It's only a modest card table and a couple of folding chairs. Just past the newly placed jewelry cases, the gaudy and beautiful rings and brooches sit nearby a wall of crowns waiting for an Easter service or a Derby party. You will pass a dog and there sits Melinda. She smiles bright when you walk up to her table, where a sign says, "$15 for 15 minutes." She looks like a really loving aunt, or the best friend of your mother or a former grade-school teacher. She is a palm reader. And she sits every Saturday at Dolly Python waiting for you to deliver your hand to her perch among the jewelry.
Credit is due first to the adventurous spirit of the shop: I have gone on Saturdays in search of kimonos or gifts and walked into a smattering of Dallas that feels more like a house party or a neighborhood pub than the city's most curious shopping destination. The shop dog rotates throughout the space in the spots of sun filtering in the window facing Haskell Avenue, and by the time you run into your fourth friend, you just give up your plans for the day and walk down to the neighborhood 7-Eleven for a tallboy to share.
On one particular Saturday afternoon I recall a gathering of Dallas fashion and music glitterati gathered, I believe, by local DJ Elizabeth Farrell. They took turns shopping and chatting while each waited for a little fortune telling. It was Farrell who urged me to take a turn and it made sense among Python's treasures from past lives to look for something otherworldly. I am very rarely surprised by Dolly Python anymore, only delighted. Melinda, it turns out, is another charming addition, and I come back for my turn on what I hope is a quieter afternoon.
There are rules, though. Your friend can't sit with you to eavesdrop. Melinda doesn't know what she will say and it has been awkward before. The table must be clear. There is a 15-minute minimum but you can add time for a $1 a minute. And before we start, she tells me, "Now, just be open."
There is vulnerability with palm reading that doesn't come with, say, the tarot card readings I have indulged on other occasions. You have to touch. Melinda stares at your hands as if they were your eyes, occasionally brushing them as though she were trying to remove a little dust or a barrier.
She explains to me, "Now, I have a guide who will be communicating with me while I do this. They are all a little different." Mine is from the 19th century and talks a little funny. Melinda keeps giggling and I am reminded of a high school teacher who used to point out my old-fashioned vocabulary.
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She bats at my hands quickly, one by one, and talks to me about my college degree unprompted. She tells me I am looking for a new muse, that I have a fear of being "uninspired." An easy guess maybe, but she guesses this before she quickly asserts my profession as a writer. And just before things turn a little conversational, she tells me to return to an old passion and looks as disappointed as a mother when she looks from my palms to genuinely ask, "What did you give up?"
I will live long, but should be careful since there are strokes in my family. I don't have a traditional family. I am not traditional. I will have to make my own path, but I like that. I have built my own tribe. I wander. I can be intense. I should breathe, because it would ease that. If I wanted to ease that. I see the possibility before I see the practical. "Are you overly critical?" she asks me. "Are you tired?" It all rings true in certain ways. I do have strokes in my family. The timer rings. I will tell you this: Fifteen minutes seems like it will be enough, but it is not. I add five minutes, and then another five. She adds five because at some point we started talking about how much she hates cell phones and text messaging.
"Just call me. It is so much faster. And you can't even text my land line, so I don't really have to deal with that, but it seems like a really terrible way to communicate. Just bone lazy," she says before getting back in touch with my guide.
I have other friends who swear by Melinda. They bring out-of-town guests and plan afternoons around a visit to her sacred card table and the shop. Dolly Python is full of shoppers but I never really notice when I am trying to keep up with Melinda. Others say she is a phony, but after a half-hour holding hands with her, I do have a newfound sense of peace, which seems worth the time and money no matter what.
My companion takes a seat as I wander the jewelry cases. I find a skeleton that would look great in my dining room. I flip through an excellent assortment of Beatles vinyl and I try to eavesdrop even though I know I am not supposed to. But all I can really hear are snippets of what Melinda has said to me.
"Do you believe in reincarnation?" Her question rings through my head louder as I try on the bracelets of someone's very fabulous grandmother.
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"Now I am going to channel and see what comes to me," she says, and takes a breath. "You need to relax.
"You need to eat more greens, and drink more water."
And right then maybe she wasn't telling the future, but Melinda was certainly telling the truth. Which goes perfectly with my new old bracelet.