Word Count 486
By Terry Rainey
Belinda gave it to me for my birthday. She’d cooked a dinner of Chicken Belinda and Jeff –she often named dishes after the people in her life – and I had to wait in the bathroom while she got it ready. I was thumbing through an old People when I hit upon an article on a woman in Idaho who could tell the future by dropping a fruitcake and interpreting the pieces. She flew around the country and advised politicians on upcoming developments and booked debutant parties and bar mitzvahs. Impressive stuff. And a pretty good use of fruitcake. Life is like a fruitcake, pretty enough to look at but all sorts of nastiness lurking underneath.
Belinda interrupted my train of thought by throwing open the door, then followed me out to the living room with her hands over my eyes. “Happy birthday, honey!” She pointed to the gnarled sculpture on the coffee table, cylinder-shaped silver sheet metal prongs protruding at menacing angles. My first thought was Studebaker fin with tentacles or maybe a mashup of a Transformer and the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
I got self-conscious. I wondered if Belinda could read my mind, that there was a new bicycle in the hallway and this was a precursor. It was awkwardly quiet. I felt like my face was not up to the challenge of hiding my wonderment.
Belinda’s eyes bore into mine. “Well, what do you think?” Just asking the question told me there’d been a noticeable delay in my reaction. Things were going south.
I decided to be casually wry and said “I’m trying to remember when I had my last tetanus shot.” Wrong by about a billion. Belinda’s face dropped, then came up and set in concrete. I think I could hear her jaw muscles clicking, or maybe that was her teeth grinding, not sure of either as the door slammed.
Now it’s five days, but I dial hopefully. Belinda’s message, her familiar, staccato voice “Stay out of my life, you moron.” A pause and a breath. “Mail me the Rothenbooler, Jeffrey. Make sure you include enough postage. Mark it super fragile. Oh, if it’s not Jeffrey, leave a message and I’ll get back to you.” I’d now heard that message thirty eight times. I hit the red button, lower the phone, and sink into the couch.
I hadn’t left a message till the third day, but texted many times, apologies and sorrys and attempted light-hearted comments. In my messages, I’d even pronounced it “Rothenbooler”, aiming for a touch of above-it-all-ness and an air of correctness and subtlety.
I looked at the “bool” during commercials and when I was up getting a beer. How am I going to mail that? Why was I watching TV at two in the morning? My life, I realized, was like a fruitcake, suddenly crashed on the floor, and my future didn’t need some woman from Idaho to interpret.