THERE was something wrong with the horoscopes David had placed side-by-side on the kitchen table. Normally, the synastry of a married couple would show some kind of chemistry. But this? It was lifeless.
Laura, his new client, was clearly bold and emotional, with her Aries ascendant and moon in Scorpio. There was nothing in her husband’s chart, however, that did not scream ‘tedious’ and ‘conventional’ to the astrologer. He would, of course, do his best to make even this client sound interesting. It was business, after all.
There had been no need to consult the well-thumbed textbooks that dated back to his teens. He was, by now, an expert and even a progressed quincunx between Mars and Neptune gave him no trouble.
There was only one real connection between the horoscopes before him, and this was not built on any attraction or sympathy between them. It seemed there was a pronounced crisis two years ago. Clearer in Laura’s chart, than the husband’s. Situated in the fifth house, the crisis may have related to a child, or perhaps a lover.
There was little point in writing it up. He would make a light mention of ‘trouble with children a couple of years ago’ and, no doubt, Laura would join the dots for him. It seemed many of his clients paid him to talk about themselves, to tell him their secrets. It was interesting work, and he got paid for it.
Stretching, he extravagantly vocalised a yawn. He lived alone, and the old woman downstairs never bothered with her hearing aids. He flicked on the kettle, and looked at the drizzle and the winter skeleton of the aspen tree outside. The town had been stuffed into the sack of night without him even noticing. He grinned idiotically at his reflection in the window.
It was good to be working. Although there was no rush for this job, he was keen to press on. It was one of his quirks, that despite all the software available, he preferred to use red and black pens to draw out by hand, all the houses, signs and aspects on a pre-printed template.
The kitchen table, his audience of three empty chairs, and in fact the whole flat had been inherited from his mother. She died suddenly almost six years ago, the day after his twenty-fourth birthday. Since then, he kept the flat as some kind of time capsule, changing it as little as possible.
What happened when he picked up the husband’s completed birth chart, is hard to explain. He was subject to a flash — no, a jolt of intuition; a vision.
A ploughed hill, topped by trees filled his mind.
Yes! He recognised it… A familiar and distinctive hill, topped with a copse, two or three miles beyond the edge of town.
Then, he was back, noticing breadcrumbs in the corner of the table.
‘Wow,’ he said aloud. Was he trembling? The quietness in his flat had seemed to condense. He was aware of a motorbike growling past outside on the street. It seemed unnaturally loud.
Occasionally he felt he ‘knew’ a client just by looking at a horoscope, something like staring into a pool and suddenly seeing a fish move. But this was different.
This was not the familiar tyrant of his internal monologue. It was a new voice.
‘Who are you?’ David said.
There was no reply.
His head was swimming. He fumbled at the radio: then the patter of a familiar presenter with a traffic update. It helped. For a while he sat doing nothing. Then he rolled a thin cigarette (an unshakable legacy of his student days), licking the gummed edge of the paper.
Suddenly he was choking. His mouth was blocked. He spat out clumps of dark, loamy soil onto a scrap of paper.
He flung himself at the sink, hawking noisily, rinsing his mouth with cold water that hurt his teeth. Seeing his reflected face in the window, he yanked down the blind.
He picked up the scrap paper to examine it. Other than saliva, and two small strands of tobacco, there was nothing. Nor was there anything in the sink when he looked back there. He could have sworn…
‘Okay, I’m officially crazy,’ he said just to hear his own voice.
He looked at the photo of his mother. She continued to smile benignly from her frame, thank God. Cautiously he lit the cigarette and inhaled blue smoke.
‘Sorry I’m still smoking,’ he said.
Business was bad. David was broke and things needed to change. Since his teens he had been fascinated by astrology. Becoming an astrologer, however, started as a bit of a joke at first, till he started making money.
But now there was a problem. The flow of work was drying up.
Should have seen it coming. That’s what everyone would say.
The truth was, he had. He was enduring a demoralising transit of Saturn in his own chart. With little to do, he brooded endlessly on his own stars. With several planets in the sign of Pisces, a lesser astrologer than David would have told him he was doomed to be some kind of dreamer or poet. But what was he supposed to be doing with his life?
The symbol for Pisces is two fish, which are hooked at the mouth and strung together by a single silver cord. He thought about its symbolism often. One of his venerable textbooks grandly called this the cord of human limitation. It made him fear there were things about himself he would never break free from.
He was a dreamer all right, even keeping a dream diary. It recorded how deeply the Pisces symbol haunted him. In one recurring ‘fish dream’ — he was thrashing in stagnant water and hooked deep in the mouth. At the other end of the line was a dark shape that dragged him through the murk; a dark fish that he could never quite glimpse.
Sometimes, the fish dream added new chapters. He would be being chased, for example, rushing at animal height through a dense, thorny undergrowth. Unfailingly, however, it would end with him being dragged through water by his hooked mouth.
Waking, he could dismiss the dream as a by-product of his work, but sometimes the sepia mood of the dream would stain the day.
He kept thinking about Laura. He was pleased she wanted to meet him, and not just email. There was more than that though. For as soon as she walked into his flat he had felt a powerful physical attraction.
‘Is it really worth the money?’ Laura smiled disarmingly.
‘Totally worth it. But it takes time to do a horoscope properly, by a human astrologer. Much better than a computer program on the internet.’ He was never comfortable as his own salesman. He realised he was gabbling and trying too hard to be charming.
He took a breath. Told himself to get a grip.
‘How did you hear about me?’ he asked.
‘You did a star chart for my friend Sophie. She said you saw things about her that nobody else could know, just by looking at her horoscope.’
‘Ah yes, Sophie. About two months ago.’ He remembered a chatty woman with a Cancer ascendant and a moon-shaped face. Recently divorced.
Forgetting to use a tea strainer, David poured fresh leaf tea into two cups from his mother’s teapot, and then, without asking, he stirred sugar into both.
‘Sorry. Look I didn’t ask. Do you take sugar?’
‘No,’ her smile melted the hardness in her face.
Emptying one of the sugary teas into the sink he then poured another cup. This time remembered the tea strainer too. She smiled again. This simple ineptitude seemed to have broken the ice. In the spatter of tea leaves in the sink, David noticed the shape of a fish.
They sat, either side of the kitchen table. He began to explain what she would be getting for her money: a personal birth chart, a typed character assessment, and a forecast of the trends for the year ahead. Seeming satisfied with the arrangements, she stood up to leave, without finishing her tea.
“I’ll collect them next Thursday,’ she said, ‘that’s if a week’s enough time for you?’
‘Perfect,’ he said. Often he offered to post the charts. ‘But you said them’?
‘Yes can you do my husband’s chart too?’ She handed him a piece of paper with Matt Thomas written on it, with a place and time of birth.
Married, he thought gloomily.
‘It’ll be a pleasure, Mrs Thomas,’ he said.
‘Please call me Laura,’ she said.
‘Of course. Is there anything you particularly want me to look out for? Career? Health? Love?’
‘I want… I just want to know when we are going to feel better.’
She had begun to move towards the stairs. They went down together, and stood in the open doorway.
David felt something like an electric spark, when he shook her hand. Had she felt it too? He stood there, transfixed, holding her hand as a current swirled around them. They wavered in the doorway. She took her hand away, eventually, scowled exaggeratedly at the wintery weather, then smiled at him.
‘Time to go. Thanks again Mystic Dave,’ she said.
‘Okay Laura,’ he laughed at her cheekiness. ‘I’ll see what I can see,’ He added theatrically.
Next morning he wrote up the vivid sex dream he had about Laura.
In it he had been lying on the full moon of Laura’s stomach, pushing deep in her. She was wild and sweating, her flushed face panting in his own.