by Alice Woodrome
"Madam Celeste?" Scott asked the woman who answered the door of the rundown little house on Dressler Avenue. She was wearing a long shirt over leotards that bunched around her chubby ankles. The only thing about her that seemed right was the large hoop earrings that nearly touched her shoulders.
"Yes," she said without smiling. "Are you the young man who called? Do you want a reading?"
"Yeah," he said, stepping in the doorway as she moved aside. "I guess that’s what you call it."
"Come back this way," she said to Scott, leading him from the ordinary living room to what in most homes would be the dining area. It was curtained off from the front room and presumably the kitchen. Unlike Madam Celeste and the rest of the house, the small dark room did not differ greatly from his stereotypical expectation. A large glass ball was positioned in the middle of a skirted round table, and the scent of jasmine drifted from a Buddha incense burner on the shelf beside the entrance. Even Madam Celeste fit the part better when she draped a purple-fringed shawl over her shoulders and sat down at the table.
"It’s customary to get the business out of the way before we begin," she said as Scott took the other seat.
Scott hesitated a moment, confused. Then his faced flushed red as he dug into his back pocket." Oh yes. I forgot. I’ve never done this before. Twenty was it?"
She nodded and took the bill, tucking it into the shirt pocket under her shawl. "Is there something in particular that brings you here today? Something that’s been troubling you?"
"I heard about that man from Crawford – the lottery winner. I never thought there was much to all this psychic stuff until I heard about that. I could sure use a winning number like you gave him."
"Let me see your right hand, young man." The Madam reached across the table with both of hers. "I can only tell you what I see."
Scott offered his hand to her, palm up. She took it, examined its structure from both sides, and traced some of the lines with her fingertips. "You have an interesting hand." She looked him in the eyes, her own dark eyes narrowing with concern. "I hope you are living well?"
"I just finished playing the part of Antonio in Much Ado About Nothing. You know, Shakespeare on Parkway?" he said proudly. "Maybe you’ve seen some of our productions? I’m in rehearsal for Julius Caesar now. I’m playing Cassius. We don’t get paid much, but I love it."
"Good," she said, somewhat sadly. "It is important that you are enjoying your life."
Scott’s brow furrowed. "Why? Do you see something there?"
"I see a wise young man who is enjoying his life now instead of waiting until he is old." She smiled for the first time. "We should all follow our dreams."
"It would be nice if my dream were a little more lucrative, though. My rent is past due. I was hoping that you might give me a winning number."
"The man you spoke of was destined to win. I only foretold it." She turned her attention to the large crystal ball on the table. "I can’t change your future. Only you can do that. I can only report what I see," she repeated."
"Tell me that then. At least tell me if I’ll be able to make a living as an actor."
"Shhh – silence, please." Madam Celeste looked deep into the translucent orb. She turned it slightly on its base and peered more intensely into one area. "Something is there. I see a number. It’s three – then one and a five."
"And what is the rest?"
"That’s it, just those three numbers – three–fifteen."
"My lucky number? Too short for a lottery number – what is it? A date? Is it a date?"
"Perhaps, but I just see the number." She looked into Scott’s eyes again, then tilted her head and squinted. "I don’t get the sense that this is a lucky number, though. I think rather, it is one to avoid."
"Oh – an unlucky number." Scott thought quietly for a moment nodding his head slowly, then he looked up suddenly. "That’s the Ides of March – you know, like in the play "Beware the Ides of March." That won’t be for another 6 months, though. That’s a long time to worry."
"Perhaps it is not a date," Madam Celeste warned. "I wasn’t given that. But you should keep your eyes and ears open – be careful. A split-second can make the difference between–" She didn’t finish the sentence, but instead, added, "Don’t be caught unawares when this number appears."
Scott took the bus back to the tiny walk-up apartment he shared with two other actors. He wished he hadn’t spent the twenty. All he got for the trouble was something else to worry about.
It was all foolishness, anyway, he told himself. Why should he be concerned about a number that an old woman pulled out of thin air? But he couldn’t forget it, not with rehearsals for Julius Caesar. The Ides of March hung over his head all winter. He was reminded with every rehearsal and then with each performance of the play. Scott was glad when the play closed the first Sunday of February and he was delivered at last of the constant reminder of the unsettling counsel. His respite was short-lived, however, because when March was upon him, the 15th loomed large indeed. There was no forgetting the dreaded number the psychic had seen in his future.
When the 15th came, Scott was relieved. Just a few hours and he could be done with it. He did everything deliberately that day, with uncommon caution to detail. Nightfall found him unharmed – and none the worse for a day of anxious vigilance.
In the following days, the matter slowly receded into oblivion. On the rare occasions he thought of his preoccupation with the Ides of March, he couldn’t believe he had been swayed by the words of a twenty-dollar fortune from an old lady in leotards and a purple shawl.
And so it was that, even Scott did not take note that it was the 3:15 cross-town bus that nearly hit him on a fine July day months later. He’d caught the scent of jasmine in the crowd and had hesitated before stepping off the curb just as the bus barreled by. Another split-second and he would have surely been killed.