This story is by Tania Miller and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
After spending a tedious weekend with Brad’s parents in an old Victorian house in the Garden District, Joan was anxious to see New Orleans.
Brad took her hand as they walked toward Jackson Square.
They came across a boy who barely looked no older than ten years old, sitting on the street corner. He sat on top of an overturned egg crate. He drummed rhythmically on the bottom of a white plastic bucket with drumsticks. His gaze was intense and focused, seemingly unaware of the crowd that gathered to watch. He didn’t seem to notice how people tossed money in a smaller bucket by his feet.
Brad pointed out a man leaning non chantley on one of the railings, who was watching the crowd.
“That’s who will collect his money,” he said.
What seemed so amazing and innocent, now felt exploited. It made her feel sad.
They weaved through the gathered crowd and made their way toward Jackson Square. Local artists gathered along the iron fence, displaying artwork in hopes of making a sale. Music filled the air along with the sweet smell of something baking.
They came to the fountain and stopped for a picture.
“Wait,” Joan said, as she searched her purse for her wallet
“What are you doing?” He asked, his brows arched curiously at her.
“Making a wish.”
“You know the street people wade in the water and collect all this change.”
Joan didn’t care. She closed her eyes and made her wish anyway and tossed the coin in the water, feeling satisfied at the plunking sound the coin made when it hit the water.
“What did you wish for?” He asked.
“If I tell you, it won’t come true. And why do you care?”
He put his arm around her. “I want to know what you are wishing for so I can make it come true for you.”
“Can I help make your wish come true?”
She rolled her head. “I don’t know. Has yet to be seen.”
They strolled on the sidewalk, shaded by the sprawling oak trees. Spanish moss dripped from the branches.
“How far are we going?” Brad asked, looking over his shoulder. “We’re moving away from everything. I think we should turn around.”
“The place I want to go to is just ahead,” she said as she checked her phone. The humidity was starting to get to her. Her pink cotton tee shirt clung to her. She slowed down and stopped. Her eyes darted around searching. At the corner was a pink house with black shutters. It had a black sign with white cursive lettering. Sybil’s House of Prophecy.
“There it is,” she said.
Brad followed her gaze. “I should have known.”
She looked up at him, her eyes pleading. “Please. I want to have my fortune told.”
“You know this is all a hoax. It isn’t real.”
“Please, we’re in New Orleans. I want to do this.”
His chest rose and fell as he took a deep breath. “Fine,” he said.
There was an OPEN sign on the door. A brass shop bell rang out their arrival as they stepped up into the store. The black wood floor creaked under their weight. It smelled of old wood mixed with stale incense and smoke. Glass cases displayed jewelry and polished gemstones. Chicken feet hung from the wood beams overhead with what looked like bundles of herbs and dry twigs. A shelf displayed baskets full of different sizes and colors of candles. The shop felt cramped and tight even though they were the only ones in the store.
A black door opened. A petite middle-aged woman came out. Her ebony hair was braided and piled neatly on her head. Her brown skin appeared smooth under her white dress. She wore several beads around her neck and her wrists dangled with silver bracelets.
“May I help you?” the woman asked.
Brad said, “We’re just looking.”
The woman looked at Joan “What about you?” she asked.
Joan felt her cheeks burn. “I was hoping to have my fortune told.”
“Very well. The price is a hundred dollars. Cash.”
Brad scoffed. “Of course.”
“Take it or leave it. It is up to you.” She kept her gaze on Joan. “What is it that you seek ma chéri? You’ve come a long way to ask me something. Are you going to let a hundred dollars be too high of a price to finish the Journey?”
Joan’s heart pounded in her chest.
“Come on, Joan. Let’s go.”
“No,” Joan said. “I want to do this.” She took out her wallet. Her heart lurched. “I only have eighty dollars.” She looked at Brad. “Please.”
“I don’t know if I have it.” Brad said.
He sighed and pulled out his wallet. He took out a twenty dollar bill.
“I will pay you back,” she promised, as she took his twenty to add to her eighty.
Once the fortune teller was paid, she opened the door for them. “Right this way. Please take a seat at the round table.”
The room felt tight and snug, yet dark. An antler chandelier hung above them, but the lights were dimmed creating an eerie atmosphere.
They took their seats.
The fortune teller stepped in the tiny room and struck a match. She lit the candle in the middle of the table. Then took out what looked to be a thin cigar.
Joan started to second guess her decision to have her fortune told. What if Brad was right?
“As you may have guessed, my name is Sybil,” she said as she lit her cigar with the candle flame. She puffed on it, holding the smoke in before blowing it out her mouth. The smoke curled and moved outward toward them. “I was born with the gift of sight. Many of the men and women in my family have it.” She took another puff of the cigar. “You have a question?”
“I don’t have a question. I was hoping you would just tell my fortune,” Joan said.
Sybil’s laugh was raspy. “That’s not how this works, ma chéri. Even the kings of ancient Greece asked questions of the oracle.” She locked her dark eyes on Joan. “Ask your question.”
Joan tried to think of a way to frame her question while Sybil puffed on her cigar and exhaled smoke. Brad coughed, but Sybil didn’t seem to notice. Her heart hammered in her chest. “I want to know if he is the one.”
Brad shifted in his chair. “Is this what this is about?” He hung his head. “I proposed to you. And you said yes.”
Joan tilted her head. “I just want to know our fortune. It’s not like I’m doubting.”
Sybil puffed on the cigar, breathing in the smoke and releasing it out her mouth.
“You paid her a hundred dollars to ask a stranger if I’m Mr. Right.” Brad said, sounding hurt.
“No. That’s not what I’m asking.”
“Isn’t it?” Sybil asked. Then she looked at Brad. “Do not be so hard on her. You have your own doubts circling in your head.”
“Is that what your smoke rings tell you?” Brad asked.
She shrugged. “You are not a believer. I can see that you are a very factual man.” She gestured at Joan. “She is full of wonder and mystery about the world. You must allow that in your relationship. Which you demonstrated when you gave her your twenty dollars.”
Brad bristled at her comment. “That’s an observation, not predicting the future.”
“Okay, I’ve had enough. Let’s go.” He got up to leave, but Joan did not move. Her heart was heavy with disappointment and frustration. This was not what she had wanted. Now Brad was upset with her.
“Wait,” Sybil said. “I will give you the answer you seek.” She held up a finger. “Just wait.” She got up and left them alone in the tiny room.
“We should go now,” Brad said. “Come on.”
But Joan shook her head, no. She wanted to know.
Sybil came back with a gold locket in the shape of a heart. “I wrote the answer down on a piece of paper and put it in this locket.” She placed it on the table. “If your curiosity gets the best of you, the answer is in the heart. But, be warned. What will you do if the answer written is not what you want in your own heart? Will you accept what I have written on the piece of paper as your fate? Or will you choose your own path?” She handed the locket to Joan. “The choice is yours whether you live happily ever after.”
Joan closed her fingers around the locket.
Once outside the shop, Brad asked Joan to open it. She smiled at him and slipped the locket in her purse.
“Don’t you want to know?”
They walked back toward Jackson Square. Joan took Brad’s hand. “Not today.”