When this guy walks into the room, I can tell he’s important. He’s short, a little round, dark-haired. I don’t even think it’s something about him, as himself. It’s a connection, maybe. But when he steps up to my desk the feeling is so strong that it hits me right in the chest, and a gasp sucks air into me without my even realizing it. I’m choking on the breath when he sticks out a hand and says, “Hello, I’m Henry. I have – ”
“Yeah,” I say. “I already know.” This is usually how it goes, but I’m usually speaking easily, not thinking about the words. It’s a script by now, and they always say the right words even though they don’t have a copy.
“What?” he says, right on cue.
“Didn’t you read the sign? I already know most of it.”
His eyebrows shoot up. Sometimes I think I should take a picture with each client and line up a hundred surprised faces, tucked into the crown molding of the walls in the waiting room. “So what do you know? What do you mean?”
I look at Henry for a moment. He’s not an especially thick cloud of a person, more scattered memories and drifting objects, so he’s a little easier to read. His parents’ divorce, his absent girlfriend, the lottery ticket that he lost when he was seventeen that he’s still sure won – they’re all within easy reach, so I grab them. Of course, the reason he’s here is the closest to me, so that’s the easiest one to pick out and present.
I aim my gaze at his face, somewhere in there among the memory, and say, “Your dad, right? You want to know what he did with the money.” Luckily, this is the sort of thing I can say without thinking about too much. I’m distracted by the other things, and I set them aside so I can look at them later. I’m still not entirely sure which one is so massively important. I’ll figure it out later. He needs more, though, and something’s calling me, so I tell him to take a seat in the waiting room. He’s still nodding his head, eyes wide, as he walks out.
The next person in is an old man. The missing ring is so bright on him that it flares at me, and while he talks I shut my eyes and trace it back. It’s in the living room sofa. The missing thing seems to be in a living room sofa a disproportionate amount of the time, and I tell him so as soon as he pauses for a breath. He hobbles out of the room and an anxious young man totters in. I can tell he’s only half-conscious out of exhaustion and worry, but it’s too easy to see. I bend over my desk again, sifting through papers. I can feel the problem even now.
“She’s cheating on you,” I say, without looking up. “With her secretary.”
The sudden shock of sadness pulls at me, and I look up to see his face crumpling, his eyes welling and dripping at once. I feel a pang of sympathy for him, for half a heartbeat. “Next!”
My day passes like that – as it always does. Adultery, loss, money. There’s an odd murder or two to make it interesting, but mostly it all passes in a blur. People come into my office, dragging their pain and grief and jealousy, and I send them back out with answers. Maybe more pain, more grief, more jealousy, but sometimes peace of mind. That is why I took the job in the first place, so long ago.
When the day’s nearly done and I don’t see anyone else heading into the office, I call to the guy – Henry. He walks in, a little stiff from sitting in the waiting room for hours. He’s still clutching the tabloid he was reading, and his hands are pressing damp valleys into the paper. I wave a hand and he sits in front of me. The leather of the chair creaks as he shifts.
“Hey, Henry,” I say. “I want to know why you’re so important.”
There is a moment of quiet. Then Henry leans forward, and he smiles.