This is a short story I've just written. I'd very much appreciate any feedback anyone feels like giving me, be it about the whole damn thing or one awkward word.
Here it is...
It never rains but it pours. That’s certainly true for you at the moment: but with your ruler, Venus, having a close encounter with Mars on Sunday, things could be coming to a head. Prepare for an explosive conclusion to a difficult patch: if you remember that your Libran virtues of diplomacy and gentleness can sometimes mean that you’re easily led, the clouds should be gone in no time. Have a little faith, stick to your guns, and you should soon see the sun shining again. To find out more about how to deal with the conflicts of the next few days, call this number…
Libra’s the easiest: I was born on the 1st of October myself, so I more or less just put what’s happening to me, and spice it up a bit with some planets. That way I know it’s true for one person, at least.
Do I feel bad about what I do? No, not really. Do I believe in it myself? Of course I don’t. I write the fucking stuff, so how could I? Not many of us do. Katie at the Globe - lovely tits - is a bit funny about tarot readings and stuff, but mostly they’re like me: take it all with a pinch of salt. Show me the ladder and I’ll walk straight under it, no problem. It’s pretty hard to be a believer when you’re creating the myth in the first place. I mean, I consult the guides, and stuff, but mostly… well, I just make it up.
But, no, I don’t feel bad about it. All they’re really looking for, most of them, is a little solace: something to brighten up their day, you know? I never write anything totally negative. Point of principle. There was one time when I was pretty down and poor old Libras got a rough ride for a week or two. But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, you know? That’s the beauty of the stars, isn’t it? There’s always something better round the next corner. Things tough today? So what? Pluto’s moving into Gemini tomorrow. Keep your chin up and things will change. In a way, I just do the same thing as you, but cheaper: I have to pay £100 an hour for your advice. All they have to do is buy a copy of the Post, and there it is, right in front of them: 'How To Live Your Life Over The Next 7 Days', by Michael Curraway.
It’s not such a silly comparison, actually. I mean, I suppose I’m sort of paying for your advice, but really I’m just paying for you to listen to me. I lie on this couch and talk and nothing really gets solved, but it makes me feel better. Well, horoscopes are the same. It makes them feel like someone’s concerned with their problems, like someone’s thinking about just them. And of course nothing could be further from the truth. That’s the art of it: making it as personal sounding as possible without any specifics. I’m very particular about that. First rule of being an astrologer, number one in the handbook: work by suggestion. Never promise the earth unless you can deliver it. Good rule for life, too, you might say. Trust’s the key. They have to trust you, even the ones who think it’s just a bit of fun, and how are they going to trust you if you tell them exactly what’s going to happen and then it doesn’t?
There are certain things I won’t do. We all have our code, don’t we? For instance, I won’t do lottery numbers, which are the latest big money spinners. People aren’t stupid. Sooner or later they’re going to figure out they aren’t winning it any more than they were, and where’ll the industry be then? It’s just irresponsible. It threatens all of us. Once you start to imply you can predict what’s going to be the winning combination for the Saturday night jackpot… well, people are naturally going to become a little suspicious. ‘Why doesn’t he just enter himself and win the lot?’ That’s what they’d say, and they wouldn’t be far wrong. If I had the winning ticket I’d give this up like a shot.
But I don’t, so I can’t. Anna always used to try to persuade me to give it up - she thought it was wrong, she said it was dishonest - but I never really listened. Actually, I sort of resented it. She shouldn’t have been judging me, she shouldn’t have been trying to control me like that. She should have just accepted that it was my job, and that was that. There are worse ways to earn a living. I’d rather do this than be a ‘proper’ journalist any day. All that misery… I don’t think I could cope with that. At least, not any more.
Not many people know what I do. Whenever anyone asks I just say I’m a journalist and hope they don’t ask any more questions. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it, exactly: it’s just that most people stop taking me seriously when I tell them. And of course, I can’t let it out that I know what utter shite it is: if that got around I’d lose my readership in no time. The premium rates would drop too, and then where would I be? Jobless, that’s where. So I have to play the part. People laugh at me, I’m sure. They think my job’s a joke.
I resent that. It’s not totally undemanding: there is an element of skill in what I do. It’s a craft. Lots of people, when they find out, ask me to predict their future for them, as if it’s a big joke, as if I could just do it on the spot. I mean, I could, but that’s not the point. It implies they think it’s easy. Well, it isn’t, let me tell you.
For instance. Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with twelve distinctly different and yet entirely unspecific predictions about people’s futures? Try it the next time you’re bored. It’s like that game people play where they try and write the first line of a book based on the blurb. Well, that’s perfectly easy: but could they keep it up page after page? Could they bollocks. Same with horoscopes. Recycling’s a real problem. That’s partly why I gave up the daily column: it was getting exhausting, trying to keep it fresh. I’m glad I did, thinking back. I mean, look at Jonathan what’s-his-name in the Chronicle. It’s just embarrassing. It’s a good job the only people who ever read all twelve are other astrologers: why do you think it’s meant to be bad luck?
No, I’m glad I cut down. Only paying rent for one now, after all. There’s child support, of course, but Anna’s much better paid than I am, so it isn’t too bad. Do you know she got a £40 000 advance on her last book? Twice what she’s ever had before… that new agent of hers, I suppose.
I used to want to be a writer, you know. Fuck it - I was a writer. Had a lot of short stories published in magazines and so on. I had the same agent as Malcolm Bradbury for a while. But it never came to anything.
Still, such is life, eh? Fate, and all that. No, I like what I do. I can be creative, let my imagination go a bit. I know what’s coming up next, usually. I’ve got all their different paths lined up. There’s a big chart on my wall - the various ups and downs of each group and so on. It’s a bit like a soap opera, I suppose. For instance, Leos haven’t been getting a lot of good stuff lately, so I’m planning on giving them an exciting communication for Tuesday week. Of course, there are certain limitations - I have to make it all fit roughly with the calendar, I always make sure I’m within certain astrological boundaries - but in a way they just make you more imaginative.
It’s odd… I mean, I don’t believe in it, but what I was saying about soap operas - well, you sort of believe in them, don’t you? Suspend your disbelief? And I guess I do that. I feel bad when I give a sign a tough week. I feel like I have the power to make it better. Stupid.
The thing is… it wouldn’t bother me, but sometimes it…seeps into other areas. Let me explain. For instance. When I woke up this morning, I felt pretty down - I don’t know why, really, but sometimes I get like that. Couldn’t see the point of getting out of bed at all. And - well, it’s embarrassing, because I know how ridiculous it is - I was angry with myself that the horoscope I’d written hadn’t come true. I really felt that if I’d written it it would happen. But that’s absurd, isn’t it? Because I just make it up. I just - invent. Lie, really. And I believe it myself, sometimes, even though I know I shouldn’t.
That’s why I came to see you today, really. It’s so stupid - I mean, I know it can’t be true, but at the same time I kind of don’t. It reminds me of when my father died. I was sure of it, of course - if he had walked in the room I would have had a heart attack too - but I didn’t properly get it. There’s this other level, of knowing, that I don’t really have any control over… my gut feeling was that he was still alive and that I’d see him soon. It’s the same, you see?
Perhaps I should stop, like Anna said, go back to the writing. Proper writing, she’d say. Writing stories. I always liked the feeling that I was in charge of my characters. You know that thing some authors talk about when they lose control of their books and things just start happening? Total bollocks. Never happened to me, anyway. Anyone who thinks that should see how their characters react when they hit them with a steamroller. Bastards aren’t going to do their own thing then, are they?
But astrology’s not like that. Obviously, it ought to be, but it’s not. Give me someone’s name, age, date of birth, time of birth, place of birth, fucking blood type, I don’t care, I can’t tell you what they’re like. I can’t decide if they’re going to face up to this non-specific Thursday morning challenge or not. I mean, for Christ’s sake, does no-one ever notice the fatal fucking flaw in all of this? If the planets control your future, what the fuck good is it going to do you if I tell you about Mr Right with the deep blue eyes? It’s all pre-ordained anyway! You don’t have a say in the matter! It’s all in the fucking stars, stupid!
Sorry. Can I have a glass of water?
I want to see Alice more. Sometimes her mother’s a right nightmare about all that. I mean, I have two weekends a month, but lots of divorced couples are much freer with it than that, aren’t they? One’ll babysit for the other, or whatever. Anna’s not like that. I said I’d babysit whenever - those were my exact words, I said whenever - but she still gets some baggy-trousered greasy teenager instead. So now I’m not even responsible enough to look after my own daughter, apparently.
It’s absurd. I mean, I have a great relationship with her. We do a lot of fun stuff together when she comes to stay. I treat her, because - well, I don’t have time to do anything else. I don’t discipline her enough when she comes, I know, but how can I? Could you? I mean, do you have kids? Twice a month. That’s nine o’clock Saturday morning until eight Sunday evening. Thirty five hours times two, that’s seventy hours a month. How can I possibly not let her eat too much ice cream when that’s all I’m fucking there for?
But it’s the first of the month today, so she’s coming to mine this week. I’ve got it all planned out. We’re going to the science museum in the afternoon - I bet she loves all that, dinosaurs and everything - and then we’ll watch a video and have some pizza. And on Sunday we’ll go for lunch at her gran’s, and then to the zoo. She’s going to have a great time.
Then, when I take her home, I’m going to have a chat with Anna about how things are between us. I’ve got an idea. I’m going to tell her I’m going to stop doing this job. If I told her that, I know she’d at least think about it. I’m sure now. We’re still right for each other, even after all this time. She just doesn’t know it.
I think she’s sleeping with that prick of an agent of hers. He was there once when I went to pick up Alice, and then when I went to the loo there was another toothbrush. But that’s nothing serious, I’m sure, a flash in the pan. The point is, we’ve got history. We’ve got a future, because we love each other, and that’s it in the end, isn’t it? That’s the only thing. I know I can make her see it, if she gives me a chance, I know it’s the right thing for all of us. I know this is the beginning of something good.
I know it.