This is a revamp of a previous short story idea that I had once, entitled “Read For Me”, revamped for Chuck Wendig’s most recent Flash Fiction challenge. The idea is 1000 words or under in the present tense. So here it is!
Read For Me
by: Shoshana Kessock
“I want you to read for me.”
The man sits down across from me and blocks out the cold breeze from the open door. Snow streams down the stairs and into the cafe. I wonder if the little fountain in the window will freeze solid or keep streaming. The man is large enough to block out the chill, the wind, the snow. He makes the chair creak.
“Did you come all this way for a reading?” I ask.
“How do you know how far I’ve come?” His eyes grow wide. “You saw it. I thought you needed cards for that.”
I shake my head and say nothing. Should I tell him that his shoes bear the signs of a long walk in the bad weather? They are caked with slush, the leather expensive and impractical. His jacket is the same way. This is a man not used to walking in weather like this. I imagine a town car, then spot his watch and upgrade him to a limosene.
“I don’t always need the cards,” I reply finally. They lay on the zebra-striped tabletop between us, just beside the little red lamp and a glass of merlot. I put a hand on them, then look up to catch the man’s eyes. They’re small, beady, and set over bags that could charitably be called matched luggage. Either he is genetically cursed or else he does not sleep. “You still want me to read them, though.” I don’t need a gift to see that he’s desperate.
He nods and when he does, his jowls flap. “I was told you’re the best.” He reaches for his wallet inside his suit pocket and fumbles. I see fifties beside a row of twenties deeper than my thumbnail. “I’m prepared-”
“I can see that.” Whatever he wants is serious and I frown. “Why? Something serious, isn’t it? Something-”
Suddenly I don’t like it, or him. I want him to go away. The instinct cuts through me and I rub the back of my neck. It’s a tell gesture, I know, for nervousness. I long ago learned to block them out but he drives me to it. His need, in his eyes, drives me near the edge of fear.
My fingers stroke the top card. I pick it up.
The Tower. It would be the Tower. I drop the card again, face down, and fight the urge to bury my face in my hands.
“Something real,” I say, “this isn’t just something foolish. This is something real.”
The man nods and I see beyond the jowls, beyond the suit. The clues are there for those who look. Some people come to me for nothing, for the end of their marriage or the beginning of a relationship. Some people want a roadmap to the next step of their happiness. This man wants a roadmap back to something to live for because he has lost it along the way.
Lost it or it was taken.
“It’s my daughter,” he replies. His voice is a hoarse croak. “She’s disappeared.”
And I know I will help him. I know it is the only proper thing to do and know I will lose time, lose hours, lose more. In the way I know things, I know I could lose everything.
I flip over the top card again. The Tower stares up at me.
In a moment I see it all. I see the axis of my life shift, see the fulcrum that is this man’s child change the fabric of my days to come.
I see myself buried elbow-deep in snow, see myself at the edge of a small quay in chilly sunlight with my bare feet in the water. I see beautiful curls that lie in a porcelain sink and a Bible, thick as my wrist. I see pants on the floor big as a circus tent and a teddy bear beside them, and I feel vomit rise in my throat. I see a steak knife, a dinner plate, and a perfect dish of ravioli. I smell Vicks Vapor Rub and camphor and hear the rattle of old person breathes.
All these things I see and think: all the kings horses and all the kings men.
The Tower means change and destruction. It means an oft violent shift. It means the tearing down of the old to the new. And this man does not know that. He doesn’t understand that the card I pull is not for him but for me. This story will not be his, or even his daughters. This moment is the breeze that blows me onward.
I look around at the cafe around me and want to take it with me. I like the zebra tables, the red little lamps, and the glasses of wine at all hours. I like their tea that tastes like comfortable elderly relatives and warm and their funny waiters, all with their dreams of New York lives. And in the way I know things, I know I will not be back after tonight.
I call myself stupid and drain my wine glass. Then I flip over more cards with practiced, nimble fingers.
I don’t look up but inside, I say goodbye.
“Put your money away,” I say, “and let’s begin.”