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Oracle of the Planets

Oracle of the Planets

A Story by Paul Binkley

Short story about a farce oracle that speaks true.


Oracle of the Planets

By Paul Binkley

It was around Easter. Someone brought in big bag of chocolate footballs and put them in the file cabinet in the hall, next to the printer.

Damn them, I was on a diet. I could see the file drawer from my cube and it seemed like everyone stopped and rattled the plastic bag. I was missing out on something good.

So I got up for a drink of water. The cooler was down the same hall. I passed by the file cabinet. The drawer was ajar. The chocolate footballs, yellow, blue, orange and green in their shiny foil wrappers were glowing like the Sun. I felt myself being pulled into orbit around them.

Mercifully, Glenda walked out into the hall just then. Casually, I said, "Hey, Glenda."

"Good morning, Steve."

Glenda knew I was on a diet. I made it to the water cooler unscathed. I took a long cold drink and crushed the paper cup. 'Water fills you up,' I said to myself, repeating one of my diet mantras.

On the way back, Glenda was gone. I headed for my cube, but the magnetic pull of the chocolate footballs proved too strong. I slowed to an inconspicuous stop and looked both ways, no Glenda.

As I reached into the yellow and pink bag, careful not to make a sound, I felt like a shoplifter about to steal some totally useless item, filled with equal parts of real fear and pointless desire.

I grabbed nervously and got four. Guilt flared up suddenly and I dropped two, then I hurried back to my cube, clutching the contraband. I laid them out on my desk. One was pale green, the other bright blue. The scintillating aroma of cheap chocolate intoxicated me in short nervous breaths.

Well, I had them now, I thought. What else was there to do? I ate them, chomping the green one down first, then sucking on the blue piece, letting it melt into a sweet lurid velvet. They were sinfully satisfying.

When they were gone, the crinkled wrappers lay accusingly on my desk, but I refused to feel guilty. In fact, I wanted more.

There were plenty of other things needing my attention just then, but I could think of any of them. Actual work would have to wait.

I snuck out stealthily this time. A double handful of footballs made it back to my desk and I pushed them into a loose pile behind my monitor, less conspicuous.

I peeled a yellow one and popped it in my mouth, letting it melt as I laid out the foil wrapper, smashing it flat, then burnishing it with the topside of my fingernail. I started doing the same with the blue and green wrappers when it occurred to me they would be too obvious like that if Glenda walked by. So I quickly rolled them into a ball, instead.

Then I picked up a fresh football, orange this time, and skinned it, tossing the crumpled peel next to the shiny flattened yellow one. I swallowed. One more, I said to myself and quickly snatched up another yellow one from behind the monitor.

As that last piece melted, I noticed the rolled together blue and green wrappers. I picked up the sphere and turned it around in my fingers. It looked remarkably like the Earth!

I marveled at it, then in a flash, saw the potential of the yellow and orange wrappers. I rested the Earth on its axis, then drew up into my hands, the makings of the Sun.

I was careful this time to roll them into a perfect ball. The three wrappers made an only slightly larger orb than the Earth, but the two tones gave it a fiery swirling appearance.

I was impressed with my work. It was obvious what needed done next. I ate a blue one this time, being careful to roll the single wrapper, silver-side out.

The moon was slightly too big. I pinched it down. It lost its round shape so rolled it a bit more.

Then, with all the self-satisfaction of God, I placed the Sun in the middle of my desk. Then I estimated a distance for the Earth, and placed it. Then I set the moon at a likely angle, in a close orbit.

I sat back and admired my three creations… for about three seconds before the smell of chocolate reminded me of the other planets. There was no question. I would have to eat as many pieces as was necessary.

Mars came next, made of two red foils, then Venus, two orange ones. Mercury was another shoo-in for silver.

Jupiter was fun to make, with its large green and silver body, and a small piece of red foil for the giant storm that ravages its surface. Then for Saturn, I had to get creative to make the multicolored rings.

The identifying characteristics of the remaining planets eluded my memory. I made them, none the less, and placed them at what I imagine might be appropriate distances.

Finally, the whole solar system was in place. And I was pleased with the work of my hands. But I was most pleased with the Earth, partly because it really looked like Earth, and partly because its creation had been a happy accident.

I picked it up, leaning back in my chair, and held it out in front of me, appraising it. It was a masterpiece. Were God's masterpieces also the result of happy accidents? I wondered.

"What is that?" A familiar voice asked from behind.

I turned and saw whom I most expected and least wanted to see, Glenda.

"What it that?" She repeated more emphatically, pointing at the rolled up football wrappers in my hand.

I was busted. The scrap aluminum evidence of at least fifteen chocolate footballs lay out in plain view. "It's the Earth," I said.

"The Earth?"

"Yeah, this is the Earth," I said, and placed it next to the moon, "and this is the moon, and here's the Sun," I said pointing, "and here's Mercury and Venus and Mars and the rest."

I looked at her, not sure she was buying it, not sure she was entirely distracted away from noticing that I had just eaten enough chocolate footballs to make a solar system.

"I use them to predict the future," I heard myself say.

I have learned that ones brain works miraculously fast in times of great need, and mine at that moment was thankfully way out front of my mouth. It occurred to me after I heard my answer, that that wasn't a bad direction to take with Glenda. She was into astrology.

Glenda was fiftyish, good looking, very single, and very very superstitious. Whenever a new beau came into the picture, she would sift her universe for signs and omens that might predict the success or failure of the romance. Usually she would get mixed signals and end up consulting a professional medium, or calling one of the psychic readers on TV.

"The future?" she asked.

"Yeah," I played along, wanting to steer anywhere except in the direction of chocolate or weight loss. "You know, like Rune stones. You ask a question, scatter them out and read the stars!" I said.

"I thought they were planets?"

"Right, planets. I was just saying it was like reading the stars. You know, astrology and stuff."

"I didn't know you were into that," she said.

"Well, yeah, of course I am," I lied. "I mean, the stuff works, right?" she had to agree with me there. "And who doesn't want to know what's going to happen next?"

It was risky bullshit, but the words spilled out of me fast. So I looked at her serious-like and hoped she was buying it. Uncertain, I added "It's an oracle. The Oracle of the Planets." It sounded good to me.

She looked at me fixedly. I thought she was about to kick my chair and curse me for making light of her reliance on such divining methods.

Her look suddenly turned quizzical, or suspicious. I couldn't tell which. I panicked, "Ask me a question," I said.

She raised a doubtful brow.

"Come on," I said, "shoot!" I scooped up the balls. "Ask me something."

She looked up, thinking briefly, then back down at me in my chair. "OK," she said, sounding at least curious. "Have I mentioned Dale to you yet?"

"No, you haven't. You've been keeping him a secret," I said, reprimanding her.

Glenda usually kept me informed of her love interests, not that it mattered to me, or even that we were close friends. We weren't. I seldom ever talked to her outside of the office.

It was likely more that I never judged her, or that she felt I accepted her eclectic taste in men and the rapidly revolving door she herded them through, that she always shared her tales of whoa and wow, with me and not with the others in the office.

"No," she said, "He's no secret. I just don't want to give him more importance than he merits at this point."

As if that was ever the case, I thought. "What about him gives you pause?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said.

"Yes you do, Glen. Now come on, what is it? You can tell me." I was uncharacteristically coaxing her.

"It's nothing really. It's small."

"What?" I said.

"It's his name, Dale. I don't like it. It's so…. nerdy!"

I gave her a conciliatory head nod.

"Do you think that's shallow of me?"

"No, no." I said. "You're right, that's a dumb name." She frowned at me. It was the wrong word. "Not dumb exactly," I corrected, "just out of fashion, that's all. Outside of NASCAR there hasn't been a famous 'Dale' in I-don't-know-how long."

"Right," she said, sounding glad that I understood.

"Why don't you give him a nickname?"

She tightened her already thin lips. "I'm not a nickname kind of girl," she said. "I like my men, manly."

"Yeah, you do," I agreed. "So what's your question then?"

She hesitated, "He wants me to meet his mother."

"Oh." I said.

"The woman is eighty-five. There's only one reason you take a woman to meet your eighty-five year old mother! You know how I feel about commitment, Steve. "

"Yeah." I agreed.

"But then he's close to his mother. They talk every day. It's kind of cute. Maybe I'm making more out of it. I just don't know what to think or what to do here. Should I go meet his mother or make up some excuse?"

"So that's your question then? Should you go meet Dale's mother or not?"

"I guess that's the long and the short of it," she said.

I scooped up the planets and the Sun and shook them like craps-table dice. In my best Ouiji-board voice, I asked, "Should Glenda meet Dale's Mom?"

The words sounded cheesy, but worse yet, the question was flawed. How could I interpret the scattered planets as yes or no? I stopped mid-shake. "I don't think I can answer the question like that," I said. "This isn't a magic eight ball. Can you phrase it as more of an open ended question?"

She shrugged, "Sure, how about 'what will be the outcome if I visit Dale's mother?'"

"That'll work." I restated the question in Ouijiese and tossed the planets gently onto my desk. They splayed out all over the place, except the Sun. It dropped in the middle with a barely audible thud.

Glenda observed the pieces over my shoulder. I almost asked her what she thought they meant. But she was expecting me to do the reading. I tried to imagine what she was thinking. She does this sort of thing all the time.

I put on my best serious look and studied the arrangement, looking for any shred of coincidental alignment. What could the sun represent? I asked myself. Glenda; the Sun is Glenda, and the planets represent other people… or events. No, that makes Glenda the center of the solar system….too egocentric.

How about the Sun represents the situation? Yeah, the Sun is the visit with the mother, and the Earth is Glenda.

"Well," I said, pointing at Mars, "This is Dale. He's very close to the Sun, or the circumstances, or there is something very important to him at stake."

I looked up. She was nodding. I went on, "Here's you out here, the Earth. You are farther from the intensity of the situation. And the moon is way over there, almost on the other side of the Sun."

"What does that mean?" she asked, her interest now thoroughly piqued.

"The moon represents what is most burdensome to you." She tightened her gaze, questioningly.

I quickly offered, "Or what is most weighing on your conscience."

Her eyes widened.

"The situation is not easy on your conscience is it? Something feels false when you think about visiting Dale's mother, but you can't see it clearly because of the size and brightness of the Sun that stands between you and it."

She nodded.

"You don't know how you feel about him, do you?" I said, restating what she had already confided to me.

"You are so right," she said, clearly moved as though she was not aware of this fact previously.

It stunned me how easy this was. "Glenda," I said, "the planets revolve around the Sun." I paused for effect. "Soon enough, what is hidden will come into view. You need only be patient and make no snap decisions."

Where was I getting this stuff? Damn, I'm good!

"I'm panicking, aren't I?" she said. "I've been so afraid of commitment for so long that meeting a man's mother makes me want to run away."

It was my turn to nod.

She went on, "Dale is such a nice man, a sincere man, and he's not a drunk! That's a change. How many single men over fifty aren't drunks?" She let out a deep breath. "You're right, I should just relax, embrace what comes. Hell, I'm no spring chicken. How much more wrong can things go?"

"That's right," I said. She shot me a dirty look. "Not your age; I mean, you're right that you've been letting past failures predict your future." That sounded good, I thought.

"When I should be letting you do that," she said, smiling and winking at me.

I smiled back.

She put her hand gently on my shoulder and mouthed thank you.

First thing Monday morning I ran my minesweepers across the file cabinet in the hall confirming it was no longer booby-trapped with footballs. Only the plastic bag remained and the faint aroma of low grade chocolate explosives.

This would be a good day to jump-start my failing diet. A broccoli salad lunch was in the cooler with my V8. I was carrying no cash on my person, and I had been careful to remove all loose change from my desk last Friday.

I got an e-mail from Glenda, subject; Dale. I opened it. It said; Dale is a loving, caring man and his mother is sweethearted and gracious. You're a real friend, Steve. I'm so glad I consulted you.

At first I smiled inwardly, then the phrase, 'glad I consulted you' caught my attention. What did she mean by 'consulted'?

I thought of the Oracle and opened my center desk drawer. The planets were floating in my pencil tray with sundry utensils. I fished them out and lined them up in uncertain order along the top edge of my keyboard.

Here I was telling the future with my planets out of alignment. I logged-on to the Internet intending to Google 'solar system', then the phone rang. Work was calling.

I was busy all day. But before I left the office, I rolled the planets off my keyboard into a paperclip box and put them back in the drawer.

I was diligent about my dieting, and by Friday I had lost three pounds applying the principle: Eat bread as often as most people eat broccoli, and eat broccoli as often as most people eat bread. Two bags of broccoli slaw make five crunchy lunches, exactly.

By three o'clock that day I was whooped, ready to go home or fall asleep, whichever came first. I was tempted to borrow some change and buy a Mountain Dew to keep me awake.

Then the familiar perfume caught my nose before the coffee did. I turned around to greet Glenda. She stood leaning against the wall of my cubicle, two Grande to-go cups in her hands.

"I brought your favorite," she said, handing me one.

"Glenda, your timing is perfect,"

"We're good like that for each other, aren't we?" she said.

I knew what she meant. She was thanking me for the advice. She had been flitting around the office all week, light as a butterfly. "So, how's Dale-licious?" I asked.

"If only you knew!"

"That good, huh?"

"Things are great…" she paused, "for the most part."

I was waiting for that. Glenda was a fortune telling junkie, and after my prediction about meeting Dale's mom went so well, I knew it was only a matter of time. "For the most part?" I asked trying to sound surprised.

She searched for the right words, "He's so considerate, so gentle… tender and thoughtful…" she paused.

"And those are bad things?" I asked.

"No…no, not at all," she said, "It's just that he's too gentle, too considerate, too concerned that I like what he does. Do you know what I mean?"

I didn't. "I think so," I said.

"He's always asking me if I'm sure I want to do this or that; 'Are you sure you want to see that movie? We can see a different one. I only suggested it….Are you sure you're ok with Chinese? We can go to a steakhouse if you would rather?'"

"Oh," I said, "yeah, that could get annoying."

"I just want him to be a man, be more decisive, stop being so wimpy."

"Why don't you just…" I almost started giving advice. Glenda doesn't like people's advice. That's part of why she talks to me. I just listen and sympathize, no solutions. The Oracle was changing the dynamic of our relationship. "Why don't you ask the Oracle?" I suggested.

"Do you think I should?"

This was not a real question, I knew. I gave an equally facetious answer, "When you're not sure about something, what else can you do?"

Then I opened my center desk drawer and pulled out the paperclip box. Glenda eyed it curiously. I carefully opened the box and delicately lifted out the pieces, then slowly scooted the box off to the side.

I held the planets in my right hand for a few seconds, warming them. "What is your real question, Glenda. Think hard."

She thought a minute. Finally she said, "Why is he so damn nice?"

"That's your question?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, "I want to know why he's so nice. If I understood him, maybe it wouldn't bug me so much."

It was a better question than I thought. She wanted to understand, and understanding is the beginning everything. "Ok, then," I said, and started rolling the planets around in my hand.

I restated question, "Why is Dale so nice?" then loosed the colorful balls of foil onto my desk. They made a wide pattern.

I studied them. The Sun was off to the right. The Earth was the closest to it, then Mercury, then Venus and Jupiter right next to each other, not quite touching. Mars was nearby, with the moon close to it.

Glenda waited, saying nothing. I sipped my coffee, thinking, then said, "The Sun is closest to you, the Earth, and Mercury is there too."

"Uh, huh," she acknowledged.

"Your close proximity to the Sun represents the intensity of your feelings for Dale. And Mercury is so close to you that it's orbit frequently collides with yours. It represents what's troubling you, Dale's niceness."

"Yes, that's exactly what it's like, a collision!" she said.

"Ok, good." I said, "now let's look at Dale. Mars is out here, separated from you by Jupiter and Venus."

"What does that mean?"

"Jupiter is a stormy planet." I was winging it now. "See the red dot?"


"That's a violent storm on Jupiter's surface. It represents the turmoil he is feeling. And curiously, you can see it's pointing at Venus. Venus is the feminine." I paused. "Dale is struggling over how to deal with a feminine element that is very close to him."

"That's me!"

"Not exactly," I said. "You are the Earth, remember? You are over here, farther away from Dale than Venus and Jupiter," I paused again. "His struggle is not about you specifically, Glenda. It's about having any feminine element in his life other than his Mother."

"Oh," she said.

I went on, "Dale has always treated his mother respectfully, deferring to her, the way a son should treat his mother. But now you enter into his orbit, a second feminine element, and he treats you nice and respectful too, the only way he knows how. He can see it isn't working. So he tries to be even nicer, deferring to you even more than to his mother, and it's only making things worse. Now he has a full-fledged red eye storm of Jupiter to deal with.

"You are so right," Glenda said, a look of horror on her face.

"Now there's still hope," I said. "The red dot is not yet touching Venus. If it were, that would be the kiss of death. But it's not, so there's still time to correct the alignment."

"What should I do?" she asked, anxious.

Now I give her the advice I almost spilled prematurely. "You should tell him how to treat you."

"What? How do I do that?"

"Easy…" I started to say. She cut me off.

"If I tell him how to treat me, then even if he does it, I'm still telling him what to do, and that's the opposite of what I want!"

"Listen," I said. "Just do this; every time he takes charge the way you want him to, just say something like; I love it when you take charge, or It makes me hot when you're so decisive, or I love a man who knows what he wants. Say anything like that, and Dale, being a man, will naturally repeat over and over, any behavior that turns a woman on."

She looked at me skeptically. I was giving her advice again. I added, "The Oracle plainly shows he is struggling with how to treat you," she nodded, "Look how far away you are," I pointing to the Earth. "You must teach him how to approach you. He needs that in a hurry, before Venus receives the kiss of death."

Glenda, blank faced, was deep in thought. I let her think. Then a slow smile spread across her face. She leaned down and kissed me on the forehead. "You're an angel," she said, and walked quietly away, as on air.

Over the summer, the updates from Glenda were often, and her general mood around the office, contented. I was glad things were working out, glad she was falling in love, glad she was transitioning out of her guarded, middle-aged, single and dating mode, and into something more…sustainable. I mean, how much longer could she keep that up? How many swinging seventy-somethings are there?

By early fall she seemed to be nestling in and settling down with Dale. It looked good on her and I couldn't help but feel a little self-satisfaction that I had helped.

She had all but forgotten the Oracle when she showed up at my desk one day with a coffin shaped tin filled with alternating layers of chocolatey oatmeal and wax paper; no-bakes, my favorite.

"Go ahead," she said.

I glanced distressingly at the shape of the tin.

"Halloween," she said. "It was full of gummy bones." She held it out to me. "Take two. I made plenty."

Man, I wanted the whole tin, but I was still dieting. Only four pounds to go till I hit my target weight. I had hoped to hit it this week.

I hesitated, then fed myself another diet mantra, 'One is a blessing, two is a curse.' Then I reached in, hand shaking, and withdrew a single flawless no-bake.

"Oh, come on! Take more than that," she said. "It's my birthday. I made these especially for you!"

"Oh, no, I don't want to be greedy." I said.

But she responded, "I made enough for everyone in the office to have two, plus five or six for you."

"Five or six!" I exclaimed. "Two, maybe." I quickly took another before I changed my mind. I set it carefully on my desk.

She waited for me to take a bite. I needed no encouragement. Glenda's no-bakes were the best on the planet.

I bit the first cookie that was now melting in my fingers. It was magnificent, not too dry, and not too sticky. The oatmeal had just the right amount of bite without being mealy, and the sugar was completely melted in, not the slightest bit gritty.

"These are exquisite!" I said, swallowing. "Ok, maybe three." I took another and placed it next to the second one. Glenda smiled at me with evident satisfaction.

I wasn't required to eat them all today, right now, I thought. I could stick to 'One is a blessing.' The other two would last me till Wednesday. Besides, if I don't take them, everyone else will scarf them down before lunchtime today. And that would be a waste. They don't appreciate Glenda's no-bakes the way I do.

With that thought I reached back into the coffin, "You say there's plenty?"

She nodded, "Way, plenty."

I extracted Thursdays and Fridays portions with a clean conscience, "It's your birthday, huh?"


I took another mouthwatering, brain-melting bite, "You and Dale doing anything?"


"Maybe?" I asked. "What's up with 'maybe'?"

"Dale has the idea to celebrate by taking me on a weekend bike trip to Gatlinburg."

"That sounds great!" I said, almost completely drunk with chocolate.

"I know I said I wanted him to take charge, and he is! It's been great…"

"But what?" I asked. Clearly there was a 'but' coming.

"That's a whole days ride from here! Can you imagine this hair and this face after eight hours of being stuffed into a motorcycle helmet?"

I laughed out loud. I couldn't help it. The Tammy Faye in the rain visual I got tickled me silly. It was unfair, I know, but not entirely inaccurate either. "So be more of a biker chic, Glenda. Loose the foundation and the hairspray and stick to mascara and ponytails."

"Are you kidding? I couldn't do that. He's never seen me looking any other way than this."

"Really?" I said, the doubt more obvious than I intended.

"He's a late sleeper," she said, answering the question I hadn't asked.

"Ok, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't like you in a ponytail, does it?"

"I don't know if I'm ready for that, yet?" she said. "Four days in a motor cycle helmet changes ones appearance dramatically."

I wanted to tell her that Dale is falling in love with her, not her hairdo or her makeup or even her pretty face. And he would likely fall more in love if she would just be herself, no fake stuff, doing what she really does when no one is around, looking like a real person, a real woman instead of a special edition Phyllis Diller Barbie doll.

But I knew she didn't want to hear that from me, not directly anyway. So instead I offered, "Would you like to consult the Oracle?"

"Could I?" she asked. "It is my birthday," she added as if I hadn't just offered.

"Of course," I said.

"I really don't know if I should go or not, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered you," she said, divulging she had intended to ask all along.

"Remember, I can't answer yes or no questions."

"Right, I know," she said,

I got the box of planets out and removed them carefully as before. Glenda, with a lucky at Las Vegas look on her face, waited anxiously as I rolled the spheres around in my hand.

"Ok," I said. "What's your question?"

"What will be the outcome if Dale and I take a motorcycle trip to Gatlinburg?"

"Ok," I said. "That sounds good to me."

I repeated the question formally and rolled out the foil planets. They formed a pretty tight grouping. Glenda leaned in, looking.

"Now let's see," I started. "The sun is right in the middle. That's a good thing. It means our question was on target and our answer will be reliable." I spoke authoritatively, anticipating how I would tell her to let her hair down and take the trip.

"Look here," I said, "Mars and Venus are right next to each other, tandem, like on a motorcycle." The alignment couldn't have been more fortuitous.

"Mercury, out here on the other side of the Sun, represents your destination, someplace far away. You will travel to the far away place, and when you do, the moon, which is here, next to Venus now, representing your uncertainty, will then be on the other side of the Sun, far away from you. See? You have only to go to Mercury, or Gatlinburg, and your fears will melt away." That sounded good, I thought. She ought to like that.

"I thought I was the Earth?" she said.

"Yes, the Earth is a symbol of your existence, And it's out here, next to Jupiter, the stormy planet. You are in an uproar over this trip, but…"

"It's touching me!" she exclaimed.

"That makes perfect sense," I argued. "You are really feeling it right now, aren't you?" Come on Glenda, I thought. She was getting harder to persuade.

"I guess that's true," she conceded, relaxing some, still tentative.

I studied the alignment for more details, sorting for a tid-bit or tiny shred of a clue that might push her over the edge. I thought, Jupiter is larger than the Earth, so maybe if feels more uncomfortable than it really is. She's just blowing it out of proportion... No, that's not it.

Then I saw the blood dot, the storm on Jupiter. It was actually touching the Earth, but on the backside. She couldn't see it from my right, but leaning over to my left, I could plainly see the point of contact… the kiss of death.

Good grief, I couldn't tell her that, I thought, then she definitely wouldn't go. What could it mean? Maybe she shouldn't go. No, that's ridiculous! Now I'm starting to get sucked in. I'm looking at rolled up chocolate football wrappers and seriously thinking somehow they mean Glenda and Dale shouldn't go to Gatlinburg? That's stupid, Of course they should go, I said to myself.

There is no real meaning to the red dot touching the Earth. Nothing has meaning except that which you give it, right? But then there is a certain amount of real risk with spending that much time on a motorcycle. Yeah, that's it.

"Glenda," I finally said, "The planet Jupiter touching the earth is significant in two ways: First, it symbolizes your struggle over letting Dale see you not all made up. And second, it is a sign of caution."

"What are you saying? How so? Cautious with Dale?"

"No, no, nothing like that. I mean, it means rather, that you should be cautious on the trip. There is always an element of chance or risk. Nothing is for certain."

She was looking more interested. My Mojo was working again. My answer had been to clean cut, 'go to Gatlinburg.' I needed some intrigue, some mystery to make it interesting. I went on, "This is a sign of warning. You should be cautious while on the trip."

She drew back reflexively.

"I don't mean to scare you out of going, just that you should use common sense, keep your eyes open, don't take unnecessary risks."

"Like what?" she asked.

"Like anything," I said. How should I know, I wondered. "Like motorcycle gangs, or storm clouds, or… undercooked meat… anything!"

She drew back some more. I was failing here. "Look," I said, " it's just a warning to use commonsense and reasonable caution. That's all!"

Glenda shrugged, tilting her head to one side, then to the other, apparently considering my interpretation. "Ok," she said, pausing, "I might go."

She stood upright and moved to put the lid back on the tin, then handed it over to me instead, "Here, take one more for the road," she said.

"No, thanks," I said, "I've got five already. Besides, you're the one hitting the road."

She smiled at me and shut the lid of the coffin tin.

She and Dale left Thursday night. The office was quiet on Friday without her. I stuck to my diet after eating all five no-bakes on Monday. I peaked at six pounds over my target on Wednesday then dieted real hard on Thursday. By Friday morning I was only three pounds over my goal. I starved myself over the weekend and missed my mark on Monday by a mere half pound.

Then Jim called an impromptu staff meeting before lunch. Staff meetings were usually after lunch when everyone was too lazy to work. I was curious about the sudden change.

"Alright, alright, quiet down," Jim said. "Have a seat folks, everybody sit."

We found our seats. I lost the best seat (a leather padded executive chair) to the new guy who didn't know I always sit there for staff meetings.

"Is everybody here?" Jim asked. People looked around at each other. "Is this everybody?" he repeated.

"Everybody except Glenda!" I called out. She hadn't showed up that morning, no surprise really.

Jim gave me an odd look I couldn't read. Then he cleared his throat. What was he going to tell us? He was leaving the company? Everyone was getting laid off?

He tugged at the knot of tie and began, " I have some bad news, everybody listen up," he said soberly. "Long time fellow associate and good friend to many of us, Glenda Thompson, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly Saturday evening in an automobile…" he cleared his throat again, "… Excuse me, a motorcycle accident, outside Gatlinburg, Tennessee."

The room fell dead silent. My heart sank into my stomach.

Jim gave more details about the arrangements, but I didn't hear any of it. All I could think about was the kiss of death.

The Oracle had given the warning not to go, but I withheld it. It was me that wanted her to go. I wanted her to go.

After the staff meeting Jim said that anyone who wanted the rest of the day off, was free to go. I mummy-walked back to my desk and sat down.

I opened the center drawer and stared at the paperclip box of planets.

Then I picked it up and took it to Glenda's cube. The coffin shaped tin was on top of her desk next to a small clear plastic frame with a picture of herself and a man with a motorcycle.

I picked up the frame and looked into her eyes, fighting back a flood of tears. I put the picture back down and opened the tin. One no-bake remained. The sweet smell swirled up into my nose, filling me with a longing to see Glenda walk through the office doors and say there had been some mistake, that she and Dale decided to get married in Gatlinburg, and that they had stayed an extra day as a honeymoon.

My guts convulsed with grief.

A tear pinged in the bottom of the tin next to the no-bake. I wiped my leaking eye. Then I placed the paperclip box into the tin and closed it. Then I picked up the photo and reopened the tin, and placed it inside, next to the no-bake and the Oracle.

I left for the day, taking the tin with me, intending to place it with her in the casket at the viewing. Then I thought it would seem too morbid to place a coffin in a casket. People wouldn't understand. I didn't know what to do with it then. Keep it, I guessed, live with it, with what happened.

Monday at lunch, in the break area, two guys sat reading and conversing while I ate my broccoli. The one with the newspaper said, "Hey, what's your sign?"

He was kind of loud. I looked up. He was talking to me, but I wasn't in a talking mood. I mumbled, "Hey, Tom," then looked back down at my salad.

"Come on, Steve, let me read your horoscope."

I looked at him, incredulous. I wanted to scream at him that Glenda was dead. But all I said was, "I don't believe in that s**t."

Tom turned to the other guy, "What's your sign, then?"

"I'm a Leo," the guy answered.

The same as me, I thought.

"Alright, let's see," Tom said, then started to read, "Your friends are important to you. You want only the best for them, but now is not the time for haste. Encourage them to wait for better planetary alignment."

A little too late for that advice, I thought to myself.

"What the hell does that mean?" the recipient asked.

"How am I supposed to know? It's not my horoscope." Tom answered, then added, "It doesn't matter anyway. This paper is from last Thursday."

© 2010 Paul Binkley

Author's Note

Paul Binkley
any feedback, including any suggestions where to enter this into some kind of contest.

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Pretty good, nice flow. Character and setting are a little generic, add some more color, descriptions. Overall though pretty good

Posted 13 Years Ago

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Added on January 21, 2010
Last Updated on January 21, 2010
Tags: fortune telling, dieting, chocolate, prarnormal, mediums, humor


Paul Binkley
Paul Binkley

Delaware, OH

writing novels and some short stories. Mostly cross-genre adventure/thriller with spritual overtones, sci-fi and interpersonal relationship themes. Would like raise more questions than I answer a.. more..