A Literal Fortune
By Patrice Locke
“I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?” Frederick asked.
He knew Lisa would have a comeback, but he bet she wasn’t about to say it aloud. She was lying on the bed with her back to him. He watched to see what she would do to show she had heard him. Lisa was fond of speaking through body language. Sure enough, she turned her head toward him, just enough so he could see her profile and left eye. Then she shrugged and sighed.
“Did you hear me?” he asked.
“I heard you. I just don’t have anything to say that you would want to hear.” Lisa rolled onto her side and faced him head on. “You wouldn’t listen anyway.”
“So, you’ve already shut down. And you don’t even know what I’m going to do.”
“Your fortune said: ‘Cut the old ties that are holding you back. You deserve better.’ So I assume that’s what you’re going to do.”
Since Lisa was finally looking directly at him, Frederick just nodded , but then couldn’t help but add: “I don’t see why that should upset you. You’re the one who keeps saying you’re bored. And nothing I do pleases you. So what’s wrong with following the fortune? You followed yours.”
“Mine said: ‘A feeling is an idea with roots.’ What am I supposed to do with that except fill the flower beds? It’s hardly life altering. But you…”
“You’re very literal. So, you think roots equal flowers. But what is the ‘idea’ your fortune talked about?”
“The color of the flowers. My idea was yellow. So. That’s my fortune and my plan. Daffodils and tulips. Maybe a forsythia bush. Your plan isn’t quite so simple is it?” Lisa pushed the blankets back and sat on the edge of the bed. She reached for the purple robe that had fallen on the floor. When she got both her arms into it she stood up and said into the mirror, so Frederick wasn’t sure if she was talking to herself or to him: “You’re going through with it. I know you’re going through with it.”
“I am going through with it,” Frederick confirmed. He knew Lisa was tired; they both were because they had been up most of the night arguing about – everything. It started with what Fred thought was an innocent comment at dinner. “The fish tastes a little too fishy.” If anything, he thought, he was criticizing the caliber of the fish, but Lisa shot back: “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”
From there, the conversation deteriorated into a series of unrelated insults. They pointed out each other’s faults which eventually sounded almost interchangeable. “You never…” “You always…” “I’m tired of…” “I’m sorry if you…” “You should have…” The culminating issue turned out to be Frederick’s opinion that Lisa was too literal about everything. He meant that she should open herself up to more possibilities. But she shouted back: “Someone has to be the mature one here. And it sure as hell isn’t you.”
They broke their own rule and went to bed angry.
Fred got up first, showered, and put on his socks, shoes, suit pants and shirt, though he left the top button undone and he left his jacket off.
That was when he nudged the bed to awaken Lisa and announce his plan to follow the advice from his fortune cookie. Now that she was out of bed, he was standing by the door.
She turned from the mirror toward him and said: “Well, then do it. What difference does it make what I think about it? You’re not going to ruin my life.”
“Is that what you think? That I want to ruin your life?” Frederick was leaning against the door jamb, blocking the entrance to the room. But when Lisa moved toward him he swiveled out of the way to let her through.
She left behind a scent of coconut and something floral, but not cloying. As a rule, Frederick didn’t like garden fragrances, but he liked the way Lisa always left a fresh aromatic cloud for him, a lingering memory of her presence. All the soaps and creams she had used the night before to remove anything unnatural from her face and body, ironically left something behind – and it was the true essence of Lisa, in Fred’s opinion.
He was surprised that she hadn’t guessed what he planned to do.
He walked to their closet and grabbed the hanger he needed before he followed Lisa out of the room and down the stairs, where he found her with her back leaning against the black marble counter top, waiting for her single cup of coffee to brew.
When she saw him, she turned away and faced the counter. She didn’t see what he had in his hands.
“You’re the one who is always so literal,” Frederick said.
“Another one of my faults that needs to be cured?” she said to the coffee maker.
Frederick shook his head, but she couldn’t see the gesture, nor could she see what he took out of the drawer under the microwave.
Lisa took the coffee pod out of the machine and put it on the counter. Then she picked up her mug and blew across the top of it. Frederick could see that she was inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly, as if she was counting each breath. Counting to ten? He wondered. She kept her back to him.
Finally, he spoke. “Okay. If you won’t look at me, just tell me what you think I’m going to do.”
“Cut your ties. Move on? Have a fresh start?” She turned toward him, but watched the mottled brown pattern on the ceramic tile without raising her eyes. “Is that right?”
“Yes. Literally. Would you look at me? Please?”
Lisa looked up and into his eyes, ignoring everything else. “I never thought you were cruel. But this is. You are.”
Frederick raised his left arm, the one holding the hanger he had taken from the upstairs closet. In his right hand were the scissors from the kitchen drawer. He used them to cut through the center of each necktie hanging from the hanger – every tie he owned. They slipped, in pieces, to the floor.
“Literally. That’s your way, right? I’m cutting old ties. I think I deserve something better. My fortune said so. Want to go tie shopping with me? You’re not bored, right? What do you think? I also need some duct tape.”
“I think you’re an asshole,” she said, but she smiled. “I might not forgive you.”
“I’m not worried,” he said. “I got a new fortune yesterday. We had Chinese at work.” He handed her the little slip of paper. It said: ‘Remember: Duct tape can mend anything, so don’t worry about messing things up.’ “I always take my fortunes seriously, but not literally. Usually.”
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