Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why not here first?

The boardwalk is hot even though it’s after eight o’clock at night. No breeze ripples in from the ocean to cool the sand or the crowds. Young people happily jostle on the amusement rides as the machinery flings them into neon glare and false breezes.

Overstuffed men in tacky shirts walk with their mates; thry quickly attempt to pull in their drooping guts when a cute young girl catches their eye. As if the girl would give them a look if they have washboard abs. Their wives with ballooning butts are either busy licking a dripping ice cream cone or carrying fistfuls of napkins for the grandchildren.

Jimmy squires Suzy as if he owns the boardwalk. She laughs at his clever words and marvels at his biceps, not knowing why she finds them attractive. Her sunburned shoulders hurt.

They stop in front of Madame Z’s booth. Madame Z owns this end of the boardwalk and tells fortunes from her small piece of her universe. Her surroundings reflect no large investment, maybe she knows something about her future. She stares at the passing people having seen them for twenty summers. “You’ll get older, you’ll get fatter, you won’t find happiness but you’ll fool yourself into believing you have. You’ll die.” She takes notice that Jimmy is staring at her and the girl is whispering in his ear.

“How much?” the young man approaches.

Madame Z sits up straight and knows exactly how much money he has in his pocket and what he wants. Her eyes watch the hand, possessive, around the girl’s waist.

“Ten dollars. But I only tell you the truth that you can handle.”

The girl giggles and grabs his hand pulling him toward Madame Z. “Let’s do it.”

“If it’s air-conditioned inside.” He looks at the glass door behind Madame Z.

“Of course. Come in.” The girl leads the way. As Jimmy passes, she whispers to him, “I’ll give you a deal. Both of you fifteen dollars.” The door closes and they are enveloped in dim light and cold air. In the back an air conditioner grinds to turn the sea air cool.

Madame Z motions to the round table covered by a purple shroud. “Sit.” She sits on the other side where she can watch through the door for new customers.

“You want your fortunes.” She says in a hiss.

“Well, duh?” Suzy laughs thinking this is a most absurd question from a fortune teller.

Madame Z’s silent stare stifles Suzy’s laugh. She waves her hands over the glass globe. “And so you shall know the future.”

Suzy watches. She’s holding Jimmy’s hand hard under the table. He tries to pull it into his lap but she rsists. “Does the ball light up.” Suzy asks looking at Madame Z.

“It never has before. Maybe it will for you tonight.” Madame Z quips. “Shhhhhhhhh. I see you.” Her hand rises and points right at Suzy.

Jimmy looks at Suzy. He wishes her breasts were bigger.

“You are a mother.”

“No I’m not.”

“You will be soon.” Madame Z squints at the young girl. “Very soon.”

“Oh shit.” Suzy exhales the words. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Madame Z never makes jokes about the future.”

“Who’s the father.” Suzy looks at Jimmy.

“You know that. I don’t need to tell you.”

“I can’t be. I’m using birth control.” Suzy is fast losing control. She whips her head toward Jimmy.

“I didn’t say you are right at this moment. I’m looking at you in the future. It is closer than you think.”

“That’s not fair.” Suzy whimpers.

“What about me?” Jimmy doesn’t want to know. Maybe she will say he is the father. He doesn’t want that either.

“You? You will be hurt on a bus.”

“Damn. I ain’t gonna ever ride a bus again. How about her?” He points at Suzy.

“She’s not on the bus.”

“Good.” Suzy mutters. “Thank God for small miracles.”

“Naw, the kid. You know.” Billy cuts his eyes to Suzy’s tummy.

"You have nothing to fear from that. You have greater worries.”

“What do ya mean?”

Just then the air conditioner rattles like a thousand freight trains and stops chugging. The air immediately turns hot.

“You can’t change the future. All you can do is face it.” Madame Z stands.

“Whatever.” Jimmy hands Madame Z some folded money positive he’s pulled one on her by folding up a couple of dollar bills. “Let’s get outta here.”

“Yeah. She’s crazy. She can’t tell the future.” Suzy flashes her smile at Jimmy.

When they are gone Madame Z leans down and plugs the machine cord in. Her foot pulled it loose. There is no need to look at the money. She knows Jimmy hands her more than he intends. He gave her two tens. Next year, Suzy will be trolling the boardwalk- with a baby stroller- for a new boyfriend. Jimmy will be dead, killed by a hand grenade on a bus in Vietnam. Telling fortunes isn’t that hard.

Madame Z looks out at the people on the boardwalk. People are so predictable. They just don’t believe it.