-man travelling road show, staying one step ahead of Johnny Law. Sometimes I'm just one kick away. After I toss a few back I introduce myself as a travelling salesman, but what I don't tell the suckers is that I'm selling their future for as much as I can get. But I still got to listen as they belch our their sourness, their accumulated mental bile, emptying their souls in their hope of finding a bleacher seat in a corner of a small theater called inner calm. And me? I've got myself and that's been almost enough. But this Sarah Ann, she was something else. She was so apart from whatever there was. So matter-of-fact. Like everything was natural. Let me tell you about her. Maybe you'll see what's still so hazy to me. First of all, Sarah Ann's mother died when she was real young. She and her older sister Olive were raised like "real ladies" by their "gentleman" father, Doc Landis, who had actually spent only one year in medical school. He really favored Olive and sometimes was struck by her resemblance to the girls' mother. But as much as he favored Olive, he ignored Sarah Ann. Olive sat in her mother's chair, played the mother in the children's games, and played the mother in other games I don't even want to think about. It was like that until Olive met a travelling salesman who probably sweet-talked her and held her hand and promised her the world outside that she wanted so much that she could taste it. But Olive's father would have none of that. So his "little mother" had to go sneaking around behind his back, seeing this Mr. Dixon on the sly. Sarah Ann, all the while, was taking this all in. Olive was telling her all about her Mr. Dixon and Sarah Anne was even part of their deceit. Their old man, it seems, was undoubtedly jealous of this guy who was taking Olive's heart and body away. And so he forbade Olive from seeing him, which probably made Olive want him all the more. On what was to become the last day that Olive lived in the house, her father demanded that Olive not see her man anymore. They were to discuss things further that night, but Olive simply upped and left. They got a call later that night from Olive saying that she was married. The old man refused to give his blessings and refused to even consider that maybe Olive could love that guy. I think he only wanted the girls to love him, the way he loved his wife, the way that love is at the same time sacred and profane. So in Doc Landis's own mind, Olive was gone for good. Sarah Ann became the little woman that the old man so desperately needed. Sarah Ann wasn't allowed to write to her sister though she, of course, did. Olive hoped that Sarah Ann would read some of her letters to the old man, who was getting sicker by the day, but Sarah Ann just knew that he wouldn't want to hear Olive's name. But then he found out that there were all those letters that Sarah Ann had been hiding from him, so he made her give them to him, in order to burn them. Only he didn't. Things at this point were nice and cozy for the two of them. Finally Sarah Ann got the appreciation and attention and affection that she wanted all along and the father got to believe that they'd always have each ether. Sarah Ann just knew that that was the way things were always meant to be. I mean, she actually believed that all that was true. If things were so right, as they should he, then what nags at me is why did Sarah Ann ever walk into my fortune parlor, which was really a dingy storefront on a back street an the backside of town, in the first place? Why did she have to talk to me, of all people? She said that she would never would have told anyone else about it, so why me? Later Sarah Ann, when she was going through the old man's desk, found all the letters that the old man was going to bum. She knew it wasn't fair for him to have kept the letters since, after all, to him and to her she became the only daughter that he ever had. He would always be fingering them and touching them and secretly reading them and Sarah Ann would have none of that. She finally had him all to herself, and they'd live happily ever after. So she went to the incinerator and, one by one, tossed the letters carefully into the fire. All through this, she suspected that the old man was probably watching but he couldn't say anything, of course. And she said that she did it for his sake. First her mother loved him and died and left the two sisters to take care of him, and then Olive left and ran off with the first guy to throw her a line. And so she burnt the letters and now there's only her. There's my reflection in the bottom of the empty glass and what do I see? I see the distorted reflection of a-face with a five o'clock shadow with a look of puzzlement thinking about a family where there's an old man who really had a hold on his girls - one who was lucky enough to have gone off, and the other who has now become his little woman. And I look up at the bartender to get another one for the road and see in the mirror over the bar, the reflection of a lawman looking my way. All of a sudden, I forget about the one for the road and get a strong urge to move on. And just to think - I won't even be able to wish Sarah Ann good luck.
Fall, 1984, Revised, April, 2003 Copyright © 2003, Lloyd B. Abrams