Special Note: This is the fourth (and final) section of the short story “The Fortune Teller.” If you haven’t read Part I, II and III, then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link to start the tale from the beginning.
The story continues on with Joe the Mechanic leading Selena to the Keeper of Odds and Ends. This has been a crazy night, Selena thinks to herself. Never did she dream that having her fortune told would require so much work!
From her encounter with the Tall Man, the awful clowns in the Funhouse, and following Joe the Mechanic with his jiggling toolbelt halfway across the carnival, Selena feels like the main character in a Felini film. All of this to retrieve a box which the Fortune Teller, Madame Zofina, insists will tell Selena what she needs to know most about the future.
“Here we are!” Joe calls back to Selena as he ducks into The Sideshow, a large carnival tent selling knick-knacks. Teenagers crowd around tables with novelty pranks for sale; the bug in the fake ice cube, the shock-hand buzzer, the old fashion whoopie cushion, and many other items meant to trick an unsuspecting victim.
Throughout the tent there are mystical items such as magic eight balls, wizard wands, and Tarot cards. There are magic tricks and even books on how to become an Illusionist.
And for the daring, there is candy with disgusting flavors. Jelly beans that taste (and look) like snot. Trash can gummy bears like slimy banana peel and dirty socks.
There are nostalgic carnival souvenirs such as small replicas of the Ferris Wheel and Funhouse (a souvenir Selena can do without).
And then there are the items not for sale, but definitely crowd pleasers, inspiring pointed fingers with oohs and ahs. One-of-a-kind oddities, frauds of course, but fun nonetheless, such as scales from the Loch Ness monster, a trio of shrunken heads, dragon teeth, and a straight jacket once worn by Houdini.
“Maggie!” Joe bellows out as he heads towards a middle-aged woman with wiry long, blonde hair that stands on end as though it were styled by an electric socket. She looks back at the Mechanic with her hands on her hips wearing a purple hippie skirt and long pink t-shirt dressed up with a pair of dangling beaded earrings and sparkling bracelets.
Joe gives Maggie a quick hug and then keeps one arm wrapped around her shoulders, “Maggie, my darling, this is Selena. She’s giving this to you in exchange for the box.” After finishing his announcement, Joe officially hands off the token to Maggie.
“My job is done, so I’m heading off back to work,” he sneaks a quick kiss to Maggie’s cheek.
“Stop flirting with me, you oaf!” She laughs and pushes him away. Joe smiles back at her.
“Goodbye, Selena. Never mind my old lady, she might sound tough but she’s a sweetheart. Best of luck to you,” Joe shakes Selena’s hand before leaving. She can hear his toolbelt jingling along as he walks away.
“That man is insufferable, but I do love him. God help me,” Maggie mutters as she watches him go. “Selena, dear, it’s nice to meet you. Come with me. I have what you’re looking for,” Maggie motions to Selena to follow.
Maggie steps behind a wooden counter and proceeds to plunk down three boxes in front of Selena.
“Go on, love. Pick one,” she says with a smile and then rests her chin on her hands and her elbows on the counter. Her bright blue eyes carefully watch Selena’s selection like a cat observing a mouse.
“I have to choose? I thought the box was supposed to be special. You know “like very old and very wise”?
Maggie laughs. “Of course, all of these boxes are very old. But which one do you want?” She continues to study Selena with her chin resting on the palms of her hands.
“But what if I pick the wrong one?” Selena absentmindedly lets the words slip out. How silly, I’m being! She thinks to herself. I’ve almost forgotten that I don’t believe in any of this!
“You won’t. Most people are paralyzed by choice. Who should I marry? Which job should I take? What if I get it all wrong they say to themselves.” Maggie shrugs her shoulders. “Truth is. darling, you can’t get it wrong. True, some choices we’re sorely sorry for and wish we could undo, but they become a part of our story and lead to other choices, some of which bring out the best in us.”
Maggie leans in closer, “Here’s the secret. As long as you’re doing the choosing, in the end, your life will start to reflect more and more of you who you are. But if you don’t choose, something else will choose for you, and that’s when your life turns ugly.” She sighs and then Maggie’s smile returns, “So, go on then. Choose!”
Selena carefully examines the three boxes. The first is small like a jewelry box with golden pedestal legs and an oval light blue cushion top, something an admirer would give to a love interest. The second box is larger, the size of a Kleenex box, and made of monkey wood. A puzzle box, perhaps? Selena feels wary of this one for some unknown reason, as though it might have secrets of its own hidden inside. The last box is the largest of the three, but still no more than twelve inches tall or wide. It is sturdy; made of mahogany wood, but plain, as if what you see is exactly what you get.
“I’ll pick this one,” Selena points to the largest box.
“Then it is yours,” Maggie smiles and stands tall again. “I wish you the best, Selena.” Her bright eyes look at Selena warmly as if conveying the truth of her sentiment. Then without further fanfare, Maggie turns her attention back to the noisy crowd of customers collecting in her tent.
Selena leaves The Sideshow carrying her chosen box, ready to see Madame Zofina. Her fingers can feel the smoothness of the wood. A thought creeps up through her hands and wiggles its way into her awareness, “What’s inside the box?”
She laughs at herself. Really? Her little adventure must have suckered her into Josie’s world of fortune cookie logic. Now, she’s actually curious about what’s inside the box. Ridiculous!
Still, tonight had changed her somehow, hadn’t it? A tiny part of herself speaks up pointing out the truth. The Tall Man, Joe, Maggie, even the damn clowns, they had gotten to her somehow, softened her, made her see the world differently. What will happen when she opens the box?
Well, I guess I’m about to find out, she reasons. Back at the Fortune Teller’s lair, Selena takes a deep breath and goes inside.
“You’ve returned, child,” Madame Zofina’s voice fills the tent, “and I see that you’ve chosen a box. Good, bring it here.”
Selena’s eyes begin to adjust to the dim lighting and gradually she sees Madame Zofina seated at the round table.
“Have a seat, Selena,” Madame Zofina gestures with a wave of the hand. “Are you ready to open the box?”
“So, the box will tell me my future?” Selena asks as she places the box on the table. She catches the nervousness in her voice as it echoes back to her.
“The box will tell you what you need to know about the future, so you can be happier,” Madame Zofina answers and as she speaks she rises from her chair. Graceful as a kitty, she moves to stand behind Selena. “Go ahead, child. Open the box.”
Selena feels a tingling sliver of hope that maybe this might work. She opens the box. Stunned, she stares at it trying to make sense of what she finds.
“I don’t understand,” Selena utters the words out loud without taking her eyes off the box.
“You don’t understand?” Madame Zofina asks. “You’re such a clever girl. I thought you might have guessed.”
“There’s nothing in here, except for a mirror. It’s just an empty box!” Selena’s voice rises in pitch, unable to hide the anger at being played a fool.
“In that way, the box is exactly like the future, Selena. My dear, the future does not exist. Not really. It lives only in the imagination. It is a myth we tell ourselves to inspire fear or hope, a convention of time used for planning. But we never live in the future, do we? Each minute when it arrives is exactly as it has always been, the present.,” Madame Zofina sighs.
“So, this has all been for nothing. There is no special box that is “very old and very wise” that can help me,” Selena replies. Her words drop to the ground like a deflated balloon.
“You’re wrong, Selena. The box is very wise. Look into the mirror, child,” upon saying the words Madame Zofina places both hands softly on Selena’s shoulders.
Selena’s image begins to change. The color drains from her face and clothes melding into tones of white, black and red. She watches in horror as she sees herself once again trapped inside a clown.
“The present only becomes a nightmare when it doesn’t reflect who you truly are. Good and bad things will always come and go, but it is when you stop making our own choices that everything around you becomes distorted, and you’re left feeling like something is missing. What you are missing is yourself, Selena,” after hearing the words the image swirls and again Selena is staring at her real face.
“My dear child, start making your own choices instead of pleasing those around you. The more you express yourself, the more you will see your true face in your surroundings, the world around will start to reflect the world within.”
“I’m so lost, Madame Zofina. I don’t even know who I am,” Selena slumps in her chair.
“Turn the box over, Selena,” Madame Zofina’s voice floats gently like a grandmother coaxing a tired child.
When she turns the box upside-down, Selena sees a tiny golden lever. She’s holding a music box.
“The box is wise because it listens. It listens not only to words and thoughts, but to feelings that are rarely given voice. Tonight, it has been listening to you. Wind the music box, child,” Madame Zofina leans in closer still keeping her hands lightly on Selena’s shoulders. She whispers into her ear, “This is who you are.”
Words flood Selena’s mind like an ocean. Some phrases start to surface and she begins to hear them echo through out the room.
“I don’t need a Fortune Teller to tell me my life will be screwed up in the future!” She hears her thoughts out loud and watches in the mirror as she enters the carnival. A recording of the past, but unlike a movie, she feels the emotions.
Madame Zofina watches and laughs, “I love that you think for yourself. Very smart. No one dictates your future!”
Now Selena sees herself standing outside the Fortune Teller’s tent looking angry. She hears her own voice sharing her unsaid thoughts at the time, “Even if this is stupid, I’m not going to let Josie down. I can’t lie to her, so I’m going to do this.”
“Honest and loyal,” Madame Zofina whispers behind her.
The images start to blur together and the phrases blend out of sequence. She sees herself with the Tall Man and then trying to open the wrought iron gates. The words call out, “There’s no going back. I’m happier alone than with a man like that. When you can’t go backwards, you have to go forward, right?”
“You are strong, Selena!” The Fortune Teller’s voice rises above the blending memories.
Now she’s in the Funhouse watching her face turn from a clown into her own. “I’d rather be alone and laughed at than to be stuck in this hideous image. Set me free. I want to see myself.” She feels gratitude swell in her heart looking at her true image.
“Beautiful, my child. You are beautiful!” Madame Zofina’s voice rings out.
The Tall Man is back. He leans down to hear her answer, “Yes, I’m a writer. I love to write. If only I had a pen I would stop everything and capture it all.”
The flood of images takes Selena back to the beginning of her night. She sees Madame Zofina rise to retrieve a small object from a nearby shelf, “How could such a beautiful, strong, smart woman, such as yourself, not be happy? We live in a truly strange world, I think.” This time Selena sees the sadness in Madame Zofina’s eyes as she says the words.
Madame Zofina closes the box. The room returns to normal. The Fortune Teller sits next to Selena and gently holds her hand.
“The world is only strange when you are a stranger to yourself. You are beautiful, strong, smart and honest. Show yourself in your writing, your friendships, work, and in everything you do and to everyone you meet. Then your world will not be strange, because you will recognize yourself in it.”
Selena feels her eyes tear up not from sadness, but from a sense of feeling loved and understood.
“Madame Zofina, where does your magic come from?” Selena asks.
“Oh no, my dear. That wasn’t me. That was you. The box has been listening to you, remember? You put everything inside.”
“I don’t have any magic,” Selena shakes her head in disbelief.
“Don’t you? Creating worlds out of thin air, isn’t that what writers do?” Madame Zofina winks and laughs.
Not sure of what to make of that revelation, Selena decides to laugh with her, because laughing feels incredibly good.
“How can I repay you for this gift?” Selena asks.
“Your friend Josie asked the same question.”
“Yes,” Madame Zofina reaches into her pocket and hands Selena a ticket. “Give this to someone who needs it. All I ask for is a name. Can you think of someone?”
Selena stares into Madame Zofina’s green cat eyes and gives it some thought.
“Oh, yes. I have a name,” Selena answers.
Dearest Reader, the one who was willing to read to the very end of this long tale. The one who has walked hand and hand with me in this imaginary carnival. Did you guess the name given? You’re so clever, I’m sure you did.