A Diviner’s Abecedarian


Alomancy (divination by salt)

Before, salt was only for seasoning, so we didn’t think anything of it. It slept in porcelain shakers at our dinner tables, and we shook it over our plates without fear. We didn’t heed the superstitions of spilt salt, or salt tossed over a shoulder. We paid no attention to the shapes in which the salt fell. We never collected salt in secret, didn’t steal our mothers’ novelty shakers shaped like tomatoes and houses and dogs, didn’t hoard paper packets of salt from fast-food joints, or take it up in fistfuls to throw onto the flat earth. We didn’t read the strange runes it formed against the soil. Things were different, then. Objects only were what they were. Nothing more.


Bibliomancy (divination by book)

Imagine what our teachers would say if they knew what we’d done with our missing textbooks. Even worse, with the yearbook, each of our six photos tucked primly side by side, like scales on an ugly fish.


Cyclomancy (divination by spinning objects)

We play spin the bottle with an empty two-liter soda jug. We don’t mention how there aren’t any boys here, in the carpeted basement of one of our mother’s houses. If we did, we’d shame ourselves out of playing. Our six sleeping bags are loose around us, shiny like sealskins. When we kiss each other, we do it quickly, as if touching our lips to an electric fence. Then we wipe our mouths on our hands and pretend so loudly that we hated it—that meeting softness in the circle of flashlight glow was only a chore, a duty we had to perform. We are servants to the rules we set.

One of us spins the plastic bottle and asks, Which of us is the prettiest? The bottle chooses the girl with the long blond hair we all envy, who pinks in the dim light and whose hair we all imagine lighting on fire. Her turn to spin. Who’s the ugliest? and the one it points to shrinks as we titter into shivers. She tosses the bottle like a top. Which of us is a liar? she asks. It lands on the one of us in the ice-cream pajamas. Later that night, when the liar falls asleep, we write the word on her forehead with lipstick. Though she scrubs and scrubs all morning, the mark will not come off.


Dririmancy (divination by dripping blood)

The first one of us to bleed tells us not to set our morning alarms. It will snow, she tells us, up to our hips. The school bus won’t come. We don’t believe her, but when we look out our bedroom windows, the world is smothered with snow, bright as knife blade. We wade to her house and demand she show us how she knew. She says she won’t, and we tear at our thighs, and we beg, and we lift our skirts and wait, but nothing happens.


Eleomancy (divination by oil)

There is one of us whose mother packs her a lunch of olives with the pits still in them, housed in a little glass jar. She eats them with her fingers and wraps the pits in a soggy paper towel. It’s disgusting. We call her Grease Girl. Her hands are always shiny, her notebooks smudged with oily fingerprints. She leaves handprints on her desk. We learned a long time ago not to look at the handprints. If we look, the handprints tell us things we don’t want to know. Once, Grease Girl left a thumbprint on the dry-erase marker after writing an answer on the whiteboard in social studies class, and after Mr. Welkman saw it, he refused to speak for two whole weeks.


Floriography (divination by flowers)

Our school hosts a carnation sale every Valentine’s Day. The student council sets up a folding plastic table in the science hallway and swathes it with a pink vinyl tablecloth and tops the pink vinyl tablecloth with housepainters’ buckets frothing with flowers. The flowers cost one dollar a stem, or six for five dollars. There are pink carnations and white carnations and red carnations, and carnations fringed with blue and green and orange, from having their stems placed in food coloring. All together, they look like a bowl of rainbow Cool Whip.

Each colored carnation means a different thing, so you can’t buy just any. Pink means “friendship.” White means “secret admirer.” Red means “love.” White with purple fringe means, “I made a mistake.” White with turquoise fringe means, “There is someone in the parking lot.” White with blue and yellow means, “You will pack light, and leave without telling anyone.” Pink with orange fringe means, “You will develop a lucrative kleptomania habit,” while pink with scarlet fringe means, “They know more than you think they do.”

Ron Gorley buys a white carnation for the one of us with the big hoop earrings, which 1.) is stupid because how can he be a “secret admirer” when he gave it to her in person and 2.) is totally unfair because the one of us with the hoop earrings doesn’t even like Ron Gorley, even though Ron Gorley is obviously the cutest guy in sixth grade, plus has a giant trampoline. Ron Gorley’s white carnation is wasted on the one of us with the hoop earrings. We consider tugging on the hoops until her ears pop off.


Gyromancy (divination by dizziness)

Mr. Welkman tells us there’s a New Girl joining our class next week, so at recess, we hide behind the dodge ball wall and take turns pressing on each others’ hearts until we pass out.

When we wake up, we are dizzy and not sure what time it is, and we have learned a lot about the New Girl. The New Girl will be moving here from Sacramento, and she will wear weird stretchy pants with paisley patterns on them, and we will hate her.


Hippomancy (divination by horse behavior)

Guess what? Horses don’t actually have legs. Their legs … are really fingers. The one of us who takes riding lessons at Lilac Hill Farm on Saturdays goes on to explain that a horse’s thigh bone is actually hidden inside its torso. The part we think of as the shin is actually one gross long finger. The hoof is the nail. You think they’re these majestic, cute animals, but they aren’t. They’re creeps.

One of us determines that this means horses are basically just big, fast hands. We convince the one of us who is best at palm reading to sneak into the stable after school and see what she can find out. Later, after she breaks her leg crawling under a horse to look at its belly, her mom calls all our parents and we get grounded for a week. She’s a snitch. We bet she isn’t even as good at palm reading as she says she is. Snitches usually aren’t good at much.


Ichnomancy (divination by footprint)

The one of us with the broken leg has to drag herself around on crutches. The cast makes her footprints lopsided—one normal one and one fat round one like a Sasquatch track. We can only get half a read on her. For example, we know she is going to get sick at someone’s birthday party, but we don’t know whose. We refuse to invite her to any birthdays until the cast comes off. Her own birthday isn’t necessarily ruled out either, so when she passes out the pale yellow invitations, we throw every one of them away.


Jyotisha (divination by Hindu astrology)

On the day before the New Girl arrives, we sneak into the administration office after hours. We keep the lights off. The New Girl’s admissions file is sealed up in an aluminum cabinet, but the one of us who inherited her granddad’s pocketknife cracks open the lock. Now, when the New Girl comes, we’ll already know all we need to about her: Born November 10. Vrschika the scorpion. Ruled by Mars. Water sign. Fixed.

& we’ll know how to handle her.


Keraunomancy (divination by thunder and lightning)

A storm swells over the school, fat and silver as a pool of concrete. We aren’t allowed outside for recess because of the rain, so we’re stuck in the English room watching Schoolhouse Rock! instead. Except we aren’t watching Schoolhouse Rock! We’re watching her. A tally:

–Aforementioned tight paisley pants
–No bra, as far as we can tell (doesn’t she know we can see her nipples through that turtleneck?)
–Purple ruler
–Three pencils, sharpened, with the erasers chewed off
–An ’N Sync sticker on a blue striped notebook
–Converse high-tops
–Lime lip balm, reapplied every 10 minutes

When lightning flashes across the paneled windows, we begin to count. None of us count out loud, but we can all hear the tick, tick, tick of the round clock screwed into the wall above the whiteboard. One second, two, three … We hold our breaths. We wait for thunder, bursting. One for friend and two for rival, three for thief and four for an idol, five for never-trust-a-word, six for following-the-herd, seven for a losing bet, eight for a storm you won’t forget … At the clock’s ninth tick, a low rumble bellies over us. The windows wiggle against the sound waves.


Letnomancy (divination by secrets)

We whisper things like: I heard that the New Girl had to leave her old school ’cause she poked a kid’s eye out with a stick. I heard the New Girl hasn’t ever been to a movie theater. I heard the New Girl still sleeps in her mom’s bed. I heard the New Girl only showers once a week and that’s why her hair looks like that. I heard the New Girl doesn’t show up to class on time or at all, even, some days. I heard the New Girl doesn’t show up in mirrors. I heard the New Girl has had a fever of 103.4 for two years, but they still let her come to school. I heard the New Girl is a loser. I heard the New Girl steals other kids’ stuff and sells it. I heard the New Girl isn’t even a girl, is something else, different from us, unnamable. I heard the New Girl eats peanuts with the shells still on them. I heard the New Girl is here, and isn’t to be trusted, and there isn’t anything we can do about it.


Moromancy (divination by foolishness)

We aren’t stupid. We know she’s just a kid. Like the six of us. But we also know she isn’t like us, in all the ways that count. And we also know that being a sixth-grade girl doesn’t mean you can’t have a terrible sort of power. We know all about power. We’ve felt a heart stop under the pressure of our hands, and start up again. We’ve felt the weight of a horse’s spooked body. We’ve learned things that none of our parents or teachers could ever learn. Things they wouldn’t want to learn. We’ve spoken to the dead and watched hot wax congeal in pools of tap water. We’ve burned locks of each other’s hair and seen our own reflections in the smoke. We know how powerful a girl can be.

She plays dumb when we tug at her ugly clothes, when we whisper incantations behind her back, when we trip her in the halls. On the school bus, we dig little half-moons into her arms with our nails. And still, she acts like we’re friends. We are not friends. We are not stupid. And she isn’t either.


Natimancy (divination by buttocks)

Look, one of us has a better ass than the rest. It’s just the truth. It’s round and bouncy and jiggles like a cafeteria Jell-O cup. And okay, normally we’d say we hate the one of us with the good ass, because duh. But the truth is, the boys are always smacking it without her permission, which probably sucks. We find the one of us with the awesome ass crying in the farthest bathroom stall. She said Ron Gorley had slapped her butt when she was on her way to homeroom, so hard it left a welt. We hate Ron Gorley. Ron Gorley is the grossest, worst boy in school. We can’t believe we ever thought he was cute.

The next day, the one of us with the great ass wears yoga pants to school. When we’re in line to take our class picture, she stands right in front of Ron Gorley. Then she bends down to tie her shoe, really slowly so her ass is up in Ron Gorley’s face, like a big, beautiful planet for Ron Gorley to orbit. He lifts his hand, pulls it back like a slingshot, and smack. When Ron Gorley makes contact, his eyes turn Elmer’s-glue white. No pupils or iris at all, just blank and glossy. He coughs up white foam. He mumbles and mumbles and doesn’t move. When he’s taken to the school nurse on a gurney and his parents are called in, we can hear the nurse whispering to his father. I don’t know what’s wrong, she says. He’s hallucinating, but I don’t know what he thinks he’s seeing.

We know exactly what he’s seeing.


Omphalomancy (divination by navels)

For winter break, we all get our belly buttons pierced. At the piercing parlor in the mall, they make the hole with a hollow needle that scoops part of your belly flesh out with it, before putting the metal ring through. At least, that’s what the one of us with the 16-year-old sister tells us. Our parents make us invite the New Girl, but when it’s her turn to get hers pierced, she chickens out. We’re glad she does, because she’s a loser and we don’t want anything in common with her, and we don’t want her to know what the hollow needle tells us.

The hollow needle tells us that pain is a tool. The hollow needle tells us that we are beautiful, and eternal, and that we will never die as long as we keep the wound clean and as long as we listen to the hollow needle. The hollow needle tells us that tomorrow, a bomb will fall on a city many thousands of miles away, and in another city, a kitten will be born with two heads. The hollow needle tells us to go ice skating at the Retreat Meadows at 4 P.M. next Friday. It tells us to strap our skates on tight, but it tells us to avoid the dark patch of the lake to the left of the ice-fishing huts. That our bellies are precious, jeweled creatures that will be harmed by the dark patch. The hollow needle whispers the sound of cracking ice to us, only to us, not to the New Girl.


Pneumancy (divination by blowing)

We play Suck and Blow at the Chinese buffet with a plastic fortune-cookie wrapper. The goal is to pass the wrapper from mouth to mouth, only using the suction of our breath to keep it from fluttering to the floor. If it falls, you kiss by mistake. The one of us with the weird mole on her neck drops the wrapper next to Xavier Martins. We know she did it on purpose. Xavier Martins is the cutest boy in school (way cuter than Ron Gorley) and everyone knows it and the one of us with the weird mole on her neck is a cheater who doesn’t deserve to kiss Xavier Martins.

The New Girl drops the wrapper too. Of course. She’s so terrible at everything. She kisses the one of us with the roller-skate shoes, and when she does, it’s like she’s kissing all of us at once (because ever since we got our belly buttons pierced, when something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us). And so at once, all of us see that the New Girl isn’t going to be alive for much longer.


Qabalah (divination by esoteric occultism)

The one of us with super religious parents sneaks us into her father’s library. We bring a bunch of kitchen herbs to burn in the trash bin. Then we hold hands and close our eyes, like witch girls do on TV. We ask if the New Girl is supposed to die. The smoke in the room says: Yes. We ask the room if we are supposed to help her die. The room says: Yes. We ask the room how. The room says: Yes, Yes, Yes, until the room is so thick with smoke that we cough and run out, leaving the flaming wastebasket behind.


Rhabdomancy (divination by sticks or wands)

To turn a baton just the right way, so it looks like it’s twirling effortlessly flat like an airplane propeller, the wrist must move in small figure eights. Infinity symbols. Infinity breeds infinity, says the one of us who won first place in baton twirling at the Winter Carnival. We practice infinity for days. By the time we’ve perfected it, our batons move in perfect tandem, the tinsel on each end glinting like cut glass. We have mastered infinity. We can see what happens later, and what happened before we were born, because when we twirl our batons, all of time happens at once.

The New Girl can’t hold the baton steady. She drops it at least nine times during our hour-long gym class. When she twirls it, it looks sloppy and doesn’t move smoothly the way it should, not in a figure eight at all, so she is stuck right here in gym class and nowhere else in time. She can’t see any further than today.


Styramancy (divination by chewing gum patterns)

The one of us with braces unwraps an entire package of Bubblicious strawberry bubble gum, all five pieces. We help her stuff them into her mouth. She chews until the five pieces are one fat, rosy glob. Pink as a tongue. How it threads through her braces like twine. How it spreads and nets and catches. She smiles, and a wire pops. She spreads her mouth wide as a coffin, wide as a lake. A red tangle. We read until our mouths go dry.


Transataumancy (divination by things accidentally seen or heard)

We have ears everywhere—by which we mean any object can listen, if coaxed in the right way: a snapped hair tie abandoned in a bathroom; a CD jewel case; a Lisa Frank binder with a snow leopard on the front; a pair of earrings with surgical steel hooks. Anything we have touched can hear, can see, can tell us what it knows.


Uranomancy (divination by the sky)

We will call for the New Girl when the migrating songbirds are gone. When the moon blushes like a peony over winter hills. There is a time for everything, and a sign for every time. A diviner knows this. Down here on the earth, it’s hush-cold, sandpaper dragged over teeth. Bike tires gone slack with the tightening air. Ground, half metal. But in the sky, it’s colder.

How does anyone feel safe beneath the moon? A giant, glowing white orb that dangles overhead, & everyone lives beneath it like it’s nothing. What if the moon were to fall? If it were to pass through us like a stone through a pane of glass? Through a gentle sheet of ice?

It’s swelling now, drawing in a great silver breath. This is what anticipation looks like. A black sky punctured by light, growing louder and louder. A mighty, dead rock, hovering over our girl-bodies.

One of us claims that your period can sync up with the moon phases, but we think that’s probably bullshit. If blood falls in step with anything, it’s Mars. War planet. Red planet. Planet that looms and hollers and holds the tallest mountain in our solar system, which (according to Mr. Welkman) is a volcano called Olympus Mons that may or may not still be active.


Videomancy (divination by films)

On the night before we kill the New Girl, the six of us go out to the movies. We buy small popcorns and boxes of Junior Mints. The movie has something to do with a bus driver who stumbles on a Masonic treasure, but we aren’t watching for plot. We are watching for the subliminal stills that flicker between the frames. So quick, no one else sees. Halfway through, Xavier Martins leans over to kiss the one of us with the weird mole, and we all feel his lips graze her chin. We barely pause, the hidden movie stills flick, flick, flicking past.


Water Witching (divination by divining rod)

Two-pronged stick snapped from a dead tree by the Retreat Meadows. Hold it up, feel the tug. We leave boot marks in the blackened snow. We follow the Y toward water. Soon, she’ll come.


Xenomancy (divination by strangers)

The New Girl might think she knows us, but trust us—she doesn’t. If she did, she would have said no when we invited her to the Retreat Meadows at 4 P.M. on Friday. But she did not say no. Far from it. She thanked us.

When the New Girl arrives, she’s all bundled up in snow pants and a puffy down jacket. The rest of us are in jeans. She even walks stupid, with her knees bowed out. She laughs at the wrong moments. She keeps talking about Sacramento, like any of us care. Hanging out with her all day better be worth the trouble. It will be. It will be.

Out on the Meadows, the ice is murky. Fog gone solid. A dead fish lies frozen just below the surface. We levitate over it, we strange sharp creatures with blades on our feet, the alarms of our hearts bellowing, our exposed skin icy and pink. The New Girl wobbles. In the distance, fishing shacks creak into the wind.

A race! we call in one voice. We turn to the New Girl. Last one to the blue shack is a loser! We start to cut over the frozen water. The New Girl scrambles along. Catches stride. She becomes half-bird, first a fledgling emerging from the nest, then an albatross, gliding. She picks up speed, passing us. She doesn’t notice that the rest of us have stopped skating. Have fallen back to watch as she bullets toward the blue shack, toward the patch of dark ice. She’s 10 feet away, and a terrible grace has seized her. Five feet away, the horizon line zipped tight as a scar. Two feet, then one, and as she reaches her mittened hand up toward the blue shack. A great crack rolls through the Meadows. The lake splits open. The New Girl is swallowed by the dark.


Ydromancy (divination by water gazing)

When the six of us pull the New Girl from the hole in the ice half an hour later, she is shiny and dead and ours. Her cheeks are blushed pink with frost, and are almost beautiful. Her lips are plump and pale. We take her home to our nearest mother’s house. We dress her in our clothes. We comb her clean, wet hair. We pull a needle from our mother’s sewing kit and we press it through the frostbitten skin of her navel, so cold not a drop of blood rises. We whisper into her mouth until she whispers back. We lead her to the mirror. When we are done, she looks just like us.


Zoomancy (divination by animal behavior)

There are nights when wild animals still prowl outside our houses, but mostly, they stay away. They know the true alphas of this town. The seven of us howl along to the radio. We paint our nails a matching plum red. We take what prey comes to us: boys who ask too many questions; teachers who try to tell us what to do. Nothing is a surprise to us. We can read any omen—an orange sky, a rotten peach, a stained T-shirt, a pop song on loop, a kiss-and-tell, a dropped phone call. When new girls come, we know what to do with them. We know how to fix them. We have a way of knowing every good thing there is to know.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

GennaRose Nethercott is the author of The Lumberjack’s Dove, selected by Louise Glück as a winner of the National Poetry Series, and Lianna Fled the Cranberry Bog: A Story in Cootie Catchers. Originally from Vermont, she tours nationally and internationally, performing from her works and composing poems-to-order for strangers on a manual typewriter.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up