I wrote this short story originally for a flash fiction contest. The prompt was to write a story under 1,000 words about receiving disturbing news from a fortune teller. My story ended up tying for first place! Here’s the short story, Bad for Business:
Bad for Business
I eyed the couch.
“Should I lie down?” I said.
“Only if you want to,” Dr. Hammerly said. “I hope you don’t mind if I eat my lunch. We’re running behind today.”
“No, no,” I said. “I just appreciate you being able to fit me in at the last minute like this.”
He shoved a forkful into his mouth and sighed. “Homemade chicken parmesan. There’s nothing like it in the world.”
I sat on the couch and drummed my fingers against the leather. “So… how does this normally go? How do I start?”
“How about you begin by telling me about your job?” He flipped through some papers. “You’re a … fortune teller?”
“Yes, well, it’s complicated,” I said.
“Tell me about that,” he said in a pleasant, but practiced, tone.
“I give people encouragement, support. Hope. I’m a hope-dealer, if you will.”
“It sounds as though you enjoy your job.”
“I do. Well, usually. I mean, it has its ups and downs, like any job, I’m sure. Do you like what you do?”
He nodded and took a bite of his lunch. “I enjoy talking to people about life. But let’s get back to you. Would you say your customers are happy with your work?”
I shrugged. “Sure. I like to give the good news, because I like making people happy. And it doesn’t hurt that good news is good for business.”
I ran my finger along the leather couch. Maybe I would lie down.
“Can I be frank with you, Dr. Hammerly?”
He put his fork down and leaned forward. “Yes, please. Everything you say in here is confidential. Like speaking with a doctor, or confessing to a priest.”
“The good news is good for business,” I repeated. “But I think some customers were starting to wonder if I was just a feel-good fortune teller. And that’s bad for business. I can’t have customers wondering if I’m legit. So I made a business decision: I had to give bad news.”
“How did that make you feel?”
I looked around the room. It was exactly what I’d expected for a therapist. Dark wood floors and dark walls. A sturdy desk with a globe and those banging metal ball things. The leather couch. Dr. Hammerly took the moment to push another forkful of chicken parmesan into his mouth.
“Tell me more about the bad news,” he said, his mouth full.
“Well, Doctor, I was meeting with a woman who came to see me quite frequently, at least twice a month. We knew each other well enough, and it was getting harder to give her a good reading because of our close relationship. In fact, I haven’t had a clear reading on her for some time. I was pretty much just giving her some advice based on details I already knew about her life.”
I thought back to my last meeting with Susette. Her hair a shade darker than usual and styled. Her new slim figure that matched her new clothes.
“And it wasn’t just her. I’d been having some trouble giving readings on a few customers lately. So I felt some pressure to get this one right. When we met, I just knew that there was something she was hiding. Things had changed, and it wasn’t just her outward appearance. Her aura was stronger. She had a hidden happiness that she didn’t feel she could release. I heard her unspoken messages so clearly. She was having an affair.”
“So you told her that you knew?” Dr. Hammerly said.
Dr. Hammerly looked surprised, despite his very polished demeanor.
“It didn’t matter that I knew,” I said. “I wasn’t the person she was trying so hard to hide it from. My bad news to her was that her husband would find out.”
“And she was upset?”
“Oh, very! She begged me to change my reading. She asked me to look into her aura again. But it doesn’t work that way. Like I said, I’m not just a feel-good fortune teller. I’m the real thing.”
“You sound like you feel you had something to prove.”
“Maybe I do feel that way. But it doesn’t stop the truth: he would find out. Her husband was going to learn of her affair, whether she wanted him to or not. The truth always comes out in the end.”
Dr. Hammerly took another bite of his chicken parmesan.
I thought again about Susette that day, how she started making promises to me, as though I was the person she’d wronged. She bargained with me, as one would with God, that she would be a better wife. She would love her husband more. She’d break off the affair, if only her husband would never find out.
“She told me she was sorry,” I said. “She told me she would go straight home to her loving husband, cook him a good meal and make things right.”
“How did that make you feel?” Dr. Hammerly said.
“I didn’t feel anything,” I said. “It didn’t change the fact that he would find out. She could cook him whatever she wanted to cook him, but he would learn the truth.”
Dr. Hammerly punched his fork into another piece of chicken.
“So how did everything turn out?” he said through chunks of his lunch.
“Well, Doctor, in my professional opinion, these things always take time to mend, but the healing process is a miraculous thing. How is your chicken parmesan, by the way?”
He smiled. “Delicious.”
I nodded. “Yes, Susette mentioned it was one of your favorites.”
He paused with his fork midway to his mouth.
“Like I said, the truth always comes out in the end.”