Tiresias in Manhattan

by Jim Nawrocki

It seemed appropriate that he’d end up here. He’d been a woman for seven years, thanks to Hera, who frowned on how he’d cursed those damned fornicating snakes. He’d been blinded by Athena when he chanced upon her bathing naked. She regretted it later, but couldn’t give him back his sight. So she bestowed on him the power to understand the songs of birds. Apparently a dash of immortality had been thrown in too. Eventually, he even regained his sight. He’d always been a seer, a clairvoyant. And of course, he knew exactly how it felt for a woman when she made love; those seven years had been very enjoyable. So he set up shop in midtown, built up a good clientele by word of mouth (no garish neon Fortunes Told signs for him) and soon he was supporting himself comfortably as a life coach, counselor, and sex advisor, depending on the client. 

Things had gone swimmingly. He’d been smugly content with himself. Until one day, on the subway, when he had a dark and troubling vision. He’d been idly sitting there like everyone else. But gradually, little black clouds appeared, roiling in front of and obscuring every face. He’d barely taken this in, when he heard his prophet’s voice in his head. 

“There will be much death,” the voice said to him. 

“Can you tell me more?” he implored. 

“Much, much death,” the voice replied. 

“I wasn’t thinking of superlatives. How about a little more detail?” 

“I’ll get back to you next week.” 

“What if there isn’t enough time?” 

But he was answered with only silence. Out on the street, more of the same. Newspaper vendors, cops, tourists, cab drivers—they all had a cloud. 

What was he to do? All he knew was that death, on a massive scale, was coming. Nuclear war? Another 9/11? Plague? Asteroid? 

The most I can do is try, he thought. 

So he made his way back to his office, ignoring all those little clouds as best he could, which proved annoyingly difficult when trying to order a coffee. But somehow he managed and made it back. After some brief online research, he made an appointment to see a herpetologist at the Central Park Zoo. 

Gloria Hatton proved to be friendly, open-minded, and wonderfully warm. She had a cloud, of course, but he’d grown used to that. While she fetched some tea, he admired her office. Immediately in front of him, on her desk, a comic placard read: Herpetologists Are Cold Blooded. He chuckled just as she was returning with two steaming mugs. 

“I see you’re enjoying my little array here.” 

“Quite delightful,” he replied. 

“I’m relieved you have a healthy sense of humor. Your request, I must admit, is a bit off-putting and mysterious. Mind you, I’ll do my best to accommodate it, but I can’t make any guarantees.” 

“I’m hardly the litigious type,” he replied with a reassuring smile. 

“Very good, she said. Would you mind giving me about half an hour? That will give me time to set things up and…uh…hopefully get things started.” 

“Not at all,” he said. “I’ll take a stroll in the park.” He returned at the appointed time to the lab she’d given him directions to. She met him in the lobby, beaming. 

“We’re in luck!” she said, leading him briskly down a hallway to a smaller room, where glassed-in tanks lined two walls. She led him to one. 

“Come look! We’re just in time.” 

Inside, two large, bright green snakes were writhing and entwined, doing what nature intended. He asked to be let in the room where the tank could be accessed. Once there, he lowered his hands toward the copulating serpents. Gloria reached out to stop him. 

“I assure you, I will not touch or harm them,” he said. 

She lowered her hands and watched as he arranged his hands in a sort of cuplike cradle above them. He closed his eyes, blessing them with pagan ritual chants that he’d always used to nurture love. His prophet’s voice returned, sounding deeply pleased: “You have done well.” 

Tiresias beamed. He wrote the zoo a generous donation check, thanked Gloria, and left. His sense of accomplishment was even more profound when, passed for the first time by an approaching person, he saw the clear, unencumbered, cloud-free and glorious face of a portly 60-something man in a drab overcoat. More faces awaited, each one beautiful to him. 

He meandered for a while. All through the park, birds sang and he moved along, smiling at them and nodding. He crossed Fifth Avenue at 79th. As he passed the various buildings, he felt psychic auras emanating from each one—gentle pulses, almost like voices—of those working, eating, making love, and dreaming. They were the voices of life, of the future.

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