The Fortune Tellerhttps://barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Empty-Chair.jpg19201920Tara Isabel ZambranoTara Isabel Zambranohttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/02d3ea70755cf1bed0961cd936884df9?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Mother touches their face and blinks like Morse code. No one understands her. I translate and do the readings for our tribe. Sometimes she picks up her stick and hits it on the ground. It is not just her voice and sight. She has lost much more than that.
Go home and stay indoors for a week, I say. If you must go out, always carry a weapon. I know every prediction is only for the time being. We all will die one day. Maybe because of too much sunlight or water. Or just love.
Mother was strong once. She could sniff the wind, look into my eyes and announce the danger. Now she only blinks and I am no longer sure what it means. Yet I keep translating. Maybe I hope to find something I do not expect. So I make up stuff and tell them stories they have never heard before.
Cats know when an earthquake is coming, watch their tails. The state of your heels reveals your sex life. You will get better and live to see your grandson. The dying embers of a campfire and their ashes in your backyard determine the health of your household. And yes, time is stationary.
Often, I look at the sky. It looks like a crystal ball changing colors. I see shapes in the light, hear echoes in the wind. Ghosts trying to tell me something.
Mother has grown old. She cannot chew her food. I boil the meat, mash it with potatoes, and chew it for her too, so she can just swallow. Sometimes when I see her sitting or lying still, her mouth open, her eyes up in their sockets, I feel relieved that she has died. But the next moment, she exhales and starts blinking, fast. I feel guilty and happy, and in my large hand her palm feels like a bundle of twigs wrapped in muslin. I sing the song of our tribe and she stays still, her eyes closed, as if reciting a hymn.
The tribe respects us, especially after our rivals killed my father. The head of the tribe seeks counsel from Mother. While he is talking, Mother falls asleep. But he believes that she has been listening. That she will suggest the course of action the next day. He used to bring meat and vegetables for us. But lately, our predictions have been wrong, and he has stopped giving us food. We know that the tribe always needs a fortune teller, a reliable one. So, I sit next to Mother and hold her hand. The sky is blue with a wheeling cloud in the center. Mother opens her mouth, filling her appetite with air. We know what we need to do next.
She beats the stick on the ground and blinks. Steadily. You will always wake up knowing the answer. Don’t lose it trying to find something that does not exist. The future that is, and the one we imagine are as different as life versus a dream. And a good fortune teller always sees something that connects them.
In the evening, I give her a bath and dress her. Beneath the silk, there is a glimpse of her breathing. It will be cold soon. She moans as she lies down, and I press my hands softly against her throat. She tries to resist my hands. But only a little. I close my eyes tight so that I don’t see her face. The face I have loved all my life.
I sit still as I hear them coming. They are so close that I can smell their anger. The scent is older than anything I know. And I see the world fragile as an egg, the people in it trying to figure it all, making them believe that they can do something about their future. Arrows of predictions missing the eyes of fate.
I sense the blade on my neck, my pulse fluttering against the steel. And for the first time in my life, I feel certain as if I have always known this moment.
(Previously published at Blueshift Journal, 2015.)
Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer in a startup. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Bat City Review, Yemassee, PANK and others. She is Assistant Flash Fiction Editor at Newfound.org and reads prose for The Common. Tara moved from India to the United States two decades ago and holds an instrument rating for single engine aircraft. She lives in Texas.