#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #20


by Lillian Csernica on May 20, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

A loved one is of utmost importance at this time.

SPECIAL NEEDS

I sat there on the generic brown couch, staring up at the TV screen mounted high in one corner. Hospitals. Designed to give you a crick in the neck. You were lying in bed looking up at the TV, or you were sitting in some “Family Lounge” praying the news was good or at least bearable.

It was four a.m. on a Tuesday in late April. I sat in the “Family Lounge” trying not to cry. One of the CNAs, Delia, slept on the other couch. Using her lunch break to take a nap. I didn’t want to wake her. She’d rather sleep than eat. That said a lot about how little sleep she generally got.

I knew all about sleep deprivation. Tommy was back in the hospital again. Another infection. The immune system of a premature baby isn’t very strong. Tommy had made it to age ten, but even so, none of his systems were all that strong. He held on. He kept breathing. His heart kept beating. His organs continued to develop. The doctors were amazed. If Tommy’s life had been a song, that would have been the chorus. The doctors were amazed. And so I sat there, recharging my phone, watching the minute hand of the clock move or staring at the blank black mirror of the plasma screen TV.

Tommy had to live, to go on surviving. If he didn’t, that would finish me. Losing Bobby had been hard enough. Eighteen weeks. Early rupture. He was fine. It was me, my body, that couldn’t carry him to term. I lost him. That horrible moment when I really understood the emptiness where he had been. He’d just started kicking. I was happy, really happy, for the first time in years. That lasted two days, maybe three. Then my water broke too soon, and the nightmare began.

I knew a lot about hospitals. I could write a Lonely Planet guidebook comparing the beds, the food in the cafeterias, what there was to do in the surrounding neighborhoods. I always knew where to find a bookstore, or at least a drugstore with a news stand. When Tommy had to spend a whole summer in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I blew through at least a dozen books. When I finished them I’d leave some for any of the RNs who wanted them.

The clock said five a.m. Delia’s phone alarm went off. She sat up, smoothed her hair, tugged at her scrubs, then gave me that smile that was part pity and part professional compassion. She went back to work. The Infectious Disease unit. What fun. I’d want to burn my clothes and throw away my shoes every single night.

Two hours until shift change. The blood draws usually started at six a.m. so the results were ready in time for Rounds. That was a three hour window of muscle-knotting tension spent constantly on the alert for the five or ten minutes of the specialist’s time. Were the test results good? Did they show progress? Were we a day closer to discharge? The doctors were like Santa Claus. They appeared, dropped off their packets of information, then hurried on. So many more houses to visit, so many more patients to see. Instead of eight tiny reindeer, they had residents and physician’s assistants and sometimes a flock of student nurses who stood out like a flock of geese in their white scrubs. I often wondered if they made the students wear white scrubs so any mistake would leave a telltale mark. There are a lot of bodily fluids splashing around in hospitals, especially in the Infectious Disease unit.

Then came the empty hours until lunchtime. Linen changes. Emptying the catheter bag. Making sure Tommy’s pain levels were still under good control. Just awake enough to be bored, too worn out to do anything about it. I spent a lot of time reading to him, trying to find something entertaining on the hospital’s available TV channels, or just sitting there watching him sleep. It’s a terrible thing when you’re happy to see your child lying there unconscious because it’s the preferable alternative.

Stephen, my husband and Tommy’s father, spent his days at work maintaining the insurance coverage, paying the endless medical bills, keeping our life moving forward until that time when Tommy could come home again. He did his part and I did mine as I sat there alone, watching the empty black mirror of the big plasma screen.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #19


by Lillian Csernica on May 19, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Your shoes will make you happy today.

 

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #17


by Lillian Csernica on May 17th, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.

dis·cord
ˈdiskôrd/
noun
noun: discord
  1. 1.
    disagreement between people.
    “a prosperous family who showed no signs of discord

    • lack of agreement or harmony between things.
      “the discord between indigenous and Western cultures”
  2. 2.
    Music
    lack of harmony between notes sounding together.
    “the music faded in discord”
    synonyms: dissonance, discordance, disharmony, cacophony

    “the music faded in discord”
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BusinessInsider.com

Here we have a bunch of people singing the same note in terms of the political ideology they espouse.  Is this harmonious? No. It is not.

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We need all the notes, all the chords, all the melodies to come together in the great orchestral voice of life. May a joyful noise until the Lord! Sing out with all your heart! Go tell it on the mountain! Punk rock, bagpipes, ocarinas and kazoos. Let’s do it!

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #16


by Lillian Csernica on May 16, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Do not mistake temptation for opportunity.

VICTORY IS SWEET

Regina sat in the highest room atop the marble tower on the Isle of the Turquoise Clouds. In honor of the coming moment, she wore midnight blue velvet, her river of black hair swept up and held in place with clusters of diamonds. On the desk before her lay two pieces of parchment. On one, a list topped by the word Temptation. On the other, a similar list topped by the word Opportunity. She contemplated the words written beneath Temptation, inked in the blood of a rare night bird. Words of power. Words of warning. Dangerous words. As such, all the more attractive.

Beneath Opportunity lay words written in ink made of water from the Sacred Spring of Seven Rainbows mixed with the crushed petals of the Sunrise Lotus, which blossomed only on the morning of the first day of the New Year. Fortune favored the prepared mind. Regina had made her preparations with the greatest care. The decision that lay before her could alter destinies beyond the scope of her imagination, perhaps even beyond the reach of her dreams.

The first full moon of Spring hung round and bright. The night-blooming flowers raised their faces in its silvery light, loosing their fragrances upon the evening breeze. The constellations graced the heavens with their sparkling patterns. Regina read the lists again, then bent her head. A nod, a bow, a gesture of surrender to the ineffable powers of Chance and Fate.

The hourglass ran empty. The moment of decision had arrived.

At the base of the tower, the ship’s bell rang three times. Regina rose from the desk, taking one list with her. She walked to the ivory lattice gates that opened onto a shaft running the length of the tower. Summoning a turquoise cloud, Regina descended to the ground floor. She raised one hand and the heavy oaken door swung inward.

Before her stood a creature that came up to her shoulder. It wore a white shirt, blue lederhosen, black shoes with shiny buckles, and one of those ridiculous Robin Hood-style hats that failed to hide the creature’s pointed ears. On one small hand rested an oblong box wrapped in scarlet silk. On the other hand rested another oblong box wrapped in silk the blue of a perfect summer sky.

“The red,” Regina said.

“You are certain?” The creature’s high, reedy voice sounded like crickets. “The penalty is the loss of our deliveries for the remainder of your lifetime.”

“Do not presume to instruct me. The next decision I make could cause you considerable pain.”

The creature bowed. “As you wish.”

Regina took the scarlet box and unwrapped the silk. To choose Temptation was to risk everything she’d learned, everything she’d built. To choose Opportunity meant running the same risk, but the reward was tremendous.

The silk fell away, baring a box made of sturdy brown paper. She opened the end flaps. A tube of mirror-bright silver slid out onto her palm. Inside lay twenty-four discs of the finest baked confection known to any living being.

“Well chosen,” the creature said. “Few can penetrate the logic of the double-bluff.” It stepped back and made Regina another bow. “Until next year.”

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #15


byLillian Csernica on May 15, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Avert misunderstanding by calm, poise, and balance.

THE POWER OF THE POSE

The Almond Walk pedestrian mall took up a third of the oldest part of town. That meant most of the CCTV cameras were busy watching traffic patterns. Anna kept to the alleys between the stucco walls. It was just her rotten luck Jessica had decided to mask her latest poison green hair color by dying it all black. Without the elaborate makeup Jessica learned from YouTube tutorials, the cousins could almost pass for sisters.

Two CDs. One tacky necklace. Some pricey makeup. It didn’t matter. What Jessica wanted, Jessica took. That had always been true, from the days when they were in kindergarten and Jessica would push Anna aside during Anna’s birthday parties so Jessica could tear open the presents first. And still the aunts and uncles kept pushing the girls together, laughing off such cruelties and ignoring Anna’s disappointed wails.

Anna ran between two of the potted palms. She should have known better than to believe Jessica when she said she’d behave herself this time. Anna’s mother warned her not to go shopping with her sticky-fingered cousin. And now the only way out was through the parking garage, where Anna’s car was parked. Plenty of CCTV in there. The guards would be watching for Jessica, who had done herself up to look like Anna.

Was it just her cousin’s warped sense of humor? Or something more vicious?

A burst of Jessica’s smug laughter echoed off the walls of the parking garage, which was just up ahead. Anna had to get off the street, out of sight. She ducked into the delivery door around the back of one dress shop. This place used the old-fashioned kind of mannequins that looked like life-size Barbie dolls, the kind from the ’70s.

The clothes weren’t much better. A retro shop, full of caftans and go go boots, mini skirts and tye-dye. Still, this was not a shop Jessica would be likely to loot. Anna kicked off her sandals, pulled her sun dress off over her head, then wriggled into a body hugging minidress of psychedelic paisley. A heavy blonde wig hid her own black hair. She found some huge silver hoop earrings, a fistful of mismatched silver chains, and some bangles. The security guards would be looking for Jessica. Anna still had the car keys. She’d made very sure Jessica hadn’t found a way to get copies made.

Anna slipped out into the main sales floor of the shop. She took her place between two mannequins dressed in similar styles. One hand on her hip, the other hand in a casual gesture. Weight on her back leg, front foot turned out. That look of superior disinterest word by all mannequins.

Two security guards burst in through the front door, making the string of cheap brass bells clatter. They combed through all the aisles, pushing through racks of clothing and checking the empty dressing rooms. Anna held her breath, held her pose, and kept her face that immobile mask of indifference. This was Anna’s secret weapon. Jessica couldn’t hold still. Couldn’t be patient. Couldn’t wait to get what she wanted. She had to have it all right now now now!

One guard’s radio crackled to life. Trouble in the parking garage. A girl matching the description of the thief trying to break into a car. She kept insisting she was the owner.  Anna fumed. Could this be all about stealing Anna’s car while getting her busted for shoplifting in Jessica’s place?

Anna kept still, holding the pose despite the ache in her back and the stiffness in one knee. Reports started coming in. The other security teams had found only one girl fitting the shopkeepers’ descriptions. Jessica. She tried to claim she was Anna. Hearing that made Anna furious. So it was all a set up!

Pain in her legs. Pain up her back. Pain in her ears from the weight of the earrings. The wig made sweat run down the sides of her fave. Still she kept her pose. Payback was coming, and she wanted to be there to see it.

The guards hauled Jessica into the back of the retro dress shop. One took her purse and shook it out, dumping the CDs, makeup, and the ugly necklace.

“I’m telling you,” Jessica snapped. “My cousin grabbed my bag and switched it for hers!”

“And you expect us to believe that wasn’t all part of the plan?”

Jessica sulked, arms crossed tight over her chest. “I don’t care what you believe. I want my mother and a lawyer.”

Anna held on, listening to the questioning, delighting in the shopkeeper identifying Jessica, and treasuring the way the arrogant edge began to wear off of Jessica’s voice. Anna held her pose despite the aches and pains and knots in her muscles.

When the real police arrived, Anna was ready to scream with relief. The security guards handed Jessica over to them, and they cuffed her. Oh, the sweet music of the bracelets jingling on her cousins’ wrists.

Once the police and security cars all drove off, Anna flopped down to pull off the boots, fling aside the wig, and peel off the minidress. With a happy sense of her own bland but appropriate style, she hurried out to her card and drove home where she would sit in happy anticipation of the family uproar once word got out that Jessica finally got caught.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #14


by Lillian Csernica on May 14, 2018

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First, let me apologize for the two missing fortune posts. Due to technical difficulties my laptop ate #11, and then Mother’s Day festivities saw me taking my 81 year old mother to a seaside restaurant. That’s what she wanted, and we had a lot of fun.

Here I am, back in harness again. Please do feel free to join in and write, draw, photograph, et al whatever you find fitting for the Fortune Cookie of the Day. Post your links in the comments so everybody can share!

Today’s fortune says:

You have unusual equipment for success, use it properly.

READY, WILLING, AND ABLE

Gordon sat in The Bean Machine, at his favorite table near the window. The open front door faced onto the street, letting a nice breeze scented with the jasmine that grew in the pots outside. Gordon ran one hand over the back of his neck, pleased to feel the even border of his freshly trimmed brown hair. A button down shirt and tan slacks suited the late spring day. He liked to dress up a bit when he came to the coffeehouse. This window looked up the slight hill to the main intersection in the shopping district. Jenna, his favorite barista, had been kind enough to put a handicapped access table by the window. Now he could sit there in his wheelchair, lingering over his espresso and lemon scone, watching the world go by.

He had a Kindle. He had his phone. He even had his fancy leather-covered notebook and a package of his favorite ballpoint pens. His friends teased him. Leather notebook with Celtic knotwork, cheap dollar store pens. He liked the feel of the pens, the way their ink moved across the paper. Ever since the truck accident a year ago, Gordon couldn’t feel his legs. His hands meant that much more.

So he wrote, and he played chess, and he painted ceramics at the local community center. And once a week he took the special public transit bus downtown to the coffeehouse and sat there watching all the people come and go, the people with legs that still worked, the old people who hobbled along with walkers and the little kids still learning how to steer themselves. He worked at living an independent life, and told himself every day it could be so much worse.

From up the street came a woman’s scream. People shouting.  A teenage boy, running toward Gordon, shoving through the crowd, carrying a big pink purse.

Gordon rolled back from his table, spun around, and powered forward to the front door.

“Gordon!” Jenna called. “What are you–”

“Push me!” He switched to manual. “Hurry!”

Jenna dashed out from behind the counter, grabbed the chair’s handles, and threw her weight behind the push. The two of them shot out the front door just ahead of the boy hurtling down the sidewalk. He hit the side of Gordon’s chair and fell across Gordon’s lap. Gordon caught one flailing wrist and twisted the boy’s arm up behind his back. Jenna bent to pick up the pink purse.

“You got him!” A woman in pink shorts, a bright orange tank top, and pink sunglasses caught up. “Thank you! Thank you so much!’

A man in a leather bomber jacket, jeans, and plain gray T shirt jogged over to them. He held up a badge. “I’m Steve Harris, patrol officer. I’ll call this in.”

“Way to go, Gordon!” Jenna hugged him.

An hour later, Gordon, Jenna, and Steve sat at Gordon’s favorite table. The purse snatcher was in custody and the woman in pink had gone to the police station to press charges.

“That took some precise timing,” Steve said. “You really know how to handle that chair.”

Gordon smiled down at his hands.  “Practice. Lots and lots of practice.”

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #11


by Lillian Csernica on May 11, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

The prospect of a thrilling time awaits you.

THE JOKE’S ON YOU

Tom stared up at the purple roller coaster. Against the night sky, it was alive with rows of blinking white lights. The lime green cars held ten riders. As they climbed the hills and roared down into the curving twists, the cars whirled round and round. The riders exiting the latest car grabbed the rails along the walkway as they made their way out. More than one looked pale and sick.

“Nope. Not for love or money.”

“Oh come on.” Natalie slurped up more of her giant pink slushie. “I went on those boring boats.”

“It was a flume ride!”

“Boring. Twenty minutes of waiting for what? Floating along in the dark and then whoosh!” She plucked at her damp blouse. “I’m still wet, and now I’m cold!”

“That hell wagon is guaranteed to make me heave up everything I’ve eaten for the past five years.”

“Buzz kill.” Natalie scowled. She reached up to brush his thick brown curls out of his eyes. “What happened to you, Tom? You used to be the craziest guy in college. Everybody waited for you to show up on Fail Army.” She used the hood of her jacket to rub more water out of her long blonde hair. “Nobody could believe how lucky you were.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it.” Tom grinned. “I respect the Laws of Physics.”

Natalie pouted. “We’re supposed to be having fun.”

Not for the first time, Tom measured Natalie’s stunning face and figure against the fact that he’d stepped in puddles deeper than her personality.

“Most people wouldn’t consider ‘putting our lives in danger’ the usual definition of fun.”

“When did you get so boring?”

Tom wondered that himself. He’d graduated with a B.S. in IT. Hired on with a good software company. Found an apartment near work and settled into a steady routine of work, computer games, tabletop RPGs on the weekends, and the occasional camping trip. A good life, but truth be told, he did miss some of the wild times.

“Tell you what. The park closes in half an hour. You were talking about the Scare Shack. Give me a pass on Barney’s Barf-o-Matic here and I’ll go with you through the haunted house.”

Natalie gave him a brilliant smile and hugged his arm. “You’ll keep me safe, right?”

“Right. I’ll stuff the monsters back into their coffins.”

The Scare Shack looked like a cross between a Gothic cathedral with too many gargoyles and the college dorm of every serial killer in Hollywood. Inside, the walls painted black, flickering strobe lights, ultraviolet lights making monster face graffiti blaze out of the darkness. Tom put Natalie in front of him and kept his hands on her shoulders. As long as she could see them coming, the scares would stay funny and safe. He had no intention of letting anybody sneak up on her.

They followed the green-painted path through the usual set pieces. The graveyard, with its zombies and vampires. The saw mill, with the blood and gore and body parts. Tom blinked. The strobes were giving him a headache. Sudden darkness eclipsed even the day-glow paint on the walls and floor.

“Tom? Tom!”

“I’m right here, Nat.” He tightened his grip on her shoulders. “No worries, honey.”

“What’s happening?”

“Just keep moving forward. This is all part of the show.”

The floor sloped downward. Natalie lost her balance, flailed out, and fell forward, pulling out of Tom’s grip.

“Tom!” Her screamed faded as she rolled away into the smothering dark.

“Nat! Natalie!” Tom lunged forward. His foot came down on a flat surface. The floor was even again. A trapdoor? “Hey! Hey! Turn the lights on right now!”

He turned sideways, reaching out both hands, trying to find the wall. The darkness was so absolute he couldn’t even see the standard red EXIT signs. Time to get out and find somebody official. Several long, thin strands fell from the ceiling, spilling down around his neck. Wet and slimy, they stank of old metal. Copper. Tom seized handfuls and flung them away.

“That’s it! I’m calling the cops!”

He pulled his phone out of his pocket. The slime on his hands made him fumble and drop his phone. He sank down on his knees and patted the ground around him. Tiny scratchings and scrabblings swarmed around him. Furry bodies ran over his hands. Things dropped on to his back and scuttled down his arms.

Tom crawled forward, banging his knees in his haste. His hands came down on smooth, cold bodies wriggling away. Jerking back, he fell face forward. Reflex made him tuck his shoulder under so he rolled onto his back.

“Turn on the lights!” His voice turned shrill. “Get me out of here!”

Above him, two eyes opened, eyes as wide as his arms were long. The pupils blazed an ugly orange.

“Thomas Caldwell Morton.”

The voice rolled out over him like notes from and old pipe organ. The bones inside him vibrated with the sound. Tom clapped his hands over his ears, pulling his knees up to his chest, curling into a tight ball.

The lights came on, blinding him.

“Surprise!”

Tom opened his eyes. He lay on the green pathway. Voices up ahead. Laughter. Flashes of light. Tom raised his head. Natalie stood there, surrounded by a butcher, a zombie, a vampire, a girl with several fake stab wounds. Tom shook his head and got to his feet.

“Oh Tom, wait til you see what the night vision camera got! You were so funny!”

Natalie ran forward, arms out for a hug. Tom dodged her like a bullfighter escaping the horns. He spotted his phone and snatched it up. Natalie stared at him, her smile fading.

“Tom?”

He turned to see the Scare Shack workers still standing there. “Get out. Anybody I catch gets one hell of a beating!”

They all bolted out the EXIT door.

“Tom? Come on, it was just a joke!”

The whine in Natalie’s voice sliced into Tom’s last nerve. She reached for him again. He slapped her hands aside. He looked up to see the orange lights rigged into the framework above him. Planned. Someone had planned it all. He glared into Natalie’s wide eyes.

“Did you do this? Did you?”

“You needed to loosen up! You were turning into a corporate zombie!”

“You bitch.” He dialed 911. When the operator answered, he put the phone on speaker mode. “I need help. There’s a girl here who’s freaking out. We’re in the Scare Shack.”

Natalie backed up, knocking over a pile of severed heads. Tom caught her by the arm and dragged her back up the pathway to the graveyard. He kicked open the lid of the coffin, yanked out the zombie mannequin, and pushed Natalie forward. She tripped on the edge of the coffin and toppled over, falling face first into the coffin.

“Tom! Stop it! What’s wrong with you?”

Tom shut the lid of the coffin and sat on top of it. Natalie screamed, kicking her heels against the lid. A joke. Really. And she’d recorded it.

“Natalie? Where’s the camera?”

“In the office! Let me out! I’ll show you!”

“Have your little friends already put it on YouTube? Have they shown everybody?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know who’s still here!”

Tom stood up. Before Natalie could get the lid open, he yanked down two of the mourning angel grave markers. They were heavy enough to keep the lid shut. He ran to the office. Sure enough, somebody’s ghostbuster night vision camera had been wired into the security system. Tom disconnected it and stuffed the camera into one of the park’s souvenir bags. He hurried back to the graveyard and put the angels back in place.

The sirens pulled up outside. Two paramedics rushed in, carrying their bags. The older one looked around.

“Where is she?”

The lid of the coffin flew open. Natalie sat up, covered in cobwebs and fake spiders. She fought the sticky strands, screaming and crying.

“He did it!” she cried. “He shut me in this coffin! He’s crazy!”

Tom shook his head. “She’s a Walking Dead fan. Wanted to be a zombie. I don’t know what she’s on.”

The lead paramedic stepped toward the coffin, holding out his hand. “Miss, please calm down. We’re here to help you.”

Natalie scrambled out of the coffin. She snatched up a white wooden cross marking a grave and held up the pointy end. “I’m not the crazy one! Tom’s nuts! It was all just a joke!”

Half an hour later, after listening to Natalie rave on about the “joke” she played on Tom, with the help of all the missing staff, the police relieved the paramedics of custody, cuffed Natalie, and put her in the back of the squad car. Tom walked out to the parking lot, carrying the bag with the camera in it.

5150. A seventy-two hour psychiatric hold in the county behavioral health unit. No makeup, no nail polish, no fancy shampoo, and no cell phone. If Natalie wasn’t already nuts, she would be by the time they let her out.

Tom smiled.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie 10


by Lillian Csernica on May 10, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.

All God’s Children

Gloria had a rough time living up to her name. During some Christmas when she was just a little girl, somebody had told her about “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Gloria liked the sound of “Glory to God in the highest” in Latin and in plain English. She figured out “the highest” meant Heaven. It was the other thing she figured out that ended up causing all the trouble.

Gloria’s mother Jenny started out looking a trifle too wild for the folks at St. Michael’s. She had tattoos, a few piercings, and a braid dyed pink and blue and purple. She turned up in the soup kitchen on the same weekend we were there serving dinner. Three of our church ladies had done the cooking. I was the parish council Treasurer in those days. I played a fair amount of football in college, so a big solid linebacker came in handy loading and unloading the church van as well as making sure our church ladies didn’t have any trouble with some of the rougher folks we served.

Jenny started to turn up at St. Michael’s on Sundays. At first she just needed the box of donated food from the church pantry. Pretty soon she was coming to Mass. She wore long sleeves and left most of her jewelry at home, and covered up her hair with a nice floral scarf. In the beginning Jenny was just being polite, showing respect and coming to Mass as a way of saying thank you for the help we gave her. The one time I saw Gloria’s daddy out in the parking lot, it was obvious he wasn’t much of a church-going man. Reminded me of the more unpleasant type of tough guy who spent most of his time pickled in alcohol.

Jenny gave birth to Gloria the day after Christmas. By then Jenny had been coming to St. Michael’s for over a year, helping clean the church and the hall, working in the garden, and pitching in wherever help was needed. She was grateful for all the help the ladies gave her, making sure she saw the doctor and took her vitamins and knew what to expect. Jenny showed her gratitude the best way she knew how, with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Whoever she had been, she let that phase of her life go. She’d more than proven herself to be a good woman with proper manners and a kind heart.

Jenny asked Fr. Daniel if he’d baptize Gloria, and he was happy to oblige. He offered Jenny the same opportunity, and she accepted. That was one of the happiest days at St. Michael’s I was ever privileged to see. Jenny never talked much about herself or where she’d come from. That didn’t matter so much. She’d joined the family of our parish.

Poor Gloria. When her mama was a wild child who worked hard to do right by her baby, that meant Gloria had a lot to live up to, especially being a girl. Everything seemed to be just fine until the day Marigold moved into the apartment next door to Jenny and Gloria. Confirmation classes had started, so Gloria was twelve, that dangerous age between child and teenager, between playing with dolls and wanting to hang out with the big kids. Marigold was a sweet enough woman, fresh and pretty with her white blonde hair and ’60s style clothes. She wore enough bracelets and necklaces to sink a battleship. We always knew when Marigold was coming because she jingled louder than the bells on Santa Claus’ sleigh.

Marigold’s front yard was full of garden gnomes and copper dragonflies and wind chimes and bird feeders and those colorful flowers with big petals that spun in a stiff breeze. Gloria loved it, and she loved Marigold’s black cat Sable. Jenny told me later that she should have been more careful about letting Gloria run over to Marigold’s place so much. Jenny knew what all the candles and crystals and little fairy figurines meant.

Marigold called herself a witch.

I’ll admit that caused some of us at St. Michael’s quite a bit of worry. Fr. Daniel just smiled and reminded us to look to the health and well-being of our own souls. So we watched and we waited.

Gloria took an interest in all the pets in the neighborhood. Cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs. There was one boa constrictor, but Jenny was relieved to see Gloria had no desire to play with it. This all seemed like a healthy, innocent hobby, even when Gloria wanted to start having little birthday parties for the pets. Jenny noticed Gloria was spending a lot more time at the library. When she wasn’t there, she was over at Marigold’s place.

Gloria had a problem. The animals couldn’t talk. How could she find out what to give them for birthday presents? Marigold let her borrow a book on astrology. That’s what started it. Gloria looked up all the birth dates she’d been able to learn, and then made up a few for the animals whose owners had no idea. She ended up with a notebook full of page after page devoted to each pet and what the astrology book said about its sign.

Giving Sable a birthday party with a Leo theme seemed harmless enough. Catnip toys and kitty treats and a special salmon cake. Gloria had saved up her pocket money.

This led to reading more books about stranger subjects. Jenny put her foot down and sent Gloria to have a talk with Fr. Daniel. I’d have given a lot to listen in on that conversation. I was in the church hall when the two of them came out of Fr. Daniel’s office. He thanked Gloria for giving him so much to think about. Gloria said she’d take “those” books back to the library.

Advent had come round again. That Sunday Fr. Daniel gave a sermon we’d all remember.

“In the Bible Christ tells the Apostles, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for such is the kingdom of heaven.’ I have many books in my library. Many of the writings of the Holy Fathers. Recently I learned an important lesson, and it came to me not through ancient teachings but from the goodness of a child.

“Our dear Gloria explained to me that she had finally understood the true meaning of her name. It comes from ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,” which is ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ When she first learned to read, Gloria saw all the tags on the Christmas presents. They said To and From. Some also read From and To. Gloria thought about the Latin phrase and in her innocence believed the angel must have left out a word. Gloria wanted to do as the angel said and give the Baby Jesus a birthday present. She believed the angel meant to say, “From Gloria, To God in the highest.”

A murmur of fond amusement swept through the nave.

“Gloria knows that God created all creatures great and small. Her recent practice of giving birthday parties to the pets in her neighborhood is her way of giving God the pleasure of seeing her show love to His creatures by celebrating the days they entered Creation.”

Fr. Daniel paused and looked down at his notes. He cleared his throat, sniffed, and blinked a few times.

“I want to thank Gloria for sharing this with me. In this season of celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us all keep in mind that we are all God’s creatures, two-legged and four-legged. Let us celebrate the image and likeness of God everywhere we find it, and give thanks for finding it in so many, many places.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

With one voice, we all answered, “Amen!”

END

Author’s Note: This story is dedicated to Archpriest Basil Rhodes and all the folks at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Saratoga, CA. They were kind enough to teach me many lessons about how much God loves us.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #9


by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Kindness only comes in whole.

 

Broken Promises, Broken Lives

Mary Anne yawned. She glanced at the alarm clock beside her bed. Three a.m. No wonder she was sleepy. She plugged her cell phone into the charger and tied back her long brown hair in a ponytail. Sleeping in her blue sweats seemed like an even better idea. The wind had risen, blowing the willow branches against her bedroom window. She knew she should have taken the first floor apartment. Too many bad memories. She couldn’t step out on a balcony without thinking of Esmeralda.

Mary Anne picked up her phone again. It had been a year already. She swiped through her photos until she found the last photo taken of Esmeralda when she was still happy, standing on the rooftop of that youth hostel in Yokohama. Cherry blossom season. Esmeralda loved flowers. The hotel held a party that night on the rooftop. The breeze blew cherry blossom petals along the streets. As night fell, neon came on all over the city. So amazing.

That night Esmeralda and Mary Anne had stayed up late, talking about the future. They’d been to a temple the day before and chose fortune sticks. The numbers on the sticks matched scrolls that described the kind of luck they could expect to have in the areas of health, money, relationships, scholarship, and spiritual matters. At the party they found a fellow guest who spoke English, Japanese, Italian and French. Massimo translated the fortune scrolls. It was all just one more item on the tourist attraction list until Massimo frowned.

“Esmeralda, in every column it says you must finish what you start. Any project, any job, any course of study, you must work hard and finish it as quickly as possible.”

“Why?” Esmeralda asked.

“I don’t know quite what it means. Something along the lines of Carpe Diem, seize the day.” Massimo gave her back the scroll and rubbed his hands together in a nervous gesture. “Many cultures have such sayings.”

Mary Anne nodded. “YOLO, right?” She laughed. “That’s why we’re here!”

She wanted to laugh it off and get back to the party. It wasn’t like she and Esmeralda were Buddhists and actually went to that temple. They were college students on vacation.

After the party, Esmeralda sat up late on the rooftop, watching the endless traffic and the rainbow of neon signs. It was three a.m. Mary Anne had enough plum wine to leave her sleepy and content. Esmeralda’s voice woke her from a doze.

“You understand, don’t you, Annie? I just want to be sure Teresa is OK.”

Teresa was Esmeralda’s little sister, all of fourteen, just starting high school. So pretty, but not all that smart.

“No problem, Esme.”

“You promise? Make sure she studies hard, and stays away from the bad boys.”

“Promise.”

Now Mary Anne put her phone back on the charger. Life was so unfair. A week after they came home from Japan, Esmeralda fell down some stairs. She couldn’t use her left arm properly and had missed her grip on the handrail. Tests and more tests. Six months later Esmeralda was dead. Some horrible neurological condition that happened to only one in one million people.

The willow branches rattled against the window again. Mary Anne frowned. She couldn’t recall that much noise even during some of the winter storms.  She threw back the covers and padded across the carpet to the window. She pulled open the curtains.

Esmeralda stood there, her heavy black braid a mess, her hospital gown hanging off one shoulder, her face twisted like a stroke patient. Beneath her feet, nothing but three floors of empty air.

“You broke your promise!”

“What? No!”

“Teresa is lost. You did not protect her.”

Mary Anne shook her head. Late night. Too much Internet. That blue glow from her phone messing with her brain.

“You promised me, Mary Anne. To make her study. To keep away the bad boys.”

“Teresa is fine! Her quinceanera is next month!”

The horrible thing outside the window shook its head. “No quinceanera for Teresa. No college. No future. You promised!”

“Go away!” Mary Anne grabbed at the curtains, trying to close them. The wind blew harder, rattling the panes.

“Tonight Manuel ruined Teresa. Your fault. All your fault! You promised!”

Mary Anne ran back to bed and dove under the covers. A nightmare. Just a nightmare. She’d done everything she could to help Teresa study hard. Even found her a math tutor. So Teresa went to a few parties. She always went in a group with three or four other girls. School events. Church events. Adults keeping an eye on the kids.

The covers flew back. Esmeralda stood there, tears running down her cheeks.

“Manuel is good for nothing but making babies!” Esmeralda let out a tormented wail. “You kept only half of your promise!”

Mary Anne rolled out the other side of the bed. She hit the floor on hands and knees and scrambled toward the door. Up on her feet, she ran for the front door and flung it open, racing down the balcony to the stairway.

Esmeralda appeared, hanging in space above the stairwell, hair streaming, mouth open wide in an endless scream.

Mary Anne jerked away, missing her grip on the railing. She tumbled down the concrete stairs. The last thing she felt was Esmeralda’s tears raining down on her face.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #8


by Lillian Csernica on May 8, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Tanya sat on a bench outside the courthouse. The spring sunshine shone down through the new green leaves. Tanya huddled in her blue wool dress and gray cardigan. It might have been winter, her body stiff with cold and fatigue. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. Her mother sat beside her and smoothed one thin hand over Tanya’s tightly braided blonde hair.

“I know this is hard, honey. It’s for the best. Really, it is.”

“So many years….” Tanya blew her nose. “I wish I’d had the sense to do this sooner.”

“You were ready. That made this the right time.”

“How could I not see David wasn’t the person he kept pretending to be?”

“His kind can pass for normal. All the charm, all the money, all the right signals.” Her mother’s kind expression hardened. “That’s the bait. Once you’re good and hooked, then they drag you into the boat and make sure you never touch water again.”

Tanya nodded. “Being married to him was a lot like being marooned for ten years.”

“You’re free now, honey. And you got the settlement you deserved.”

Fresh tears gushed down Tanya’s cheeks. “I don’t want the money. I want the time back, all the time he stole from my life.”

“You’re making sure he can’t take anything else from you. Not time, and especially not a child.”

Tanya flinched. “It will be harder now, won’t it?”

“You’re only in your thirties, honey.” Her mother opened a fresh packet of tissues and handed it to Tanya. “Now he has to start over again. Imagine how much he’ll hate being forced to act all sweet and charming.”

“He’ll love it. You heard him. I’m stupid, useless, frigid–”

“Stop that. You won. You waited until the remodeling was finished. Now the house is worth twice what you paid for it.”

“Are you saying living well is the best revenge?”

“I’m saying he’s always in a hurry to get whatever he wants, but you were smart enough to wait for the right moment.”

Tanya looked up at the sun shining through the new spring leaves. She took a deep breath, willing herself to breathe in the warmth and the light. Spring. The time of new beginnings.

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