by Andrew King
Artwork by Alex Cerebella
“You’ll love her,” Kathy insisted, and he grumbled.
They were back at the apartment, a nice Italian dinner marinating in their stomachs. With a plate of digesting spaghetti slowly lulling him to sleep like an anchor fixed to his eyelids, the idea of meeting Madame L’Ouina didn’t exactly thrill him. He also wasn’t sure how to pronounce the fortune teller’s name. Kathy said it like “LaWeena,” but there was something about that he didn’t much like. On the other hand, he wasn’t inclined to argue on a full stomach either. Not with Kathy, at least.
It might have been Kathy’s plan all along: Treat him to a generous dinner and then catch him in a moment of weakness. It might, had she a devious bone in her body.
Regardless, it worked.
Kathy led him out of the apartment, her slender fingers curled around his wrist, and he let her because if it mattered so much to her…
The swami had a hoopy gold earring and a purple veil that covered her face. They weren’t even the first signs that she was a phony. He spotted three others before Kathy could sashay across the room to greet her Madame L’Ouina.
Kathy curtsied as her spiritual guide threw back her veil. He had to close his eyes, because it was that or snort. Madame L’Ouina, the great Baroness Samedi was actually a pale slip of a woman. A real waif. He’d picked his teeth with heartier twigs, and why was she white?
The vibe of her sanctum was hodgepodge Voodoo, Gypsy (not that this woman would recognize the word Roma from a tomato), Jamaica, and Panhandle interpretation of all the above, but Kathy still took it seriously.
It was actually worrying.
When she asked Miss Madame if them—she and him—were destined for each other, he scoffed. L’Ouina raised her stenciled eyebrow, and he shrugged, not wholly comfortable with the faded color of her eyes—her contacts.
“No,” said Madame L’Ouina in the most indecipherable of accents. “No, I dint tink so. Katty, he is not t’one for yuh. No, not at all.”
He scoffed again, eliciting another focused stare.
“Wouldja like me t’find a soulmate for yuh, dear skeptic?” she asked, the beginnings of a smirk brewing beneath her rather angular nose.
That caught him off guard. He hadn’t expected to actually be addressed. Suddenly his collar itched. “Um.”
The storm of smirk, now in full rage across the lower half of L’Ouina’s face, only widened. “You’ll see now that there’s a line growin’ outa yuh chest. Follow that line, my skeptic, an’ on t’otha side’ll be yuh soulmate. It’ll getcha there right enough.”
Kathy’s expression would have made candy store kids sniff in disdain and walk home slowly with hands in pockets. She really thinks there’s going to be a magic line, he thought. She thinks there’s going to be a magic line and that she’s going to be on the other end.
“Well,” Kathy huffed after a few seconds. “Where is it? Where’s the line?”
He was about to join her in accosting the Panhandle priestess, but when he saw the miffed frustration in her eyes was directed at him, the words sank in his throat. Why was she so upset? Because he didn’t know what to do, he looked down, and that was the first time he saw the line: It was thin, like a spiderweb, and it radiated a faint electric blue.
“Well?” asked Kathy again, softer this time when he didn’t look up.
He didn’t answer just then, but she saw his gaze wander when he traced line from where it began at his chest to where it terminated at the wall, with not a twitch in Kathy’s direction.
“Oh it’ll go troo that,” L’Ouina waved her bony wrist in the general vicinity of where the line ended. “Whatcha lookin’ fer’ll be on t’otha side.”
Kathy buried her face in her hands.
Madame L’Ouina just laughed.
They tried for a while, tried to keep things going, but Kathy asked about the line often, asked if there wasn’t some way that it didn’t loop around the world, crossing every continent on its way back to her or something romantic like that.
She couldn’t get the line out of her head, so they went their separate ways, but he didn’t mind. She put too much stock in the hack powers of Madame L’Ouina anyway.
For a time, the split-up came as a great relief. Meeting woman, talking with them, was easier a thousand times over when they didn’t bring up his dandy magic line twice an hour. Of course, it was still there, and he did start following it every so often, what difference did it make?
Sometimes, alone and unable to sleep, he would lie in bed and watch the humming blue thread shudder and twitch, each flick rolling down the line until it collided with his chest. Sometimes he’d wonder who moved it on the other side.
Well, he’d never really liked her anyway.
“Well Mr. Jackson, I’ve got to say, I’m really impressed with your credentials.” The potential employer, a portly man who in his ample proportions greatly resembled a walrus, clapped his meaty flippers—hands together. “I just need to ask a few more questions and if things pan out we’ll take you on.”
He held back his snort. Impressive? The job was his the moment he walked through the door, but he kept composed. Best not to show future coworkers the way things were until the future was decided, and also he’d seen a television special about how the male walrus would attempt to quell threats to his authority by squashing the upstart. Better to be safe on both fronts.
“The commute is no short distance from your home address. Is that going to be an issue?”
A flick of electric blue and the line was hovering above his nose, stretched and intent. “The commute?” he pondered the spindly thread for a moment, “Oh yes, the commute. Yes.”
The walrus piqued its bushy eyebrows. “It is going to be an issue?”
“What?” he asked. “No. It’s fine.”
“Glad to hear it. Now, I’m going to need to call some of these past employers, will that be alright?”
The line pulled at his chest, tugged. “Yes. Perfectly fine.”
“Good. Now, Mr. Jackson, this is a high-stress position. I need to know if you can keep your head on straight.”
“Could you excuse me?” He stumbled to his feet, hands pressed against the table for support, and staggered out of the room. “Got to see,” he mumbled, and threw back a glance as he pushed open the door. “Be in touch?”
He found his occupation online, earning his money, just him and the line. Honestly, he missed people, and Kathy. She was one of those people that he missed.
The plot to the side of his parent’s graves (one of them vacant) had little in the way of interest. Just some grass, and no place where the other end of the line sunk into the rain-soaked loam.
Sighing, he pulled a pen and pad out of his pocket, ignoring the blotchy spots where stray waterdrops splattered like wet meteors. At least his search wasn’t fruitless, not some cheeky jab about how he wasted his life looking for his soulmate and so it became the grave.
He marked item number three, “Grave” off the list. Above it, he’d already scored through “Myself” and “Cats.”
He put on years as fast as he retained pounds and lost hair, and his fixation with the line only grew. In public places, he would sweep his eyes over the gathered people, searching for the one that was his soulmate. He drove around town, wandering whatever direction the line pointed him; mostly east.
An older man now and he followed the line to a big city, not east this time but south. The streets pulsed with people pushing past him, occasionally bumping. Most of them would only spare a slight glare for the aging, bald man with eyes glued to his chest. They all had lives and jobs and soulmates to go to.
He just had the line, but now its movements were faster. Erratic. Because he was zeroing in on the other end, it had to be.
The line prompted him to enter an airport, and he stumbled after it, wondering what she would look like, his soulmate. Gorgeous, he hoped, but he wasn’t picky like he used to be. Really he’d take anything so long as his line connected to it. She’ll have a nice smile, he promised himself. Kind eyes.
He couldn’t get into the terminal without buying a ticket, so he picked up two for Arizona, thinking that maybe they’d go see the Grand Canyon once they found each other. They would stand over the rift and he would kiss her in the sunset. Maybe the next day would hold a helicopter tour, but there would be time for that later. He wasn’t done thinking about the night yet.
What happened in his head was so interesting that he didn’t notice when the line flipped from shooting straight ahead to bending back over his shoulder. Resurfacing from his thoughts, his heart jumped like a motorbike without a clutch.
He whipped around and tore after the line, faster than he’d run in years. His warpath took him through a throng of people, where he barreled into an elderly Chinese gentlemen, who yelped and dropped his cane when he hit the floor. Gushing apologies, even as the man on the ground hemorrhaged exclamations in a different language, he scrambled after the man’s walking stick. It was only after he had returned the cane to its owner and helped the old-timer up that he noticed the other end of the line, where it buried itself in the gentlemen’s chest.