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The Fortune Teller by Martin Green


I was in a strange (to me) part of town. I’d been driving on the freeway when I saw that my gas tank was nearly empty. I pulled off and drove around until I found a gas station, off-brand, at the end of a seedy strip mall. After I’d filled up, just out of curiosity, I cruised down the mall. Half of the storefronts were empty. There was a martial arts place and a tattoo parlor. Then I noticed that the sign in one said “Fortune Teller.” You didn’t see fortune tellers in my part of town. As it happened, I’d been struggling the last few weeks to make a decision on an important matter. I decided to see what the fortune teller had to say about it.

The store was dark and had a strange smell. I thought that possibly no one was there, then a hoarse voice from the back said, “Come in.” As I advanced I saw a woman seated behind a table. There was no crystal ball or deck of cards on the table, just a half-eaten apple. The woman was wrapped in what might have been an old bathrobe, with a kerchief around her head. Her face was dark and lined; I couldn’t tell how old she was. She might have been 100. “Sit,” she said.

I sat and started to speak but she forestalled me. “You do not ordinarily come to places like this,” she said. “You live in the nice part of town. You are an executive. You are ambitious and want badly to get ahead.”

I wasn’t overly impressed. She could have deduced this from my expensive suit and freshly polished shoes. “So why an I here?”

“That is obvious. You’ve been trying to make up your mind about something. You thought you’d see what an old gypsy lady had to tell you,”

“What am I trying to make up my mind about?”

“That too is obvious. A woman, of course.” She paused and looked out in space. “Yes, a woman. She is one of these new woman. She is beautiful but also very smart. She too is ambitious. She wants a career of her own. You want to know if you should marry this woman.”

This was all true. Was there something about my manner that told her? Maybe in practicing her craft she’d become very perceptive. “Should I ask her to marry me?”

“You should not. Your ambitions would clash. Soon you would be arguing. You need another kind of woman, an old-fashioned one.”

“But I love her. I’m pretty sure I do anyway.”

“Sometimes the heart is not the best guide to happiness.”

I thanked her and gave her a twenty dollar bill. Of course I didn’t take her advice. She was just an old lady in some seedy strip mall. Unfortunately, she was right. I went ahead and married Angela. After a year of relative contentment, she was offered a promotion in another city. She wanted to take it. If I went with her I’d have to leave my own job and start all over again. As the fortune teller had predicted, we argued and this eventually led to a divorce.

When I’d seen how perceptive the fortune teller was I’d planned to ask her for some investment advice. Then I remembered the half-eaten apple on her table and took this for a sign. I bought as much Apple stock as I could. This was before the iPhone and the iPad, so this turned out better than my marriage. After my divorce I tried to find that strip mall again. It took me a while but I finally found that off-brand gas station and then the mall, which didn’t look quite as seedy. They’d been doing some renovation in this neighborhood. But the fortune teller was gone. In her place was one of those unisex barber shops, Super Duper Clipping or something like that.

I went in and asked a pretty Asian woman who was the manager if she knew where the fortune teller might have gone. She had no idea. She told me I needed a haircut and said she’d do it herself. While she worked we chatted. She was Vietnamese and had been in this country for about a year. She spoke excellent English and she said she’d gone to a Catholic school. After she was done, on an impulse I asked if I could buy her a cup of coffee, or tea. There was also a new coffee shop in the mall. One thing led to another and we’re now married, happily. Mae Ling was happy to give up her hair-cutting business and become the wife of a relatively wealthy executive. She’s an excellent hostess. Again, the fortune teller was proved right; I needed an old-fashioned girl.



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