Three Fortunes

You will never really know your mother

Your children will not wake

The rose will fill the heart

Those three fortunes had shaped Cara’s life. They had been told by the same woman at different times. Each time Cara had forgotten about the previous time only to be reminded by the singsong quality of the fortune tellers voice who was otherwise quite forgettable save for her pronounced nondescript appearance.

Cara didn’t like fortunes. They were usually so cryptic and mysterious that they led to endless worrying. And they were often just generic fortunes along the lines of you will meet a tall, dark handsome man. Or you will travel over water.

The first fortune had turned out to be true. Cara had been told it when she was sixteen. It took her aback, pounding across the little card table the fortune teller had covered with a dirty tea towel that said Somethin’s cookin’. Cara remembered the tea towel because she hated words with the ‘g’ left off. It annoyed her.

You will never really know your mother

It couldn’t be true that someone could know that. A stranger. Cara remembered looking out the door of the fortune teller’s booth where a frayed curtain dragged lines on the dusty ground to see if someone, anyone she knew was there; to see if they had told the fortune teller about her life beforehand.

But there was no one there.

Cara’s mother was a drunk. Cara couldn’t be bothered to call her an alcoholic, there was something apologetic about being an alcoholic, as if you couldn’t help it; but there was nothing apologetic about being a drunk.

Cara learned the meaning of the word morose when her mother drank. She looked like Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, dressing in vintage negligees and fussing about with those old-fashioned perfume bottles. In reality she was more like Paul Newman’s Brick with her gloom-coloured glasses and back to back martinis.

I don’t want to live  in this world, she’d say after the fifth martini. Or the tenth. I am constantly misunderstood.

Cara took the first fortune as prophecy and left home as soon as she finished school. She had her entire life packed in two backpacks. At the end of the driveway she looked back hoping to catch a glimpse of her mother at the window, but the curtains were drawn.

Cara had been married to Jeff for five years when she encountered the second fortune. Jeff came from a well-to-do family, a large family. On their wedding night he had talked about starting a family, he had talked about it every day since then, but Cara had been unable to fall pregnant.

There was a fortune teller in the bookstore on Friday afternoons and on a whim Cara sat down at her small table bedecked with a tea towel that read Stirrin’ the sauce. Cara brushed aside the momentary annoyance she felt at the ‘g’ being left off and listened to the woman who was remarkably nondescript.

Your children will not wake

At first Cara scoffed at the stupidity of the fortune. She had no children to wake. The woman didn’t know what she was talking about. It wasn’t until she sat in her fertility specialist’s office that afternoon and he talked about her problem being as if her ovaries were asleep that the fortune made sense. Her children would not wake into being. Her children would never be born.

Cara would refer to it afterwards as the day of days. On that day she received three pieces of news. That Jeff had filed for divorce. That he had met someone else who was actually pregnant. And that her mother had died.

Cara stood in the nursery she had decorated herself and wept. Teddy bears clutching balloons gaped at her from every angle. Blasted bears were so pleased with themselves because they had a stinking balloon. She wished the balloons would carry them off and drop them on jagged rocks.

No one came to her mother’s funeral. It was just her, the minister and a coffin.  There was another funeral taking place nearby with what appeared to be hundreds of people. Car after car pulled up. People gathered like ants.

Cara felt her spine stiffen. Ashamed this was all there was for her mother.

Her mother’s house contained little furniture. It seemed she had been selling it off for years to keep her in gin. She left Cara a note as if she had known she was going to die, stuck to the kitchen bench with a band aid that read : The house is yours. The rose bush too. Happy gardenin’.

Typical, Cara thought. Even her mother had succumbed to the trend of dropping ‘gs’. She had never seen a single flower in her mother’s garden. Let alone a rose bush. It was probably dead under the tangle of weeds.

Cara considered selling the house, but it had no mortgage and a favourable aspect. She thought she would use the money Jeff had given her in the divorce to fix it up, buy some furniture, and maybe, just maybe, face up to the sins of the past.

She found the rose bush on a day where the sun covered the garden like a gentle hand, where the birds chirruped and dived for grass seeds. Ivy and jasmine had it by the throat almost cutting the life off. Cara chopped and sawed and cursed and eventually it stood free. It was a pathetic, wisened crone, leaning to one side in the dirt. Her neighbour heard her struggles and called over the fence : You’ll want some help with that. My son is a gardener. I’ll send him round the next time he visits me. I think it’s a rare rose, that one. Haven’t seen it bloom for years.

Cara wasn’t happy about her elderly neighbour’s son sticking his nose in. Rare rose? What a joke. The only thing rare about it was that it had survived for so long.

Jake was forty. His wife had died two years ago leaving him to raise their daughter on his own. Stella was four and the sweetest of little girls. She liked fairies and daisy chains. She couldn’t stand bears with balloons.

The rose bush was rare. A Comtesse Cecile de Chabrillant. Under Jake’s tender care it was beginning to bloom. The petals were shaped like shells. Rose pink. A soft fragrance, reminiscent of the perfume her mother sprayed in her fancy bottles was filling the garden, filling Cara’s heart.

While shopping for dinner Cara came across a market stall in the street raising money for charity. A fortune teller sat at a small table covered with a tea towel that said Family Tea Time. Cara sat down. She didn’t recognise the fortune teller; her features really were ill-defined, but she knew her voice as well as she knew her own. Are you the same fortune teller who told my other two fortunes? Cara asked. It has to be you.

The rose will fill the heart.

The fortune teller spoke then got up and walked away. Wait, Cara said. There has to be more. Tell me what you mean. Is this a bad fortune or a good one? I have to know.

Cara drove home. As soon as she opened the back door her mother’s scent filled the air. The rose bush stood, restored. Resolute, the way her mother would have been if drink hadn’t claimed her.

Stella had left her skipping rope on the grass. It sparkled and weaved like a snake made from rainbows.

A knock sounded at the door. Excited voices called her name. It was Jake and Stella holding cakes and DVDs, smiling like they belonged to her.

Just in time for dinner.

* With thanks to Gabrielle for the inspiration.

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19 thoughts on “Three Fortunes

  1. That is such a moving story – brought a tear to my eye – but nice resolution at the end (thank goodness). You are so right about the word drunk compared to alcoholic – it really says it how it is (no point soft footing about). I like the way at the mothers funeral, there is another one going on that is full of people – just to really slam home the devastation. Just an editorial suggestion – that 2nd line (first para) is a bit too long (maybe split into 2 sentences). I am glad I inspired you to write this tale of survival.

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  2. Hi GABRIELLE:
    You’re right about that line. Good Lord. What was I thinking? It ‘s so long-winded anyone would think a politician had written it. Talk about verbose. I really like it when anyone edits me because as we all know it can be hard to edit ourselves. So, cheers. And thank you so much again for the inspiration. You are awesome.

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  3. Mmmmm…. had me wondering how you were going to tie it all in – great hook! I’m always amazed by your knowledge of botany. I guess that’s why I never write anything about plants in my stuff – I know nothing. Seriously, if a good gardner has a green thumb and a bad one has a brown thumb, I’ve got a black oozing thumb!

    I love the line about dropping the “g” – brilliant. 😀

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  4. Oh my goodness. I was sooo sad for Cara the whole time I read this. But when Jake and Stella come to her door at the end, I actually filled with hope of ‘Happy ever after” and I almost cried! EXCELLENT story Selma! Just awesome!!

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  5. Beautiful – you should really submit this in a short story competition – in addition to winning the first prize you will probably inspire people not to give up hope, that there is a silver lining under every cloud, and that every dog has its day!

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  6. Oh I absolutely love this! I agree: what a fantastic opening.

    I wondered for a bit if the mother was moonlighting as the fortune teller with the dropped g thing, or if there was some connection there. But I think that’s just my brain being odd and reading into it.

    You probably don’t want to be this direct but I thought a nice touch might be that the final tea towel and closing line matched, eg the towel says “time for dinner” or the final line has “tea” instead of “dinner”. Too obvious?

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  7. The fortune teller is a lovely touch. I met one once, and am still trying to work out what he meant by

    ‘You will never meet her, but a dark-haired woman called Catherine will change your life forever’

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  8. Well done Selma, great story! I love the fortune teller basis for it – because whether we believe in them or not, we can always find meaning in the themes they draw out. And I think most of us have running themes that stick with us. And I love the “dropping the ‘g’ aspect too.

    Is it okay if I put on my writing teacher hat on and offer one small suggestion that can make a big impact? (I spend so much time in writers’ workshops it’s natural for me to open my big mouth about writerly strategies.)

    Go through the story and look for the word “had” – particularly as you have used it in a “past perfect tense.” (I really only remember the grammar terminology because I taught ESL for a few years, haha!)

    Anyway, many writers fall on the use of the “had” or “had been” form – and often it’s entirely appropriate. But sometimes it’s not necessary, and overuse of it can weigh down sentences and reduce the impact of what they’re saying.

    For example, look at the sentence “those three fortunes had shaped Cara’s life.” The past present tense form means something happened in the past and the event it is now complete. At the end of the story, Cara’s life is not complete, in fact the final fortune is still shaping it really. Also – if you take the “had” out of the sentence, it makes the idea more impactful:

    “Those three fortunes shaped Cara’s life.”

    Bam – big idea. And it brings her life back into the present, and bringing a story into the present makes it livelier – or “sparkle” as some writers like to say.

    Some of your past perfect uses are entirely appropriate, such as “Cara had been married to Jeff for five years when…” In this example, the being married for five years is complete and in the past, so it works.

    Does that make sense?

    Really – I enjoyed it. With the setup at the beginning (re: three fortunes) I read on in anticipation of finding out how they manifested. And was happy to know things worked out for Cara – I somehow knew they would when she decided to keep the house.

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  9. Hi TEX:
    I don’t know as much about botany as some friends of mine as well as my Mum. They know everything. I learnt about roses because a former neighbour of mine used to grow them. I used to enjoy hearing her talking about them and she really filled me in on a lot. However, I don’t think I’d be too good at growing them. They are very tricky. Glad you liked the story.

    Hi MELEAH:
    Cara did have a bit of a hard time of it. It is nice to have a happy ending. I am really delighted you enjoyed it.

    Hi SLAMDUNK:
    Thanks so much. I really appreciate your comment!

    Hi TOBE ME:
    I was thinking about doing that. With a few tweaks here and there it might scrub up OK. Thanks so much.

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  10. Hi MANOJ:
    You are lovely. Your comment means a lot to me!

    Hi DAOINE:
    I really like that. It could have been the mother who was the fortune teller. What an interesting touch. It’s funny you should mention about the final tea towel because I wasn’t really happy with it. I thought of saying ‘Tea For Two’ but then I realised there was a child as well. I like your suggestion a lot. Cheers!

    Hi PUNATIK:
    We need more happy endings and not just the massage therapist kind (if you know what I mean). 😉 A feelgood story often cheers me up. I’m really pleased you liked it!

    Hi TRAVELRAT:
    That is so intriguing. Do you have a generous benefactress somewhere you don’t know about? Now you’ve got me thinking….

    Hi JENNIFER:
    What a wonderful comment. Your suggestions are all fantastic. More than that, though, thank you for taking the time to make such a helpful comment. You are so generous.

    I don’t know why but I do have trouble with tenses sometimes. It often trips me up. Your point about ‘had’ is spot on. I am guilty of doing that. I really appreciate your input 😀

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  11. Aww – I still think I’m a bit of a jerk for posting unsolicited feedback on your story. I’m glad you received it in the spirit in which it was sent. I do runneth off at the keyboard sometimes.

    And I wouldn’t say it’s a “trouble with tense.” That’s the sort of thing you approach in subsequent revisions.

    It really is a good story.
    x

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  12. Hi JENNIFER:
    Please, you could never be a jerk. I welcome any constructive feedback because the name of the game is becoming a better writer. I appreciate you taking the time to help me out. As you know it can be hard to maintain the distance from a story that is necessary to edit it properly. More than that, I value your opinion. So, thank you XX

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  13. What a wonderful story, Sel. I couldn’t be bothered by the fact that I’m at work right now (shhh), I was too engrossed. No one spins a tale quite like you!!

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  14. Hi STEPH:
    It tickles me that you are reading it at work. That is awesome. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl passing notes behind the teacher’s back. So cool!

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  15. What a lovely story Sel and I was so glad it had a happy ending. It just goes to prove we never know who is going to come into our life or when, but it is usually at a time we least expect it. Jake and Stella sound just like what Cara needed and perhaps they needed her just as much.

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  16. Hi GYPSY:
    So glad you liked the story. That means a lot to me. I need stories with happy endings at the moment. Makes me feel a bit more cheery 😀

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