The House of Secrets
by Martin Maenza
A married woman named Cheryl Lynn visits a fortune teller, only to learn that her husband has been unfaithful to her with someone very close! But what will she do when she figures out who is behind this startling revelation?
Author’s note: This story is inspired by “Dark Lady,” the song of the same name written by Cher in 1974.
A portly gentleman with a round face and slicked-back black hair sat a large table. Before him were various opened square white cartons, some empty, while others were still partially full. On the plate before him were small piles of food — noodles, beef and broccoli, fried shrimp, and a large wonton.
The man fumbled with two wooden sticks, with a look of determination on his brow. Yet the piece of beef he tried to move up to his mouth with them fell upon the napkin tucked into his collar, put there just in case to keep his blue suit tidy. “Fudge!” Abel cursed.
Then he looked up.
“Oh, hello!” Abel said in a welcoming way. “I was so caught up in my m-meal, that I d-didn’t hear you come in.” He glanced down at the food, then looked up again. “I’d offer you some, but I seem to be out of plates. I hope you don’t mind.
“You’re probably here for a story,” he guessed. “Let me see.” He tapped the side of his head with the chopsticks for a moment as he pondered.
“Got one!” He pointed and gestured with the sticks as he spoke. “You know how gypsies and fortune tellers often get b-bad reputations in the community? Is it really justified? Are they the v-victim? Here’s a little story about one. You decide.”
And with that, Abel tossed away the chopsticks and picked up a fork from the table. He dived into the meal like a pig at a slop-filled trough.
There was a dampness to the fall evening air when Cheryl Lynn got off from work. As she left the facility on Napoleon Avenue and made her way down the sidewalk, she was careful to avoid the occasional puddles of water that had gathered there earlier in the night.
“Three more blocks,” she sighed to herself as she marked the distance to the bus stop. Her shift had ended late, and she hoped she would be able to make it to the bus stop in time for the eleven o’clock run. Otherwise, she would have to call a cab or something.
As she reached the corner, there was a slight breeze. It blew about the nearly thirty-year-old woman’s long, straight hair. Cheryl shivered and closed the front flap of her tan raincoat about her; she waited for the light to change so she could cross.
Looking up, Cheryl noticed a single car pulling up to stop at the intersection. It was fancy, black, and shiny. In fact, it was far more than just a mere car. It was a black limousine.
Must be someone important, the woman thought to herself. She had grown up in New Orleans and had spent her entire life there except for a trip to Florida for her honeymoon over ten years ago. She didn’t often see limousines about town, so the car intrigued her.
Trying her best not to be obvious, Cheryl glanced at the car out of the corner of her eye. Through the front windshield, she could see a man in a dark suit with a black cap behind the wheel. No doubt the driver, she thought to herself. Oh, to have someone to chauffeur her about town. How amazing would that be?
If there were a driver, surely there had to be someone important in back. Cheryl bent down as if to tie the laces on her saddle shoes. As she rose slowly, she tried to get a good look at whoever was in the back of the car.
It was a woman with jet black hair, tied up and back. Her face was slightly angular, and her skin had an exotic texture to it. Her eyes were down as she was focused on something her lap. Then her hands lifted something up.
It was a cat with long black hair and a shiny coat. The woman nuzzled the pet and smiled.
The animal fussed, so the woman put it down. The leather seats were a bit worn, with some slight slices and scratches to the upholstery, perhaps from the animal or something else.
The woman looked up. “Home, James,” she ordered.
“Yes, ma’am,” the man at the wheel replied as the light changed to green. His foot hit the accelerator hard, and the limousine squealed off. As the vehicle drove down the street, Cheryl watched it go. The customized license plate helped her realize who was inside.
Madame La Saille, Cheryl thought to herself, the famed fortune queen of New Orleans. Around the hospital, Cheryl had heard the woman’s name before, often in hushed and reverent tones. Many folks swore by the woman’s words. Many believed that she possessed great abilities to see into one’s future and tell them what would happen to them.
Cheryl was lost in thought for a moment. When she looked up, she saw her bus roll on by. Her dawdling and curiosity had made her miss the last bus of the night. She would have cursed aloud, but it wasn’t in her. Instead, she sighed.
Rob left tonight for a fishing weekend with some guys, she thought to herself. I’ll have to phone a cab. Then she looked up, her eyes traveling down the street to where the limousine had gone moments before.
A wild idea hit her, something totally out of the norm for the woman. She started to walk north.
Forty-five minutes later, Cheryl Lynn stood at the door of a small shop on Tulane Avenue. Stenciled on the glass window was Madame La Saille’s name, along with the image of a single eye. Dark curtains were drawn, blocking any light from coming into and out of the place of business.
Cheryl raised her fist to knock and paused.
This is crazy! she thought to herself. I’ve never done anything like this. And it’s late! She started to move her fist away.
No! she argued with herself. You’ve never taken a risk in your life. Always played things safe. Plain, simple Cheryl. How often had she heard that growing up.
She decided to take a chance. She knocked on the door. And immediately started to regret it.
Cheryl turned to walk away when she heard the lock click on the other side of the door. And then it creaked open.
“Yes?” called a woman’s voice from the shadows. “Can I help you?” Her voice had a French accent to it, though she spoke perfect English.
Cheryl turned around. “I… I know it’s late,” she stammered, a bit surprised that anyone would answer the door after all.
“Are you seeking a reading?” the woman asked firmly.
“Yes…” Cheryl said meekly, “…that is, if it’s no trouble.”
“It’s what I do,” Madame La Saille said as she opened the door wider. “Come in, child.”
Cheryl was ushered into a darkened room. Madame La Saille already had a few candles lit. She motioned for Cheryl to sit. “The consultation is twenty-five dollars,” the fortune teller said as she stood close by.
“Oh,” Cheryl said, nodding. “Of course.” She reached into her nondescript purse and rummaged through the candy wrappers and Kleenex until she found her wallet. She pulled out a few bills and handed them to the woman. “Here you go.”
La Saille smiled as she slipped the cash into a pocket of her black dress. “I’ll be with you soon.” The woman then disappeared behind a curtain to another adjacent room.
Cheryl sat down at the cloth-covered table and opened her coat, revealing the white uniform she wore underneath. She ran a finger through her dark blonde hair and brushed it behind her ear.
Her head was spinning, in part due to the realization that she was actually going through with something like this and in part due to the smell within the shop. It was a strong, lingering odor from the perfume that Madame La Saille wore. Cheryl couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was. It smelled exotic — an exotic scent for an exotic woman.
From speakers mounted in the corners of the room, music began to play. It was a lilting violin sound, playing in a melodic way. It sounded a bit sad at times and intriguing at others.
The fortune teller soon returned and set about a number of things upon the table. There was a crystal ball mounted on an ornate stand. Madame La Saille moved about the room to the music, dancing and swaying. In her hands was a long metal instrument that she used to create a spark, lighting the candles one by one. La Saille would hum along to the tune and occasionally let out a melodic laugh.
Then La Saille lit a small burner underneath a flask of liquid. As the burner grew warmer, the liquid would slowly start to bubble and pop.
A clock in the corner chimed.
“Midnight,” La Saille announced. “The perfect time to confer with the spirits!” As she wafted to her chair, her dress whirled about. The fortune teller then sat, raised her hands, and began to chant in some indecipherable tones.
Cheryl felt a little uneasy by all of it. She could not tell if this was theatrics, for show, and to set a mood, or if there was something more to the dark lady. If nothing else, she knew she would have an experience this night. Whether or not she would ever tell anyone she visited the fortune teller was another matter entirely.
Madame La Saille placed her hands atop the crystal ball and rolled her head back for a moment. “Ah, yes…” she started to say as she looked forward. Her eyes were dark and piercing. “I see you are troubled, and that is why you sought me this night.”
“Yes,” Cheryl said, though she thought that the words were rather obvious. Probably most people who sought the fortune teller did so because they were troubled about something.
La Saille glanced at the woman’s hands folded neatly in front of her on the table. “You are married,” the fortune teller stated the obvious. The ring on Cheryl’s left finger was a giveaway. “But you… you are hardly content. Something troubles you, I see.”
Cheryl blinked. Was that a good guess? Perhaps how she carried herself? Indeed, she was hardly content. Things with her and Rob were all right, but nothing stellar. The couple had been growing distant in recent times. “Go on,” she said, now with more interest.
“You work hard, long, late hours,” La Saille said as she peered into the crystal ball. “Your husband, he does well? Owns a business, does he?”
Cheryl’s eyes grew wide, and she nodded. “Rob does own a construction business, a fairly profitable one, in fact. He inherited it from his father a few years ago.”
The French woman’s eyebrow raised as she frowned slightly. She watched her customer more closely now. “You do not need to work, then, not for the money? But you do so out of a need — a need… to help others. You’ve always wanted to help others, even from the time when you were a little girl. You took in strays and helped mend broken bird wings, did you not?”
“Yes.” Cheryl could not believe her ears. This woman was indeed as good as she had heard. “You seem to know me so well, though we have just met.”
“Ah, but you are not here to talk about your past,” Madame La Saille said as she changed the subject. “You come seeking your fortune, your future.” She reached for an ornate square box on the table and opened it. From the box, which was lined with red velvet, she withdrew a deck of very old cards.
The woman began to shuffle the cards in her long, tapered hands. “We shall consult the cards to see what the future holds for you, my dear.” She dealt out two cards onto the table, a queen and a three. Then she began to mumble some words again, much like before. They seemed so strange to Cheryl.
Next, the woman flipped over another card. It was a two-eyed Jack.
Cheryl stared at the card. The coloring on it seemed red. She blinked and then realized it was actually black. “What does this mean?” she asked nervously.
La Saille looked up from the cards, an expression of deep concern on her face. “The man you love is secretly true,” she said solemnly, “to someone else.”
Cheryl was shocked, her mouth dropping open. Never in her wildest dreams would she ever have thought that Rob was unfaithful to her. “Someone else? Who?”
“Someone very close to you,” La Saille replied.
Cheryl felt as if she could have been knocked over by a feather. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.
The fortune teller watched her struggling. “My dear, I sense you are in turmoil. My advice is that you leave this place.” She stood and helped Cheryl to her feet. “Never come back. Forget you ever saw my face.”
The young woman was stunned as she was escorted to the door. In no time at all, her world was turned upside-down. Cheryl hurried home as quickly as she could.
Try as she might, Cheryl could not shake what the woman had told her. She brushed her hair a few dozen times, still in disbelief. “It can’t be true,” she told herself over and over again. She stared at the bed before her, empty. Could her husband be cheating on her?
She opened the top dresser drawer to put away the hair brush, right next to the handgun her husband kept there for their protection. Cheryl closed the drawer, turned off the light, and crawled into bed.
For an hour, she tossed and turned, her head full of all the things Madame La Saille had said.
“The man you love is secretly true…
“…to someone else…
“…very close to you.”
Images flooded her head along with the words. The flickering candle flames, the bubbling brew, and even the haunting smell of the fortune teller’s perfume lingered with her.
Finally, Cheryl bolted upright. The words were swirling in her head. This is crazy! she thought to herself. Crazy! She touched her hand to the empty side of the bed. “If only Rob were here. If only we could talk this out.”
She laid down again and grabbed for his pillows, for something to comfort her, something to drive all of this out of her head. She clutched the pillow to her chest and breathed in, looking for that familiar scent of her husband to ease her mind.
Her eyes grew wide as a smell crossed her nose. The perfume!
She knew what she had to do.
Less than an hour later, across town in the back room of the shop on Tulane Avenue, laughter came from behind the curtained back room. Madame La Saille and a brown-haired, rugged man, were in the throes of passion — kissing and caressing one another’s nearly naked bodies — when the curtain was suddenly thrown open.
“My God!” the man exclaimed as the couple looked up. “Cheryl!”
Standing in the archway was Cheryl Lynn. In her hand was the handgun from the nightstand.
“What are you doing he–?” La Saille started to say. Her words were cut short as the gun went off.
The next thing Cheryl knew, they were both dead on the floor, her cheating husband and the woman who had seduced him away.
Cheryl bolted from the shop, knocking over the table where earlier she had first learned the horrible news. The crystal ball fell to the floor and shattered. The ornate box of cards dropped, spilling its contents to the floor in a shower.
The dark lady would never turn a card up anymore.
Abel had finished his meal, the cartons now empty and some turned on their sides. He let out a slight burp.
“S-sorry about that,” he apologized. “Not the best m-mealtime tale, I guess. And perhaps that wasn’t the best of an example, eh?”
“Ah well,” he said as he reached across the table for a small tan object. He took it by two hands and snapped the cracker-like thing in two. A tiny piece of paper fell out onto the table. “As for me, I think I’ll stick to fortune cookies. Unlike p-people, they can’t betray you.”
Abel popped the cookie in his mouth and picked up the scrap of paper. His eyes grew slightly wider, and he nearly choked on the cookie as he read the little message.
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