Elderberry Jones had been cursed by a gypsy. When her mother was 18 she got drunk at a carnival and broke the fortune teller’s crystal ball. It was an accident but the fortune teller didn’t see it that way. She was a bona fide gypsy, rearing up like a wild dog and telling Elderberry’s mother that her future was fragmented, cloudy, full of doubts. She cursed her saying that she and anyone of her bloodline would never know true love. Never.
Elderberry wasn’t sure she believed in curses. But her mother did. She carried herself through life with a sense of morbid realism. Without true love life loses its lustre, she was fond of saying. Among other things. She had an entire stable of quotes regarding what life meant without love.
The way Elderberry looked at it if you believed something was going to happen, then it would. The converse was also true. If you didn’t believe in something then it had no power over you.
She saw what the belief in the curse had done to her mother. She went through men like cheap sneakers, having no faith at all that even one of her relationships would work out. Elderberry didn’t know who her father was. She didn’t even know his name.
In some ways her mother used the curse as a crutch – it was her heroin or her bourbon at five in the morning – stopping her from reaching her full potential.
There was a martyrdom to the way Elderberry’s mother chose men she knew it wouldn’t work out with. As if she was trying to prove it was preordained.
Elderberry herself had no time for love. It just seemed to cause so many problems when you gave your heart to someone. And then there was the curse to consider. If things didn’t work out between Elderberry and her love her mother would blame the curse. And its power would linger.
In spite of her pronouncement that she had no time for love Elderberry liked someone. He was in her acting class and wrote the most amazing monologues. Jinks was his name. Elderberry thought she had begun to like him because his name was as unusual as hers. They shared a history of mortification and embarrassment at the hands of their whimsical parents.
Jinks lived with his grandmother. Elderberry was meeting her for the first time that evening. She didn’t tell her mother she was having dinner at a boy’s place; her mother would just wring her hands and jump to all sorts of wrong conclusions. It wasn’t worth it. Besides, Elderberry wasn’t quite ready to admit to herself that having dinner at a boy’s place might mean there was something between them. That there was more involved than just liking him.
The house was in a nice part of town. It had grown windy and to calm her nerves Elderberry watched as the trees bent like supplicants, scattering berries and leaves on the road.
Jinks’ house was at the end of the street. An enormous wrought iron gate stood before it, patterned with moons and stars. Elderberry pushed it open. It creaked at her touch.
Jinks ran down the pathway to meet her, hugging her tightly. My grandmother can’t wait to meet you, he said. Elderberry hoped she didn’t end up disappointing Jinks or his grandmother. She hoped her mother’s negativity hadn’t rubbed off on her.
The house was beautifully furnished, almost opulent. Jinks led Elderberry into a small room off the main hallway. It had deep leather chairs and silk curtains. A crystal ball sat on a small side table. Elderberry thought her nerves were getting the better of her because she could have sworn she saw something swirl inside it.
Jinks’ grandmother was sitting next to the small side table. The room smelled of dried herbs gone stale. She held out wrinkled fingers covered in heavy rings. Aaaah, this must be the girl who has stolen my grandson’s heart, she said. Elderberry saw something else move inside the crystal ball. She took Jink’s grandmother’s hands.
I know you, his grandmother said after a few moments. I know you.
We’ve never met, Elderberry said.
The crystal ball was swirling. Sparks flew from it, landing on the persian rug that had hundreds of men on flying carpets lining its edges.
Jinks’ grandmother narrowed her eyes. There is something about you. What is it?
I-I- don’t know, Elderberry said.
The crystal ball was full of red clouds.
Do you have the power? Jinks’ grandmother asked, looking at the crystal ball.
No. No. I have nothing. Elderberry wanted to run right out of that room and into the wind so she could rid herself of the constant questions, the stifling smell of old herbs and the sight of the crystal ball.
You are touched, said the grandmother. I can see it.
Elderberry fought the fear that was rising from the floor. She thought of the trees so proud and noble, pushed down by the relentless power of the wind.
Grandmother, are you saying Elderberry is cursed? Jinks was laughing. You promised me no mumbo jumbo tonight. Look at her face, you’re scaring her.
Are you scared, girl? asked the grandmother.
Curses aren’t real, said Elderberry. They’re just made up to scare people, to make them give up on the things that will bring them joy.
And then it all came pouring out. The years, the endless days and nights of watching her mother battle with her growing sense of hopelessness; her fear that not only was the curse destroying her mother’s chances for true love, but her prospects of true life. And Elderberry’s silent screaming at the skies night after night that such a thing could be possible, the very real power to destroy the heart of another.
The room fell silent. Jinks’ grandmother’s eyes were full of tears.
I was a vengeful fool in those days, she said. I could not forgive even the smallest of slights.
What do you mean? asked Jinks.
It was I who cursed Elderberry’s mother all those years ago. It was I who threw her into the wilderness without the chance of finding light. It was I who quenched her soaring spirit.
The grandmother bowed her head. Her rings clicked together as her fingers worked at the air.
The crystal ball was dull as unpolished stone. The wind had died down.
The curse is broken, said the grandmother. You are free to live your life as you choose.
The night was crisp and full of stars. Elderberry and Jinks walked hand in hand. There was a lightness in the air the way a heart feels when worries have been banished.
I didn’t believe in love before, Elderberry said. I didn’t let myself. But now…
Jinks intercepted her thought. Now you think it could happen to you, he said.
They walked for hours through the mulberry dark following the stars that stretched before them like lights on a highway. Elderberry allowed herself to believe. Hope sliced. A pocket knife cutting a path with clean lines to the future.
*Inspired by Geraldine’s Movie Musings prompt – It Could Happen To You.