The psychic fucked everything up. You’re crying, distraught, and it’s not clear whether the psychic continued channeling because she knew she was upsetting you, or whether the psychic really had cautionary words from your grandmother. “You’re on the wrong track,” your grandmother said, and it was even the wrong grandmother, your father’s mother, the one you barely knew. You wanted to talk to the other one, your mother’s mother. “We never know who’ll step forward,” the psychic told you later. But this grandmother had the wrong fucking advice, and really, what are you supposed to do with that? Of course if your grandmother were alive and came up with the wrong advice, you’d just ignore it, wouldn’t you? Who’s to say she’s any wiser now that she’s dead and being channeled through some psychic in Hayward, California that you don’t even know. Hayward, California! Not exactly a mecca for mediums. All you know now is that the psychic fucked everything up. Jeez. What made you think this was a good idea anyway?
You remember a Ouija board—it’s been almost fifty years, but you still remember it. Four high school girls at a pajama party giggling and the beige plastic planchette moving and of course it’s all about the love of your life. What else did you care about at fifteen? You haven’t met him yet but he’s going to be “ragged and rugged.” Yes, the planchette spelled out “ragged and rugged,” you’ve never forgotten, and he’ll be on the S.S. Rotterdam. One of the girls had a father working for the Holland-American Line, but really, how could she have been steering the planchette? You all had your fingers on it. Like some Henry James character who waits his whole life for something to happen that already has, you’re still looking out for him. Mr. Ragged and Rugged. Sounds like a porn star. At your age he may be a goddamned gigolo. Are there still gigolos?
The S.S. Rotterdam is now a hotel, so Mr. Ragged and Rugged won’t be arriving in New York, unless he showed up already. The Queen Elizabeth’s gone too, and the S.S. France, sold to Norwegian Cruise Line and then sold for scrap. All the old luxury liners are gone. You sailed on the S.S. France with your pregnant dog on its last voyage, students crammed like sardines into cabins with multiple bunk beds in the bowels of the ship. You dallied all week in the sailors’ quarters with a good-looking French waiter. He invited you to Paris but you were meeting your German boyfriend in Le Havre and your dog had puppies in his VW bus right after you disembarked. But this has nothing to do with psychics. Here’s an interesting fact: the Mona Lisa sailed on the S.S. France before the painting’s American tour. Mona Lisa would have been a good psychic with that enigmatic smile. A smile that says I know something you don’t know.
Your husband went to a psychic in Alameda with a large audience and she walked the aisles stopping with a message for each person. “Your mother’s angry at you,” she said to your husband. His mother died a while ago, maybe ten years ago. She was often angry, in fact, or maybe depressed and bad-tempered would be a better description. But he was sure of himself. “No, she’s not,” he said firmly, without even thinking first, and it stopped the psychic right in her tracks. “Oh,” she said. “I must have made a mistake.”
To believe, or not to believe, always the question. The psychic channeled a teenager first, and you had no fricking clue who it was. “Really?” she asked. “Think. No one in your past? Maybe the child of a friend?” But no. No teenagers. And then your grandmother, the wrong grandmother, conveniently shows up to say you’re on the wrong track, but of course the psychic was on the wrong track, with the teenager thing, and couldn’t you say that everyone’s on the wrong track? Think about it. So many possible tracks. What if you’d gone to Paris instead of Germany? What if you hadn’t stayed with the German boyfriend for seven years? What if you hadn’t broken up? What if you’d run into Mr. Ragged and Rugged after you got back to the U.S. and married him instead of your husband? What if he’d been Dutch, for god’s sake. Or a porn star. What then? No, screw your father’s mother. “I don’t think so. I like the track I’m on.” You wipe away your tears. Screw this psychic. No one’s fucking you up. No ma’am. “Thanks anyway,” you say to the psychic, pulling five crumpled ten-dollar bills out of your pocket as you stand to go. You smooth the bills out in a pile on the round table, covered in a cheesy maroon velvet tablecloth. You’re relieved to be leaving the dim and stuffy room, the psychic with her patter, the specter of your grandmother, who’d disapproved of your father’s choices too, now that you think about it. If she’d had her way, you wouldn’t even be here. Outside the night is chilly and clear. Dark has fallen. The sky teems with stars configured in constellations you no longer recognize, each with a story. You knew them once, when you were a child, but even then you didn’t believe in destiny.
-- Jacqueline Doyle’s flash chapbook The Missing Girl (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2017) won the Spring 2016 Black River Chapbook Competition. She has published flash in Quarter After Eight, [PANK], Monkeybicycle, Sweet, Café Irreal, The Pinch, Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence (White Pine Press, 2016), and elsewhere. Her work has earned two Pushcart nominations, a Best of the Net nomination, and two Notable Essay citations in Best American Essays. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.