There’s something about an idea that makes it worse than a memory. Memory fades, is malleable, is what we want it to be. Ideas are like an infection, a parasite that gets under the skin and latches on to something vital. Try as you might, they don’t go away. Because there’s nothing harder to not think about than what you’re trying to not think about.
So it was only a matter of time before I found myself standing outside Aunt Emma’s Futures. A small shop that piggybacked on a late-night pizza place, it was one of those local curiosities that actual locals chose to ignore. Its only concession toward being an actual business, the type of place that wanted people to find it, was a gaudy purple-and-gold sign–faded canvas over am old, splinter-ridden sawhorse–kept chained to the streetlight outside. I’d been eating that pizza place’s greasy cardboard for as long as I could remember, and the sign was always there, day and night, rain or shine. Aunt Emma herself, I’d soon learn, was long gone. And hadn’t been named Emma in the first place.
“That’s all marketing,” said the woman sitting behind the desk. “But this isn’t the 90s, and I’m not Miss Cleo. We don’t do that anymore. I’m modernizing.”
She introduced herself as Allison. “Not that exotic, but it’s who I am.” Who she was didn’t seem to involve the old stereotypes. Instead of a B-movie gypsy woman surrounded by candles while she read tarot or life lines, or a motherly black woman trying to disguise her cold reading with Patois, Allison was normal looking. A little on the goth side, with her bleached-white hair and dark eyeliner, but not so much that I’d put her in a lineup after a heist involving out of print Cure vinyl.
Her office wasn’t typical, either. I make that assumption based on those same B-movie and late-night infomercial impressions of fortune tellers, and it’s possible all of them look like something an upstart lawyer might put together. There wasn’t a candle in sight, and heavy, wide bookshelves lined the walls shoulder to shoulder like the crowd at a sumo wrestler’s funeral. Imposing leather-bound hardcovers filled the shelves, gilded titles in Latin or other, less identifiable languages. Allison sat behind a wide wooden desk covered with more books. I took the chair opposite hers
“You want to know your future,” she said. A statement.
“Sure,” I said.
She gestured, and I gave her my hand. Her fingers were warm, their tips carrying a slight sense of skittering energy, like a static charge that didn’t want to release a shock. She ignored my palm, and instead stared at me until I stared back and lost myself in her brown eyes. They were oddly reflective, like still puddles in autumn. I can’t honestly say how long we stayed like that. It ended when she let my hand go. I felt like I was waking from a trance, and I blinked at my dry eyes.
When I could focus again, I saw that Allison was leaning back in her chair, head cocked slightly, as she watched me. “You’re going to ask me out,” she said.
“What?” I said.
“That’s why you’re here. Didn’t need magic to decipher that. You’ve seen me come and go for weeks, and this reading was an excuse to talk to me.”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
“So you don’t want to ask me out?”
I hesitated, and she laughed. Not a mocking laugh. It was genuine, and it made me smile despite the awkwardness of the situation. “You’re the one that can see the future.”
“Yes,” she said. “And I can tell you it won’t last.”
“What?” I said, again.
“Don’t take that the wrong way,” she said, leaning and closing a big book full of what looked like hand-written zodiac signs. “Nothing lasts forever. Entropy is the most immutable law in the universe. But that doesn’t mean we have to be the victims of fate, or something as cosmic as all that. My name’s Allison, not Cassandra.” She grinned, showing teeth. “If you know what I mean.”
“I think I do,” I said, and I thought I was right.
“I’ve seen your future. Any relationship we have, it’ll end, but how it ends is up to you.”
“What?” I asked, for the third time.
She had an impish little smile that came more from her eyes than it did the slight upward curving of her mouth. “Two years from now, we’ll have a huge fight over something small, and we’ll both drag out everything. Every slight, real or imagined, every disagreement, every time you wanted pho and I wanted burgers, what your mother says about me when I’m not around. All of it. You will leave, and, because we have no mutual friends, we will never speak again.”
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” I said.
“It doesn’t have to be. In nine months we’ll realize that we never had much in common, and we’ll drift apart. I’ll stop texting, you’ll stop looking for my texts. Or, in thirteen months I’ll move away, and we’ll try to make that work for a little while, until we both meet other people, but we still try to Skype once a week to watch Doctor Who together. Or, you’ll be the one to move. Or–.”
“Wait,” I said. “All of these will happen?”
“One of them will happen,” she said.
I found myself leaning back in the hard chair, lost to the idea of it. “So what are you trying to say? That I can choose how it ends?”
“Yes,” she said. “But it will end.”
“And if I walk away right now?”
“That’s another ending.”
“And this is all on the assumption that you’ll say yes,” I said. “Would you say yes?”
She winked, or tried to. It came out more like a series of slow, playful blinks, but I got the message.
I thought about it. A relationship with an expiration date stamped on the label. How would I even start? And how could I not try it? Even if it was self-defeating, if the very idea that it would end became part of the prophecy. And she was cuter now, in person, than my first impression, seeing her fumble with an old key chain outside the pizza place as she opened her shop for the afternoon.
Maybe the idea would ruin us, but is that how I’d remember it?
“Which would you choose?” I asked.
She smiled again. “I’m glad you asked.”