This is an edited version of The Genuine Article part of my new series of articles on editing.
‘Genuine Psychic’, the posters stuck all over the theatre announced. I wondered if people could get their money back if they reported it as false advertising or if they be laughed out. After all, everyone knew that psychics didn’t exist, didn’t they? They needed a ‘no refund’ disclaimer in the fine print.
The dressing door had an A4 sheet stuck to it that announced ‘Rachel Trevelyan’ with a publicity shot of her very white smile beneath.
When she came in I was sat on a chair upholstered in cheap blue material with its stuffing trickling out of a corner. I had my crossed on the seat as I shuffled my tarot deck without paying the cards any mind.
‘Not you.’ She’d changed. In place of jeans and a leather coat now she wore a white linen jacket and black trousers. Symbolic much?
I doffed an imaginary cap. ‘Charmed, again.’
The door banged resolutely when she pushed it shut. ‘So how’d you get in?’
I flicked out a card. ‘Fate.’
I smiled and slipped the card back into the pack. ‘And there you are claiming to psychic.’
She sat down on the edge of the dressing table, as far away as possible from me, and crossed her arms.
‘Now,’ I said, still flipping through my cards. ‘It’s my unhappy errand to tell you people don’t like it. It draws attention.’
Outside there was a bang and a loud curse. It drew my attention to the weirdy new agey music that was playing above as the audience filed in, I presumed. Perhaps they liked playing music to empty auditoriums.
‘And “it” would be?’
I gestured around, vaguely, at the smartly painted room but also at the theatre in general.
‘Oh, come on, not enough people believe in this stuff for it to do any harm and those that do don’t need me to convince them.’
I stopped shuffling.
She tensed again. I separated the pack and rolled the cards into a fresh order with one hand. As much as I wondered what worried her I wasn’t going to ask, that would be too… much. Besides, I told myself, some people tense up because they just expect bad news.
After a long pause she slipped off the table and turned to brush her hair. There were people passing outside the door more often, their footsteps hurried. I’d never worked in a theatre myself so I had no idea what they were doing so close to curtain up.
‘Half of it’s cold reading anyway,’ she said and threw the brush into a black bag on the table. ‘No one wants to hear what the dead really say.’
I tucked my pack of cards into the special pocket inside my jacket. ‘Tell me about it.’
‘How’s what I do different to you?’
I feigned consideration. ‘These days, what with phone cameras and YouTube…’
Rachel was applying mascara rather than look at me, she seemed to be going for a vaguely ancient Egyptian look. Maybe it was more mystical.
‘This isn’t going to end well,’ I said, sitting forward.
‘Are you saying I’m gonna die?’
It was a stupid question, there is no one definite future until a few seconds before you step into it and no one can see all the possible outcomes, there’s too many variables.
‘If I was going to die… would you tell me?’ she asked.
I leaned my head back, closed my eyes and rubbed the bridge of my nose. ‘No.’ I got stiffly to my feet.
‘Is that no you won’t or no I won’t?’ Rachel asked.
I gave her a look. ‘Death is the one inevitable, sis.’
‘I missed you.’
‘You should’ve thought of that,’ I muttered. ‘Your dirty little secret.’
She sat down heavily in the chair I’d vacated.
Out on the curb I stood under a bus shelter and watched the rain bounce upwards. I raised my deck to my lips, hesitated, then put them back in my jacket.
I’d been dead along time and she killed me.