by Emily Gaither

Meredith awoke suddenly and realized how hot it was. It was sticky, and the Mississippi air was thick. It sounded like the air conditioner was still running, but her slick skin and wet hair told a different story. She also remembered, as she came out of her sleepy fog, that it was her 40th birthday. “Oh joy,” she said to her dog, Sampson. “Happy birthday to me.” Simpson grumbled and burrowed back under the covers. “I know how you feel, buddy.”

Her friends, Samantha and Zoe, were taking her out for her birthday that night. She wanted to forget that it was happening, but they refused to let her. Friends were simultaneously great and annoying that way. She told them the only way she’d agree to celebrate is if they took her to see Madame Zelda, the gypsy fortune teller who was purported to see the future and had been alleged to put curses on those who had wronged her. Of course, that last part was coming from the crazy old man who kept and tried to train the pigeons in the park as pets, but, anyway, Meredith wanted to see what she had to say. She didn’t believe in a lot of that stuff anyway, and it was their treat.

They were going to see her, and then they were headed to have cocktails and a nice dinner, befitting of three 40 year-olds, and she had mentally forecasted that they’d be home by midnight. They were too old to be out much later. It was always sad to see the Cougar Patrol out prowling in tight dresses with too much make-up and too many drinks, trying to relive their youth. Meredith vowed that even if she ended up single at that age, that would never be her. She’d be the Dog Lady at home, but not the Cougar Lady out on the town.

At 7 o’clock, Samantha’s SUV pulled up in the driveway and honked. “Get out here, bitch! Sexy old lady! Let’s get this party started! Owwww!” Meredith opened the window and gave a look down that would freeze magma. She yelled, “I have neighbors, you idiots; I’ll be down in a minute!” She was still partially embarrassed, but laughing when she came outside and Mrs. Thompson was watering her lawn and giving her the side eye.

As she slid in the passenger seat and took her traditional birthday tiara, she tried to maintain her glare, but started laughing, “Thanks, you guys. Old Lady Thompson will probably call the cops and report a disturbance for that.” Zoe cackled, “That’s the most action she’ll hear all year; she’ll get over it. That woman looks like she’s always sucking a lemon. I know you inherited this house, Mere, but I don’t know how you stand all these nosy, pre-historic neighbors. They would drive me nuts.”

“They’re not so bad. Plus, they’re so nosy, they keep the neighborhood safe and crime-free.”

Samantha: “That’s true. Enough about those fossils. This is your night. Fortune, cocktails, and dinner. Maybe we can find you a man!”

Meredith: “Please. Between work, school, and my darling Simpson, I’m not worried about that. Maybe Madame Zelda will tell me when I’ll meet the ‘perfect man.’”

Zoe and Samantha: (Simultaneously) “There is NO such thing!”

As is usually the case when Meredith is with her friends, she loses all track of time and awareness. When she looks up, she sees the purple-lit awning of “Madame Zelda.” She’s trying to be very nonchalant about it, but she’s actually putting a lot of stock into this visit. Madame Zelda has a bit of a reputation of being eerily accurate. She wasn’t being entirely truthful when she said she didn’t care about men. She was lonely, but she wasn’t about to admit that to her two best (feminist) friends.

She hops out of the SUV and tries, unsuccessfully, to tamp down her excitement to Samantha and Zoe.

“C’mon, you guys!”

“We’re coming; keep your birthday panties on.’

They walk into Madame Zelda’s front door, and Meredith immediately notices two things, the smell of patchouli and the assortment of chicken feet dangling from the ceiling. These are not pleasant things. She has always despised the smell of patchouli, and prior to today, hadn’t given a lot of thought to chicken feet, but now confronted with them, wasn’t bowled over with the sight. “Ew.”

“What? What’s this ‘ew’? You have problem with Madame Zelda’s chamber of fortune?”

The three girls turned around to greet Madame Zelda…

End of Part One – Stay tuned for Part Two,