Sometimes it's easier than you think to gaze into the future -- Contest Entry; Revised!
The Fortune Teller
Maggie bolted out the back door moments before the dial tone from the still-open line filled the empty kitchen. Mocha the cat, irresistibly drawn to the drone of the handset lying in the middle of the floor, crept hesitantly from behind a corner chair where she had been cowering during the panic. She sniffed the fear lingering on the receiver. A sudden cry erupted from the driveway, causing the skittish cat’s ears to flatten against her head. Her frantic paws skated in place on the slick linoleum before they caught traction and carried her back to the safety of her hiding place.
Outside, Maggie jabbed the car key at the lock but it missed its mark. “Damn it!” she screeched as the fumbled keys clattered to the driveway. The unnatural pitch of her voice brought the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Peterson, from around the side of her house where she was weeding the flower beds.
“My God, Maggie, what’s the matter?”
“Danny,” Maggie shouted, “… hurt! I – have to…” Unable to string her fragmented thoughts into a complete sentence, she focused her attention back on her clumsy fingers, incapable of closing on the right key. A guttural groan escaped when she dropped them a second time. She snatched them up, forced herself to take a slow, steadying breath, and slid the key into the lock. She yanked the door open as she shouted, “Gotta go to Bedford Regional!”
Mrs. Peterson’s hand floated towards her throat. The gesture was interrupted halfway when she waved it instead in Maggie’s direction. “Wait,” she called, “I’ll drive you! Let me get my purse!”
“No time --!” Maggie pulled her leg in, almost slamming her foot in the door. The rolled up windows buffered Mrs. Peterson’s shouted warning that Maggie was too upset and shouldn’t make the thirty minute drive alone. Maggie glanced once at her before backing the car out of the driveway and speeding away.
At the first intersection, she failed to yield the right-of-way and almost collided with a car. The adrenaline surge from the near miss acted like a slap on the cheek, shocked her to coherency, and warned her to calm down. It was no easy feat. Danny was all she had in the world, her raison-d’être. If something happened to him… She had to get to him quickly; she couldn’t afford to have an accident.
The car rocked to a halt at the red light before the highway onramp. Maggie didn’t release the steering wheel; she kept her hands clutched at their ten-and-two positions. She stared at the red glow of the traffic light, willing it to change faster. The rhythmic tone of the blinker ricocheted around the front seat. She jumped at her cell phone ringing.
The caller ID read, ‘AssHole’. She flipped the phone open. “Gary! Are you with him? Is he ok?”
“Mags, I’m at the hospital. He’s ok! I promise he’s going to be ok.”
The reflex to distrust anything that came out of Gary’s mouth jerked in the pit of her stomach. But, oh how she wanted to believe him this time. “He’s going to be ok, or he IS ok?”
“He’s going to be fine. The doctors are still in there with him, but they said it looks good.”
The light turned green and she punched the accelerator; her turn was fast and wide. “Gary, what happened to him? He was fine when I dropped him off at the birthday party.”
“Are you alone, or is someone driving you?”
“I’m driving,” she said through clenched teeth. “Now what happened?”
There was a long pause. “I’ll tell you everything when you get here. Maggie, you drive careful.” The phone went dead.
“Asshole,” she hissed. How typical of Gary to keep her in the dark. During their brief time together, and the six years since Danny was born, he had deceived her far more often than he’d been honest. When they were dating, he hid the fact that he had inherited a large sum of money when he turned eighteen, because he said he feared Maggie was a gold digger. Once married, he developed an insulting habit of making large purchases without conferring with her first. Then, when Maggie was six months pregnant, she found out about Lindsay. Gary’s affair was the deal-breaker, and Maggie waddled up the steps to the attorney’s office and filed for divorce.
If only she could have seen into the future, she would have been spared so much pain. Maggie’s gaze flicked to the rearview mirror and she stared into her glistening brown eyes. No, the truth was she would do it all again, because the trade-off had been worth it. The agonizing turmoil of her failed marriage to Gary had brought Danny into her life. Sweet, smiling Danny. Her vision blurred, and through the windshield the road swam before her. It was long and empty. Gary said Danny was going to be ok; she reminded herself over and over as she pressed down harder on the gas pedal.
Another thought layered itself over the loop of reassurance struggling to repeat in her head. How ironic that she had tried to peek into the future just last week. She and Emily, the mother of Danny’s classmate friend, had spent an afternoon with the boys at a local summer festival. Tucked amid the spinning rides and fairway games sat a small, yellow and white striped tent with a sign bearing the name “Madam Déstin” in shiny, silver lettering. While watching the laughing boys soar through the air strapped to the arms of a giant, arachnid-inspired structure, Maggie blurted to Emily her fears of never again finding a man to love. Immediately embarrassed, she tried to lighten the mood by joking she ought to ask Madam Déstin where to find a good man. Emily had a twinkle in her eye when she dared her to go ask. And, just for fun, she decided she would.
Maggie giggled silently over her shoulder at Emily, who was watching from the rail around the boys’ ride. Emily motioned ‘Go ahead!’ with an emphatic swish of her hand. Maggie hesitated at the door, looking for a solid place to knock. She started when she heard an ethereal voice say, “Won’t you come in?”
She pulled the canvas aside and ducked to enter. The greasy odor of funnel cakes frying in hot oil permeating the fairgrounds was immediately replaced by a pungent, musky perfume. The interior was strangely larger than the tent looked from the outside. It also appeared empty.
Maggie took a tentative step forward and softly called out, “Hello?”
“Welcome, my dear.” The thickly-accented voice came from right behind her; startled, Maggie spun around. Madam Déstin was seated behind a round, scarf-draped table. Through a ruby red smile she said, “Won’t you sit down?”
Maggie stared at her, and then narrowed her eyes at the tented wall directly behind her. She thought, Didn’t I just enter from there? “Very good,” Maggie said, smirking. “Nice effect.”
Madam Déstin continued to smile, so Maggie lowered herself into the opposite chair. Madam Déstin’s eyes dropped and rested a moment on Maggie’s throat; Maggie’s hand moved to the spot where she was staring and closed on the gold chain hanging there. A tinny clink sounded as the mother and son charm nudged the one of a child’s head in profile engraved with “Danny.” Madam Déstin looked into Maggie’s eyes and said, “Your son will be blessed with great vision and prosperity in the future.” Maggie smiled, reminded of the scene when Professor Marvel found the picture of Auntie Em in Dorothy’s basket.
Chuckling, she said, “Really? That’s nice. Actually, I wanted to know if I will find a good man and fall in love.”
Madam Déstin’s smile remained unchanged. “And,” she said. “You will meet a good man to love. The pieces of your life’s puzzle will come together.”
Maggie shook her head at the memory. She was coming up fast on the car in front of her. She checked her blind spot and hit the left blinker. Some fortune teller that Madam Déstin turned out to be. She snorted bitterly as she moved into the left lane. Of course Madam Déstin didn’t foretell Danny’s accident. How could she? Nobody can see the future. She scowled at herself for believing -- hoping – that a fraud could actually predict a new love affair. She furrowed her brows. It didn’t matter. Danny was her future, and the only love she needed.
With this thought, she moved alongside the slower car. It took a moment for her to register that the long, dark vehicle was a hearse. She increased her speed, uneasy in the other car’s blind spot. When they were neck and neck she glanced over. The chauffeur was looking at her, and smiling. She pushed her foot down on the pedal and shot past, avoiding the rearview mirror.
Finally she reached Exit 34, and new waves of panic rocked her composure. She began to whisper a pleading mantra, “He’s going to be alright,” as she sped through the surface streets surrounding the hospital campus. A car was leaving a parking spot right at the Emergency Room entrance. It seemed like a good sign, and as she pulled in she felt hopeful for the first time that afternoon.
The walk from the car to the ER desk was short, but Maggie was out of breath when she reached it. The nurse directed her to Danny’s examination room.
Gary stood when Maggie burst through the door. “You made it!” She was annoyed that he sounded surprised.
“Mommy!” Danny was perched on the gurney, his eyes smiling and arms reached out for her. She hugged him, aware of how small and warm his body felt, noticed how she could feel his heart beating as she embraced him. Her tears spilled over his soft, brown curls. She wondered if her heart would split from both the relief and love she felt in that moment.
He squirmed and she realized how tightly she was holding him. Pulling back, she looked him over, searching for signs of injuries. He was dressed in small hospital scrubs with the Bedford Regional logo on the pocket. “Look at you, bud,” she exclaimed through her tears. “You look just like a doctor!”
“Yup!” Danny grinned. “This is going to be how I dress when I am a doctor.” Everyone laughed at the pride and confidence in his childish voice. Maggie looked around the room, noticing a physician and nurse for the first time.
The doctor leaned close to Danny. “You know, I was about your age when I decided to be a doctor. You remind me of myself.” He ruffled Danny’s hair. “You even look like I did when I was a boy!” Danny beamed. Maggie noticed Danny sit up a little taller on the bed. She smiled, and met the doctor’s eyes.
“Dr. Matthews, by the way.” He offered his hand, and she shook it. “I was called down from Pediatrics to take a look at Danny. Your son is quite a guy. It has been a pleasure to meet him.”
“Hey bud, what do you say we go check out that kids’ play room down the hall, and let your mom talk to Dr. Matthews?”
“Ok, Dad,” Danny said as Gary lifted him to the floor. Danny hugged his mother again.
Maggie waited until they had left, then asked, “What happened to him? Did he fall playing the party games, or get hurt on the swing set? What?”
“Ms. Jonas, there was an electrical storm in the area –“
“Oh God,” Maggie whispered. There didn’t seem to be enough air in the room to breathe.
He continued, “Apparently no one saw it happen, but there was a huge crash of thunder –“
The color drained out of Maggie’s face. “Are you telling me Danny was struck by lightening?” she whispered. She swayed and Dr. Matthews grabbed her elbow to steady her. His hand felt warm; his touch centered her.
He waited until she made eye contact again before going on. “But he appears fine. I’ve personally never seen anything like it. When they brought him in, his cloths were in shreds, his sneakers were scorched. Somehow, he didn’t get a scratch. It’s a miracle, really.”
“What--? How?” Maggie sputtered.
“The current from the lightning strike passed over the surface of his body. It’s a process called ‘external flashover’, but it rarely leaves the victim injury free. I’d like to keep an eye on him over the next six months, for any residual effects. Neuropsychiatric, vision or hearing effects can develop slowly, only becoming apparent later. But for now, he is free to go home.”
Maggie’s dazed expression remained fixed on Dr. Matthews' face, but she was looking inward, searching for understanding, grappling with the truth. Her stupor was broken when Danny burst back into the room.
“Come play with me, Mommy! Dad has to go.”
Gary stuck his head in the doorway. “I’ve got to run, Maggie. Lindsay’s waiting on me.”
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Thanks for getting here so quick, and being there for Danny.”
Gary smirked and gave the door jamb an open palmed slap in response; he disappeared into the hall.
“Mommy, come on! They have a gy-normo Lego table!”
“Sorry, but we’ve got to get you home, bud. You’ve had quite a day.”
“No Mom! I don’t want to sit in the car for hours. Besides, I’m starving. I didn’t get to have cake and ice cream!” His pout was sweet and comical.
“It doesn’t take hours to get to Kanston, silly.”
Dr. Matthews glanced at his watch. “Listen, I have about 20 minutes before I have to be back in Pediatrics for rounds. How about we go upstairs and I buy you two some ice cream in the hospital cafeteria? Unless you’d rather have green jello?” Danny's wrinkled nose was answer enough.
The winds of fear had dissipated, and in their wake Maggie was swept up by a buoyant mood as they made their way from the ER to the lobby elevators. She embraced the high that followed on the heels of the fear that had pinched her heart. It was like she’d woken up from a bad dream, one that had tossed her fragile life around with the force of a cyclone.
When they crossed the lobby, two women entered the hospital’s main doors. As the women passed Maggie, she heard one say, “I thought I’d never get here. The interstate is a parking lot. It felt like I was in the car for hours.” Maggie stopped walking and turned, her wide-eyed gaze followed the women down the hall.
“Mommy, it’s here!” Danny called from the small crowd in front of the open elevator doors. Maggie shook her head, and turned toward her son. He was standing next to Dr. Matthews in the elevator, holding his hand. Dr. Matthews' other hand was holding the doors from closing. “Are you coming?” he asked with a smile.
Maggie walked into the elevator, a bewildered stare fixed on Danny. He smiled up at her and offered her his free hand. As his small hand slipped into her grasp and the doors slid shut, Danny said, “Here we go.”
(WC - 2,559)