Confession to a Fortune Teller

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A father has disapproved of his daughter's fiance', mostly because of the young man's misbehavior. With a little help the future husband is able to redeem himself.

Submitted: May 26, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 26, 2017



Confession to a Fortune Teller


Barbers and lawyers share at least one vocational trait – they are good listeners.  In the small town of Stark, Ohio, in 1938, they also had in common a general lack of funds.  Not many new businesses were incorporating, or scrambling for tax advice and such as a lawyer tended to offer as services, and most men had begun letting their wives shear the excess crop of hair that naturally grew in good times or bad.  There was more than one barber and more than one lawyer in the town of Stark, but this story concerns one particular set of them.

Robbie Jensen was cutting the thick, curly locks of Wayne Carter.  Secondary to being a neglected, underpaid lawyer, Mr. Carter also served as mayor of their remote village – strictly a pro bono service.

“The problem,” complained Wayne, “is that everyone thinks lawyers are rich.  A man who would never dream of stiffing a poor man will stiff a lawyer on the general principle that the lawyer can afford it.”

Robbie bent his friend’s head forward, so he could get at the back of the neck with small, sharp, pointy scissors.  He said, “Times have been bad for sure.  Hard for a man to make a living.”  He stopped the click-click of the scissors for a few moments, letting himself remember a better past.  He started clicking again, and said, “Remember the early 20’s in Detroit?  We were kings back then, Wayne.  I miss those times.”

Before Robbie set out his barber’s pole in Stark, Ohio, and before Wayne hung out his lawyer’s shingle, the two men had belonged to the Northern Magnolia Drama Company.  In plainest language, the troupe was a vaudeville crew with little talent, but possessing tons of beautiful, priceless enthusiasm.  Without doubt, the members of the company enjoyed themselves much more than any audience ever did.

“Say Wayne,” said Robbie, with a spontaneous lift of the voice, which in fact was not spontaneous at all.  “I have an idea of how we can have a spot of fun and make some bucks as a bonus.”

“I’m listening,” said Mr. Mayor, “but keep an eye out Robbie and don’t knick my ear with those shears, like the last time.”

“Keep still and you’ll keep your ears,” replied Robbie.  “Now, hear me out.  Do you remember that old routine what had you playing the part of a midway mystic and lady fortune teller?”

Wayne Carter, the poor lawyer and poorer mayor, laughed at the memory.  He said, “We swiped that chandelier fixture and put a 5 watt Edison bulb inside.  It was as good a crystal ball as any in the movies ever was, especially with the extra candles on the table and all wrapped around with the red silk scarf.”

“Well, here’s the game,” said Robbie.  “The Jubilee carnival comes to town next week, as you know.  They’ll be set up in the ball field across from the library as usual.  I say we raise a special tent of our own nearby and introduce the citizens of Stark to the First Lady of Fortune Telling.”

Robbie could see the old familiar sparkle playing in Wayne’s eyes, the slow smile growing into a faster grin.  They looked at one another through reflections on the wall sized barber’s mirror mounted in front of the cutting chair.

“Do you think we could do it?” asked Wayne.

“Two bits apiece,” said Robbie.  “For three days work we’ll haul in a hundred for sure,” replied Robbie.

“But it wouldn’t do for anyone to recognize me,” said Wayne.  “As mayor, I have an image to uphold.”

Robbie waved a hand, dismissing his friend’s concern.  “Your skill with the make-up is equal to any street mime or Broadway lady.  Not even Sarah would recognize you.”  Sarah Carter was the mayor’s twenty year old daughter.

“No need to worry over that.  Sarah hardly speaks to me since I refuse to recognize her engagement.”

Robbie, of course, know about Sarah’s problem with her fiancé.  Young Charlie Bromtel was studying to be an accountant, and had been in good accounts with Sarah’s father until recently.  It seems the young man had been observed gallivanting with some other young women.  While Sarah saw fit to forgive her young man, Wayne Carter considered the offence beyond pardon.  He had refused to allow Charlie in his home and considered the engagement ended.

“What about the make-up, and props, the tent, and another crystal ball?” said Wayne.  “Especially the crystal ball.  It’s hard to find something that works just right.”

“Well, see here Lady Fortune Teller, I’ll do my part, too,” said Robbie.  “There’s an establishment in Cleveland set up just so magicians, actors, and clowns can get any wig, magic hat, or rubber nose you ever wanted.  I’ll drive over in my Ford and load up a choice supply of anything you order up on a pencil list.”

The plan was sketched and set in motion according to Robbie’s vision, and when the carnival arrived, so did a tent featuring the First Lady of Fortune Telling.  The level headed citizens of Stark were reluctant customers at first call.  Then Robbie bounced around the carnival, half cheerleader and half advertising man, telling friends and strangers alike about the magical fortune teller.  Didn’t she look into that ball and tell him about his own blue tic hound, predicting a seven pup litter?  How, without possessing true magical talents, could this stranger know of his backyard hound?  This and other wonders paid dividends in two bit increments as business steadily increased.

A good lawyer and a good barber are good listeners, as observed before, and all that listening produced a commodity, as it were, that found a market at the Jubilee Carnival.  The good people of Stark were impressed, flabbergasted, and altogether stunned by the magnificent lady fortune teller, who seemed to know them as well as any neighbor.

On the second evening of the show’s run, in walks a solemn looking youth, obviously carrying the load of Atlas on his skinny shoulders.  The First Lady of Fortune Telling recognized Charlie Bromtel, his Sarah’s disgraced, former fiancé.  His Honor, mayor of Stark and veteran vaudeville star, was cast in the moment as a professional.  Nothing short of a cataclysmic catastrophe would force him to break his role.  He held his tongue and addressed the boy as the fortune teller.  What would the young man know of his future?

“I’m in the grip of a tough one,” said Charlie.  “You see, my girl, Sarah, is the greatest girl God ever fashioned from earth’s clay.  I just know in my heart He was extra careful in making her, you know, like she was His special project, and He decided to do his very, very best.  She has the heart of an angel, and anyone who looks in her eyes and can’t see the beauty of ten thousand heaven painted sunsets is just blind.”  Here, Charlie Bromtel did a thing that brings self hatred and unfounded humiliation to many men, young or old.  He cried.

The fortune teller listened in silence.  When Charlie was able to continue, he said, “Mr. Carter, I’m as sorry about what I did as any man could ever be.  Yes sir, I know it’s you, and please give me a chance to speak.  Sarah and Mr. Jensen will be mortified that I tossed the game and spilled the beans, but don’t blame them, as Mr. Jensen just wanted to help.  I was supposed to recite a practiced speech to propel you toward forgiveness in a clandestine manner, but I can’t do it, sir.  I was dishonest once and it cost me a devil’s wages.  I’ll stick by the truth now.  I got drunk on vodka and danced all night with some friends and a bunch of bargirls in Cleveland, but I swear it won’t happen again.  I love your daughter with uncommon devotion, Mr. Carter, and if you forgive me in a year or two, then I’ll be here waiting for her.”  With this speech concluded, Charlie Bromtel departed the fortune teller’s tent, off on another mission of confession.  He’d have to tell Mr. Jensen how he had ruined the plot and implicated that kind gentleman. 

Charlie had made only ten paces when the fortune teller grabbed his arm and dragged him back into the tent.

“Look here, Charlie,” said Mr. Carter, “Robbie Jensen went through a lot of trouble to stage this diversion, and there’s no need to spoil it.  I’m a lawyer and I’ll tell you that confessions should be dished up sparingly, not spread around like chicken feed.  So keep a poker face and tell Robbie and Sarah you kept honest to the script.  And when Sarah tells you that I invited you to dine with us on Saturday night, why you just keep on wearing that poker face.”

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