by Sarah Leavesley

The young woman in front of you is a conundrum. Normally, you can tell a person’s fate well before you read their tea leaves: you sift the dregs already knowing what you’ll find there. But clipped-moon clots of soured milk spinning on an untouched cup isn’t usual, and it isn’t good.

‘The girl who pours the right tea will see stars.’ You try to sound mysterious, as you turn your attention from the cup to me, a teenager you don’t recognise.

‘Of course.’ I sip obediently, seemingly oblivious to the unappetising flotsam swirling in my brew.

You observe me. I’m waif-like, narrow-faced with wavy ginger hair, windblown fringe, cropped pale green T-shirt and tight black jeans. I look fifteen, maybe sixteen. You can identify with the ginger ninja gene; in many ways, I remind you of yourself at a similar age, slightly hesitant, but mostly defiant, trying to hide from your mistakes. I’m thinner than you though, and drawn to a heavier denim; my expression is more determined too, despite the uncertainty in my jerky gaze.

Your own current uncertainty isn’t about my appearance. It’s not really sight that you rely on but smell. My tea should stink something rotten given the floating debris. But it doesn’t have any scent, less than when milk-white innocence and strong tannin darkness blend together to create a perfect surface smoothness.

‘We could try the Tarot while you’re drinking?’ you offer.

I nod. You cut the pack with your left hand, then deal out three cards, placing them face up in front of me.

I gaze at them unblinking, then shift my pale blue eyes back to you. Again, you don’t even look at the cards. The question you need answering flows to you faster than your own thoughts.

‘You had a pact with an invisible friend?’ you ask. Your fingers twitch slightly, as if they want to reach out and touch me.

‘Yes.’ I say, without venturing anything more. I’ve erased any edge of keenness or interest from my voice. My face too is as smooth as a skimming pebble. No flickers, no micro-expressions, nothing.

‘He slung a whetted sword…’ The quote is your backstop, normally to allow you to drop in how you’re not a stereotypical fortune-teller, your techniques drawn from a time older than Homer and the Odyssey. But, more importantly right now, the phrase also creates time, space and distance.

‘She,’ I reply.

This answer’s a problem that you haven’t foreseen: one that crushes distance, space and time. You look down at your left hand trembling in your lap like the frightened birds your father used to kill. You thought you’d blanked out those moments, the way he made you watch, threatening to have you finish the next one if you didn’t behave. He’s always been your best card to play when it comes to any hint of guilt or blame. You close your right hand over your left to still the shaking.

‘Sometimes there’s no way out.’ You state this as if you believe it, but your jittery eyes betray otherwise.

‘No?’ I let my question hang there like a fish-hook, as I stare at you, watching for the long black hand on your kitchen clock to tick onwards.

I could show you the small red crescent-moons burnt into my skin. I could tell you how easily my name, Cara, can be made to sound like a phlegmy cough and spit. But you don’t even know my name. You wouldn’t care if I whispered it every night into your dreams. I’ve other knowledge too now though, the kind that can’t be unlearned.

‘Are you brave enough to test your blood?’ you’ll challenge eventually, as if completely undisturbed, placing your black-handled steel knife on the table.

‘There is no other way.’ My reply will be immediate and matter of fact.

Too matter of fact. A shiver will run through you even before you see the blade’s silver glint, as I slash my palm, then curl my fist immediately over the wound. You’ll sense your own hand clench in synchronous empathy. And yet, I won’t have flinched.

‘Show me!’ you’ll demand.

Looking directly into your eyes, I’ll unfold my fingers. There won’t be a single mark on my almost baby-smooth skin. But you’ll feel blood dripping onto your floral skirt, and a dizziness, as if the air is being compressed from your lungs.

‘The art of betrayal always flows red—passed on, but then returned.’ I’ll speak slowly and calmly.

You’ll hear the words, the cold tone of them, but you won’t quite grasp their meaning. You’ll try to reach out. But I’ll have suddenly grown taller, stronger.

When you open your own hand, a deep slice by the lifeline across your palm will gush red. My watery irises will still be fixed on yours, the exact same shade of drowning-lake blue. But my pupils will give way to wider, deeper black holes than yours, even on the day you gave me up sixteen years ago.

This time, you’ll lean across the table towards me. But I’ll move away and stand up. The knife in my hand will flash like sharp winter sunlight, its tip redder than our hair. Realising that I know, your heart will clench to a fist, just as I lunge forwards and jab sideways into your belly.

Sarah Leavesley is a prize-winning fiction writer, poet, journalist and photographer, with fiction published by journals including EllipsisJellyfish ReviewLitroSpelk, Reflex Fiction and Bending Genres. Her short novellas Always Another Twist and Kaleidoscope are published by Mantle Lane Press and she is currently working on her first flash fiction novella. She runs V. Press, publishing poetry and flash fiction.