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Madame Candy

By J.B. Cornelius


My first cousin blesses her phone before she answers it. This takes a while—exactly three rings. She also flips the light switches off and on three times before she enters or exits any room. That gets annoying too. I’m pretty sure that she has an obsessive personality disorder. Or maybe it’s just some hoodoo mystic thing. When we were kids, Candice always had to tear her paper towels perfectly across the perforated edge, or she would throw the damaged napkin away and start over with a new one.

“Candice the Clairvoyant, speaking.” That is how she answers her phone, on the third ring, every damn time. “Reveal to me your past, and I will foretell your future.” I could distinctly hear her swilling chilled vodka, with a dram of dry vermouth, and smoking clove cigarettes down to the butt, on the other end of the line. “Do you have a current credit card on file?” Madame Candice charged most suckers fifty bucks per quarter-hour for this virtual level of sacrilege.

“It’s me, Candy—this is Tom.” I could almost smell the incense burning in a clay dish on her coffee table. I could practically see the flimsy astrological chart tacked to the faux-wood wall paneling. I envisioned all her gaudy geode crystals, and cheap Celtic runes, and tacky Tarot symbols, lined up on the makeshift shelves of her mobile home like they were valuable maybe. I could hear the crackling radio frequency broadcast of some other shameless televangelist charlatan shaking his offering plate in the background.

“Oh, hey.” Suddenly she sounded like that girlchild I used to know growing up several decades ago. “Is this Thomas, the doubter?” She was bad at being coy, but so am I. Candy was the only one who ever called me by that moniker. My given name is Tom. I am an accountant. Candy was always my favorite cousin, but we had not spoken in months. I could sense her taking another long puff and deep swallow on her end, and then she savored them both for several more seconds in silence. Finally, I broke the awkward pause.

“Aunt Sally died last night.” I was blunt on purpose. Sally had tried, as hard as any spinster sister-in-law can be expected, to raise cousin Candice after her real mom ran off with some huckster warehouse salesman in the middle of the night late one summer. There was no note either. Candice was twelve at that time. Regrettably, the two remaining female relatives never much got along after that. Sally was strictly religious, which naturally pushed Candy in an alternate direction. Candice left Aunt Sally’s house on her eighteenth birthday. Madame Candy has been forecasting fortunes over the telephone, by the minute, ever since.

“The funeral is this Friday afternoon.” I paused, for dramatic effect, of course. “She left you some stuff. You know, money mostly. Hell, she left you everything. You should probably call her lawyer. See you at the service.” There was still nothing from the other end. I could imagine Candy counting to three, over and over, in her head. I could feel her trying to control her breath with pseudo-yoga. I could sense her silent pharynx moving up and down over the phone. Alas, the oracle of Candice spoke not.


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