The Fortune Teller’s Aunt by Jami Amerine
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… take a beat, take a breath, and let’s begin:
Nelda made the swift four-block trek from the bus stop at the corner of Maple and Pine to her building. Although she was quick, she was mindful of the small grocery bag bumping against her hip. It was nearly dark and Aunt Cass would be pacing, not so much from the worry about her 17-year-old niece, but for the crusty bread and fresh butter, Cass needed to get supper on the table.
Granted super was only for Nelda, who was rarely hungry, and Cass herself.
Since Granddaddy had passed, the apartment was much quieter, sadder, but still, home. Nelda turned the keys in the locks and hollered through the hallway, “Aunt Cass, I’m home!”
“There you are! I been pacing the floor! What took you so long? Hurry up, take your jacket off, soup is already in the bowls, ‘l’ll get the bread sliced.” Nelda hung her backpack, jacket, and sweater on the coat tree. “Well, I didn’t get out of the Chem lab until 3:45. I had to go over to the main library to pick up that book I needed for my presentation, and then I did a little side hustle, to help pay for the groceries.”
Knowing she was about to get an earful, Nelda slid into her seat at the kitchen table. Some of her aunt’s complaints and negativity was audible, but Nelda just slipped her napkin on her lap, picked up her spoon, dipped it into the steamy bowl of creamy lentils and began to blow on the comfort food.
“Are you listening to me?” Cass’s rants broke through to Nelda’s mindless soup slurping.
“Nelda Gray! You ain’t to be doing any of your side hustles! That’s what got your momma thrown in jail, leaving your precious, perfect self to be raised by a dying woman, an old man and their spinster daughter!”
Nelda chuckled, “Momma got sent to prison for embezzlement Auntie, I am just making a few bucks telling fortunes.” She placed her spoon on her bread plate and took a sip of iced tea. “Besides, we need the money. Now that we don’t get anything from Granddaddy’s retirement, I know how much you worry. And please don’t call yourself a spinster, unmarried at 45 caring for your sick parents, and willing to raise your little sister’s daughter, qualifies you as a saint, not a spinster.”
“Lord have mercy Nelda, you will be a lawyer yet! You could argue the paint off the wall! I don’t doubt it for a minute, cept for when you are peddling on street corners! And doing witchcraft in the mix! Why, you is lying, cheatin, and stealing!” Cass fanned herself and slid back in her dinner chair.
Nelda reached across the table and patted her aunt’s hand, the barely “old” woman was only 62.
However she walked like she was 90. Hunched over, gray hair falling unkempt around her smooth face, with hardly a wrinkle, and never a smile line or a stitch of makeup. Not to neglect the fact that the woman also wore the exact same clothes from since the very first memory Nelda had of the displaced matriarch.
The two ate soup in silence and then Aunt Cass started to rage again. “What makes anyone think you, a child in a school uniform is able to tell fortunes or see the future!? That’s a sure fire way to get caught by the poleese and thrown in the county lock up… you don’t look like you are old enough to remember yesterday, let alone see into the future!”
“I guess I have just enough Romainian-gypsy eyes to fool them.” Nelda reached in her pocket and laid an enormous wad of cash in the middle of the table. “Besides, it isn’t witchcraft, I don’t really know anything about them, I just give them something positive to hope for.”
Cass repeatedly made the sign of the cross over her buxom bust. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph girl! That’s the worst kind of lyin! False hope aint no hope at all!”
Whether it was appropriate or not, Nelda had had all she could take of her beloved aunt’s negativity. She was up and out of her chair in a flash, she moved so abruptly, her chair fell over and Cass clutched her chest in horrified surprise.
“NO Aunt CASS! That’s not true! Any hope is better than no hope! And I can tell the future, I will tell you yours now!” And before she could stop herself, before she had made up her mind not to, she did… “You will live and die in that outfit, in this dingy apartment, having never been on a date or kissed, or gone to the movies with friends. Sadly you will watch the fruit of your work, my fulfilling life from the despair of having never tried to live out your own work, your own fulfillment! You will continue to create a meager existence, blaming your mother’s cancer, your sister’s bad girl ways, your brother’s drunken misery, and your father’s last days as reason not to hope or try or be thankful.”
Cass quulickly looked down and began staring into her soup bowl, and awkward silence filled the dimly lit kitchen. Nelda bent to pick up her chair and then sat. “I…” she stammered, “I am sorry. I was out of line.”
“No.” Cass picked up her napkin I wiped her nose, silent tears rolling down her ageless cheeks. “No, you are right. I stopped hoping and started griping a long time ago. I guess it is habit now.”
“Yes,” Nelda nodded, she continued to look down at her lap, too ashamed to make eye contact with her aunt.
“I said too much, and I am sorry. You have cared beautifully for this family. I just so want you to be happy. I want you to have hope.”
Cass smiled, “I don’t remember how? And you know what else?” This time she stared straight at her niece, demanding her attention, “I don’t know what to hope for?”
“What do you mean?” Nelda pressed.
“Well,” Cass turned her head slightly, staring out the kitchen window at the building next door, “I have always lived in this apartment. Always. And when I was a little girl I wanted to grow up, get married, have a few babies, and live in that apartment building right over there.”
“It’s a nice building.” Nelda agreed.
“But then, I went to caring for momma after high school. I tried to do some night school training, but daddy was always working at the fill station, and pulling nights at the loading dock. So, I went from studying to be a legal aid to worrying about where my little brother and sister were after 10 pm on a school night, straight on to raising you, burying momma, and now daddy. So,I don’t guess I ever got any new hopes?”
“Well, you have led an admirable life.” A lump rose in Nelda’s throat, “I wouldn’t have had any kind of life if it weren’t for you.”
“You’re kind, I do love you so much. I wouldn’t trade any of my hopes or wishes for the dream come true you are.”
Cass inhaled deeply and then stood, “I think I am going to bed. Do you mind putting the dishes in the sink?”
“No ma’am, I am happy to.” Nelda stood, and grabbed Cass’s shoulder, “Aunt Cass, I hope I didn’t hurt you?”
Cass patted her niece’s cheek. It was warm and soft, rosy, with hints of her gypsy roots and definitive spots of her Irish ancestry. “Beautiful girl, you could never hurt me. You only inspire me.”
The next morning, after a fitful night of little sleep, Nelda rushed down to the kitchen early in hopes of making the coffee and some muffins, still horrified by the words that had spilled from her over dinner. She was shocked to find her aunt already in the kitchen.
“Good morning butterscotch!” Cass chirped.
“Good morning?” Nelda questioned, “You’re up early for a Saturday? I was going to fix us breakfast.”
“I have a better idea!” Cass folded the morning paper and set it on the table, “Let’s go out for breakfast!”
“Excuse me?” Nelda choked, “Out to a restaurant? You don’t like to eat out?”
“OH! Yes I do!” Cass argued, “I love to eat out, but when I was always budgeting and stressing, I just never did. I want to go eat a huge stack of pancakes, with sausage, and orange juice!”
“Okay!” Nelda agreed, “I just need to throw on some jeans.”
“Hey!” Cass piped at Nelda, “wear shopping shoes, I think I need to get some new clothes. OH! And there is an apartment in the building behind us that is up for rent! Let’s go take a peek!”
Nelda tried to contain her excitement, “Of course! I am your gal for a new clothes shopping spree and apartment hunting!”
She turned to go and get changed for a big day on the town with her aunt when Cass summoned her again, “Hey Nelda Gray?”
“Thank you for reminding me about hope. I have some again. And I think more is coming.”
“I think you’re right, Aunt Cass. I can see your future and it is looking pretty darned exciting!”
Thanks for listening!”
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