by Dan Seavers
“CURIOUS, ain’t cha?”
Tom came round from his daze, to find the old woman on the next seat staring at him intently. She smiled a loose smile, barely half filled with nicotine stained teeth.
“I’m sorry?” Tom asked. He had no idea how long she’d been sat next to him. He tended to just ignore people on the bus, and lose himself in his own thoughts. Which she’d suddenly interrupted.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said, with a wink. Or maybe a squint. It was hard to tell. “You’re wondering what would happen if you talked to that girl over there.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said to the floor, blushing slightly.
“Really?” the woman said, raising her voice. “You’re telling me you don’t think the girl at the front is pretty?” She said the final bit loud. Very loud. Enough that a few people on the bus turned to see what she was shouting about. Including the girl, who smiled briefly at them, then looked away.
“Yes, er, maybe. I don’t know. Just keep your voice down.”
It was true. Tom had been watching the girl every day since she’d started taken his bus to work. What had it been? A month or so maybe? And he’d still not found the courage to talk to her. No, wait. That’s a lie. He’d felt slightly more confident one Thursday morning. He’d sat behind her and said hello, but she’d had headphones in and didn’t hear. He had to pretend to be on the phone instead.
“Why don’t you talk to her?” The woman said.
“I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll have anything in common.”
“But the answers always no until you ask.”
“I, er, I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’d feel stupid.”
“You should ask her out,” she said, sitting back with her arms crossed, like she’d won the argument.
“I don’t even know her name.”
“How do you know?
“I don’t. But she looks like a Jane.”
“What does a Jane look like?”
“Like her, dummy.” She stopped, and rummaged into her handbag. A couple of cough sweets dropped out and rolled away up the bus. “Oh. And I found this on her seat the other morning when she got off.”
She handed it over to him. It was a leather bookmark, embossed with ‘Jane’ at the top. The type of thing you’d pick up in a gift shop, with the meaning on the name written underneath. Apparently, Janes are gracious and merciful. Or at least, that’s what the bookmark said.
“How do you know it’s hers?” He asked.
“I don’t,” the woman said. “But look.”
The girl, Jane maybe, was sat reading her book. It was something that she normally did to pass the journey, but instead of a bookmark, she was using a ripped piece of newspaper.
“Looks like someone lost her bookmark recently,” the woman said, grinning again. “I may be going daft, but I can still perceive things.”
“But I can’t just go up to her and hand it over?”
“Why? What do you think will happen?”
“I don’t know. That’s the point.”
The woman sighed deeply.
“That’s the problem with kids of today. No gumption. You expect things to be handed over on a plate. Never ready to be bold and take the first step. Tell you what, I’ll show you three steps to getting to know her. Will that help?
“Sure. I think.”
“Very well.” She rummaged in her bag again. How she managed to contain so much stuff in just one small bag seemed a little off to James, but then, the inside of a woman’s handbag is always a mystery.
“Ah,” she said. “Here it is.” And she pulled out a glass ball about the same size of a tennis ball.”
“What is it?”
“What does it look like?”
“A glass ball?”
“Ah. Now you’re starting to perceive things too. Hold it in your hands and see what you see.”
Tom took it and held it in his hands. It seemed surprisingly warm.
“I can just see my hands through it.”
“Ah yes,” she said. “You need the extra touch. Hang on.” She unclipped a broach from her coat. It was a small owl with two jewelled eyes, and a sharp pin that held it in place. She leaned forward, and jabbed his right index finger with it.
Tom gasped as blood spilled out.
“Ah. What was that for?”
“You need to add something to the mix,” she said. “Bring something to the party. I can’t do all the work. Touch it against the glass and take a peak. “
Tom did as instructed, placing his blood stained fingers against the glass. It clouded over, with a faint pink mist, which swirled around inside like a snow globe. Or maybe a badly tuned TV, as slowly, a picture began to form inside the glass.
It was a crisp wintry day. Sharp flakes of snow dashed through the air, brushing everything with a crisp clean magic. Christmas lights twinkled here and there, as people bustled around with parcels. It felt so much like Christmas, but not one he remembered. Same with the ice rink. It was as familiar, but only as if seen in a movie. It wasn’t somewhere he’d ever been. Skaters darted around the rink, wrapped up warm against the cold, with smiles beaming across their faces. And in the middle of it, were two people. No. Not just two people. A boy and a girl. Him and Jane. She was stood over him, as he’d bent down before her. Had he fallen? And yet, he was smiling. And so was she. And there was a ring in his hand. And she was saying yes, with tears glistening in her eyes like the fairy lights and stars that shone down on them. They kissed.
The fog faded away from the glass, and Tom looked up at the woman.
“Are you saying that’s my future? If I talk to her right now?”
“It’s a future,” she smiled.
“So you’re a fortune teller?”
The old woman splurted out a deep throaty cough that sounded like 50 cigarettes a day.
“By Hecate,” she said. “How rude. I’m a witch.”
“As in cats, and cauldrons and dancing naked at full moon.” He smirked, and turned away.
The woman sighed and shook her head.
“If you’re going to be stupid, I won’t help.”
The boy stopped, and looked back over at Jane. A knot retied inside his chest.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I just thought witches were fairy tales. I didn’t think any really existed.”
“Well we do,” the old woman said. “Though there’s no broomsticks or cauldrons. And certainly no naked dancing. Not with my piles. Though I do have a cat. He’s called Lucifer.”
“As in, the devil?”
“No. Don’t be daft. He’s only a devil. There’s more than one.”
“Oh indeed,” she said, and began rummaging through her bag again. “But enough about that. If we’re going to sort this all out, I better get a move on. I need a hanky.”
She pulled a tissue out from her bag. It may have been white at one point, but it was now an off yellow colour. There was a ‘J’ embroidered on one corner, and a suspicious green patch on the other.
“I need you to wipe your head on this,” she said, handing it over.
“I’d rather not.”
She held it there and looked at him. It was a strange look. She was half pleasant old dear, looking to you for your last piece of toffee. And half old hag, that would give you a hiding if you didn’t hand it over.
“Fine,” Tom said, snatching the grotty thing from her hand, and wiping it briefly across him head.
“Good. Now touch it against the ball.”
He did as he was asked, and once more the ball filled with a swirl of mist. Though this time it was grey, and the picture took longer to form.
It was a room. A cold, grey room. The curtains were closed tight against the world, so it could have been any time of day. Although that didn’t matter. The bed mattered. The bed and the wires and the tubes and the machines and the beep, beep, beep of the heart monitor. And they were there again. The boy and girl. Tom and Jane. She lay motionless in the bed, the coils weaving in and out of her, pumping in life and taking more away. Her hair was gone, but she still had a calm beauty in her face. Tom sat next to her, his hand in hers, half asleep in his chair. She’s coughs, a little, and he stirs awake. Her eyes open, look straight at him, and she says something too quiet to hear. Then they close, and she lays still and silent. The beeps change to one long tone. He leans in, kisses her forehead, then collapses into her.
Tom looked up from the ball. A cold tear ran down his cheek, until the woman leaned in and swiped it away, holding it balanced on her finger.
“So this is what will happen?”
“I never said that. It’s a possibility. That’s all I can show.”
“But you said there were three steps?”
“Oh, but there are. The good, the bad and the other.”
She placed her finger with the tear against the glass. It swirled blue and revealed more. But it wasn’t one scene, but many, blurred together, fading out as soon as they appeared.
Two old people sitting having lunch in a café.
A pile of bills on a table.
A young couple hand in hand in the park.
An argument over nothing.
Children playing in the garden.
A bed with her in, and a man that wasn’t him.
And they were gone again.
“I can only show you what might be,” the woman said. “But only you can see what will be.”
“Thank you,” he said, “but knowing all those maybes, I’m not sure I’d dare.”
She leaned in, and stroked his cheek. It was strangely motherly. She smelt slightly of cat litter.
“It takes blood, sweat and tears to make a relationship work. But out of that, comes magic. Remember this, and you’ll be okay.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll do it.” He stood up, and headed up the aisle of the bus. The woman grabbed his arm to stop him.
“Don’t forget this,” she said, passing him the bookmark. Tom took it with a smile. He walked up to the girl, pausing a moment to gather his words.
“Excuse me?” he said.
The girl looked up from her book at the man stood over her. Over his shoulder, she saw an old woman sat near the back, grinning and give her a wink. Though it may have been a squint.
“Yes?” she asked.
He pulled a bookmark from behind his back. Her bookmark.
“Did you drop this?”
© Dan Seavers 2016