Misfortune Cookies

Ben smiled tolerantly. His wife, Shiela, was proffering a little slip of paper to him, pinched deftly between the glossy red nails of her beringed right hand. It was a wonder to him that she could lift her gaudily gilded arms at all, or even move for that matter. She was a walking jewelry store and a monument to tastelessness.

But what the hell. It was her money now that her daddy was finally dead. She could waste it any way she wanted. Still, it had changed her. He couldn't believe how it had changed her.

He took the little paper from her and she sucked at her empty drink glass through the skinny straw. Most of the mushi pork she had ordered was still on her plate, picked at but uneaten. Spots of grease from the fortune cookie stained the paper. He read it and shook his head.

"What? It's good, isn't it?" she said.

"Um, yeah, it's good, Shiela."

"So why don't you look happy about it? It says 'Your husband will get his most wanted wish.' Don't you believe in fortunes?"

"Sure. Sure I do. I guess it's been a long day. Maybe I'm a little tired."

"Seems like you're tired a lot." Shiela took another noisy slurp on the straw.

The last thing Ben wanted right now was for Shiela to slip into one of her argumentative moods. They were worse after she'd had a few.

"Tell you what. How about if I take a little vacation? We can go somewhere and relax for a few weeks. That should fix me up, huh?"

"Allright! That's the ticket!" Shiela said.

'Good,' Ben thought to himself. 'At least he was still able to distract her. Now all he had to do was get her out of the restaurant before she passed out on the table.'

"So, you ready to go, honey?" he said.

"Not 'til you read your fortune!" she squealed.

"What? Oh, oh yeah." Ben picked up and cracked open the cookie and plucked the fortune out.

"What's it say," Shiela squirmed to peek at the paper.

Ben felt a cold knot forming in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't believe what he was reading.

"Uh, uh it says 'Wealth will come to the hard worker.' " he lied. "Some fortune, huh?"

He reached for his glass of water with one hand and surreptitiously crumbled the slip of paper with the other. Shiela rolled her eyes.

"Brother, what a dud! I worked my ass off and never got rich. Wealth comes to girls with rich daddies!" She started to giggle uncontrollably at her cleverness, rocking back and forth in the booth until tears started to run down her cheeks.

'Christ, she's zonkered,' Ben thought and looked around to see who was watching. When he looked back she was still shaking with barely suppressed laughter. Still laughing she rolled her head back and lifted the olive from her martini over her open mouth and let it slip in. Suddenly she stopped laughing and her head jerked forward. Her jaw was working spasmodically but no sound came from her mouth.

Ben lunged across the table and grabbed her, pulling her out of the booth and pounded on her back. Her eyes were bulging. There was a commotion around him and arms were pulling him away. An older man grabbed Shiela, wrapped his arms around her midsection, and started squeezing her jerkily. She flopped in his arms, eyes starting to roll upward as a blue tint crept into her lips. The man switched her around and stuck his fingers into her mouth, trying to dislodge whatever she was choking on, but couldn't reach it. Shiela's legs buckled and she slumped to the floor. The arms holding Ben loosened and he sagged into a chair, watching the futile efforts. Two people in white shirts and dark pants pushed themselves forward and plopped heavy tackle-box-looking things on the floor next to Shiela. One spoke to the older man as he shoved him away from Sheila and they took over. The other opened one of the boxes and pulled out something chrome and started to shove it down Sheila's throat. Ben just watched, numb.

The paramedics seemed to work on her forever, but finally they looked at each other and shook their heads. The crowd moaned and pulled further back. The paramedics looked at Ben and one of them got up and approached him.

"Sir? Sir? Can you hear me?"

Ben raised his face to the voice.

"Sir? Can you hear me?"

Ben swallowed dryly. "Yes," he croaked.

The man said things and Ben answered, but he knew it was someone else speaking, saying all the things that needed to be said in this situation. But the real Ben was silent. The real Ben didn't really see his wife being wheeled away, a covered shape on a gurney. The real Ben only saw a little piece of paper, crumbled up now in his pocket, which said, 'Tonight your wife will die.'

David K. Aycock 2013