Greater Things

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"Pretty lady! Come dry off and let Valentina read your fortune!"

It began to rain as Adina Ionescu strolled through the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was a colourful neighbourhood famed for Chinatown and fortune-tellers like the one who called to her. The presence of college students, starving artists, and overly friendly drag queens felt like home. Adina found it welcoming from the moment she stepped into the city.

She loved the shouts of Ukranian women making pierogies, battling the sounds of Chinese blaring over the television set. Every day, she walked by the park and brought fresh batches of cookies to the weathered old men who played chess in the park.

When Adina and her twin sister Irina stepped off the crowded Chinatown bus that gave them their freedom, everything was life and love and energy. Not even the filth and debris and occasional remnants of lives gone wrong could take the shine from Manhattan,  the streets periodically cleansed of sin by random downpours.

The girls had grown up in a very different sort of world, a suburb of Las Vegas where the chime of the ice cream truck driving down the street qualified as interesting. Irina applied to New York University to study dance, while the level-headed Adina planned to become a successful businesswoman. Manhattan was perfect for both sisters.

Irina's declaration was met with a firm and resounding no from their mother. In Silvia's mind, the family always stuck together. Irina's reminder that her mother's parents were back home in Romania earned a quick slap across the mouth for her impertinence, and the girl ran off to her room in tears.

"They are growing up, Silvia. You have to let them go. They will make their choices the way you made yours. Do not make Irina escape through the bedroom window as we had to do."  Adina listened to her father with her ear pressed against the wall. Irina sobbed softly.

"Irina is different. She is selfish. Her life is not for her choosing. That is her price." Their mother speaks firmly, a note of sadness in her voice. "Irina's gift is my curse. My mother cursed her because I abandoned the family. There are plenty of opportunities in Las Vegas. You have two daughters to consider, Laslo."

"No." The sound of Laslo, their father, echoed like a slap. "My Irina will not be a mistress to a gambler or marry an alcoholic. There is only one kind of dancing a girl learns in Las Vegas, and that is not a life for Irina."

The next day, Adina stared at her mother's red-rimmed eyes. The girls would go to whatever school would have them. The one concession was they would go together. They'd protect each other.

Adina walked through the rain alone, a strange Russian voice calling to her.

"You, the girl who dresses like there is a funeral with all that black! Come in. I will give you your fortune."

Adina jumped from her reverie. She looked down self-consciously, examining the long and old-fashioned black skirt and the black cardigan that hid a lovely figure. "No, thank you. I know my future."

"Come anyway. Company is welcome." The fortune-teller wore a bad wig and smoked two packs a day, making her seem sixty. Adina saw that beneath the disguise was a pretty woman approaching middle-age.

Everyone's got to earn a living somehow. The blinking neon sign reminded Adina of home.

***

Adina was hesitant as she sat down at the table. The fortune-teller adjusted her wig with a little smile, hiding the strawberry blonde that lurked underneath. "Clients expect we have black hair to tell fortunes. You could make good living this way."

Adina chuckled. "I think I don't like people well enough."

The woman laughed too, pouring a half cup of vodka in a tea mug and doing the same for Adina. "Drink to get warm. I am Valentina."

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