Contest #152 shortlist ⭐️

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Contemporary Fiction Friendship

Holding both of the young woman’s hands, Viviana focuses on slowing her breathing with the hope that Claire’s too will calm. She keeps her eyes closed, her head erect. She can feel Claire’s pain radiating up her arms as she breathes deeply, forcing herself to stay steady. 

“You’re going to be okay,” she assures Claire, “but you need somewhere you can go. You can’t continue on like this.”

“But the girls?” Claire’s eyes fly open and she yanks her hands away, the heat of Viviana’s touch suddenly too much, breaking the trance. She mops awkwardly at her tear streaked face, wincing a little as her fingers brush the welt that is appearing on her cheek. Viviana had offered an ice pack when Claire arrived at the door, believing that would be more use than any hocus pocus she could muster at this early hour. 

Claire’s response had been firm. “No, I need to know. Please can we consult the orb?” It wasn’t really a question.  She was seating herself at the round table in front of the ornate, round globe that was the focus point of the room. “I need to know what’s going to happen?”

That was how this session had started, not unlike so many other mornings with Claire, Viviana deflating the urgency by slowly lighting incense, Cinnamon this morning – suspecting her spiritual powers were going to need the boost. She’d turned on the globe, Alma’s globe. The globe itself was calling out the imposter. Finally she’d looked hard into the light and tried to summon some magic. 

She had gently probed Claire. “Tell me more. What happened?”

“I took her to the doctor, that’s all; that’s why he was so angry but I had to. Joanna always has a stomach ache. They want to do tests, but how will we pay? What should I do?”

That part was easy in Viviana’s mind. Take the children and leave the bastard. Still the globe had offered nothing and so she’d taken Claire’s hands in her own, falling back on her intuitive powers instead. She could easily see the dark colour around Claire but sometimes she could get a more accurate aura with touch. They’d sat like that, eyes closed, Viviana breathing, Claire following suit.

It hadn’t taken long for Viviana to sense the change in Claire and feel her pain. She had tried to ease it just by breathing. How will you take care of the baby? Do you even know yet? The thought had been fleeting and sharp. That was when she had forced herself to reassure, only to have Claire pull away. Their eyes had met and Viviana knew that Claire had only an inkling. She wasn’t yet seeing the burden of another child. She’ll know soon enough.

Viviana waves away the money that Claire tries to push on her. It’s a paltry enough amount but Claire needs it more.

“Thank you Viviana. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” With that she’s gone, trying to pull herself together as if just out for the morning run she’d started, the only way she is ever allowed time to herself.   

After just one session with Claire, Viviana already feels that she’s been sitting too long. She ties the drape to the side, the makeshift door to this parlour that Claire has just pushed through, and flips the light switch on; though it’s still early morning, this old style mobile home wasn’t well designed. Light, like air and new ideas, doesn’t make it through these walls. She latches the lock on the flimsy outer door. Her mother had harped on and on about keeping out the thieves. As if, she mutters to herself. Let them have it all.  

Sweeping back another drape which separates the parlour from her living space adds neither light nor spirit to her mood, only a cloud of dust. She sighs, remembering that she had meant to clean today. Alma’s old chair is beckoning, mirroring Viviana’s own body with its bulging seams and worn fabric. Probably smells a little too, she muses but the thought doesn’t keep her from sinking into it and picking up her now cold mug of coffee. 

She’d been tempted to ignore the knock, pretend she wasn’t home and to savour instead the quiet of her morning coffee time, but like always, she was compelled. Alma demanded it, this selfless service to her flock. 

The globe light catches her eye and she shivers just a little, feeling her Mother’s presence. How does she do that? She murmurs aloud raising her mug, toasting the room, her Mother, and the elegant, cloaked table. Then she sips her coffee to wash away her doubt. But it never works. 

Alma had presence, status, a following. But most of all Alma had a gift and commitment. Some called her a witch with her potions and concoctions. But the women here knew who to turn to when they were in trouble. 

Viviana, on the other hand, knows she is just going through the motions. This isn’t the life she chose. This is Alma’s life, not hers. The people still  come; Tourists and young local women mostly. She draws in both. The tourists searching out the fortune teller look; they delight in the parlour’s authenticity. Young women like Claire, her real client base, just need low prices and someone who will listen. Besides the word is out that Viviana is connected to Doctor Miriam and her clinic. They go there now instead and haven’t needed Alma in the same way for so many years; though as Miriam is constantly reminding her, the threat remains.

The heartbreaking stories are wearing. If I only had Alma’s compassion, she often chides herself. But Viviana sees only stagnation from an unwillingness to act on choice.  She tries to show them other paths but abuse and poverty is rampant here and choice an unattainable luxury.  She feels guilty taking money that she doesn’t need. Yet any session is only worth the money paid. Alma’s words not hers.

The pandemic has been hard. She closed with all of the other businesses but folks were scared, so folks came back. 

“You’re off the radar,” they’d told her. 

She agreed, afterall you don’t need a business license to read auras and tell fortunes. Who’d give me one anyways, she muses with a smirk and takes another sip. Hard to imagine the Health Department issuing a mandate for fortune tellers? She smiles imagining her little business making the news. As if!  Protestors weren’t going to complain either way, whether she was open or closed. 

So she’s unlocked her door. At first she’d insisted on masks, switching to Mother’s heavier old veils and scarves to cover the black N95 she felt safest in. But it had been hard to read faces from just the eyes and it hadn’t been long before she stopped worrying about covid. 

With her next sip, her fingers move absently to Alma’s veil, down around her shoulders now. That smell, she considers as just for a moment she closes her eyes and is transported back to the small child she had been, sitting so impossibly still, hidden underneath that very table, listening intently to Alma’s every word. Viviana’s complete education and training, everything she knew about this world, learned right here in this space as Mother worked her magic, allowing Viviana to participate as she grew. Watching her slip her women clients in and out. Always making a quiet space of comfort and safety.  And how Alma had wanted that to be all it took to learn the skill. Transfer the Art, she would have insisted. 

Alma had more than an art; she had knowledge that science was only just catching up to, tinctures and procedures to help women take care of themselves when they needed to. That was her real magic; magic that hadn’t transfered to her daughter as Alma had intended. Instead Viviana had grown up and moved away, taken the legal, sanctioned route. She’d worked hard to put herself through school, get what scholarships she could. Miriam had helped her even then.  

Five years ago Alma died quietly in her sleep, calling Viviana home, to Alma’s home, to Alma’s heart and soul.  Viviana could feel her so strongly here especially in the quiet of these early mornings. She liked that but was still unsure. Had Alma had left a treasure or an albatross?

Miriam didn’t understand Viviana’s ambivalence and was thrilled to have her friend back in town. She had wanted Viviana to keep her midwife license and join her at the Women’s Health Collective, but that was Miriam’s dream, not Viviana’s. She doesn’t want the work, prefers retirement. Still Miriam insists that Viviana has a special gift although they both know she is no Alma. Times are different now. The clinic takes care of pregnant women in so many ways, they have proper medical equipment to find fetal abnormalities, do genetic testing, assess a mother’s health, and so much more. Still Miriam sends many young women her way.  “Just talk to them,” she coaches. “They just need an ear. They need help making hard decisions. They worry so much.”

Covid hadn’t slowed the pregnancies. How could I know if their baby is going to be alright? She wishes she really could tell futures. The worry she would be able to ease. Instead she has to content herself with real information about available options. Thank God for Miriam. Her eyes flash heavenward although religion has never existed here. 

Viviana sighes and takes another sip, her eyes drawn back to the orb, troubled that she remembers so vividly having turned it off when clearly she hadn’t. She sets down her mug and pushes herself out of the chair’s embrace. Then, instead of turning off the globe as she intended, she sits and wraps her hands around it as if the globe itself is calling her. 

Claire’s pain washes over her. Three small children at home already and now this. No wonder she was so distraught, but of course Viviana reminds herself, Claire hasn’t even realized she is pregnant yet. You should have told her, she scolds herself, wondering how it might have helped. Not soon enough to really make a choice, Miriam would have insisted, but it’s as if the globe is speaking to her now. Viviana doesn’t usually reveal this sort of information in her sessions. Her relationship with Claire is not really a success story though she senses being here is at least a safe haven. 

You’re more than that, the globe intones, but you need to act. The globe has taken on Miriam’s tone. 

Such confidence in that doctor voice of hers, Viviana thinks not unkindly as she pulls her hands away. It’s not my place. That was Alma’s path, not mine. Times are different now.

The phone rings bringing Viviana out of her reverie. She digs it out through the flowy layers of fabric she wrapped herself in to look the part, but the call has already gone to voice mail by the time she does. Then a text. 

“Turn on the news. It’s happened. We need you now.”  

Miriam, her unlikely soul mate. Doctor Miriam, always trying to draw Viviana in. Haunting her. Why she is so persistent is a mystery though Vivivana’s glad she is. She’s Miriam’s person too she knows. There’s that. Miriam is the kite, bright coloured, flying high, celebrating possibilities, anchored to an old, worn fence post, cemented in, the name Viviana carved lightly in flowery letters in the wood over the still visible, deeply burnt letters of her mother’s name.

Ach, she mutters again. She hates the news and feels instead the draw of the globe but this time it’s Miriam who fills her mind as her hands wrap themselves around it. Just teenagers, the two of them at summer camp together all those ago. The odd ones out. Viviana at camp unwillingly, an unsocialized, charity case paired up with Miriam the sulky legacy camper acting out the impact of her parents messy divorce because neither of them wanted the baggage she’d become. But Miriam had made something of herself despite it all, though still there’s pain. Viviana feels it strongly, urgently now even without Miriam in the room. She knows it is the force that drives Miriam on and makes her push so hard.

Miriam’s been planning for this moment and Viviana feels the energy flow through her hands. She doesn’t need the TV on to know what Miriam’s text is referring to. The news is bad. She had tried to tell Miriam that it wouldn’t come to this, although she sensed the globe had been telling her differently. Miriam hadn’t believed her anyways, and had forged ahead with the plan, Miriam style.

“It’s perfect. You’re off the radar,” she insists to Viviana each time she drops by to open the packages and take count of the stock. “Plus the women trust you. They’ll know they’re safe. They’ll come to you before they come to me. And they’ll come early, while it’s still safe. But you have to tell them. Help them. Offer up these abortion pills when they need them.”

With her hands around the globe Viviana feels more certainty in their plan now. Miriam’s right of course. The Clinic is going to be under surveillance for sure. There will be protestors from both sides with today’s Supreme Court ruling. Women like Claire, if their husbands would even let them go, will be far too scared. But she’s right. She knew. They’ll still come here. 

The clarity settles in and Viviana realizes that she has just made her own choice.  She smiles as the orb light grows brighter and sends a wave of warmth through her hands. 

July 01, 2022 15:42

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24 comments

Hannah Gilgoff
00:25 Jul 26, 2022

Wow! Fabulous story!

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Philip Ebuluofor
11:19 Jul 15, 2022

Fine rendition. Good story line. Keep them coming.

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Caitlyn Kilbee
21:40 Jul 14, 2022

Well done for making the shortlist!! Loved the story. The character of Viviana was beautifully drawn. To me she had two sides to her personality. The one that really wanted to help people in dire circumstances whilst accepting that she didn't have "the gift" that her mother had. Plus I also feel an undercurrent, that I hope you develop more in future stories about her, as I'm sensing that she doesn't want to be seen as a fraud yet there's no real joy in her life pretending to be clairvoyant. She has simply done what her mother expected of he...

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Betty Gilgoff
22:45 Jul 14, 2022

Thanks Caitlyn for your thoughtful comment. I had fun developing Viviana and I expect she'll come back in another story. I think my writing comes from my characters. It seems that if I really work at developing them, they take over the storytelling. It's an interesting way to write and I love finding what comes up and what others see in them too.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:43 Jul 13, 2022

Congratulations on making the shortlist, Betty. Nice job.

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Betty Gilgoff
16:47 Jul 13, 2022

Thanks Kevin. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

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Glenn Holt
17:09 Jul 12, 2022

Wow. It drew me in right away without giving away where it would go. Did not see the end coming. It felt that we were taken right into the parlor, would love to know how Miriam and Viviana take on the world.

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Betty Gilgoff
21:08 Jul 12, 2022

Thanks Glenn. I'm glad that I was able to pull it off to write a that was engaging. I fully intend to bring Viviana back in a future story. She was fun to work with and it seems that my characters, when I can make them work, really take the storytelling into their own hands.

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Mary Trokenberg
21:45 Jul 11, 2022

Loved reading your story Betty. Impressed with the skill. You draw us into the story by not telling us too much and and I loved the suspense…the way the story finds itself very slowly. I really appreciate how close we get to Vivienne in such a short time…her history, her sense of her sense of her mother, her changes, the decisions she makes and doesn’t make, the sense of her friendship with Miriam.She’s very real to the reader and that I think that really helps to carry the story. The abortion pill and the issues all around that ground th...

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Betty Gilgoff
21:05 Jul 12, 2022

Thanks for reading it Mary and for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Jay Mc Kenzie
21:13 Jul 08, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist Betty. Great story, well done.

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Betty Gilgoff
03:49 Jul 09, 2022

Thanks Jay. I'm just heading over to have a read of your stories. I suspect I'll learn lots. Thanks for giving mine a read.

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Wendy M
07:23 Jul 06, 2022

This is a fascinating and excellent use of the prompt, well done for being bold.

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Betty Gilgoff
18:25 Jul 08, 2022

Thanks Wendy. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on it.

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Avery Mossop
00:13 Jul 06, 2022

I liked this story for the protagonist and for the idea that people might come to a fortune teller just looking to connect and talk to someone about their daily trials and tribulations. And then continued to be impressed as you went deeper into the role that she might play in helping women get safe access to medical care. Thanks for sharing!

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Betty Gilgoff
18:27 Jul 08, 2022

Thank you Avery. I’m working at trying to develop the characters in my writing but also using the short story form to say something worthwhile. It’s a challenge for sure.

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Michał Przywara
21:02 Jul 05, 2022

A pensive piece, and very timely. It's a tragedy that these are the extents people have to go to for health care, though I like the fact that Miriam had the foresight to predict it, especially given it's a story about a fortune teller. Viviana is an interesting protagonist. Her struggle seems to be a constant one of want vs need. What she wants to be is not who others need her to be, and she never had much choice in what they needed her to be, because who else could follow her mother's footsteps. But she has a point. There's a line, "B...

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Betty Gilgoff
18:35 Jul 08, 2022

Thanks for reading and commenting Michael. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness in your comment. It is interesting what you say about women not wanting advice, but solutions. Not sure I completely agree because it seems to me that often women (anyone really) may have the solution in these kinds of circumstances but not the resources on which to act. Change, also takes a lot of courage and courage needs support.

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Michał Przywara
21:03 Jul 08, 2022

Ah, fair enough! I may have read too much into the "unwillingness to act on choice". I kind of saw it in the sense that: you can't change someone, you can only help them if they choose to change on their own. But of course, resources are critical, and you're right, courage and support are important resources. That's why these kinds of law changes are all the more heinous. It's already a frightening situation, and now supports are being dismantled, and even criminalized. Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Betty Gilgoff
03:50 Jul 09, 2022

Thanks Michael.

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Rebecca Miles
18:19 Jul 04, 2022

I found the news context really interesting as of course desperate women may look to all sorts of alternative places and people...More than this though, I enjoyed the burden she felt from her mother's legacy; how she struggled to find her own path away from the "wise woman" of tradition. I enjoyed this, thanks for sharing.

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Betty Gilgoff
18:37 Jul 08, 2022

Thanks Rebecca, I enjoyed writing this story a lot largely because of the timeliness and my concern over the issue involved. It felt like a worthwhile story to write.

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Betty Gilgoff
04:24 Jul 02, 2022

Thanks Valerie. I appreciate your taking the time to read my submission. I enjoyed writing this one; in fact it felt a little like Viviana took the story on and I just had to help her get it out. I expect she's not done with me yet and will likely appear again in some of my future stories

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Valerie Vince
02:32 Jul 02, 2022

Such an important topic to tackle with feminine sensitivity without getting mired in the political - just as it should be. It's like the globe is the silent but mighty protagonist, where will it lead us? Good story.

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