Joystick SketchThe psychic at the Missoula County Fair says I was a warrior in a past life, which is a thing I want to believe because I feel like a warrior now. It’s hard being an Oakland girl in Montana. Each day, my blood is angry and alienating. If you were to slice my neck open, it’d come spraying out bright red, thick, and stinging like chili oil. Then, the psychic asks me if I am in love, and before I can say anything, she tells me I’ve already met my soulmate.

Asking me to believe in soulmates is on par with asking me to believe in psychics and enneagrams. I saw the super blood moon eclipse during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and I did not feel raw or overcome with emotion. The moon lowered and rose above the Rattlesnake Mountains and I did not begin ovulating. I’m so out of my touch with my body, I wish I could evolve out of being a woman and into being a fucking cyborg—how dope would that be!

Three weeks before the County Fair, I’d started dating someone. He seemed OK. Better than OK. Pretty cool. But it was early. I didn’t know if he was my soulmate, or if my soulmate was one of the men or women I’d already said no to. Because I say no to a lot of things, a lot of people. I could say no now, if I wanted, and maybe that’s what power is. We played Mortal Kombat the first time we hung out, and I kicked ass with a character whose special move is to bust men’s testicles with her fist. I told him I wasn’t looking to date, and he was cool with it. But as I left his apartment that night, I turned on the landing, mouth open, ready to take it all back. For that moment of hesitation, we were on the same page. I noticed how great his hair was when he looked confused as hell in the light of his doorway, and I wanted to apologize for having no idea what I wanted or how I felt. Instead I said, “Good night,” all coy, like I knew what I was doing. I ain’t afraid of no ghost.

I swipe my Visa on the psychic’s iPad, and when she lays out the cards, she doesn’t lie to me. That’s one thing I really appreciate. Even if none of it is true, she’s actually reading them—a brain full of metaphysical wisdom, interpreting itty-bitty cups and infinity symbols, things that girls tattoo behind their ear and inner wrists. I’ve always wanted to get a reading done but my disbelief made $10 feel so necessary in my wallet. I don’t know how to invest in my future, but I’ll drop $10 on a sweater at H&M that comes apart in three months, or on a super burrito that I can make disappear in a minute.

On a road trip last spring, my friends and I asked each other those questions from the New York Times, the ones that are supposed to make you fall in love with anyone, and now I’m obsessed with finding people brave enough to answer them with me. “What if we fall in love?” they say. “So what?” I tell them. “I’ve been in love plenty of times, it’s no big deal.” “What if we fall in love?” they ask. “I’ll break your fucking heart,” I say.

At the close of the reading the psychic says, “Do you have questions for me?” I look down at the grid of tarot cards and want to ask what they all mean. Not because I believe, but because I hate not knowing. I want to learn to read the cups, the infinities, the little moons. Instead, I ask her if I am doing good work. “You are,” she says. “And it will pay off in November.”

That’s not what I asked, I want to say. I don’t care about payoff. I think I really want to ask if I am doing the right thing. If I am a good person—the thing everybody wants to know. Not if I will be happy, but if I deserve to be. This psychic has to get on my level. Is this the greatest challenge? I want to know. Is this the final boss? I imagine myself throwing punches at apparitions, writing an angry comment on an empty comment thread. One day I’ll be in love, I promise myself. And it’ll be for real this time. One day I’ll learn to stack Mortal Kombat combos like nobody’s business, and I will have all the answers without ever having to believe in them.

About the Author:

Ari Laurel’s work deals with Asian American icons and youth identity in the ever-shifting Bay Area. In addition to her feature in the 2015 Kearny Street Workshop APAture Festival, she was a 2012 finalist for the PEN/USA Emerging Writers Fellowship, recipient of the Candace K. Brown Memorial Scholarship, and her work has appeared in Bitch Media, The Toast, Quartz, Duende, Kweli Journal, and Hyphen. She is currently pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of Montana.

Special Note:

This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Image Credit: © mhatzapa / Dollar Photo Club