“What is your name?” the woman asked. Beside her, on the floor, a small child played with a plastic pail, shovel, and a box of ping pong balls.
“My name is Envy.”
“How did you come to find me?”
“A friend,” said Envy. “She said, tell Mrs Calabash that the cat strayed from the pier.”
The woman laughed. “Oh, that friend. Good.” The tea was ready. She poured hot, strong tea into two small porcelain cups, white edged in gold, resting in their white saucers, and pushed one towards Envy. “Milk or sugar?”
“No, thank you.”
The woman took a peanut butter cookie, which looked homemade, off the matching porcelain plate, and handed it silently to the child. Envy could not tell if the child, in a yellow t-shirt and denim overalls, with long hair and skin as fine and pale as the porcelain saucer, was a boy or a girl.
They were in the woman’s apartment. It was small but tidy, and they sat at one end of a rectangular, polished maple dining table. At the other end there was a large white sewing machine, beside banks of thread, attached to a Sony notebook computer. Instead of a sideboard there was a long open credenza, full of neatly stacked fabrics and fabric covered boxes. A length of deep blue silk was draped over the back of a dining chair.
“How can I help you?” the woman asked.
“I feel like my world is ending, I’m completely lost,” Envy said bluntly. “My personal, social, work, and family life is, well…” and she mouthed the word “fucked”, out of respect for tender ears.
“I see,” said Mrs Calabash. Envy had the feeling that she really could see. That was why she was there, in the apartment, on a Thursday evening when she should have been at bridge classes, which she was only taking to please Marcus, though she didn’t know, most of the time, why she bothered, especially after their giant row on the Alaska cruise. Marcus, for all his forays into their household finances, had a only a slim grasp of the concept of insurance, and had not forgiven her for throwing the bracelet overboard. She did not enlighten him. It felt good, for some reason, to be unforgiven by Marcus.
“Have you heard the expression,” said Mrs Calabash. “about ‘assume’?”
“That it makes an ass of u and me?” Envy said uncertainly, recalling perhaps a corporate poster, somewhere, some time out of memory.
“Right,” said Mrs Calabash. Then she paused. She stared into Envy’s eyes, and Envy tried to hold the gaze, but Mrs Calabash’s pale blue eyes belied the intensity of her stare and Envy found herself looking away. Her eyes rested on the child, who was now crushing a ping pong ball with the bucket. It made a brittle, crackling sound, which was a little unpleasant.
“I don’t understand what I see,” Mrs Calabash said unapologetically. “I rarely do. But I will tell you.”
“Please do,” said Envy.
“Learn to fly,” said the woman. “It could save your life.”
“What?” said Envy.
“I see jewels raining down on you,” Mrs Calabash continued. “Bright against the sky, like millions of falling stars.”
She was still looking into Envy’s eyes.
“I see a child, hiding in shame,” she said. “Crying. Laughing. Crying.”
The child on the floor looked up, but had been well-trained not to interrupt, for he or she said nothing.
Mrs Calabash fell silent then. She looked out the window for a moment, at the cars pausing at the stop sign on the corner, then inching forward in the rain. “That’s all,” she said.
“Hmm,” said Envy.
Mrs Calabash would not accept money for the visit, so Envy took a ballpoint pen she had in a zippered compartment of her purse. It was a novelty pen; you could click a button and change the colour of the ink, from blue to red, and back again. She showed Mrs Calabash, raising her eyebrows in query, and Mrs Calabash nodded. Envy handed the pen to the child, who took it and smiled.
Envy started the car, and turned off the radio so she could drive home with just the sound of the windshield wipers. It was the most soothing sound she knew, and she often took drives in the rain to calm herself, to empty her mind and find a few moments of peace.
A week later, as she stared at the remains of her house, she realized that Mrs Calabash had prophesied all that happened.
Don’t assume. Don’t assume that Marcus knows nothing about insurance. The house and contents were insured, by Marcus, for close to 2 million dollars.
Learn to fly. Their bedroom was on the second level. Marcus was late, much later than he had promised. She had wondered whether he would come to bed, or sleep in the guest room. She dozed fitfully, and had troublesome half-dreams, and when the smoke oozed into the room from under the closed door, she realized she could not escape into the hallway. She went to the balcony, where, because she was unable to fly, she climbed over the railing and hung over the lawn in the back yard, and when she saw flames she let go.
Jewels raining down. She crawled to the front of the house, feeling no pain from the fall, not yet, and a neighbour ran to her and told her the fire trucks were on their way, and Envy could hear them in the distance. She looked up at her beautiful home, engulfed in flames, embers falling from the night sky like a million stars.
A child crying. Marcus thought she might die. Envy didn’t know why she didn’t die; it was only that she was uneasy, and couldn’t drift off to sleep, so she was alert enough to see and smell the smoke. It was likely Marcus had cried as he set the fire, since he wasn’t a monster, not really, and maybe laughed, thinking of the windfall he was about to receive. But when he saw her at the hospital, still in a wheeled bed in the hallway, waiting for her leg to be set, he cried in breathless gulps.
Marcus was not a monster, nor was he a brilliant mastermind. It was shockingly easy to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and he found himself facing more serious criminal charges than he had ever foreseen.
Envy learned to get around on crutches, but was not able to get in the car and drive. She was not able to find whatever peace or comfort the sound of the wipers in the rain offered. Her closest friend was away. Her therapist seemed like an irrelevant stranger. Her parents were stunned into incomprehension. She found herself sitting in a taxicab outside a small, stucco and wood-sided apartment building, with a child’s wooden puzzle, wrapped in yellow paper, clutched in her hands.
- Image: Frank McCory