November 3, 2016

Fiction by Pat Tyrer: "Mrs. Bash's Predictions"

Pat Tyrer is a Professor of English at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas where she teaches Creative Writing, Technical Communication, and American Literature. She is a writer and lover of literature who hikes Palo Duro Canyon watching birds when the sun is up and star gazing when it’s not. She writes and publishes poetry, essays, and short fiction.

Mrs. Bash’s Predictions

When I was seventeen I went to a psychic. She lived in a ramshackle house on the poorer side of town, within walking distance of the river where the homeless set up temporary houses out of cardboard. There were so many shopping carts parked along the river, it looked like the parking lot at Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve. Whenever some big event happened in town that brought in visitors, the police would remove the temporary housing, arrest all the homeless on vagrancy or public drunkenness charges, and put them in jail until the visitors left town. But that’s a different story.
Mrs. Bash used a deck of Bicycle playing cards to read my fortune. The deck was old and soiled with most of the cards having bent corners. I suspected it hadn’t been a complete deck for a number of years. Her house was tiny with a scratchy, red-wool couch on which Mrs. Bash sat, taking up most of the middle and weighing down the center with each end raised slightly higher.
“Grab a chair from the kitchen,” she said on that first visit. “And make yourself to home,” she continued—something I could not possibly do considering the dirt, the cats, and the odor of dirty dishes, but I got the chair. Like everything else in Mrs. Bash’s house, the chair was already occupied by two cats who I displaced by tilting it until they jumped to the floor. I carried it to the living room and sat it in front of the coffee table and Mrs. Bash.
“Do I pay you now?” I asked. Without answering, she took an old cigar box from under the coffee table and opened it, motioning for me to add my ten dollars to the slim stack of bills already in the box. Then with one sweep of her large pink hand, she swept away all the newspapers, ashtrays, and cats that had settled on the coffee table and began laying the cards out one by one as she read my fortune.
“Jack of Spades,” she said slapping the card down. “You meet a tall, handsome man with black hair and blue eyes. He love you more than you love him, but it end badly.”
“Badly?” I asked, and before I could continue, somewhat alarmed, she hushed me and continuing slapping down the cards.
“Ten of Spades. This man,” she continued. “this man you know already. Maybe from school or from,” she hesitated. “you go to church?”
“Yes,” I began, “but…”
“Church,” she declared. “this man from church.” She slapped down another card. “The two of diamonds—luck, maybe money, not much money. Don’t get excited,” she warned. “Four of spades—bad card; bring you no luck with that one. Queen of Hearts, you see,” she exclaimed, “love for you with church man.”
“I’ve never met anyone I liked at church,” I protested.
“Six of diamonds; little luck, maybe,” she continued ignoring my comments, “ten of clubs; now we get real lucky, maybe find true love. Eight of clubs, maybe trip. You like travel?” she asked.
“Why yes, I guess, but…”
“Good; I see trip to far place” she said, slapping down the nine of diamonds, “maybe win trip—diamonds good money cards,” she said, turning over another diamond, the six. “Trip for sure,” she assured me. “That’s all.”
“What’d mean, that’s all? That’s not the whole deck,” I argued.
“Ten dollars, ten cards,” she said. “Tell you what. For you, first-time special. Cut the deck. Go on, cut, anywhere you like.
I did as I was told and cut the deck revealing the ace of hearts.
“See?” Mrs. Bash fairly shreiked, “you lucky in love.”
As I returned the chair to the kitchen, Mrs. Bash offered me a kitten. I declined.
# # #
On my second visit to Mrs. Bash, she had a houseful of new kittens, again. It was July and hot and the house was full of tiny baby kittens covered in fleas. I asked Mrs. Bash if those kittens shouldn’t get dusted for fleas, but she said God took care of the helpless. I didn’t think he was doing such a good job with Mrs. Bash, but I didn’t say so. Even with the fleas, I paid Mrs. Bash ten dollars and got my reading. The night of the kittens, she told me that I would marry the boy I was in love with and have three children, but that I’d have a “grand adventure” before I married.
In addition to the tiny flea balls there was a terrible thunder storm that evening and her house was even more humid and foul than usual. Half way through my reading, we heard a lightening crack and the lights went out. Mrs. Bash didn’t have a flashlight, so I lit matches one right after another so Mrs. Bash could finish telling me that I’d go to college and be an English teacher one day. The smell of sulfur was overpowering, but at least it covered the smell of garbage and cat doings. Of course, Mrs. Bash was wrong about my going to college and falling in love. Instead, immediately after graduation I boarded a Greyhound bus to California to spend the rest of the summer with my Aunt Ruth in Pasadena. I was at least going to have a grand adventure. By October, I was two months pregnant and still living with Aunt Ruth. Wesley, my-to-die-for lifeguard, was long gone, and I was on my own.
It’s been two years since I’ve been home to visit. The baby is nearly eighteen months old and pretty cute. Coming back wasn’t going to be easy, but my parents had long since gotten over the “disappointment” and were ready to be grandparents. I had decided that the one stop I had to make was to visit Mrs. Bash.
As I stood in front of the wooden screen door at Mrs. Bash’s, I was reminded of the many predictions she’d made and how none of them came true. In fact, the predictions were so far off the mark that I might have made better use of them had I done exactly the opposite of what she’d predicted. After a few more minutes I knocked again fearing perhaps that Mrs. Bash had told her last fortune since I’d been away. When the cats began scratching on the screen I knew that Mrs. Bash couldn’t be far behind. As a figure approached the door, I recognized her amid the flurry of kittens. Her housecoat was loose and her chubby face had morphed into hanging jowels and sunkened eyes.
“I was sleep,” she said clearing her throat.
“Sorry,” I muttered. “Should I come back later?”
“Reading?” she asked.
I nodded, holding out the ten dollar bill as my admission ticket.
She swung the door open and shoved the kittens aside with her foot. She was wearing slippers so worn that they might have been a wedding present from fifty years ago. She planted herself in the center of the couch and told me to sit. Understanding our routine, I got a kitchen chair and pulled it up in front of the coffee table.
I noticed that the deck had fewer cards than ever, but since I’d already decided not to take any of Mrs. Bash’s advice, I remained quiet. In fact, my desire to let her know that her predictions were just a con job was slowly fading. Mrs. Bash was clearly not well, nor any better off than she’d been on my last visit, and I was beginning to feel sorry I’d come.
“Queen of Hearts,” she said, slapping down the first card. “You married?”
“You gonna be,” she said and laid another card on the table. “King of Hearts,” she said, “you marry big man, blonde, good looking, like you.”
“Thank you,” I said, surprised by the compliment.
“He white like you,” she said.
“Oh,” I sputtered, “I thought you meant,”
“Five Diamonds” she continued, placing the next card; “you not rich. She slapped down the Eight of Diamonds; maybe not too bad money,” she said. “Jack Clubs, you successful; make difference,” she said.
“Will I have any children?” I interrupted.
“We see,” she said, laying down the 10 of Clubs; “yes, many children, but,” and she paused to lay down another card, “Queen Diamonds, not till you older.”
I smiled to myself remembering my daughter asleep at her grandparents. Mrs. Bash had only reenforced what I already knew—Mrs. Bash was no fortune teller. She worked through the rest of my ten cards, and I placed my ten dollar bill in the old cigar box. As I rose to leave, Mrs. Bash got up from the couch with some difficulty and shuffled back to the bedroom.
“I rest,” she said.
I watched her amble across the small living room, weaving a bit and clearly favoring her left hip. I waited until I heard the creek of the bed as she lay down to rest. I hadn’t told her that all her predictions weren’t even good guesses. Somehow the desire to do so had faded just after she’d opened the screen door. I looked around the living room noticing the cats had returned to rest on the coffee table. The kittens were snuggled together at the end of the couch. I didn’t count them, but from the looks of them, the numbers were at least in the teens. Most were yawling and even from my vantage point a few feet away I could see them scratching at fleas. I spied a cardboard box at the far end of the sofa filled with what appeared to be clean laundry, towels and such. I picked up the box, dumped the laundry on the couch and proceeded to pick up kitten after kitten, dropping them into the empty box. With my box filled with kittens, I left Mrs. Bash’s. I looked up the address of the nearest shelter on my phone as I walked to the car. Putting the box on the back seat, I suddenly smiled to myself realizing that at least one of Mrs. Bash’s predictions were going to come true—I was going to make a difference.

~Pat Tyrer

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