Spinster / Phoenix
“I can’t believe I’m this old, not married, no prospects, rolling into a dead-end life! My twenties are gone!”
“Take a breath, Michelle. Just breathe,” said my sister Colette. “Let the sunshine soak into you.”
We sat on a café patio in Phoenix, not celebrating my birthday because I felt queasy, turning the big three-o.
“You don’t know what it’s like,” I said. “You have Jim, for god’s sake, and you’re still dancing around in your twenties. Time is running out for me! All my boyfriends were losers, and now the pickings are slim! Guys in their thirties are the rejects nobody wanted.”
“Gosh, do you feel like a reject?” Colette’s eyes widened.
“Yes! No! Don’t analyze me!”
She sat back and stared at the sky over my head. “You should go see my fortune teller.”
“Oh, don’t freak out. He’s a regular guy, but he gets results.”
“I can’t walk into one of those old houses with the palmistry billboard in the front yard. I can’t believe you did.”
“He’s not one of those. People find him only by word of mouth.”
I rolled my eyes.
“So forget it,” she said. “But he found Jim for me. Sort of.”
“How did he do that?”
“It’s hard to explain. You’re too freaked out, anyhow. It probably wouldn’t work for you.”
I shook my head. Craziness. But her words marinated in me. A week later I phoned her for the scoop. His name was Manny, and his fee was a hundred bucks. That gave me pause. Colette said he had tons of happy customers, known to her. Finally I rationalized my way into it, and made an appointment.
Soon I was knocking on his door, glad to find him in a subdued home close to my neighborhood.
Manny was about sixty, a wiry little muscle man, with the sleeves torn off his T-shirt and a large crystal dangling on his chest. Junk cluttered his living room. He shoved a stack of newspapers off his couch for me, and pulled a molded plastic chair over for himself. His knees nearly touched mine.
Don’t panic, I told myself. Breathe. I smelled teriyaki.
“So what’s the trouble?” He angled his head like a bird.
As I explained my spinsterhood, his eyes worked into me. Was he listening? His face was intent, but something else was happening. Was he trying to hypnotize me? I didn’t need to lose my mind, on top of everything else.
The next thing I knew, the room tilted. Sounds crazy, but it did. I saw the ceiling and walls tilt down to the left and upright again.
Then Manny relaxed.
“So,” I said, “can you tell me my future?”
“Can anybody do that? No. I empower you to find your own way.”
I squinted at him.
“Let’s get to it,” he said. “I need your contribution of one hundred dollars, please.”
I invoked Colette: you’d better be right about this, sister. Handed my cash to him.
“Thank you.” He bowed his head and left the room. What now?
He returned with a tray of Chinese fortunes taken from cookies. Tiny strips of paper, some streaked with sauce, a big heap of them. He smiled broadly. “One of these is for you. Your choice.”
“Go ahead,” he grinned.
I took one. Slow down and see what’s in front of your face.
Manny was in front of my face, his teeth gleaming.
“Okay,” I said, “now what?”
“That’s it? That’s your whole show?”
“The Universe is always talking to you,” he nodded. “You’ll see.”
My heart caved in. “It says, slow down? I’m not paying you a hundred bucks for this!”
“Well. You may have another one.”
I clamped my jaw. Dug deeper into the pile. Friends appear when you open your eyes to them.
His eyes held mine for a moment. I did not tell him what it said. Where did he get off, in his scrappy little hut, charging this kind of money for trash?
“It’s up to you to listen. Keep your eyes open,” he said. Uncanny choice of words. But he probably said that to everybody.
“You have a lot of gall,” I said. “I want my money back.”
“Sorry,” he shrugged. “If I refund it, this session will have no effect.”
I roared out of his street, jerking to a stop at the busy avenue. Sunlight flashed in my eyes from a passing car. I made my right turn at the very moment when a big old truck screeched and swerved around me, spilling trash and old boards all over the road. He stopped on the shoulder.
Needles of fear pricked my skin. I gasped for air as my wheels crept through the trash. Geez! Thank God nobody was hurt.
The truck driver scowled at me. “Slow down!” he yelled. “Are you blind? I was right in front of your face!”
Oh. The very words. Trembling, I shifted to the slow lane. In a half-mile I heard whump whump whump on my right rear. Not a flat tire? Please, no.
I must have rolled over one of those old boards the truck had spilled into the street. I did not want to deal with this. I had one more mile to my apartment complex. I took it slowly. No choice. I hoped I could remember how to change a tire.
When I parked in my slot, I cut the engine and shut my eyes. Breathed. Took inventory. I was thankful to be alive and not maimed. I couldn’t believe I blew a hundred dollars on that stupid Manny. But how ironic, I was forced to slow down. Or did Manny put a curse on me?
Then came a tap tap tap on my passenger window.
I opened my eyes to see Robert, that dorky guy who always followed me to the pool and hung around. Months ago I’d told him, he wasn’t my type. That hadn’t stopped him.
Robert’s face crumpled with concern. “Your tire is ripped up. Want me to change it?”
I blinked. Friends appear when you open your eyes? I bit my lip.
He gently opened my door. “You look so pale. Are you okay?”
Puddle of nerves, I could say, but my mouth didn’t want to move just yet.
He reached for my hand to help me out. Strong arm. I liked the way he wrapped it around me.
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Holistic Nurse, Healer, strung out on 37 years of hospital shifts, Diane Stallings returns to the pen. (Not the barn. Digital ink.) Her past stories were published on paper before you were born (1980s, 90s). Check out her blog. It might save your life. joystreamhealth.wordpress.com