BY LIZ McADAMS
This is the concluding part of a two-part story. Read the first part here. Copyright is held by the author.
“THANK YOU,” Elizabeth glanced behind her, watching for obstacles, remembering the avalanche of condoms in the pharmacy. The shop seemed to expand around her, curios in far off corners catching her attention, and as she approached them, they seemed to dissolve into an ordinary deck of cards, or a simple water glass.
Picking up a mirror, she held it up, studying the carved wooded handle. Her reflection flashed before her, and then twisted into blue sky; tilting the mirror, she stared at it, wondering how it caught the outdoor light in the dark shop.
“Madam, perhaps not that one,” Ramuh appeared beside her and lifted it from her hands. Elizabeth recoiled, startled. He had moved noiselessly, and as she shifted her weight, the floorboards creaked beneath her bulk. She wondered how he did that.
“Would you like your fortune read?” He waved his free hand at the small table set up in the front of the shop, a clear glass ball mounted in ornate silver sat perched on top of a red velvet cloth. Just like the movies, she thought.
Her Fitbit chirped, time was up, she had to go pick up her prescription and start the pills her doctor ordered, anything to help her lose weight. “I’m sorry, but—”
Ramuh touched her elbow, and nodded at the table. “Now, please, I must insist. I get so few visitors here, it would be an honour to read your fortune.”
Elizabeth stepped aside, “I’m sorry, I’ve taken too much of your time already, I was just looking, really.”
“It won’t be a minute — for you, madam, I will tell your fortune free of charge — on the house, you might say.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t.”
“But I insist.” Teeth gleaming, his touch as soft as a kitten, Ramuh took her elbow in his hand, and guided her to a chair. She eyed it suspiciously.
“Please take a seat, madam,” he smiled as he eased himself into the plush armchair.
Elizabeth stared at the chair. What could she say now? Refuse outright, and appear rude, or . . . “Actually, I think I’ll stand and watch from here,” she smiled through the lie.
“You’ll be quite comfortable, I think.”
Elizabeth blinked. The chair seemed to have doubled in size, wide enough to accommodate her girth and then some, nearly the size of a love seat, it sat where a simple armchair had sat moments before. Elizabeth shook her head. Her eyes must be playing tricks on her.
Two hands braced against the armrests in case of catastrophe, she lowered her bulk to the chair, and was pleasantly surprised to sink into soft plush.
“There now, are we comfy?”
“Let’s begin.” Waving his hands above the globe, Ramuh shielded it from her momentarily with his fingers, gold rings flashing in the dim light, and peered into the glass.
Elizabeth shifted in the chair, feeling faintly ridiculous, like she’d just walked onto the set of a movie she had no part in, getting her fortune told of all things. A bright flash from inside the display case caught her eye, and she turned toward it. The familiar pattern, red, yellow, orange, warning lights still flickering in sets of three; how odd, she thought.
Her Fitbit chirped again; she was late for the pharmacy. No matter, they’d hold the prescription for her to pick up, and then she’d need to get groceries, and then a cab to carry them home, there was no way she could . . .
“Ah, now I have it.”
Elizabeth leaned forward in spite of herself.
“This is it — you wish, you wish to be thinner.”
She burst out laughing.
Ramuh looked puzzled. “I’m sorry, but that is your greatest wish, is it not?”
Still smiling, Elizabeth patted her enormous belly, “It’s hardly a secret.”
“But I can help you on your journey.”
She smiled at the rows of curios scattered around the shop. “I’ve tried the alternative remedies — ginseng, Chinese medicine; now my doctor’s given me some pills. I think I’ve had enough.” Rising, she turned toward the door. “Anyway, thank you for your time.”
“But I can help you,” Ramuh smiled; his hand now suddenly closing on her arm, his strength was surprising.
“Really, I’m sure . . .”
He waved his hand at a nearby shelf, crammed with bottles, and shrivelled pieces of what looked like bark or a tree branch. She startled when she saw five tiny fingernails embedded in the end of it. Her stomach rolled. “I’m fine, really — and I must be going – I have an appointment.”
She tried to twist her arm from his grasp, he held her tight and smiled. “Don’t worry madam, we won’t be a moment.”
Elizabeth stared at the shelf, she thought she saw the fingernails move, as though a tiny hand was waving, and then nothing. Impossible, she told herself, she’s just freaking herself out, this guy’s an odd duck, that’s all.
“Let me give you something —”
“No, thank you. And I must be going. Now.” Elizabeth pulled her arm back, and his grip loosened, his hand falling to his side. She rubbed her elbow. “Anyway, I’ll be going now.”
He smiled. “No, really, I insist. Consider it a loan. No payment required. Think of it as a personal favour.”
Elizabeth tried to edge away from the shelf, maybe she could just take whatever he’s giving her, and get out of here, and dump in the trash later. She pretended to take an interest in the shelf, “What are those?”
“Ah, my remedies — cure alls. Some call them — how do you say it — placebos. Others claim they work.” He smiled at her, his teeth gleaming. “I have yet to discern the truth.”
“So that’s what your going to give me?” Elizabeth blinked. She was positive the hand-thing just moved again. And then nothing.
“No, I think not for you, madam.”
“Well, then what are you trying to sell me?”
He smiled, “As I said, not sell you, madam, give you. Perhaps on loan for some time.”
With a flourish, he whipped the curtain off of the mirror. The glass shone darkly, and then slowly, as though a television image coming into focus, the shop came into view. Elizabeth sighed at the sight of herself, her bosom rising beneath the floral blouse, her belly hanging beneath; her thighs thankfully cut off by the counter. It was good to see a familiar face, even if it was only her own.
From inside the glass case, the snow globes lit up like a fireworks display, all blinking frantically. Elizabeth glanced down at them. “Isn’t that strange?” she bent down, staring. The red-and-orange one flashed brilliantly, yellow light sweeping around the case.
In a smooth motion, Ramuh swept the cloth over the glass case, draping it neatly and hiding the globes beneath it. “There now,” he said, standingbeside the mirror, “This is something I believe you’re interested in.”
Elizabeth turned toward the mirror, the carved wood frame looked old, with unknown creatures wrapped around the glass. “What — is this an antique?”
He laughed, his voice rising with fluid notes. “No, madam, I would say even older than that. Some might call this an ancient artifact.”
“It is truly priceless,” he said, smiling. “But I’m more than happy to lend it to you, I think it will help you on your journey.”
Ramuh nodded. “Just look into it.”
Elizabeth glanced at the mirror, and then paused. Staring. There she was, in the same floral blouse and leggings, the blouse now hanging loose on her frame, draping seductively over her cleavage. “No way —”
“This mirror shows you what becomes, the truth of a situation, if you will.”
“But how does it work?”
He shrugged. “Like most things do — if you see what can happen, you make it so.”
Elizabeth looked down at her body, the blouse now strained over her bosom. If it was simply a matter of suggestion, something to get her to be more active, maybe she could finally lose some weight. It wouldn’t hurt, and who knows, it might help.
“So you’ll take it then?” Ramuh leaned on the counter.
“Sure, I may as well. On loan, right?”
Ramuh nodded, and removed a label from beneath the glass case, as he bent down, the curtain shifted, and flashing lights broke through, then, as he smoothed his hands over the curtain, nothing.
Elizabeth stared down at his fingers, she hadn’t noticed how long his nails were; like claws, almost, she thought.
Picking up the mirror, he placed it facedown on the counter, and stuck the label on the back. He smiled at her, “Just in case something happens, and people need to know where to return it.”
Elizabeth nodded as he wrapped the mirror in the cloth; as the curtain was lifted all the snow globes lit up, flashing in a brilliant display. She bent down, tipping her head to the case, “Isn’t that odd, it’s almost like they’re humming.”
“What a strange fancy,” Ramuh smiled, placing the bundle in her arms. The snow globes continued to flash, and then he rapped his knuckles on the case, suddenly silencing them.
But that’s ridiculous, she thought.
“Anyway, enjoy the mirror, and good luck.”
“Thank you, I’ll let you know how things turn out.” She nodded at him as he held the door.
“I’m sure I’ll see you very soon,” he smiled.
Alone in her apartment, Elizabeth unwrapped the mirror, and set it on the floor, propping it upright against the sofa. She shook her head, what a strange man; but, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she did look better. Fresher, her clothes were less strained.
Smiling at herself, Elizabeth sat down on the floor in front of the mirror, studying her reflection. Her eyes seemed brighter, their sparkle came back, no longer hidden beneath rolls of flesh. Twisting her head from side to side, she raised her hand to her neck, studying her jowls. They seemed smoother, less heavy.
She sat up, feeling muscles tighten, and smiled at her reflection. It must be some kind of trick mirror, like inside the fun house. Running her hand over her neck again, still, she seemed to feel smoother, her flesh tighter.
She inhaled deeply, why, she felt energized already. Her mind drifted to the bicycles for sale, and pictured herself riding one down the street, her newly developed muscles straining against the wind, racing down hills in a burst of speed, and then—
Leaning forward, she pressed her hand to the mirror, feeling the cool glass beneath her palm suddenly quiver, a dizzying lurching sensation, like a misstep. The sound of gears clicking, and spinning wheels.
And then nothing.
Midmorning light crept through the apartment. Elizabeth peered out of the mirror as her telephone began to ring, it was work phoning, to see why she wasn’t there.
But, as the ringtone cut off when voicemail took the call, she smiled, she was busy, flying through narrow streets on a bicycle, the wind blowing in her hair.
The bell above the shop door rang, and the blonde woman leaned inside. “Excuse me, is this the psychic?”
Moving with cat-like grace, a man stood up from behind the counter, sweeping his palms over the dusty surface. “How may I help you?”
“Oh,” she said and flushed, suddenly self-conscious. “I’m just looking.” A flash from inside the glass case caught her eye, red, orange and yellow blinked in warning.
“Ooh, snow globes, aren’t they lovely?”
The man smiled.
“That one is precious — such a lovely floral pattern.” She bent down staring at it spinning within the glass globe. “It keeps going around, doesn’t it?”
He nodded. “We just got that one in.”
“And what about this red flashing one?”
He smiled, revealing even teeth, “Don’t pay any attention, it’s defective. Keeps giving off false warnings.”