Once upon a time there lived a fortune teller. She performed her fortune telling in a small building off of a main thoroughfare in a large city, and her building was decorated with many neon signs. She sat in the building at a small round table in a dimly-lit room, wearing a scarf about her head, and gazed into a ball made of glass that was lit from beneath with many swirling colors. In this way, she built up many regular clients, and she also had many walk-in customers.

Now this fortune teller had not an ounce of supernatural talent. Like the overwhelming majority of those purporting to be psychic, she could no more predict the future than she could fly to the moon. However, this woman (unlike most fortune tellers) did not harbor the delusion that she was special. She knew that she was a fraud.

What this fortune teller could do was read people very well. When someone walked in the door, she could tell immediately their approximate age, relationship status, emotional state, and many other things besides. If a fellow with a bad gray comb-over walked through her door and shook off his umbrella as he sat down, she could look at his hands and tell you if he was single, married, or divorced, a construction worker or a court reporter; she could look at his shoes and jacket and tell you his basic lifestyle and economic status; she could look at his eyes through his glasses and tell you if he was very sad, or hopeful, or skeptical.

Many times, people would come in asking questions to which they already knew the answers. A man would come in and sit down, red-eyed and damp, and ask if his wife was cheating on him. A woman would come in and ask if she was going to get fired. Someone would come in and ask if they would ever see their estranged parent again. She would hold their hands, and gaze into the crystal ball, and confirm for them what they already believed.

One night a woman came in, looking tired and ragged and soaked through with rain. She sat down at the table, and the fortune teller saw that she was not very well off, middle-aged, married (likely to someone for whom she felt no great affection), and from a difficult background. She saw that this woman was deeply skeptical.

The woman took out a damp newspaper and laid it down on the table. Then she took out a small, crumpled scrap of paper and lay it down next to the newspaper. “I just won two million dollars in the lottery,” she said.

The fortune teller looked into the woman’s eyes.

The fortune teller slowly pushed the candle on the table toward the newspaper and the scrap. The woman looked at the candle for a long time. Then she slowly lifted the lottery ticket into the flames.

After the woman left, the fortune teller turned off the lights and all the neon signs. She locked the door behind her.

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