Kevin read the sign above the door again.
Madame Veronica: Clairvoyant and Psychic Healer.
It had been a year since the accident. His memory of that night was still sketchy. They’d been at the Andersons’ for dinner. Lars had been overgenerous with the wine, as usual. He’d argued with Gillian over who should drive home. Gillian had driven. No, he had. There was a deer. A tree. The hospital.
Months hooked up to a respirator, and round-the-clock medical care had followed.
Gillian was gone. He’d overheard the nurses. Nobody had thought to tell him that she’d slipped away. The rest was a blur of machines and medical staff. None of it felt important. Till this morning.
They’d finally switched off that damned respirator and unplugged him from it. He was free.
They’d kept him in the bed, of course, observations, and whatnot, but he’d found a quiet moment when the weeping visitors had left, when the nurses were busy at their station, and he’d made a run for it.
Kevin had walked the unfamiliar streets around the hospital. He’d walked till he couldn’t feel his feet. He hadn’t known where to go, what to do. He’d lost Gillian, had never begged her forgiveness, had never kissed her one last time. His last words to her had been spat in irritation and hubris.
On his third pass by Madame Veronica’s, he stopped. Maybe his feet were tired, maybe he’d given up. He read the sign again, then peered through the glass. The musty shelves were overstuffed with novelty store trinkets designed to set the mood. Crystal balls held aloft by herds of dragons, plastic claw back-scratchers, Tarot cards, and wands. Madame Veronica was bound to be a hoax.
“Hello, pet. I’ve been expecting you” Madame Veronica, framed in the doorway, beckoned to him.
She looked like a quilt stuffed with too much batting, but she had the kindest amber eyes Kevin had ever seen.
“Come in, love. I was just about to put the kettle on.” Kevin let himself be ushered into the dimly lit shop. Lighting for effect, he imagined. It probably helped the more timorous to believe in all this nonsense.
“She’ll be here any minute, ya know.” How did he know she was talking about Gillian? How was he so certain?
“Got in touch months ago. She was in quite a flap about you, desperate to make contact. She wasn’t a believer then.” Madame Veronica chuckled quietly. “They all come ‘round in the end.”
“Blames herself, poor lamb.” Her eyebrows tilted further downwards at the edges, reminding Kevin of Saturday morning cartoons and Droopy dog. He almost let out a guffaw, but Madame Veronica’s head jerked up and she fixed him with those amber eyes. “She’s here.”
Kevin couldn’t tear his gaze from those eyes. He felt himself sucked into them, like he was no more substantial than smoke. His vision clouded. He heard the front door open and close, recognised the familiar scent of citrus and clove, of Gillian. Even before his vision cleared, even before she spoke, he knew it was her.
Gillian stood in front of him. A silvery scar decorated her temple above her right eyebrow. That was new. Her shoulders drooped more, her back seemed more hunched. She looked tired, like she slept too little and cried too much.
“Madame Veronica, is he here?” Gillian’s voice was distant, muffled.
Words jostled each other to spill from his mouth, logjammed, and sealed his lips. He managed a weak nod. Why couldn’t she see him?
“Oh, Kev.” Gillian slapped a hand to her mouth. “I — I never in a million years thought I’d have to say this to your ghost. I should have driven. You were in no fit state. I’m sorry.”
Image credit: OpenClipart-Vectors/pixabay
Oh my, Asha. That climax. Sucker punch. I did not see that coming. I did feel the pace at the beginning was a bit sketchy and scattered but it picked up beautifully in the second half. That breathlessness, the strain, the waiting all captured so well!
Thank you! Yes, the initial pacing is way off. Another few rounds of edits and it would have been better, but deadlines, DEADLINES. You know how that goes.
Love the way you’ve written it. I was kind of expecting the ending but it was fun to read.
Shailaja’s already mentioned the pacing at the beginning. I thought you pulled off the twist well. I did not see it coming, but recognized after reading that Kevin had no home, had just been wandering. The descriptions of Madame V’s room were spare but perfect.
Yes, that initial pacing is whack. I need to go back and fix that. Thank you, lovely!
I was beginning to think I was the only one who didn’t do a poem 🙂
I really loved this line the best: She looked like a quilt stuffed with too much batting, <– love it so much I want to hug it.
The way you revealed that twist, really worked and I wasn't even thinking about a twist. I liked the wandering feel, but too, agree that the pacing at the beginning wasn't quite working.
To be honest, you wrote this ghost so well, your dialogue at the end might have more impact to not actually /say/ ghost, KWIM?
I so rarely do poems (shhh don’t tell anyone, but they’re really hard). Poor ol’ Madame V. She was modelled on my eldest son’s former English teacher.
I really like how Kevin ended up in the parlor — that he was sort of drawn there out of desperation.
As an aside, I’ve always wanted to have my fortune told. But, I suspect it would be a pretty boring tale.
My mother is a great believer in clairvoyants. I am firmly, belligerently not! Though I’m not averse to having my fortune told or my palm read. It’s fun for me, while it’s serious business for others.
Nice twist at the end! I would love to read more about Madame Veronica in another story. Her character is so rich even though her part in the story is small.
Through the grapevine I heard there was a twist in this story. Knowing that, I had a feeling I knew where this was headed. Still, it was heartbreaking. Well done.
I read dead people. They’re everywhere.
What is it with you and my earworms this week?
I like the unraveling of the twist from the moment Madam Veronica greets him. I would also like more about her – the idea of her story being told through Kevin’s eyes is kind of intriguing.
The whole bit at Madame Veronica’s is so engaging, starting with the descriptions, which allow for a great visual of her place. I’m afraid I did guess the ending, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I’ve used that twist before myself so the minute he was unhooked from the respirator, I guessed. You have to put some foreshadowing in there though!
I thought there was a clue in the fact that he couldn’t actually remember who had driven home, but the twist was still surprising and gut-wrenching. I loved how real his interactions with the clairvoyant felt.