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.