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“I knew you’d come back.” Cookie smiled lazily at me. She looked beautiful, around seven months pregnant, her dark hair longer and softer, richer than when I’d last seen it. She sat in front of her red crystal ball, one hand on it, the other holding mine.
I was in New York City. I’d told everyone I was going to see relatives and for work meetings. But now, sitting once more in Cookie’s psychic shopfront in the East Village, I knew why I’d really come back.
“It took you a long time.” Cookie yawned.
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ve been in Australia. I live there.”
“Well, that’s OK. Here you are now. So, this is between you and me. Don’t talk about it with your friends. And don’t see no other psychics.”
“I have seen some others.”
“That’s the past. We’re going to the future. No more.”
“I’m Skyping with my healer in Melbourne tomorrow. I can’t cut her out.”
“OK – a healer, OK. But nobody else in New York. You gotta respect my work.”
Cookie looked into her crystal ball. Her eyes glazed over. She began to speak in a monotone voice, as though entranced.
“You are going to have a long life, three children —”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“Well, I meant it.”
“But now I’m thirty-three —”
“So what? You can keep ’em coming till you’re fifty-five. That ain’t no big deal.” She looked back into the ball. “You got a good career. You is gonna start makin’ the money you wanna be makin’. Money will not be a problem for you in this life. You have been lonely. But soon love is gonna treat you good, too. So you see, it’s all good news.”
She paused, looked me in the eyes. “But you still got the curse.”
“I was wondering.”
“I told you – I told you that night a year ago we had to get rid of it – and you didn’t listen. But you was led back here.”
“But now it’s double the price. Twenty-five hundred dollars.”
“Cookie, I can’t afford that.”
“Well, you shoulda done it last time like I told you. ’Cause now it’s worse. What – you think a curse like that is gonna go away by itself?”
“Twenty-five hundred is too much. I can’t afford it.”
“Well, why don’t you tell me how much you can afford and we’ll work it out.”
“Three hundred dollars.”
“I can’t do what I gotta do for three hundred dollars. Not now that the curse is so strong. It’s surrounding your soul. The darkness. The evil spirits. They got you. It’s big work for me. I gotta get the candles, take them into the church, burn them. You gotta go higher than that.”
“Five hundred. That’s as high as I can go.”
“It’s not enough. I know you has thought about it every day since you was last in here. What can you offer me?”
“Six hundred dollars.”
“Nine hundred plus the crystal ball reading. I’m pregnant so I’m doubly as powerful than usual. You get those benefits.”
“I don’t know, Cookie.”
“In a minute I’m gonna ask you to leave. Because I don’t need this disrespect for my work. And if we don’t do it tonight, the curse will set in forever. It has to be tonight – or never.”
“I just don’t know if I can afford it.” I tried to look down a little, away from her eyes. But Cookie held my gaze, never blinking.
“Your vagina is cursed. Your vagina smells like rotting corpses to all men. Not to women. Only to men. A woman could be in bed with you all day and not notice. But to all men, your vagina is a cemetery of rotting corpses. Until you pay to remove this curse.”
“OK. Nine hundred. But I can only give you four hundred tonight.”
“That’s fine, hun. I trust you.”
Cookie walked me up to the Duane Reade pharmacy on the corner. I went in and got the cash out. I was surprised that she followed me in, seeing as though they had banned her last time I was here. But she didn’t seem frightened as she stood behind me at the ATM.
Back in her shopfront I counted out $400 for her.
“And the crystal ball reading,” she reminded me.
I counted another $175.
“Here you got three crystals to meditate with. This one for your third eye. This one for your heart. And this one for your navel. You come back with the crystals and the remaining five hundred and then I will tell you how it’s gone.”
“When should I come?”
“Any time. I’m always here. I live here. In the back. You know that.”
On the way home I stopped back in at Duane Reade and ate salmon sushi for dinner.
A few hours later, I was starting to feel very queasy in my stomach. Sort of like seasickness.
I went to bed and slipped in and out of sleep and hallucinations. I could see Cookie standing in my room. I could hear her negotiating with evil spirits in the corner. I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I threw up all night.
In the morning, I Skyped with my healer in Melbourne as I lay in bed, unable to move. I told her what had happened. “Is it real?” I asked her. “Or did I just get food poisoning from the Duane Reade pharmacy sushi?”
“First of all,” my healer said, “it’s probably not the best idea to eat sushi from a pharmacy. Second of all, the fact is, no one can curse you unless you believe it.”
“That’s good. Except I believe it.”
“You don’t have to give her all that money. You know that, don’t you?”
“If I don’t I’ll just come back here in six months and she’ll have doubled the price again.”
My healer sighed. “It’s a lot of money, but I suppose this is what you went there for. To have this exact interaction with her. So stop thinking of her with fear; go in there with a light heart.”
I felt better after Skyping with my healer. My nausea went away. I ate some dry biscuits, showered and went to see Cookie.
She was sitting behind her crystal ball, reading a magazine. “Oh, hello,” she said when I walked in. “I have some news for you.”
“What is it?”
“It’s about the curse.”
“I was throwing up all night. Was that because I ate sushi from Duane Reade?”
“No, that was the evil spirits leaving you.”
I counted out the final $500 that I owed her into her hands. And I waited for the next hook. For what had to happen next. For the upsell.
But Cookie just half smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “Well, the good news is you’re cured.”
I couldn’t believe it. “What? Really? The curse is gone?”
“Yup. And don’t listen to no psychic that tells you got one – ’cause you don’t. You’re cured. I lifted it, just like I said I would.”
I walked out into the street towards Times Square, the winter air on my face. I was cured.
A year later I find myself inside the Hollywood Church of Scientology doing their free personality test. The overweight, middle-aged man testing me asks, “What gives you the most stress?”
“Love,” I answer him. “Love and work. Never knowing if I’m doing the right thing in either.”
“That’s a very interesting answer,” he tells me. “Have you read our founder’s book?”