Three things fascinated Gladys when she was a child. Black marks on a page, the myths her mother told her and the night sky, the glassy points of light that glittered implacably above her. Gladys always knew a mantic message lay hidden in the patterns cast by those lights.
Every month, Gladys, now well into her seventies, meets Simone and Felicity at a local café. They order coffee and cake and, because they are regulars, the staff leave them alone to visit a world lost centuries ago, a world they access through crisply uttered, archaic phrases and codes. ‘Do we need to consider the Sun on the Midheaven receiving the square from the Moon?’ says copper-haired Felicity, ex-teacher and a maven at spotting liabilities in a chart.
Simone, steady and moderate, suggests the Moon’s aspect to Mercury is the nub of the chart and the Mercury, which rules the fourth, fifth and seventh houses, is restrained by Saturn. ‘That’s difficult for Mercury,’ she says, ‘it hates any constraints.’
‘I’m interested in this Venus, high in the chart,’ says Gladys, ‘it’s so… ‘Peregrine?’ interrupts Felicity. ‘And besieged,’ adds Gladys, who reminds her friends Venus has a moral propensity for getting herself into questionable situations. They all laugh. They are professional astrologers, not hobbyists and certainly not uneducated charlatans. They studied astrology together. They passed their exams. They have read (though they prefer to say ‘delineate’) dozens, perhaps hundreds of astrology charts. and sometimes even they are unsettled by their accuracy. Today they delineate a chart Gladys cast. She wants to know how long her new neighbour will remain in the flat next door.
‘I am not an astrological evangelist,’ Gladys is fond of telling people, ‘nor am I an apologist,’ but since the new neighbour chanced, three weeks ago, upon Gladys, Simone, and Felicity in the café, she’s become a nuisance. Finding herself not invited to join Gladys and her friends, and seeing the charts scattered across the café table, the neighbour decided she had uncovered a dangerous coven and was determined to dissuade Gladys of her beliefs.
‘Do you believe,’ Gladys had said to the neighbour, when she visited last week and accused Gladys of sorcery, ‘in the phone when you answer it?’ The neighbour frowned. ‘Exactly,’ said Gladys, ‘Neither I or my friends credit or judge astrology; we merely answer its call.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ countered the neighbour, who wore an orange and pink kaftan and had tied a purple scarf around her bright yellow hair. ‘Oh,’ said Gladys, ‘we ‘re immune to ridicule. We are aware of the suspicion. None of us claims to be psychic and we do no one any harm.’
‘Why, you’d have been excommunicated or burnt at the stake only a century or two ago,’ said the neighbour. Sometimes, sighed Gladys, other people’s reaction to her passion perplexed her. What, she wondered, are people are afraid of, and why they could celebrate their eccentricity but condemn hers?
Living in her seventh decade made Gladys brave: ‘You have no right to tell me what I should, or shouldn’t do,’ she said. ‘In fact,’ she started to ease the neighbour towards the front door, ‘I harbour a deep unconcern for what people think, and my Friday afternoons with my friends are too much fun to miss. Good evening,’ she said to the neighbour, and she shut the door.
The next week Gladys, Simone and Felicity read the chart Gladys had cast for the precise time Gladys asked how long the neighbour would stay. ‘An accurate time,’ said Simone, ‘our holy grail,’ and she bent her head to the chart. ‘My, it is an interesting chart,’ she said after a long silence. The three friends spent a satisfying afternoon reading the heavens: the name of signs, aspects and houses rolled off their tongues and they discussed that capricious Venus and her venal rounds. The patterned lights of Gladys’s childhood surrendered their secrets once more. The heavens, she thought as she packed away her charts and kissed Simone and Felicity’s cheeks in farewell, are a circle wherein drama and intrigue are performed, a stage honoured by Shakespeare, who knew astrology.
‘Consider,’ Gladys was fond of telling her grandchildren, ‘shares the same root as the word “sidereal”. To consider, my darlings, means to consult with the stars and your old Granny can tell you the story of a moment: she can accurately extract its meaning and trust its qualities; she can mine its hopes and ride its disappointments. I also have a bloody good laugh at fate while I’m at it.’
Her grandchildren roll their eyes and lovingly pat her shoulder. Gladys remembers the starry sky of her childhood, how she knew, even when she was a mite, that everything boils down to this: there is a fatal and enigmatic bias in the order of things.*
(C) Janet Thomas
Adapted from a quotation by Jean Baudrillard.