Better Not Tell You Now
Caitlin HorrocksFiction / Number 82
Daisy picking daisies, is how it all started. We were sitting outside the cafeteria, early spring and wildflowers sprinting out of the overgrown soccer fields. Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace and daisies, white with soft-boiled yellow centers. We finished our sandwiches and fidgeted in the grass. Daisy dismantled a flower, playing He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. The final petal was He Loves Me Not, so we told her the stem could count too, that she should toss the flower over her shoulder, to end on He Loves Me.
We didn’t think the stem really counted, but we also really thought He Loved Her. Daisy and Brett were one of those high school couples that seemed to actually mean something, like they might, at sixteen years old, have stumbled on the person they’d be twenty alongside, and forty, and eighty. We’d seen the way they looked at each other, heard how they said “love you,” unselfconsciously in the hallways. “That flower,” we said. “It doesn’t know what it’s talking about.”
But that afternoon, during fifth period U.S. History, he stopped loving her.
As quick as that. There was a test on the Spanish-American War that they’d studied for together, divvying up the questions and arranging a system to share answers. As the teacher patrolled the rows of desks, Daisy tapped on Brett’s shoulder with her pencil, increasingly desperate for the date of the Battle of San Juan Hill. Finally he passed her a folded scrap of paper, but all it said was to meet him in the parking lot after school. “I think we should be friends,” he told her, leaning against the Econoline van where they’d had sex for the first time. The very first time, for both of them. “If you want. But I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
“I love you,” she said nakedly.
He shrugged. “I loved you. I just don’t, anymore. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t.”
• • •
We spent days trying to analyze Brett—his heartlessness, his sudden, mystifying cruelty. “I just can’t believe it,” Daisy said, and we shook our heads in commiseration, as if shock, or heartbreak, were emotions we could simply refuse. But we felt foolish for talking about belief when we spotted Brett’s varsity jacket in another girl’s locker two weeks later. We broke the news to Daisy at lunch: Brett was just a cheater, it turned out, an ordinary player. We thought she’d be relieved. “I don’t understand when it would have happened,” she argued. “We were together every day after school.” The last of the wildflowers were all around us, crinkling and browning in the sun. Daisy kept her hands in her lap.
We tried to find other things to talk about during lunches. We bought sodas from the vending machines, and brought sandwiches from home, and we worried about Callie, who ate nothing everyday except for a single piece of fruit. One day, bored, Zora twisted Callie’s apple off its stem. I started to count the twists: A, B, C, D, we chanted nearly all the way through the alphabet, until the stem gave way at X, and we groaned—the worst letter, almost impossible, the odds astronomical that Zora would ever marry anyone whose name began with X.
“Well, I’m named Zora,” she said. “So anything’s possible.”
In sixth period biology that day her teacher introduced a new transfer student named Xavier, and assigned him to be Zora’s lab partner. She met us that afternoon by our lockers, her eyes as wide as Petri dishes. “I can’t hang out today,” she said. “I have a date.”
They went to his house in the afternoons, and to the movies or the mall on weekends, and we disliked him a little because we almost never saw Zora anymore. But she seemed happy. Then she asked us to skip class one morning and meet her in the third floor bathroom, where she had a pregnancy test she’d shoplifted from CVS. She didn’t want to do it at home. She wasn’t sure how to hide the box from her parents, and she didn’t want to be alone when she found out what she already knew.
“You don’t have to marry him,” we told her. “You don’t have to have the baby. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
But they got engaged during finals week. For her bridal shower, her mother told everyone to bring depressing, practical gifts, bottles and diapers and rash cream to prepare for the baby. Nothing for Zora. “Xavier didn’t even want me to keep it,” she told us, when her mother went to the kitchen to cut slices of cake. We didn’t know what to say.
We left her house and drove to the Dairy Queen to be girls again, to sit on the picnic tables and sing songs from the spring choir concert. We played Would You Rather? and Truth or Dare. Isabel had a notebook in her car, and I wrote out a MASH game. I left off the traditional categories about children and husbands. Instead, I made up lists of houses, jobs, luxury possessions. We wanted ridiculous, impossible futures. We drew numbers, calculated the results.
“Ugh,” Isabel said. “I’m supposed to end up as a janitor in a shack.”
“But at least you have a swimming pool,” we pointed out on the page.
She called us that night in tears. Her parents had met her at the front door, sat her on the couch to Talk. Her father had lost his job months ago, and there’d been no year-end bonus. He’d finally found new work, but it paid a third of his old salary. They’d been hoping not to worry Isabel, hoping the numbers would all work out somehow, but they hadn’t made a payment on the house since January. The bank had come today to take photos.
“But where are we supposed to go?” Isabel asked.
“Your grandmother,” they said, who had a guesthouse in her backyard. Isabel knew the place. Peeling paint, leaky roof, bushes so overgrown the branches had reached under the siding and started to pry it off. As a child she and her cousins had dared each other to peer inside the scummy windows. The guesthouse sat beside an old empty swimming pool stained green with algae and mildew. “We told her you’ll help out around her house this summer,” Isabel’s parents added. “You know it’s hard for her to keep things clean anymore. She’s being very good to us, to let us stay.”
On the phone, Isabel didn’t even have to say it. Swimming pool. Janitor. Shack.
• • •
One night in July, we picked her up, since her car had been sold, and went to the county fair. All of us except Callie ate elephant ears, and then all of us went on the Vomit Comet, even Zora. Daisy saw Brett there with his new girlfriend, so to distract her we paid extra to see The Beast, which turned out to be just a mummified goat. Next to The Beast was a trailer painted to look like an old gypsy caravan, with Lady Luella’s Tarot written on the side. We dared Callie to go in.
We hadn’t learned our lesson, because to be afraid of fortune telling meant that we really believed our fortunes could be told. It meant that our futures were somewhere waiting for us, traps already baited and set. It meant that when I sat in my bedroom at night and asked my Magic 8-Ball if I would get into Dartmouth, and it said Outlook not so good, that it was telling the truth. Or when I asked if there was anyone at school who liked me, and it said My sources say no. Or when I asked if I would publish a book someday, and it said Very doubtful.
I’d get frustrated, stuff the 8-Ball inside my nightstand drawer, but I always ended up pulling it back out. I’d ask the same questions over and over, not even hoping for positive responses so much as wanting to collect so many replies that I might not remember what the original had been, wouldn’t put too much faith in any one answer. I’d twisted the 8-Ball back and forth so often that bubbles had appeared in the dye, collecting against the window, nearly obscuring the fortunes. I squinted through the foam, and then I churned up more. I wanted to know everything, and I didn’t.
“Don’t be a wimp,” I dared Callie, and gave her the ten dollars for the tarot reading, so she had one less reason to say no.
She was inside the trailer for what felt like forever, and when she came out she wouldn’t speak. She had tears running down her face, and Daisy had to bring her tissue from a Porta Potty. “I just want to go home,” Callie said, and since she’d driven us, we all went with her. She dropped off Isabel, and Daisy, and Zora, and that left just me. Callie and I had been friends since elementary school, before we met the other girls, back when she still ate Pop Tarts and French fries and wore oversized T-shirts. I hoped she’d tell me what Lady Luella had said. But she didn’t even give me time to climb from the backseat to the front before speeding to my house. She pulled into the driveway and waited for me to get out.
“Whatever the woman said,” I told her. “It’s not true. It’s not real.”
Callie made eye contact in the rearview mirror, and her stare looked like an animal’s, stunned still in the middle of a road. Whatever was coming was going to crash straight into her, and she wasn’t going to do anything to try and stop it.
• • •
That fall Callie was still eating nothing but fruit, and she was cut from the field hockey team when she didn’t have the stamina to make it through practices. Her calves were sticks, her knees swelling like apples above the high, white socks. Her parents took her out of school and put her in a clinic. We visited and asked her again what Lady Luella had told her. She folded her arms across her chest and shook her head. Her lips were cracked and dry. Over winter break, when her parents brought her home for Christmas, she swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills. They didn’t find her in time.
In my bedroom, I held the Magic 8-Ball until it was sweaty in my hands. “Are you there?” I asked the hard, opaque top, pressing my forehead against the plastic. The central heat kicked on, and air whistled out of my bedroom vent, a lick of hot breath. “Did Lady Luella tell you this would happen?” I slowly turned the 8-Ball over.
Reply hazy, try again.
“Did you make it happen because she said it would?”
Reply hazy, try again.
“Is this my fault?”
Better not tell you now.
• • •
We met in January in my basement, Daisy and Isabel and I. Isabel’s family had moved out of the shack and into an apartment, but it was in a different school district, and we didn’t see much of her anymore. We’d invited Zora, but the baby was just a few weeks old, and she didn’t feel she could leave for an evening. Plus, she said, she was done with the witchy stuff, the fortunes. She didn’t want her baby touched by any part of it.
We got a Ouija board out of the closet. Isabel tore three sheets of paper from her notebook. We each wrote a question.
“It’s your Ouija board,” Daisy said. “You choose what to ask first.”
“You’re guests,” I said. “You choose.”
“You,” Isabel said. “You always liked this kind of stuff.”
I opened the folded papers. Daisy had written, Are we making this happen? Isabel had written, Can the future be changed? I couldn’t imagine showing them what I’d written: Dartmouth? Boyfriend? Book? My selfish, private, fragile future. I crumpled all the papers together, and set them aside.
We put our hands on the plastic planchette. Isabel and I accidentally brushed knuckles and we both jumped. The room was vibrating. I thought about what I most wanted to know. “Can you promise us we’ll be happy?” I asked.
The planchette shivered, but did not slide. In silence, we stared at the board, at our own fingers. We looked into one another’s eyes. We knew how this game worked. We waited, hoping the planchette would slowly creep towards yes. We waited, wanting one of us to begin to lie.
Caitlin Horrocks is the author of the story collection This Is Not Your City (Sarabande Books, 2011). Her stories appear in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories 2011, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, The Pushcart Prize XXXV, and elsewhere, and have won awards including the Plimpton Prize and a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Fellowship. She teaches at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.Image by Roksolana Zasiadko