The hysterical voice droned on in my ear as I shuffled my tarot cards listlessly.
"I'm getting a really good feeling from you," I cooed into my phone with fake excitement.
"I know you've been hurt in the past but love is looking for you. Let it find you."
The sound of muffled sobs filtered through the phone.
"Thank you," the woman, Siobhan, cried. "I was scared I'd be alone after breaking it off with my ex."
I described the tall, dark and handsome stranger she was destined to shack up with.
Fifteen minutes and $45 later, Siobhan ended the call sounding happy and hopeful.
I'd been working at a psychic hotline for nine months.
A single mum to three kids, I'd struggled to find a job with flexible hours, so when I saw the job ad for a psychic hotline I was willing to try anything.
I didn't have psychic powers but I'd studied acting in high school.
How hard could it be to convincingly tell people what they want to hear?
I made up a stage name, Psychic Sylvie, and applied.
Once I faked my way through the interviews, I started working from home, answering calls while the kids were at school.
Because I was paid by the minute, I learnt to keep my callers hanging on.
Before long, I had regulars.
Siobhan called me a few times a week about her expensive divorce, her ex's new lover and the man she was destined to meet.
Occasionally I'd feel a pang of guilt. People like her spent hundreds of dollars to speak to a fraud.
But I pushed those feelings aside.
Her bill alone paid my rent.
Besides, I made people feel good about themselves – what was the harm in that?
One afternoon I met an old friend, Katrina, for lunch and she arrived in tears.
"What's wrong, love?" I asked.
"It's Mum," she sighed. "I knew she was struggling after Dad left her but it's worse than I thought."
I squeezed her hand in support as she struggled to hold back her sobs.
"She's been scammed out of $9000," she choked.I gasped as Katrina dabbed at her tears.
I'd never met her mum since she lived in Perth, but she'd always seemed too clever to fall for a scam."How did this happen?" I asked, gobsmacked.
Katrina's face reddened with anger.
"She's wasted $9000 on some sicko, Psychic Sylvie," Katrina snapped. "That bloody grub promised she could help her find love. Mum's drained her savings account!"
My heart sank. Katrina's mum was Siobhan!
I excused myself and immediately called the hotline to resign.
But I was still wracked with guilt for the rest of lunch.
"If I ever get my hands on that scummy psychic…" Katrina fumed, "I don't know what I'll do."
A chill shivered through me. What had I done?
Now I've got a job as a check-out chick at the local supermarket, but my past still haunts me.
I know I should pay back Siobhan, but I can't afford to and Katrina would never forgive me if she knew.
From now on, I'm going to keep my eye on reality, instead of creating fiction with the future.
- Local NewsHow you can help farmers and communities affected by the drought this Christmas
Australian Women's WeeklyYesterday 5:55pm