Writer’s note: The psychic snuck up on me one day. She tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself as someone I already knew. That’s the unusual thing about writing a novel in flash. You get piece after piece but never the whole picture at once. She showed up when I finished the first major part. I thought I was done. Since then I’ve used her character to explore issues around identity, morality, survival and what we owe to each other. I’m forever grateful for the opportunities she’s given me.
It starts with black eyeliner, a swirl of smoky eyeshadow and red lipstick. People don’t just pay to hear their fortunes. They want a costume. They want a show. They want what they expect. So she dresses in black and jewel tones. Flowy cotton, velvet, sheer blouses, floor-length skirts. Her curly hair is wild and works with the look when it’s up in a messy bun or halfway down her back. The black fringe shawl with red roses is an everyday necessity. Clients like the idea that being a seer means she’s always cold. It’s a Sixth Sense thing. On her left wrist is a delicate evil eye bracelet that she hides under thick gold bangles. Her sister gives her a new bangle every year. Buys antiques that the psychic has to cleanse before wearing or risk picking up on the lives of dead people. The bangles are part decoration, part insurance policy. Rings broad and tiny ornament her fingers. Mostly costume jewelry. A crescent moon and a star. Rhinestones and gold paint. Except for a snake ring with ruby eyes, a 25th birthday gift from her mother, and the moonstone circle on her forefinger. Passed down from woman to woman, psychic to psychic. From her grandmother to her. She tries not to think about how her grandmother would accuse her of squandering her talent, how she would spit on the psychic’s business for charging others for what she was freely given. But when she checks her appearance in the mirror, she isn’t herself anymore. She’s who they pay her to be.
Chelsea Stickle is the author of the flash fiction chapbook Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her stories appear in CRAFT, Chestnut Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Best Microfiction 2021 and others. “The Psychic Plays Dress-Up” is part of her Screaming Meemies series. Read more at chelseastickle.com and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.