by Terri Mullholland
Cathy told her mother she was taking the bins out. Her mother nodded, her eyes fixed on the television, tinny canned laughter echoing around the room. Cathy sighed. She wished her mother would take more interest in things, even if it were only to wonder why her daughter was taking out the bins at midnight.
She let herself out of the back door, ignoring the bins, and made her way down the path. The moon was full and cast a blue-white glow over the garden. Cathy kept looking over her shoulder, up at the darkened windows of the house next door, wondering if someone was watching.
Cathy moved in with her mother five years ago, after the break-up of her marriage. It was working well; her mother needed someone to look after her, and they both needed company. But Cathy could feel life passing her by. She watched the other women her age in the street and couldn’t remember the last time she laughed. She felt restless, ready to welcome something or someone new into her life.
Earlier in the week, she had taken her mother to a jumble sale at the town hall. Cathy spotted the fortune-teller as soon as she walked in. She was tucked away in the corner, and everyone else seemed to be ignoring her as if she didn’t exist. She found her mother a seat next to a friendly group of women at the cake stall and bought her a nice cup of tea.
‘Back in a moment, mum,’ she said, giving her a light kiss on the forehead, knowing that sadly her mother wouldn’t notice if she was gone one minute or one hour.
The fortune-teller had wild black hair and green eyes and was wearing a flowing purple gown.
‘Ah, I can see love on the horizon for you,’ said the fortune-teller as Cathy took a seat opposite them at the table. ‘Cross my palm with paper money, and then I can tell you more.’
Cathy gave the fortune-teller a crumpled five-pound note and, when the fortune-teller continued to frown at her outstretched palm, added another one.
The fortune-teller smiled, opened the carrier bag at her feet, pulled out a white plastic ball, and placed it on the table. It glowed like the moon as the fortune-teller ran her hands over it and peered within. She said there would be love coming from an unexpected source, but it was timid, shy; it might need some coaxing.
‘It might not be what you are expecting,’ said the fortune-teller, ‘just keep an open mind.’
The fortune-teller told Cathy to list the qualities she was seeking in a lover and write them on a piece of paper. On the night of the next full moon, she should bury the list under the moonlight and make a wish. Then love would find her.
Even afterward, Cathy thought how gullible she was. The fortune-teller had probably seen her come into the hall with her elderly mother, noted her unwashed hair, her drab clothing, and told her what she wanted to hear.
But despite that, here she was. Under the full moon, with a list made on a piece of paper torn off her mother’s shopping list pad. She had crossed out ‘bread, milk’ and written ‘tall, dark, loving, kind,’ then, at the last minute, she added ‘shy’ – just in case.
Cathy dug a hole in her mother’s flower bed, put the carefully folded list into the earth, covered it over, and put a large stone on the top. Then she looked up at the moon, glowing full and bright, and wished.
There was a noise somewhere between the howl of a wolf and the bark of a fox. Then something started moving in the bushes, something dark, something shy. She went towards the buses, hand outstretched, ready to coax it out.
* * * * *
Terri Mullholland (she / her) is a writer and researcher living in London, UK. Her flash fiction has appeared in Litro, Flash Fiction Magazine, Every Day Fiction, Toasted Cheese, Full House, Severine, Tether's End, The Liminal Review, and Analogies & Allegories Literary Magazine. When she is not writing she can be found curled up with a good book and a cat.