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Enjoy today's episode from the serialized novella "The Ballad of Jimmy James" by Lynda Simmons.
The morning is warm for May and I wish I’d paid more attention when George arrived. Taken note of what he was wearing in order to gauge my own clothes accordingly. But I’m not about to turn back now. Not with the clock ticking and my mother watching and George undoubtedly on his way up the stairs to my room. Returning now would throw the whole dance out of step and who knows what might happen then.
So I promise myself I’ll take off the sweater when I reach the corner and keep going. Taking care not to walk too quickly or appear too pleased. Doing nothing that might rouse my mother’s curiosity enough to have her calling for George and a cab to follow me. It’s been three months since she abandoned surveillance and I don’t want to give her any reason to doubt that decision.
Far enough along now that she can’t see me, I smile and nod at the neighbours out walking dogs or children or simply themselves. They smile and nod in return but I couldn’t put a name to one of them. Back when I was a kid, we knew everyone on the block and they certainly knew all about us. But we’ve learned to keep to ourselves. The last of the originals in the only house that hasn’t been lovingly restored, and won’t be any time soon. With the exception of the roof and some new weeping tiles, the house is exactly the way it was the day my father died, right down to the jewelry on his dresser and the clothes in his closet. It’s like living in a tomb of my own making, and I expect I’ll die inside it myself one day.
But on a Friday morning, it’s easy to forget all of that and just walk with the sun on my face and the bundle buggy bouncing behind me. I’d forgotten about this weekend’s street festival but as I approach the corner, I can hear music and smell food cooking. The banner strung between the lampposts reads Taste of Europe and I fall into step with the music as I maneuver my bundle buggy around the barricade keeping cars at bay.
The sidewalk is lined with sale racks and bargain tables. Food carts offer everything from crepes to goulash and a beer tent sits smack in the middle of the intersection. Everywhere I look, people are strolling and snacking while buskers dance on stilts or juggle with swords or toss flaming batons to each other. A little farther along, a knot of people are taking pictures of a girl standing on a plastic milk crate, pretending to be one of those fortune tellers in a box. A woman throws money into the hat and the girl turns to face her, moving slowly, mechanically. “Your future is already written,” she says in a heavy Eastern European accent. “Come closer and Madam Zelda will tell you all.”
I shuck off the sweater and stuff it in the bundle buggy while the woman laughs and takes a few steps forward. “You have come to the right place,” the girl says and winks bringing more laughter and a few cat calls from a group of boys who have stopped to watch. But instead of the usual vague pronouncements of trips over water and tall dark strangers, this girl says, “You have a son. Not yet sixteen. His name is William,” and the woman’s laughter fades.
“He is with someone now,” the girl continues. “A girl with fair hair. Pretty, yes, but you do not like her, and with good reason.”
The woman looks back at her friends, uncomfortable, but the girl continues. “Heed my warning, that girl will lead him to trouble.” The fortune teller draws herself up, rotates back to her original position and falls silent. The act is over.
“I knew it,” the woman says to her friends, already pulling out a phone, punching in a number as they walk past me.
The knot of people in front of the fortune teller lingers, but no one throws money into the can and the girl stands perfectly still, not even blinking. A machine, waiting. I’m about to turn away when I hear her call, “You there.” I glance up. Her head is turned my way, face expressionless. She raises one arm, thrusts it out stiffly and I realize she’s pointing at me. “You will face a great challenge today,” she calls and lowers her arm, turns her head and stands absolutely still and silent once again.
“You have to pay to hear the rest,” a young man says to me. “Throw something in the can and she’ll tell you more.”
“I’m not interested in more.” I yank the bundle buggy closer. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”
He doesn’t budge so I wheel the buggy around him and start walking. I glance over my shoulder and the girl’s head turns slowly, her eyes following me. I snap around and keep going. I don’t have time for this. I’m running late as it is and I still have to get to the bank, the bakery, the grocery store two blocks down. But first, I have to make a stop that’s not on the list. A stop that would have my mother following me every week from now on if she ever found out.
I pause near Tom’s Used Books and Records and check behind me out of habit. But a cab couldn’t possibly have followed me today, and George is not one to enjoy a brisk walk, making this the best Friday yet. Moving closer to the shop, I realize the door is closed which is odd enough for a Friday morning, but truly strange with a street festival going on. And why hasn’t he put a sale table of his own outside?
Cupping a hand on the glass, I peer inside. The lights are on, the Open sign turned over, but where is Tom? I try the door, find it unlocked. The bell tinkles when I step inside. The ginger cat looks up from her spot by the cash register and the allegro from Eine kleine Nachtmusik plays. That’s the fourth selection on his Friday playlist so he must have plugged it in a while ago.
“Tom?” I call and drag the bundle buggy inside, park it beside the door. “Tom? It’s Jimmy James.”
No response so I walk a little deeper into the shop. Past the shelves of former bestsellers and books that are new to his shop this week. Thrillers, romances, a Stephen King I would love to read.
Farther along is a table lined with plastic bins full of paperbacks and a sign reading Loonie Bins – a buck a book.
“Are the Loonie Bins for the sidewalk sale?” I call. “I can’t stay long, but I can help you get them outside if you like.”
I turn into the Horror and Sci-Fi aisle and that’s when I see him, lying face down on the floor beside the ladder.
One minute Maxine Henley is the happy bride-to-be and the next she’s the girl who gets dumped over the phone. Max has never believed in magic and fairy’s tales, but if wearing a love charm can warm her fiancé’s cold feet, she’s happy to stuff that little wooden heart next to her own and wait. The charm came with a promise that the right man will find her, guaranteed, but how can that happen when her teenage crush Sam O’Neal keeps getting in the way!
About the Author: Lynda Simmons is a writer by day, college instructor by night and a late sleeper on weekends. She grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology, bringing home stray cats and making up stories about bodies in the basement. From an early age, her family knew she would either end up as a writer or the old lady with a hundred cats. As luck would have it, she married a man with allergies so writing it was.
With two daughters to raise, Lynda and her husband moved into a lovely two storey mortgage in Burlington, a small city on the water just outside Toronto. While the girls are grown and gone, Lynda and her husband are still there. And yes, there is a cat – a beautiful, if spoiled, Birman.
When she’s not writing or teaching, Lynda gives serious thought to using the treadmill in her basement. Fortunately, she’s found that if she waits long enough, something urgent will pop up and save her - like a phone call or an e-mail or a whistling kettle. Or even that cat just looking for a little more attention!
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