by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2018
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.”
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!”
“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.