Anthrocide

Anthrocide.net is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Archive for September, 2019

Fond Farewell

Eva had role-played the conversation in her mind a dozen times but that did not make her any less nervous as she steeled herself for the encounter with Joan.

“You’ve got to be more assertive,” her husband Blake kept telling her. “What’s the worst she could do? Fire you? So what? The way she’s abused you it would be all for the best. You could get another job easily and, in the meantime, we can make do on one income.”

That was all true to a point. But prospective employers frowned on candidates that had been fired and, if it came to firing, she was sure Joan would blister her if anyone called for a reference check. It could doom Eva’s career.

Still, Blake had a point. As long as Eva just stood by and took it, nothing would ever change. Joan would continue to demand 60-80 hours per week from her, complain if she ever worked a normal day, and never express satisfaction with Eva’s work no matter how excellent it was.

It had taken all the stealth and courage Eva could muster to apply and accept an interview for an opening at Wesley & Sons. Now she was going to have to take two hours leave for the interview. Joan would grill her big-time but she was determined neither to tell her what she was doing nor to lie about it. Her greatest hope was that she could slip it in so matter-of-factly that Joan would not react. That had about a one percent chance of working.

She took a deep breath and, trying to look casual, sauntered into Joan’s office.

“Joan, I just emailed what I’m pretty certain is the final version of the contract to Davidson. He says he should have it reviewed on his end by tomorrow afternoon.”

“That’s fine,” said Joan without looking up.

Eva swallowed noisily. “Oh, and I have some personal business I need to attend to tomorrow at 10:00. I should be back right after lunch though.”

That got Joan’s attention. “You what?”

“I have to step out for a couple of hours tomorrow morning.”

“To do what?”

“It’s personal.”

“Is this something to do with that kid of yours again?”

“Again?” gasped Eva. “I have only taken one day off for Jordan and two one-hour doctor’s appointments this entire year. That’s only ten hours.”

“You know how many hours I’ve taken off this year? Zero.”

True enough. Eva remembered Joan coughing like her lung was coming up last winter but doggedly refusing to stay home. It was a wonder everyone else in the building was not infected. But, what else would one expect of a thrice divorced workaholic with no family, no social life and, as far as Eva could tell, not a single friend?

“Well,” said Eva, “this has nothing to do with Jordan anyway. Besides, you keep complaining because I’ve got five weeks of vacation accumulated. At least this will make a small dent in it.”

“Yeah, well, too small and poor timing. What if Davidson has questions about that contract tomorrow morning? I’m not willing to risk the entire deal just because of some ‘personal business.’ Request denied.” Joan went back to her paperwork, the signal that Eva was dismissed.

Eva’s lips tightened. “It wasn’t a request, Joan. I’m leaving at ten tomorrow and I’ll be back by one.”

Without looking up Joan said, “If you leave at ten don’t bother coming back; you won’t have a job.”

Eva paused a minute. “I’ll be back at one. If you wish to terminate my employment at that time, well, good luck finishing-up the Davidson contract.”

With that, she turned to leave and Joan called out, “Better hope that interview works out.”

Eva forced herself to just keep walking back to her own office.

It was not unprecedented that Joan would threaten something and then not follow through, so Eva was not certain if her job was on the line or not. Blake said all the right things that night to reassure her, but she was still nervous about it the next day.

The morning went as usual and she left at 10:00 only mentioning it to Carla, the receptionist, as she was leaving. An interviewee can usually tell how an interview is going, and from Eva’s standpoint it went magnificently. She was interviewed by a Mr. Canova and a Ms. Martin, although afterward she could no longer recall which would be her direct supervisor. Either way, they were both very nice, good-humored, and seemed quite impressed with her. Best of all, Ms. Martin had volunteered that the need to work overtime could occur but was fairly rare. Eva did not react outwardly but inside she was rejoicing about the additional time with her family. The interviewers told her they had one more interview that afternoon and would let her know one way or the other no later than Monday afternoon.

She walked into her office at quarter to one and everything appeared to be normal. She stayed there and worked on the Lansford account until an email arrived at 1:30 that required her to go to Joan’s office. She took a thick sheaf of paper with her.

“Joan?”

“Yes?”

“I just got an email from Davidson. They have accepted the contract as is and said if we will get a signed copy to them, they will both send a digitized copy and courier back the original with their signatures on Monday. So, if you will sign here…” She laid the papers in front of Joan.

“Excellent,” mumbled Joan but, as always, the tone suggested she was pleased with the outcome, not that she was complimenting Eva in any way. She signed in all the designated places and started to hand the sheaf to Eva then hesitated. “Have a seat for a moment, Eva.”

Eva sat and her mouth became noticeably dry.

“Eva, I’ve heard the names people around here use to refer to me when they think I’m not nearby; some of them even rhyme. And I’ll admit I’m not the easiest person to work for—or with. But when I first started in this business my boss gave me some advice. He said that, especially as a woman, I could not just let people push me around; I had to push back. Well, he wasn’t quite right. I have learned the hard way that you have to push first if you’re going to survive. So, yes, I do a lot of pushing. And I also know that I’m not very good at expressing thanks or giving pats on the back. I never got them and never needed them. I always felt like employees are hired to do excellent, profitable, mistake-free work, so why should they be congratulated for doing the job they’re paid for?

“Nevertheless, I realize that not everyone has a shell as hard as mine.” Joan’s voice and demeanor softened more than Eva had ever heard it. “You’ve worked here for over four years and you’ve done everything I’ve asked of you, and done it well. In fact, you’re among the best I’ve ever worked with. My suspicion that you have been on a job interview has started me thinking. We are comrades working toward the same goal. There should be some, well, camaraderie between us. More of a spirit of teamwork, y’know? I mean, not that we need to hang out together; you have your family and all, but once in a while maybe… I don’t know… Um…”

“Maybe have lunch together?” suggested Eva.

Joan thought about it for a second. “Yes, that would be a start, I think.”

Eva smiled. “I think that would be fine. It would give us a chance to get away from the office for a bit and maybe talk about something besides work.”

Joan looked introspective. “Sort of like the way I hear you and Carla chatting about clothing sales and TV shows when you think I’m not listening.”

“Joan, employees are workers, yes, but they’re also people. And people are relational creatures who need each other. Everyone needs friends. No one can focus just on all work all the time.” She suddenly realized that might not have been the most appropriate thing to say given that it pretty well summed-up Joan’s life.

There was an awkward pause and Joan held out the contract. “See that these get to Davidson ASAP.”

That weekend Eva thought a lot about her conversation with Joan. It sounded like she had been reaching out, trying in her unaccustomed way to build a relationship with Eva. Kind of sad, she thought. I might be the closest thing to a friend she has in this world, and I scarcely know her and don’t particularly like her. But she decided that she should at least try responding, as an act of kindness.

Monday morning things seemed normal enough. Eva’s only conversation with Joan was that the digitized copy of the contract had arrived and that they would have the original couriered over by 2:00. At noon Eva wondered if today might be a good day to lunch with Joan. But Joan was on a lengthy phone call behind closed doors so Eva ate at her desk and worked through lunch as always. At 2:05 Joan intercepted her as she was returning from the ladies’ room.

“Where’s that contract?”

“On its way, I assume.”

“You assume? Do you know how much money is riding on this? And you’re just going to assume?”

Eva was taken aback. “I’ll call them right now and make sure it’s on its way.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind. You’ll go pick it up in person. Right NOW.”

Eva knitted her brows in confusion. “You want me to drive over to Davidson’s even though the contract may be en route?”

“Drive over, fly over, take a dogsled over, I don’t care just go get it.”

Eva shrugged in exasperation. “O-kay. You’re the boss. I’ll go get my keys.”

Joan rolled her eyes and shook her head as she stormed off to her office.

Eva stared after her and closed her eyes with a subtle shake of her head. So much for reaching out and acts of kindness, she thought. She was determined to take her own sweet time heading off on this fool’s errand, in hopes that the courier would show up before she had to leave. She went into her office and picked up her purse just in time to hear her phone vibrating inside it. She closed the door to her office as she answered it.

A moment later Joan came blustering up to Carla. “Why is Eva’s door closed? Did she leave yet?”

“I’m not really sure,” lied Carla.

Joan glared at her. “Well did you see her leave or didn’t you?”

Wide-eyed, Carla shook her head.

Joan marched over and threw Eva’s door open.

“Okay, I’ll see you on the first, then,” Eva was saying into her phone. “Bye.”

“You’re still here? And you know I don’t allow personal phone calls. What are you doing?”

“I’m leaving right now,” said Eva. Then she gave a little laugh. “That’s ironic.” She took a sheet of paper that just came out of her printer and signed it.

“Ironic?” said Joan.

“Yes. I’m leaving, but I’m also leaving—permanently.” She handed the paper to Joan. “This is my two-week notice.”

Before Joan could react, Carla walked up with a sealed folder. “This just arrived by courier. I believe it’s what you’ve been waiting for from Davidson.”

Joan tightened the corners of her mouth and snatched the folder from Carla. Then she turned back to Eva. “What firm is hiring you?”

“Wesley & Sons.”

“Humph. More money, I suppose?”

Eva nodded and then smiled gently. “Look, Joan, I know it takes a while to replace a position, so I promise you that before my last day I’ll get the Lansford account all ready to go. And if, after the first, you need me to come back after-hours and help my replacement get oriented, I’ll be glad to do that.”

“No, you won’t,” said Joan. “If you don’t want to be here, I don’t want you here. Clean out your desk and be out of here by 3:00.” With that she spun on her spike heel and strutted back to her office.

For a few minutes Eva was concerned about two weeks without pay. Then she realized that with five weeks of vacation pay owed her, leaving immediately would not be a financial problem.

She emptied a printer-paper box and put her few belongings in it. Joan had always said that desks with too many personal items were unprofessional, so Eva only had one picture of Blake, Jordan, and her on her credenza. She packed that and a few pens and reference books and was done. She gave one last look at her office and headed over to Joan’s to let her know she was leaving with time to spare.

Joan was signing something and then put it into a legal-size envelope.

“Well, I guess this is goodbye,” said Eva. “I know you feel you won’t need my help, but if it turns out you do, don’t hesitate to call. And, I’d still like to have lunch together sometime. I’m sure you’ve got some pointers that I could use. Or even just to swap war stories.”

“Or pump me for trade secrets,” said Joan. “Speaking of which, I trust you don’t have any company property in that box you’re taking.”

Eva tipped the box so Joan could see its meager contents. She was not sure if Joan was joking or not. “Well, goodbye and good luck, Joan.”

Joan said nothing until Eva reached the doorway. Then she called-out to her back, “Oh, this is for you.” She caught up with Eva and handed her the envelope, blank on the outside. Eva thanked her just from habit and turned to leave.

“Bye Eva,” said Joan. “And enjoy your vacation.” Eva gave a half-smile and nodded as Joan went back to her desk.

She said her goodbyes to Carla and several other co-workers and then took the elevator to the parking garage. On the way she texted Blake with the good news about her new job. She loaded the box into her car and opened the driver’s side door. But before she got in, she opened the envelope. It contained her final pay stub, including all her unused vacation pay, plus a letter that read as follows:

To Whom It May Concern:

This is in reference to Ms. Eva Marinovich. Eva has been in my employ for over four years and in my 30+ years in the business I have never had a finer employee. She is diligent, highly-skilled, intelligent, and very hard-working. She will be a tremendous asset to any organization and I would readily hire her back if the occasion ever presented itself.

Sincerely,

Joan Bresnahan

Eva pulled out her phone and sent Joan a text:

THX FOR THE GREAT REFERENCE! I’M STILL GOING TO TAKE U TO LUNCH ONE OF THESE DAYS.

She could not stop grinning as she got into the car and headed home.

A Short Circuit

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The Fortuneteller

The weather forecaster’s voice burst out of the alarm-clock radio.

“Oh, God,” moaned Phil Walters into his pillow. “Is it really Monday?”

Olivia turned her head toward him and opened one sleepy eye. “Yeah,” she said.

Phil frowned at her and sat up on the edge of the bed. “Great,” he groused, adding a sigh. “I guess I’ll have to make the best of it.”

He had to fly to a conference that morning, something he truly disliked. He got showered, shaved, dressed, and mostly packed and headed for the kitchen for a quick cup of coffee. His wife Olivia was dressed and sipping a cup when he arrived in the kitchen.

“Liv, where is my—”

His words were cut short by the arrival in the kitchen of his 16-year-old daughter Samantha.

“You’re wearing that?” he asked her.

She frowned and examined herself. “What? Wearing what?”

“Those—” he grappled for a descriptive word— “pants,” he said finally pointing at her worn-out looking jeans.

“Wha-ut?”

He turned to his wife. “I thought you were going to get her some new ones.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Those are new ones.”

“Those? They look like they’ve been dragged behind a truck. You mean you bought them looking like that? Where? At the Goodwill?”

Samantha sighed exasperatedly. “No, at Target.”

Now louder he said, “You mean you paid retail price for something like that?”

“They were on sale,” protested Samantha.

“On sale? I’ve thrown pants in the dumpster that looked better than that. How much?”

“Oh Phil,” said Olivia. “For heaven’s sake don’t start.”

He stepped toward Samantha and said emphatically, “How… Much?”

She gulped. “Seventy-five dollars.”

“Seventy-five dollars?” He whirled around to Olivia. “Are you two out of your ever-loving minds? It doesn’t surprise me for dimwit here to do something like that but I’d expect you to know better.”

“Well thank you for holding me to such high standards,” Olivia snapped. “You haven’t the first clue about what teenage girls wear, so if she’s happy wearing them what do you care?”

“I care $75 of my hard-earned income, that’s what I care.”

Our income,” she corrected him. “I draw a paycheck too, you know.”

“Well it certainly isn’t her income. She doesn’t lift one finger around here to earn her keep. Just sits around on her lazy duff all the time wiggling her thumbs on that stupid phone of hers. Am I the only one in this family with any sense?”

“Yeah, Dad, you’re the only one,” said Samantha holding her palm up toward her dad and walking away. “I need to go.” She picked up her backpack and said to her mom, “I’ve got soccer practice tonight so I’ll be late.”

“Soccer,” groused Phil, sitting down and pouring coffee. “Why does someone with so many C’s on her report cards waste her time on soccer? Maybe if you stayed home and put that silly phone down and applied yourself to your studies you’d have a chance at college and could make something of yourself. Unless you’re so wonderful at soccer you expect that to be your life’s work.”

“Pfft, like you’d know,” Samantha muttered as she headed for the door.

“Sam, honey,” said her mom, “it’s too early for the bus. Where are you going?”

“Over to Danielle’s to wait for the bus.”

“Why?” said Phil. “Because her place is more suited to your expensive tastes?”

“No,” she said glaring at him. “Because there isn’t any screaming at her place.” She stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

“Don’t you slam that door, young lady,” Phil shouted after her as he jumped to his feet.

“Phil, sit down,” said Olivia, running her fingers wearily through her hair.

“I don’t know why you’re raising her to be so disrespectful.”

“Well, respect is a two-way street, you know,” she said.

“There, you see? Always taking her side. That’s why she is the way she is. You let her get away with murder and then undermine my authority when I try to talk some sense into her.”

“Phil, we’re going to lose her. If you keep riding her day and night like this she’s going to run off Lord-knows-where and get into some serious trouble. Compared to a lot of kids she’s a really good girl. But I don’t know how much more she can take.” She turned away with a distant look. “For that matter,” she said quietly, “I don’t know how much more I can take.”

“Meaning what?”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Nothing.”

Suddenly Phil put his cup down. “Oh, Lord, look at the time. I started to ask you, where’s my white shirt? The one with the French cuffs?”

Olivia thought for a second. “In the washer. I just started a load a few minutes ago.”

“The washer? Liv how could you be so stupid? You knew I was heading to that week-long convention this morning. That leaves me without enough shirts.”

“What time is your flight? You never told me.”

“I’ve got to be out of here in 15 minutes. What am I going to do?”

“Did you pack the light blue one?”

“It’s got a button missing that, even though I mentioned it, someone couldn’t be bothered to fix for me.”

She gave an irritated sigh. “Well, if you’re just one shirt shy you should have enough time to get one at a Wal-Mart or somewhere while you’re there.”

“Buy one; oh sure, that’s your answer to everything, spend thirty bucks on a new shirt when ten cents’ worth of laundry soap done intelligently would work just as well. I swear no one else in this family has the brains God gave a turnip.”

“Yeah, well, you certainly have,” she said as he headed for the bedroom.

When he came back out with his suitcase, Olivia was sitting at the table wiping tears from her face.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asked gruffly. “Aren’t you going to work?”

She nodded absently.

He hesitated. “Well, I’ll be home Saturday. The conference ends on Friday but my stupid cheapskate company makes us fly on Saturday so they get a cheaper rate. Anyway, I’ll see you then.”

“Maybe,” she said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I don’t know if I’ll be here when you get back. I’ve taken about all the verbal abuse I can stand, Phil. I’ve just about had it.”

“Verbal abuse? So now we’re getting all politically correct, huh? As if you’ve got anywhere else to go. Look, I don’t have time for this now. I’ve got to catch that plane.” She used a Kleenex on her eyes and his voice softened. “We’ll—we’ll talk after I get back. Okay?”

He took a step toward her to give her a goodbye peck, but without a word or even looking at him she got up and went into the back part of the house. He stormed out the door, slamming it as he left.

The airport hassles and cramped, packed airplane left him in an even fouler mood by the time he arrived at the convention. It was boring as usual. The main purpose in him going each year was the networking and supplier contacts he made in the evenings. The company would pay for his meals, but since these were not clients, he could not put any extras on his expense account. As a result, a Wednesday night group trip to a comedy club ended-up setting him back $80 by the time all was said and done. At least he had not needed to buy a shirt. Fully three-quarters of the attendees were business casual so he decided that on the Friday he could just wear one of the sport shirts he had brought.

He had texted Olivia a few times during the week and she had responded, albeit without much enthusiasm in her words. He wondered if she really might be gone when he got back. He decided they probably needed to have a heart-to-heart. There was altogether too much conflict in their home—it was pushing him over the edge. If he could just get her and that lazy daughter of his to come around on a few basics maybe they could have a somewhat enjoyable home life. However, he worried that getting through their thick skulls might be asking too much.

The convention wrapped-up on Friday afternoon and all the other attendees—the ones that worked for “real” companies—headed to the airport to catch their flights. He, however, would have to sit around until the next day. In keeping with its austere policies, his company had also booked him in a hotel across town rather than the more expensive one hosting the convention. So every day he had to drive back and forth. As he headed back, he read a billboard he had not paid much attention to previously. It was for the Mason County Fair in a smaller city less than an hour away. Hmm, he thought. I haven’t been to one of those since I was maybe eleven or twelve years old. His mind took him back to funnel cakes and shooting galleries, to rides on the Ferris wheel and the scrambler.

Why not? he thought. I could use some stress-free “me” time and it sure beats sitting around the hotel watching TV. I could easily get there, kill some time, and get back to the hotel before 9 p.m. I wonder if they still sell corndogs. Boy-oh-boy, I remember slathering one of those with mustard and being in hog-heaven. That’s it. I’m going to do it.

The sun was setting by the time he arrived. He was not happy about having to pay both for parking and admission, but he decided just to make the best of it. He spent only a few minutes wandering through the exhibit buildings near the entrance; he wanted to get to the midway.

Once he got there it was not long before he found Mecca: a food trailer selling hot-dogs-on-a-stick. He marched up to the window where a heavy, jowly woman in a grease-stained black tee shirt said, “Can I help you?” unenthusiastically.

“Yeah,” said Phil brightly. “I’ll have a corndog and, um, a Coke, I guess.”

“Large or small?” she asked without interest.

“Um, small I guess.”

She scooped a cup full of ice and began dispensing the soft drink. “That’ll be six dollars,” she said.

“Six dollars?” shouted Phil. “Are you serious?” He looked around at the two people in line behind him. “Six bucks for a corndog and a Coke?” He turned back to the woman. “I can’t believe that.”

She sighed. “Look, do you want it or not? ‘Cause if not I’ve got other customers.”

He frowned heavily and fished a five and a one out and plopped it on the windowsill. She stuck a straw in the cup and said automatically, “Anything else?”

“Are you kidding? I’d have to get a second mortgage if I ordered anything else.”

Totally unamused she handed him his items and said to the next person in line, “Can I help you?”

He walked over to a small table containing napkins and large plastic ketchup and mustard jars with pump handles and squirted out a generous amount of mustard. There being nowhere to sit, he headed down the midway munching on the corndog which, he had to admit, was nowhere near as good as he had remembered them. Even mustard could not hide that the hot dog beneath the coating was not only something other than all-beef, it was questionable whether it was even all-food. The rides all looked like they had seen better days. Most looked to be in such disrepair that he quickly dispatched any notion of getting on one. The carney barkers clearly spent far more on tattoos than dental work and, although their shouts urged him to try his luck at their games, their faces were etched with profound boredom.

He made the circuit of the midway feeling more and more disillusioned with every step. He was starting back toward the exhibition buildings when he passed a “House of Mirrors” and a “Beer ‘N’ BBQ” lunch-truck snack stand. Between the two was a tiny metallic-gold-painted trailer with “Madame Vorza” emblazoned above the door. A sandwich board stood beside the door noting: Knows All – Sees All. Fortunes Told. Past – Present – Future. In smaller letters at the bottom of the sign it read: Find your road to love, wealth, fame! It was not the trailer or the signs that caught his attention, however. It was the woman standing out front—presumably Madame Vorza herself, given her stereotypical Gypsy garb. Yet, although she was quite attractive—even reminded him of a Hollywood actress he particularly liked—even that was not what captivated him. It was the look she gave him. Her dark eyes pierced him with such intensity that he came to a complete halt, unable to keep from staring at her.

After a long moment he finally managed to divert his eyes and sort of came-to. He tried clearing his mind with a head shake and started to continue on. But he could not help sneaking a look back and, as he did so, she once again entranced him with those eyes of mystery. She walked toward him, and he immediately wanted to turn and power-walk away.

“You,” she said from twenty feet away. “You must come.”

He looked around half-embarrassed. “No,” he said with a short laugh. “No, not me. I don’t—”

“Yes,” she said as she strode directly up to him. “You must. There will be no charge.” She spoke with the requisite eastern European accent.

Again he gave a little nervous laugh. “I—um—no, I—I don’t need—”

“It is you; no one else,” she said. “You must come. Please.” She reached out and gently took hold of the back of his arm, guiding him toward the gold trailer. Her hands had multiple rings on each finger and her arms jangled with an array of golden and bejeweled bracelets. She wore large earrings that would have sat on her shoulders were it not for her long, graceful neck. Several heavy-looking ornate gold necklaces served to partially hide what her low-cut dress could not.

He shrugged. “Okay, sure, why not? I’ve got nothing else to do tonight. And besides, you did say it was free, right?”

His lighthearted attitude was in stark contrast to her continued intensity. “That is correct. Free. For you only.”

“Wow. Well, I guess that makes me feel pretty special. All I’ve got to do is listen to a 45-minute presentation on lakeside condominiums, huh?”

She did not comment further but led him into the dark trailer where she had him sit at a heavy, round wooden table. The tasseled, embroidered tablecloth was, as was everything else inside, crimson and gold. In its center sat the proverbial crystal ball.

Phil raised his eyebrows with a sardonic smirk. “Oh brother. Seriously? A crystal ball?”

Madame Vorza looked only slightly embarrassed. “It is…what people expect.”

“Yes. And I’m sure that what people expect is quite important to your success here. Isn’t it?”

“I see you are, what is called, a skeptic.”

“Mm, well, a skeptic is one who doubts.” He gave her a sympathetic smile. “I’m afraid I’m way beyond merely doubting.”

Her eyes continued to pierce him. “So, you think me a charlatan, Mr. Walters?”

“Yes, I’m afraid I—wait, what? How do you know—?” He reached in his pocket and retrieved his wallet, then searched it quickly.

Madame Vorza gave a gentle laugh. “I assure you, Philip, I have not touched your wallet.”

He tucked the wallet away and pulled out his phone.

“Or your phone,” she added.

He looked at her with a slight squint. “Okay, I’ll admit it. You’re good. Very good. If you took my wallet or something and got my name and put it back, I didn’t feel a thing. Still, if that’s supposed to convince me you are not just some sleight-of-hand artist…” He just shook his head.

“I will be truthful with you—may I call you Philip?”

He gave a little shrug. “You can call me Phil.”

She smiled slightly and with a nod said, “Phil, then. For some who come to me, I receive no inspiration, no insight. For those, you are quite correct, I deceive them. I tell them general things, things they want to hear; enough to satisfy them but I know it is all make-believe. For others, there are impressions—things I perceive about them and their future that I pass along, hoping my words are of help. But, for a very few, the moment I make eye contact with them I know these are the special ones. The ones for whom my mind, heart, soul, and spirit immediately swarm with images and knowledge—from where it comes I cannot say. Since I was a little girl I have wondered and, at the same time, feared how this power comes over me. You, Phil, are one of those about whom the flood of perception is as strong as any I have ever felt.”

He tightened one corner of his mouth and sat back, leaning on the arm of the chair. “So my aura is running amok, huh? Look, I’ve got an early flight tomorrow so it’s probably time I run along. You’re a lovely woman and it’s been kind of fun but—”

“Still not convinced, I see. Very well. I guess I will have to be more convincing. The message I have for you is too important. You must not only hear it, you must believe it.”

He folded his arms and tilted his head to one side.

“All right,” she said. “Suppose I tell you something about your past. Would that convince you to listen and believe what I have to say about your future?”

His mouth gave a cynical little shrug but he said nothing.

“Give me your hand,” she said, reaching across the table.

“Oh come on, you’re not really going to read my palm are you?”

Her perfectly shaped eyebrows gave a slight frown. “No. I need to touch you; to hold your hand.”

He gave it to her but looked askance at her. “At least I’m not wearing a watch.”

She caressed his hand with both of hers, their softness causing him to wonder if he might ask her to go have a drink with him later. With large, crimson lips and metallic gold eye shadow she was hauntingly beautiful.

She looked directly into his eyes as she spoke. “Your father, Eldon was his name, had a very quick and explosive temper.”

Phil sat up and spoke slowly. “Now, you could say that about a lot of dads, of course, but how could you know his first name?” He began mentally searching his wallet and phone for anything in there that might have had his dad’s name, but without success.

She continued, “Forgive me for what I say next; I know how painful it is for you. But you simply must believe in me. When you were a very young child you had a dog. As an only child in a rural area, it was your closest companion and playmate. A little black dog you named Shadow.”

Phil’s eyes widened. “Now wait a minute. You—how?—how can you possibly know that?”

She did not react but continued on. “One day Shadow chewed one of your father’s expensive new boots and ruined it.”

“Okay, now, wait,” said Phil. His face felt hot and his mouth went dry.

“In a fit of rage your father took his rifle and, as you looked on in horror…”

“No! That’s enough! No more!” He tried to pull his hand away but she gripped it tighter.

“…He killed the dog and buried it in the far corner of your property—a corner you never went near again.”

Phil pulled away and jumped to his feet. “Look, I don’t know who you are or how you know all that but I don’t want to hear any more. If you don’t stop I’m walking out of here right now.”

“Please, Mr. Walters, please sit down. I know how painful that memory is for you. But, not only is it the key to you believing what I say, that incident has colored your entire life from that day to this. You have harbored a seething anger inside that has affected all of your relationships. Deep down you fear betrayal from all who are closest to you.”

“Look, Madame whatever-your-name-is, I didn’t come here to be psychoanalyzed. I came here to—well, now that I think about it, I don’t know why I came here.”

“To hear a vital message about your future,” she said calmly. She pointed to the chair and said again, “Please.”

Reluctantly, he again sat in it. Deep in thought his whole demeanor changed from fear and anger to wonder. “Madame Vorza, how can you know these things? I’ve never told anyone about Shadow, not even Olivia.”

“Your wife. There are many things about which you and your wife do not communicate. Indeed, very little real communication happens in your family, including with your daughter, Samantha. Mostly yelling, I think.”

He gaped at her for a moment, and then sighed. “That’s certainly true. Okay, Madame Vorza, you have convinced me. So, what is the message for my future?”

“This will be difficult for you to hear. But everything in your life is about to change. By this coming Monday, for you nothing will be the same.” She paused and looked away.

He swallowed noisily. I bet it’s Liv, he thought, she’s going to leave me. “Okay. Go on.”

Her eyes darted around the room, refusing to lock with his. “It is difficult,” she said hesitantly.

“Please, Madame Vorza.” His voice was soft and pleading. “Take my hand again, if it will help. I’ve got to know.”

She did not take his hand but stared at the center of the table. “By this coming Monday, you will have died, Philip Walters.”

He sat in stunned silence for a bit. Then he said. “The plane. It’s going to crash, isn’t it? But what if I drive or take the bus or maybe stay here through Monday? Can I change my fate?”

“No!” she said sternly. “You must take that flight. There you will meet someone of great importance to you. You must listen to what he says.”

“If I’m going to be dead in less than a week, what could anyone say that would be of importance?”

“Nevertheless, you must be on that flight. You will arrive home safely.”

Phil sat staring into space. “I don’t know what to say—what to do.”

“It will all become clear to you as it unfolds. Now, I am extremely tired; this takes a great deal out of me. I can do no more tonight. I must ask you to leave. Now. You have been given the rare privilege of knowing how much time you have left. Use it wisely.” She rose wearily to her feet. “Good night, Mr. Walters.”

“But, Madame Vorza, I—”

She ignored him and held the door open to the deepening twilight. “Good night, Mr. Walters.”

He stepped out and she quickly grabbed the sandwich sign, took it inside and closed up the trailer. He walked in a daze toward the exhibition buildings and the exit until finally his mind began to function.

How will it happen? he wondered. If it’s some sort of accident, could I just stay indoors in bed and change my fate? I mean, even doing that I could die of a heart attack or something. But if I knew it was something preventable, maybe…

He turned around and began hurrying back toward her trailer. So what if she’s tired; she’s the one who collared me. I deserve to know the rest of the story.

When he arrived at the House of Mirrors it was standing directly next to the Beer ‘N’ BBQ. Madame Vorza’s trailer was nowhere to be seen. He walked all around them, even among the cables and generators behind them but the camper-sized gold trailer was not there. He waited in line at the BBQ and when he got to the front a thin, weather-beaten woman asked what he wanted.

“Uh, nothing to eat. I just want to know where Madame Vorza is.”

“Who?” said the woman.

“The fortuneteller, Madame Vorza. The trailer that was right next to you; right over here. Apparently she’s packed up for the night and moved her trailer, but I need to see her, just for a moment.”

“I’m sorry sir, I have no idea what you’re talking about. The place next door is the House of Mirrors. Always has been. Maybe you need a beer. Or, maybe you’ve already had a few too many?”

A large sweaty teen with a thick mop of dirty blond hair was putting barbecue beef sandwiches together behind her. “Hey, fella,” Phil called to him. “You know who I’m talking about. Madame Vorza, good-looking Gypsy babe with the trailer next to you. Right? You know where she went?”

He shrugged. “I got no idea what you’re talking about, man.”

“Look,” said the woman, “there’s customers behind you. Either order something or get lost will ya?”

Furious, he slapped his hand against the side of the food truck and stormed off. A janitor-type was sweeping debris into a long-handled fold-down dustpan in front of the House of Mirrors. “Hey, buddy, you been around here long?” Phil asked him.

“Every night so far,” he answered.

“Good, then you must know there was a gold trailer here—right here—earlier this evening, right? Madame Vorza, the fortuneteller?”

The man frowned and slowly shook his head. “Mm, nope. Don’t remember there bein’ no other trailer here. Just the House of Mirrors and the barbecue place. That’s it.”

Phil stood dumbfounded as the man walked away.

Across the walkway from the barbecue truck was a canvas-tarped pavilion with, at the near end, one of those games where one knocks stacked bottles over with a baseball. Next to it was a ring-toss game. The huge, bearded baseball-throw barker looked like a cross between a professional wrestler and a biker-gang leader.

As Phil approached, the barker said, “Three tries for a dollar,” and held three baseballs out to him.

“No,” said Phil. “I’m looking for someone. Someone who works here: Madame Vorza.”

The barker showed no reaction.

“Y’know, the good looking Gypsy fortuneteller who had the gold trailer right over there earlier.”

The barker frowned his confusion.

Phil made an archway motion with his hands toward where the trailer had been, outlining the sign that had been on it. “Madame Vorza, knows all, sees all?”

The barker turned down the corners of his mouth and shook his head. “Nobody like that been around here. Maybe you were somewhere else. It can get confusing here. Sometimes people come here looking for a booth that they saw on the other side of the midway. Although, I know everyone in our troupe and there ain’t no Madame—what did you say? For-juh?”

“Vorza,” said an exasperated Phil. “Madame Vorza. Are you all blind? She was right over there not 15 minutes ago. I know. I went in and saw her. Then I left but I wanted to ask her a question and now she’s not only gone, nobody even remembers her being here. Or is this all some sort of trick to maybe get me to wander off into the dark looking for her so you low-life’s can jump me for my wallet or something.”

The barker’s eyes turned to steel. “Okay, buddy, I’ve heard about enough. I don’t take kindly to people calling me names and accusing me of bein’ a criminal. If it wasn’t for all the families with little kids around here I’d climb outta this booth and take you off into the dark and teach you some manners. Now there ain’t no Gypsy trailer over there, not now, not ever. Whatever you’re smokin’ you best go someplace else and have your hallucinations.”

“Hallucinations?” Phil’s demeanor softened. “Hallucinations. You know, that must be it. I—I’ve been under a lot of stress lately—work, home, travel, that sort of thing. I guess my mind was playing tricks on me.

“Listen,” Phil continued, “I’m really sorry sir. I had no right to talk to you that way. I guess I better go and get some rest and forget all this fortuneteller nonsense. I really do apologize.”

The barker relaxed. “S’okay. Life just kinda gets to a person sometimes. Could you move over, though? I got customers.”
Phil turned to see a teenage couple standing ready to try their hand at the baseball throw.

“Oh, sorry,” mumbled Phil as he walked to the far side of the booth. He stood and shook his head. “Wow,” he said quietly to himself. “Imaginary people—fortunetellers no less. I must be going over the edge.” He looked back at where he had thought the trailer had been and shook his head. “Madame Vorza. Where would my imagination even come up with something like Madame Vorza?”

The thin, craggy-faced barker for the ring-toss leaned against the post between his and the baseball booth, a few feet from where Phil was standing.

Without looking at Phil he said, “Looking for Madame Vorza?”

“What?” said Phil. “You’ve seen her?”

The barker now looked at Phil. “Yeah. I seen her. Can’t miss a gorgeous doll like her.”

“Then you know where she is? Please tell me. I’ve got to find her.”

“I think she’s done all the free fortunetelling she’s going to for one night.”

“But I’ll pay. If money’s the issue, I’ll pay. Gladly! There are some things I’ve simply got to know.”

The barker calmly shook his head. “You know all you need to. Just let things play out like she told you.” With that he walked toward the middle of the booth and called out to a young boy with his mom and dad.

“Five rings for a dollar,” the barker said to the boy.

“Can I, Dad?” said the boy.

The dad handed over a buck and the boy was given five rings.

Phil ran over and grabbed the barker by his denim sleeve. “Look fella, just tell me where she is. If she doesn’t want to talk to me, fine. But I’ve just got to see her.”

The barker fixed Phil with an icy stare and slowly looked at the hand gripping his shirt. Phil followed his eyes and released his grip, looking apologetic.

“See who?” said the barker stoically.

Phil’s shoulders slumped. “Madame Vorza.”

The barker shook his head. “Never heard of her,” he said.

“What? Of course you have. The fortuneteller.”

The barker pulled his chin back with a look of disgust. “Fortuneteller?” He looked around as if Phil were a lunatic.

“There ain’t no fortunetellers around here. Not at this carnival.”

Just then the boy ringed a toy car, cheering excitedly with his parents.

“Hey! Another winner!” cried the barker, turning away from Phil. “How old are you son?”

“Ten.”

“There you are folks,” he shouted. “So easy to win a ten-year-old can do it. Five rings for a dollar. Come give it a try.”

“Come on, fella,” said Phil to the barker. “You’ve got to help me. Just tell me where she is.”

“Look, mister, I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t want to know. Now either buy some rings or get out of the way so other people can play.” Two college-age girls walked up and handed him a buck each as the barker frowned Phil out of the way.

Phil stood to the side dejectedly as the barker handed the girls the rings.

“You best move along, buddy,” said the barker. Phil turned to go. “Besides,” said the barker, “that plane leaves pretty early in the morning and you don’t want to miss it.”

One of the girls squealed excitedly.

“Hey, another winner!” shouted the barker.

Phil stared at him for a long moment and then headed for the exit in a daze.

He scarcely slept that night, pondering his future that consisted of one or, at most, two more days. He had never really thought about what he would do if he somehow knew in advance when the inevitable grim reaper would arrive. People talked about bucket lists but not only did he not have one, there was too little time anyway. All he could think to do was check that his will was made out when he got home and hope that however he met his demise it would not violate any terms of his life insurance policy.

What if it’s something violent, like a burglary gone bad or something? He thought. What if it puts Olivia and Samantha in jeopardy as well? Maybe I should send them away, although they wouldn’t understand why.

A key question was whether he should tell them at all. They had a right to know. But they would think he had a cracked block if he told them he was all lit up over something he heard from a carnival fortuneteller—a vanishing fortuneteller at that. No, he would just have to—how had the guy put it?—let things play out and decide what to do as they unfolded.

His date with destiny hung so heavily on him that he could not eat any of the hotel’s complimentary continental breakfast. Instead his stomach was tied in knots. At the boarding gate he carefully eyed each prospective passenger wondering who this mysterious messenger of great import was. No one stood out or paid any attention to him.

He was among the earlier passengers to board and his was a window seat. The plane was getting pretty full by the time anyone else sat in his row. A twenty-something blonde sat nervously on the aisle but kept talking, as best she could among the parade of boarding passengers, to a young man of corresponding age across the aisle and two rows up. From the gist of the conversation it appeared the young woman was not a fan of flying. Why the young man was not sitting next to her, Phil could not guess. As the final stragglers rushed onto the flight, the seat next to Phil was occupied by a middle-aged man wearing a polo shirt with the mascot of some high school on it. He scarcely acknowledged Phil but apologized to the woman in the aisle seat for having to climb over her. He had no carry-ons and busied himself with the sky-mall magazine until they were well into the air. The only time he looked up was to respond to the flight attendant’s question about what he wanted to drink. He ordered coffee, the same as Phil.

Eventually he put the magazine away and took out his phone. Phil tried not to be obvious but was curious what the man was looking at. After all, this guy was supposed to have words of eternal consequence for him, wasn’t he?

About that time the flight attendant brought them their coffee. As the drinks and napkins were passed along, Phil caught a glimpse of the man’s phone. It was a picture of a teenage girl in a fancy burgundy dress. The man noticed Phil’s interest in the picture and held it up.

“That’s my daughter,” said the man proudly, “in her prom dress. Isn’t she beautiful?”

To Phil, she was just okay. The dress was nice on her, but the prettiest thing was her beaming smile of genuine joy.

“Very lovely,” said Phil, “especially the smile.”

The man grinned widely. “I had just told her that the only time I had ever seen anyone more gorgeous was her mother on our wedding day. I really meant it, too.”

“Well, she seems pleased at the compliment.”

“Of course,” said the man. “A dad’s opinion of his daughter can make or break her self-esteem. I think the world of that young lady and I make sure she knows it. You have kids?”

“Um, yeah, a daughter, about her age.”

“Ah, then you know what I’m talking about. I tell you, she and my wife scoured the town looking for that dress. Took this picture when she showed it off to me for the first time.”

Phil smiled. “Very pretty. Bet it cost pretty penny too, huh?”

“Oh, man, that was a bit of a shock all right.” He shrugged. “But, seeing that joyful smile on her face made it worth every cent. Her success in life is so important to me. I want to make sure I fulfill my responsibility to get her there. It’s really not that hard.”

“Not hard?” said Phil.

“Not really. See, every daughter needs to hear three things from her father, stated directly to her out loud—he can’t just assume she knows them: I love you, I’m proud of you, and you’re really good at—well something she’s really good at. He needs to say it and mean it.”

“Proud? Really good at—but what if she’s, y’know, sort of just average at school and not particularly industrious?”

The man shook his head quickly. “My daughter’s not an honor student. She really struggles with history—dates and such. I tutor her, of course, to help her pass her history classes but it’s still a struggle. And it’s sometimes a challenge to get her to keep her room clean. But, you know what I compliment her about? She’s a really caring person. She befriended a girl no one else in school had any use for at great risk to her own reputation among her classmates. But that’s how her heart is. I’ve told her on many occasions how proud I am of her for how she treats people. Everyone has a strength somewhere. It would be a pretty pathetic dad who could not find something good to say about his child.

“It’s funny,” the man continued, “fathers often understand their importance in the lives of their sons, but too many fail to realize that they’re every bit as key to their daughters’ future. Many girls yearn their whole lives to hear those positives from their dads until one day the dad dies and it’s no longer possible. Those wounds, especially if the dad is harsh and critical, go deep and often cause the daughters to act out in a lot of destructive ways including, as the old song says, looking for love in all the wrong places.”

At the words “the dad dies” Phil blanched and felt his heart double-pump.

The man flipped past some other pictures of the daughter and dress to one of his daughter with an older woman whom Phil assumed to be the man’s wife. She was hugging the daughter from behind, cheek to cheek, and both were smiling delightedly.

“As you can see I took several pictures. My wife, Arlene, asked me to pick one to have printed and framed. I’m torn between that first one and this one. My wife would humbly not prefer this one but, I’m kind of partial to it. The two people I love most—except for the Lord of course—in a picture of joy and love. Hard to beat that, don’t you think? If she doesn’t want it to be framed I might make it my wallpaper on all my devices.”

Phil was starting to get a bit irritated that this guy seemed too good to be true.

“So, let me guess,” said Phil. “You and your wife never fight. Am I right?”

“Hmm, I guess that depends on what you mean by fight. Do we disagree? Sure. We’re unique human beings with different tastes, ideas, thoughts, and opinions about a lot of things. But we don’t see any need for screaming and berating each other like so many couples do. I’ve never understood why people will treat those they are supposed to love most with hatred and venom that they would not dream of exhibiting toward a stranger, an acquaintance, or even an adversary.”

Phil sighed deeply. “And I suppose there are three things a guy’s got to say to his wife, too, huh?”

The man raised his eyebrows and gave a light laugh. “Well as a matter of fact there are, but they’re not easy for most guys to say: I was wrong, I’m sorry, and please forgive me.”

“I figured as much,” Phil grumped. “But what if you’re not wrong?”

“Phfft,” said the man with a wave of his hand. “Being ‘right’ is so overrated. Fully half of the things couples squabble about have no right or wrong side. They’re matters of opinion, viewpoint, or preference. And as for the rest, in nearly all those cases who is right doesn’t make a lick of difference or is far less important than maintaining a good relationship with the love of your life.”

“Okay,” said Phil. “I’ll grant you that. But not everything is trivial. Some things really do matter how they get settled.”

“True. But that’s when you realize you’re partners, not enemies. You’re a problem-solving team that can do wonders by working together.

“Look,” the man continued, “I’m not going to pretend my wife and I never irritate each other. But when that happens I just remind myself of O’Brien’s.”

“O’Brien’s? What’s that?”

He gave a quick laugh. “It’s the restaurant where I proposed to Arlene. I think about how desperately I hoped she would say yes. If she had said, ‘Yes, but only if you will accept the fact that I…’ whatever it is that she’s doing that is irritating me, I would have agreed without hesitation. And if that was true then, why would I let that destroy our relationship now? I certainly don’t love her any less. Besides, 99% of the time if I talk with her about what’s bugging me, we find a way to work it out anyway. Same if she has a complaint about me. Truth is, she doesn’t complain nearly as much as she probably has a right to.

“I don’t know,” the man continued with a sigh, “a lot of couples spend an awful lot of time bickering, but that’s not how she or I want to live. Life’s way too short for that.”

Life! Too short! Phil suddenly felt a chill run down his back and nearly hyperventilated. This mysterious man seemed to have a lot of answers. Phil wanted to get more from him and maybe ask if he knew he was an “important messenger” to a dying man.

But before he could, the man said, “Wow I guess that coffee went right through me.” Then to the young woman on the aisle, “Excuse me; I’m very sorry.”

The girl gave a forced smile but was clearly still not happy about being in the air. As Phil’s “messenger” left, the young man from two rows up came back and talked with her, obviously trying to soothe her nerves. He even stepped in and sat in the messenger’s seat and held her hand. When the messenger returned, the young man stood.

“Sorry,” said the young man. “She was concerned about flying for our honeymoon and it turns out she was right. Guess I should have listened, especially since we couldn’t get seats together.”

“You’re on your honeymoon?” gasped the messenger. “Now you just stay right where you are young man and take care of your bride. I’ll gladly trade seats with you. You should have asked sooner.”

“Thank you very much, sir. We really appreciate it.”

“Not at all. And it sounds like you’re well on your way to learning the three most important phrases all husbands should know.” The young man looked at him quizzically.

“Ask him,” said the messenger pointing at Phil. “He can explain it.”

Once the plane landed Phil decided he would catch up to the messenger as they exited the plane and ask his questions. But a short, elderly man in the row directly in front of him had protracted difficulty getting his too-large carry-on out of the overhead bin and by the time Phil reached the gate, the messenger had disappeared.

Phil’s mind was reeling as he drove home. The Gypsy had said he would arrive home safely. Somewhere between that event and Monday morning he would meet his Maker. Besides the stress of knowing the end was near, the messenger’s words kept replaying over and over in his mind.

As he turned down his street he wondered if Olivia really would be gone. He heard himself begging God that she be there. He could not face his demise without her. He pulled into the driveway and rushed into the house without bothering about his luggage.

“Liv! Liv? Are you home? Liv?”

“In here,” she called out from the bedroom.

He ran in and swept her into his arms, holding her for all he was worth. “Oh Liv, you’re here. It’s so good to see you, to hold you. Please don’t leave me, please. I can’t make it without you.”

She hugged him back and smiled as tears welled up. “I’m not leaving,” she said quietly.

“Oh Liv, I’ve been such a moron. You’re the love of my life and I’ve treated you so badly. I’m so sorry. That was terribly, terribly wrong of me. Please, please forgive me.”

Now she looked at him with a mixture of suspicion and concern. “Phil, honey, what’s happened?”

“Happened? I—well—I just—I met someone—on the plane. A guy that helped me realize what is really important in life. And it’s you, Liv. You are important, the most important thing in my life. You—and Samantha. Oh Liv, I’ve got so much to tell you. To tell you both, and so little time.”

Still perplexed, but not at all unhappy, Olivia said, “Little time? Oh, you mean because of Sam’s game. Yes, I have to take her—she needs to leave in about five minutes—but I guess I wouldn’t have to stay. I could ask one of the other moms to give her a ride home after.”

“No! No! We have to go. Both of us. I want to see her play. I’ve…” he hung his head “…I’ve never seen her play before.”

Olivia furrowed one brow slightly. “Yes. I know.”

At that moment Samantha stood in the doorway. “Ready to go, Mom?” Then almost with embarrassment, “Oh, hi Dad.”

To her shock he rushed to her arms and hugged her like she might vanish. “Oh Samantha, my sweet, precious daughter.”

Samantha flashed a confused look at her mom who could only shake her head, smile, and shrug.

Phil backed away and brushed a curl from Samantha’s forehead. “Would it be okay if I come watch you play, ‘Mantha?”

Still wearing a look of incredulity she said slowly, “Sure. But ‘Mantha? I haven’t heard that since I was, what, three?”

He hugged her again. “You’ll always be my little ‘Mantha.”

“Well, we’d better get going,” said her mom.

The game was scoreless until near the end. Although Phil didn’t know much about soccer he felt pretty sure that Samantha was playing well. Then, with amazing agility she picked the pocket of an opponent and sent a perfect pass to a teammate who outran the lone defender, feinted the goalie out of position, and buried the ball in the net.

Phil found himself not only cheering fanatically, he could not seem to stop yelling, “You’re awesome Samantha! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!”

The remaining couple of minutes were played in the middle of the field until the game ended with much jubilation by Samantha’s team. Phil ran up and put his arm around her and simply would not let go. As teammates and their parents came to congratulate Samantha he kept saying, “Isn’t my daughter terrific? Did you see that play? She’s amazing.”

As they headed for the car he turned to her and said, “I love you, you know. Always have. I am just so, so very sorry I haven’t shown it. I am so proud of you, and not just because of how well you play soccer, although you’re one fantastic player. But even if you never played another game, I’d still be so proud that you’re my daughter.”

Samantha burst into tears and sobbed like he had never heard her. She hugged him with every ounce of strength she had and wept in his arms for a good ten minutes. She tried a few times to talk, but the most she could get out was “Daddy.”

“It’s okay, sweetheart, I know,” he said. “And from now on I’m gonna…” Suddenly that chill came over him. It was so tangible even she felt it and backed away.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?”

“Nothing,” he said, trying to sound casual. He put his arms around Olivia and Samantha and walked them to the car. “Hey, how about we go out and eat? ‘Mantha since you’re the star player, you get to pick.”

He opened the door for Olivia but before she got in he kissed her passionately.

“You guys,” said an embarrassed Samantha with a laugh. “Get a room.”

While at the restaurant, Samantha, trying to sound matter-of-fact said, “Oh, Mom, Danielle asked me to go to church with her in the morning. That okay?”

“Sure, honey, what time do you need to get up?”

Church. God. Phil remembered his quick plea to God that Olivia would be home; and how she had been. “Samantha,” he said before she could answer her mom. “Could we all go? Together?”

Very slowly she said, “Yes. Okay, who are you and what have you done with my dad?”

He laughed, and after the tension and emotion of the past 24 hours, it felt good. “Honey, I’m determined to make a drastic turnaround in my relationships. With you, with your mom, and with God. I don’t know much about God, but I’m ready for a crash course.” Oops, he thought, poor choice of words.

That night at home he relayed to Olivia the things he had heard from the messenger but nothing about the fortuneteller. The problem was that he kept wanting to say how things were going to be so much better from now on and how he would try so much harder going forward. But there was no forward. Maybe, if he was lucky, one more day. Or maybe he would not even wake up tomorrow.

But he did, much to his relief. They all went to church to the delight of Danielle and her family. The sermons were not often overtly evangelistic but this one walked through the gospel as if it were intended directly for Phil. He had assumed going-in that God would have a tough time accepting an eleventh-hour convert like himself with no godly deeds and no way to make up for lost time. But when he heard that Jesus had opened the way for anyone who would come to Him he was thrilled that even he could have eternal hope. He went forward at the invitation and had a long talk with the minister after the service.

“I want to be baptized,” said Phil, “like, right now.”

“Okay,” said the minister. Then to Danielle’s family, Olivia, and Samantha, he said, “I assume you’d all like to stay and watch.” They all agreed readily.

As Phil stepped down into the water the minister said, “Baptism is a reenactment of the death burial and resurrection of Christ. You die—that is, the old you dies—you’re buried in the water, and then raised a brand new person in Christ.”

“Did you say that I die?” said Phil excitedly.

“Yes. Symbolically, in a spiritual sense, that is.”

“But in God’s eyes I’m dying right?”

“Um, yes, in a way.”

“And it’s before Monday!”

The minister gave a confused frown. “Yes, Sunday is before Monday and this is Sunday.”

“Fantastic!” said Phil. “Let’s get on with it!”

That night he must have told both Olivia and Samantha that he loved them two dozen times. As he climbed into bed Olivia said, “Phil, I’ve got to ask you something.”

“Okay,” he said cautiously.

“I know you told me about the guy on the plane and all, but Phil, something else must have happened. I’ve been married to you for 18 years and I know there’s more to the story.”

“Tell you what, Liv. If I have the chance, maybe I’ll tell you tomorrow. Good night. And, Liv, I love you.”

He lay in the dark wondering what was in store. Maybe this “new creation” idea was what the Gypsy had meant. Or maybe he would never awake this side of heaven. There was no way to be sure. Lord, he prayed silently, I know that among all the people facing death this very night, I’m probably the least deserving of another day of life. But Lord, I’ve got so much to make up for. Please, if You could somehow see Your way clear to not take my life tonight, I promise to live every additional day that You give me doing everything I can to be the kind of husband, dad, and Christian You would have me to be. But if not, thank You for giving me a home with You in heaven. Just, please, take care of my wife and daughter.

The weather forecaster’s voice burst out of the alarm-clock radio.

“Oh! God!” shouted Phil. “Is it really Monday?”

Olivia turned her head toward him and looked at him quizzically. “Yes, of course,” she said.

Phil kissed her and sat up. “Great!” he said. “And I’m going to make the most of it.”

A Short Circuit

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