Massaging the Numbers

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, December 10, 2006

For Susan's 40th birthday, we've scheduled a surprise massage therapist and a surprise fortuneteller. Both will magically materialize in Janice's basement. I'll give Susan her present: a spa robe and slippers, which we'll insist she put on, and then we'll whisk her downstairs and, voila! Candles, soothing music, heated massage table, a woman with strong, ready hands, an on-duty psychic and all the French martinis a birthday girl can drink. "Now that," I'm saying to Janice, Amy and Karen, "is a good birthday."

We're all nodding, feeling proud of our party planning, or maybe just reassuring ourselves. We hope this is a good idea. Friend-wise, we're a relatively new unit, a group of moms who met through our kids and whose points of intersection are almost all kid-related. Moving out of kid-themed activities is a journey into the unknown.

"Okay, I told the massage therapist that we'd all get something done," Janice says, "so she'll make enough money to make the trip worth her while." We're standing here in Janice's driveway, watching Susan pull up.

"I told the fortuneteller the same thing," Amy says, explaining that a five-card reading takes an hour, and a three-card reading is usually a lot shorter. "It depends on the cards," she says.

It occurs to me that we're going to be here all night, at this rate. It's a school night. We have lunchboxes to pack. This, anyway, is a very good excuse. "I'll do massage but skip the fortune," I say.

"Oh, you have to get your fortune told!" Amy says.

No, I really don't. I've already expressed my cynicism on this matter.

"I'm sensing a lot of negative energy from you," Janice says with a distinct tone of irony. She doesn't want her fortune told, either; I already know that. She thinks it might be against her religion.

This, anyway, is how we break down. The cranky cynic. The slightly spooked one. And Amy, the believer; she wants

the psychic to tell her whether she's pregnant. ("Yo, there are medical tests for that," I told her, to which she replied, "Duh," and then we had nowhere to go with that conversation.) Karen doesn't care whether there's any truth to any of this; she just wants to laugh as though she's 8. And Susan, the one who got us on this psychic kick to begin with, is looking for hope. She has told us numerous times that she wants to discover if she'll ever get married.

This is how we break down. We share so little history, our styles run the gamut, and in age range we span more than a decade. And here we are, women united in the effort to usher one of our own over the big brink.

We lead Susan into the house. I give her the robe and slippers, wrapped inside a colorful bag with tissue paper popping out. "Oh, I love them!" she says, still unaware of the surprise downstairs. Karen has the French martini bar all set up, and Amy has delivered a chocolate extravaganza. We head down, and there is Martha, the masseuse, standing with a towel draped over her arm. In the corner, behind a candle sits Gigi with her tarot cards.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" Susan is saying, dutifully surprised. "I'm telling you 40 is my decade! This is the start of my decade!"

I shoot a glance over at Gigi, a look intended to communicate: "You better make it happen, Sister."

She looks at me blankly, gives away nothing.

After an hour of card flipping, Amy is told she is not pregnant. This makes her miserable. "This is mind-boggling," she says. ("Well, yeah," I tell her.) We recommend that she allow Martha to distract her with some muscle magic. Amy declines; she doesn't particularly want to be touched by a stranger. I find this so hard to comprehend, having just had six horrible knots rubbed out of my back. A three-card reading reveals that Karen is balanced, centered and might one day hand-feed a deer. Gigi tells Janice that her cards are bringing up a lot of energy from the tragically deceased Steve Irwin. "I can see you love animals," Gigi says to Janice.

"Um, yeah, but not so much reptiles," Janice replies, trying to make sense, and when Gigi tells her she, too, might one day hand-feed a deer, Karen looks downright robbed.

I tell Gigi I'm going to pass on my reading. She demands to know why. It's getting late, I tell her. She says, "No, that's not it." I think harder. I tell her, frankly, that I'm having enough anxiety dealing with the present; I don't know if I can handle the pressures of tomorrow.

"Correct," she says.

I toss back a martini.

The good news is that Susan is scheduled to meet her soulmate in approximately 18 months, somewhere where it's cold, bright, windy and within sniffing distance of a hemlock tree.

We tell Susan, yes, this is her decade. This is it! (And good for you, Gigi.)

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is

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