The Gypsy - part 1
My neighbor, Gladys and I were sitting quietly in my kitchen having coffee and biscuits and our bi-weekly chat about our children, the weather and the various repairs to our respective houses that seem never to get done. Suddenly there was a sharp knock on the front door. I opened it and saw a woman standing outside. It was a bitter, windy, early winter day. She was about 45 years old with a short, square build. She had long, straight, dark messy hair, a swarthy complexion and crooked teeth. She wore a heavy, dark blue cardigan with big holes in it over her dark, patterned skirt and blouse, both well worn and faded. Her hands and her head were bare. I felt chilly just thinking how cold she must be.
"Buy something from a gypsy?" she whined in a tone which showed me that she clearly expected me to say no. I nearly did so too, and was about to shut the door again when I thought that we were short of clothes pegs, and so I asked her what she was selling. "Lace," she said, "homemade lace. I made it myself."
"I could do with some pink lace," I said, thinking of the trim for my young daughter’s Christmas dress.
"No pink," she said, abruptly, almost rudely. "This lace." She took from her large bag a roll of cream-coloured lace, delicately made and about two inches in width. "I made this," she repeated.
My neighbor, Gladys, who had come up beside me to the door now said, "I need some tiny white lace for baby clothes. Don’t you have any white?"
"No," the gypsy said again, although we could see some white narrower lace clearly visible underneath the cream lace that she had shown us.
Suddenly her whole manner changed and ignoring me completely, she concentrated with great intensity and started listing things she was "seeing" about my neighbor. "You will live to be an old age - one year less than a hundred," she droned. Gladys giggled. "You will not die in a hospital. You will not have an accident." Her voice came out dull and expressionless, but in a coarse, uneducated accent and I had to strain to make out what she was actually saying. "You have pain in your legs and your back," she continued, staring fixedly at my neighbor. "You are often tired. You work very hard and people don’t appreciate you. You should have been a teacher or a nurse. You didn’t have a chance."
We were both amused that the things the gypsy had described could be true of nearly anyone of Gladys’ age which was about sixty. Yet despite our skepticism, we were fascinated. The gypsy seemed to be ignoring me completely and I wished she’d “see” in my direction for awhile. We were still standing in the doorway and as we wondered what to do or say next, she continued, "You have a son," she said to Gladys.
"Two, actually," Gladys replied.
"One of them is very good to you and one of them causes you lots of troubles. You worry a good deal." This all was basically true and I could see that Gladys was becoming more interested now.
Suddenly she threw a tidbit in my direction. "I see you cross the sea seven times." I half nodded. Having an American accent, she might easily have guessed that I’d crossed the sea several times. Also in our neighborhood, many families go abroad for their holidays so it must have been a fairly safe guess for anyone. But then I quickly added up mentally the times I had been across the sea. I’d been back to America visiting my relatives five times, once to New Zealand and of course the first trip to England from America and back again on our honeymoon. That made seven trips, but that didn’t include the one-way trip when we moved to England. It also didn’t include three trips we had taken to the Channel Islands. I wasn’t quite sure whether that would count as crossing the sea anyway. Still, she was certainly close.
She went on in her boring, yet insistent voice, as if she were willing us to believe her and be impressed by her knowledge. "Do you have two babies?" she asked me. Ah, here’s a mistake she’s made, I thought to myself, as I answered her.
"Three actually, and they aren't babies anymore."
"You won’t have any more," she said, not in the least squashed by my apparently having caught her out. "You do not like men," she added in an undertone. I wasn't quite sure if she meant the two things to be related. I didn’t like men, therefore, I wouldn't be having any more babies. I didn’t comment, but I certainly did wonder what made her think that about me. Perhaps she felt that if I liked men I’d have tried to make more of myself - tried harder to look nice. Gladys in contrast was impeccably dressed and groomed as always in a pretty blue wool dress with a matching sweater. She had lipstick and makeup on and even earrings. I was wearing jeans, an old sloppy sweatshirt, no lipstick and my hair was probably rather untidy. I wondered if the fact that the gypsy concentrated more on Gladys was because she looked less hard-up and she thought she’d get more money out of her.
While I was still speculating on why she should think that I disliked men, she said, "I can see an older man, or perhaps a younger man, who thinks of you a lot. He is far away." Oh good, I thought. She says that men like me even if I don’t like them. That seemed a bit better.
Then she changed the subject. "You worry about your children. You don’t need to worry," she added. "They are good children. They will do well." Then she motioned towards Gladys. "You are good friends to each other," she said. We nodded agreement and smiled at each other. "But I see a lot of jealousy. I see it in your auras." Then she turned to me and said, "I see problems with in-laws for you. Perhaps it is the mother-in-law for you, and the daughter-in-law for her," and we both laughed for in both cases it might well be considered true.
"Did someone close to you die recently from cancer or heart disease?" she asked me.
"Yes," I replied. Two months before, my favourite aunt had died of cancer, and I had been very close to her.
"Someone close to you has died. recently too,’ she told Gladys. Gladys’ mother had died two years previously but Gladys had been upset about it for a long time after wards. As far as I knew, she hadn’t had any other close relatives die any more recently.
Finally I realized how rude I was leaving the gypsy standing in the cold, and it also occurred to me that our centrally heated air was all going out the door. I decided I’d buy some of her lace, and then perhaps she’d tell me more about me. I wasn’t convinced about her special powers, but I was fascinated by her and I wanted to see what else she would say and do.
"Come in," I invited her, "and sit down," pointing to a chair at the kitchen table. The gypsy lumbered in and seemed very relieved to have a seat in the warm. Gladys and I sat down again too, but I thought Gladys looked somewhat alarmed at having the gypsy at such close quarters.
"I am a real true Romany gypsy," she said. "I am not a witch and I am not the devil." I didn’t for a moment doubt the genuineness of her gypsy status. She had this dull voice and faraway look when she was seeing things, and I was almost afraid she would drop into a trance.
She said, "You worry about your children," including both of us in this statement. "I know about worries about children. I have twelve children myself." Then turning to Gladys she said, "You don't care about money." Gladys said, "I suppose that is true." The gypsy riveted all her attention on my neighbor again, ignoring me as if I hadn’t been in the room at all, just like she’d done at the beginning. "You will have some lace," she demanded of Gladys. "A lady down the road has had four yards of lace from me. £3 a yard." I was taken aback by the price as no doubt Gladys was. I had decided before that I would buy some lace but I had expected to pay less than a pound in total. "You will have four yards of this lace, lady," she badgered Gladys. Gladys looked somewhat uneasy.
"I’ll buy some lace," I volunteered, but she ignored me.
Gladys asked her to repeat the price and when she had Gladys said, "I can’t afford that much." The gypsy gave her a disgusted. look and then quite abruptly the revelations started up again. "I can see more than one marriage for you," she said to Gladys.
"Yes," agreed. Gladys, "I’ve been married before." That rather impressed me because I couldn't think of any other person in our immediate neighborhood of whom that could be said, so the chances of it being a lucky guess on the part of the gypsy were less than average. Her first marriage wasn’t common knowledge to the other neighbors either.
"You made a bad mistake with your first marriage,’" the gypsy continued. Gladys seemed embarrassed about this business of talking of her previous marriage, almost as if she was worried by what the gypsy might say next about her ex-husband.
"I can see that you moved from a place and never went back again," the gypsy said to Gladys who had been born and lived her childhood years in Egypt. Gladys laughed, "I’ve moved a lot."
"No," shouted the gypsy, "this was a special time. Think back." She was so powerfully insistent that I suddenly felt a shiver of fright. She didn’t like being contradicted.
"Well, yes, you are right,’ agreed Gladys. I wondered. if she, like me, had come to the conclusion that it would be wiser to agree with the gypsy whether it was the truth or not.
"There will be no more marriages for you," the gypsy told Gladys.
"I should hope not. I’m too old to go through all that again," said Gladys, chuckling slightly, nervously. As suddenly as before the subject reverted again back to the lace. "You will have four yards of my lace for good luck," she coaxed Gladys.
Gladys was somewhat upset by her pushiness and determination. She looked at me and half smiled, as if to say, what do I do now? "I’ll. buy some lace," I added again, but was again ignored.
"You will buy two yards of this lace," the woman demanded of Gladys.
"No," Gladys was firm now, ‘If you’d had white lace for baby clothes, I’d have bought some, but I have no use for this. Besides," she added bravely "you can buy some just like it on the market for fifty pence a yard."
The gypsy was really annoyed now. "This lace is according to the crystal," she shouted. "It will bring you luck. It is to put on pillow cases and curtains for luck. You can buy two yards."
Politely Gladys said, "No, I’m sorry but I can’t afford three pounds a yard for that."
"You CAN afford it," the gypsy reiterated angrily. Gladys looked beseechingly at me. The whole thing had gone too far. "Don’t look at her. You’re grown up. You don’t need her advice." I felt terrible with all this hectoring going on at my guest but I didn’t know what to say. Gladys decided that the best thing to do was for her to leave. "I must go now," she said. "My husband will be ringing up soon." I got up to show her to the door.
"Where do you live? Next door? I’ll come to see you later," the gypsy threatened.
"No, a few doors away," lied Gladys, who in fact did live next door.
"What number?" demanded the gypsy.
"I’m not going to say," said Gladys stoutly and I tried to get her to the door. Suddenly Gladys surprised me by approaching the woman and putting her arm on her shoulder. "You don’t mind that I won’t buy your lace, do you?" she asked hopefully. The gypsy dismissed her with a toss of the head. Gladys turned to me as she was going out the door. "You’ll be all right?" she asked softly.
"Oh, yes," I said smiling brightly, but feeling somewhat uneasy all the same.