In my duck-patterned pajamas under thick morning heat I learned of my karmic destiny. My best friend leafed through a second-hand textbook she had ordered online and took notes every so often on the back of a Wendy’s receipt from our dinner the night before. Gnats crashed stupidly into our faces and I would wave a mosquito from her knee occasionally, concentrated as she was. Apart from the gentle, wet sounds of distant cars gliding through streets after the morning drizzle, the neighborhood was silent. The heat made the sky green. She slipped a soft rope of hair behind her ear and studied the prophetic document in her hand.
“What’s the verdict?”
“It’s. I don’t know. It’s actually not that bad. I did my brother’s on Wednesday and his is a mess. Like, a real mess. His sun and his moon are in Gemini, so you can imagine that shit-show.”
I smiled and awaited my fate.
“So basically,” she started, as the strand of hair fell again, “you’re on a karmic path to self-realization.” She said this playfully, with an air of mockery, though she believed what she spoke. “You’re a fire sign, which makes you really likely to be domineering and reluctant to welcome change, but it also makes you a good leader. Aries women, especially Aries II’s…” she stops to flip to a dog-eared page in the massive book on her lap and runs her finger down to its center. “Yeah, you’re an Aries II. Aries II women are insecure, kind of, but to make up for that they really put themselves wholeheartedly into giving back.” She looked at me. “Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s really good if you ask me.”
“I mean, not the insecure part, but the altruism thing.”
As I thought of a response, a familiar black truck turned onto my street. We watched it lurch, its engine laughing gruffly and splitting the silence, from 37th avenue to 36th at the end of the block. Its S.A.L.T. LIFE bumper sticker gleamed in the orange morning sun. The same truck every Saturday morning at 8:40. We usually smiled and waved into the opaque windows but that day we only looked. A brown cat moved lazily out of the truck’s way. We listened until the rough laughter was a giggle, then a sigh, then nothing at all.
I turned back to Zoe. “What about the self-realization?”
“Right, hold on. I was getting to that.” She shut the book and set it aside underneath the lawn chair. Sweat had made the plastic cover stick to her bare thighs. As she bent, her black hair fell tangled. We hadn’t taken the time to brush our hair or our teeth that morning, only made our coffee and taken it to the porch to avoid the A/C. Real Miami girls, my mother would call us that summer before junior year when we started this routine. Hot nights out were thick hoop earrings and dollar-store-lipstick-stained teeth and the mornings after were coffee and sweat. Real Miami girls. She held up the receipt.
“Your life’s biggest challenge will be self versus group. You think about it all the time and you will forever. You’ll have to deal with your Aries sense of self pulling tug-of-war at your need to help others.” She pointed to where she had scribbled Self v Group. “And for you they’re mutually exclusive. One will destroy the other and you’ll never feel full because of it.” She saw my face and quickly changed tone. “Well, I mean, not always. You could have some wild epiphany that reconciles them.” She fidgeted with the receipt while she said this. “That’s the second part. You’re supposed to, like, figure something out, I guess. It wasn’t very specific. This is only volume one.”
That was my fate. I looked at her for a while to make sure that she was finished, and then I smiled a smile that said Thank you for telling me of my past and future, and if I could do the same for you, I would.
Neither of us spoke. We looked back out over the river of asphalt just beyond our small field of yellow-green. Four cats, five cats, six, seven. They lay sprawled on the hot sidewalk and street and in the shadows of the scattered Ficus trees.
I had a dream once about my Ficus tree. I dreamt that I was alive in the seventies when the children of the previous owners had been teenagers. I dreamt that I stood in the very spot where my bed would be, where my room would be. It was still an open-air patio then with harmless tropical lizards and pungent vines. Everything in the house was orange: the walls in wooden panels, the cabinets red-brown, the furniture leopard-print…
In the dream I was outside again, and the gigantic tree in my front yard, then only a sapling, called me over. Without words it told me that this was real, and that I wasn’t dreaming, and that I shouldn’t be there. Things could get complicated, cosmically, the tree meant, if I knew everything the tree knew, or if the family knew of me as the tree did. I remember this conversation as infinitely long. In the dream I was aware of the pain in my thighs from the standing and listening to the whispers of branches and leaves. In the dream the sunlight stung my eyes and split my forehead.
From my plastic throne on the porch I scrutinized this tree now, huge and corporeal as it was, calm and wise in a of my front yard. It had lived forever, it seemed, and it would go on living forever, just as long as I would apparently grapple with Self v Group and longer still. Zoe, too, looked at the tree. She looked and understood, too, its eternity. We are like one, Zoe and I. Two stars with cosmic destinies intertwined. An explosive karmic couple. She folded the receipt in half and half again, over and over until it was a stout cigarette, and I watched her hands then unravel it fold by fold. Forever. We would be in this universe forever, folding and unraveling forever.
We heard an awful screech and a dull thud immediately after. We jumped from our seats, set down our coffee, and searched frantically up the street. In the instant of the screech, I had imagined hundreds of thousands of people gathered. They had been screaming, shrill voices filling a baseball stadium, crowd cast in gold by the morning sun, faces contorted in agony, shrieking about death. This for a split second before Zoe ran toward the noise.
A truck had hit a cat and then a tree. The thing lay on its side on the hot street, no different than the living cats save for the pool of mortality that crawled out of it. The crowd in the baseball stadium in my head grew silent and stone-faced. A thin, subtle pitch sprung up in our ears to fill the neighborhood silence. Our flip-flops echoed as we ran. Where was everyone? We ran as if in a dream. The further we went, the further it seemed. Eternity blinked.
It was the same truck that stood kissing the bent tree, the 8:40am on a Saturday. It was massive. Even from across the street where we stood it was huge. Why had I never noticed how big it was? Its black metal, unscathed, seemed now to pulse and to breathe; the SALT L.I.F.E. sticker seemed to throb in sync with the thuds in our chests, so forceful I might’ve seen Zoe’s monogrammed necklace shift on her clavicle with every heartbeat. My thighs burned. We waited and shifted our feet on the sidewalk and peered into the sinister windows, expecting a man to fall out on his knees crying, rife with shame. We waited until the cat’s circle of blood stopped growing, until its very death died. We waited and nothing happened.
Suddenly, the engine sighed an awful sigh. It giggled, then laughed, and at the pitch of a full, deep-throated cackle, the truck moved. It backed up enough to turn back onto the street, then jolted forward and drove off. It passed over its victim, tires barely missing the body. We watched until it turned and disappeared, and we kept watching because we didn’t know what else to do.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next with the cat. Years later I remember that morning as a dream, thick with green haze. Zoe might’ve called animal services, or one of the neighbors that gathered after the truck had left might’ve done the same. I don’t know. What I do remember, as clearly as I see my own face in a mirror, is standing on a yellow line on a black road in Miami’s summer heat and looking into a halo of blood. I remember feeling intensely, in a way I’ve since tried desperately to feel again, that I understood everything: all the cosmos, all their karmic workings, that looming epiphany of my future suddenly small and easy. I felt, for just a moment, as I watched clouds reflected in that slab of red nothing, that I understood every whisper of every branch and every leaf. And I was terrified.