Snopes Varley is not quite a fortune-teller. Fortune-tellers have booths. They have cards or dice or bones. They charge a fee, and they do not intervene. Most of them are fakes. Snopes Varley has no booth, carries nothing but a hollow cane, takes no customers, and intervenes constantly.
Last week, a boy scout helped Snopes Varley cross a busy intersection at night. The light changed before they were halfway across, and six cars were forced to wait. Thus the intersection was clear when the drunk driver ran his red light, and no one was killed. The boy scout was three minutes late getting home. The man with whom his father is secretly sleeping was safely gone by then. The boy’s innocence was preserved. Snopes Varley places great stock in innocence.
The hollow cane raps a slow, measured beat against the pavement at all times. The black cloth slippers shuffle across blacktop, grass and gravel with unhurried ease. No facial tick or nervous tension betrays the whirlwind in Varley’s head. It is a benign whirlwind, and Snopes is in the eye of it.
And so the figure in the black hooded sweatshirt glides easily from potential crisis to potential crisis, deflecting each one with the suppleness of a tai chi master. There is no time for sleep, except while walking. Food, when it is needed, is incidental to the path that fate requires. The constant pace and the hypnotic rhythm of the cane combine to make Snopes better than invisible. Invisibility implies some supernatural agency, and raises suspicion in those who notice it. Irrelevance is more like it. It is the joke of this seeming irrelevance, the dramatic irony generated by a thousand secretly-averted deaths, that keeps a smile hidden in Snopes Varley’s weathered lips.