Friday, October 1, 2010

#fridayflash~The Final Prediction

The Final Prediction

One summer, when we were kids, my sister and I were flown across the Atlantic to spend a month with our Nana Lomax in a Glasgow tenement. Dad said that his mother had inherited all of the family magic. He told us she grew up on the misty banks of Loch Ness and ran away at a young age to join a circus passing through Aberdeen. He was a nice man, my dad, but I think he used to make stuff up.

Nana frequently took Giselle and me for walks along the municipal reservoir to throw stale bread at the loitering ducks. In the evenings, she would drop some vinyl on the turntable; the sounds of Mozart and Bach lifted our spirits and brightened her gloomy apartment. We read a lot of books and drank a lot of tea and, as I recall, the kettle on the stove never cooled down.

Dad said that Nana could predict a person’s future by reading their tea cup. We nagged her mercilessly to read for us, but she waited until the last night of our stay before agreeing to perform the ritual. After our chocolate biscuits and tea were finished, the old dear flipped over the delicate china cups. This allowed the dribble of cold liquid at the bottom to track down the sides, distributing the loose leaves into random patterns. Nana stared into the red-hot elements of the electric fireplace to gather her thoughts and then she flipped our cups back to interpret our futures.

Nana lit a cigarette and squinted at the cups through smoke and thick lenses that hadn’t seen a wash since the Queen’s coronation. Giselle and I, our eyes as wide as the saucers on the table, parked our butts on the edges of nana’s wing-back chairs, breathless with anticipation.

The old woman was tight-lipped as she glanced at my sister with wizened eyes. “You bonnie wee lass. I’ll always be there to guide you and God’s love will always be with you,” she said with a sad smile and quickly set aside Giselle’s cup. Even though her reading was brief, my sister seemed pleased with the vision and threw herself back into her chair with a contended smile.

Nana predicted a couple of obvious things for me about sports, homework and the like and mumbled something strange about ‘hissing fountains’. Her long-term visions were more direct. She told me the leaves appeared amber, forming vertical lines, and said I was destined to marry a red haired woman. The two dark masses in the middle of the lines indicated we would have two children. Nana also saw many small, yellow objects that appeared to buzz about. I laughed and told her I didn’t see myself being a bee keeper when I grew up.

The following morning Nana woke us early because our flight home was at noon. She served us a rack of buttered toast at the kitchen table and busied herself at the counter cutting Spam into bite-sized chunks. A lit cigarette hung from her lips as she worked, though she was mindful not to let the ash fall in our food.

Nana filled a pot with water and placed it on the stove top to boil. She pulled a tin of peas from the cupboard and placed it in the water. As she waited for the water to boil she buttered more toast and added it to the rack. We protested, well aware that we had each gained several pounds during our stay, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

“Eat up, bairns! Food was hard tae come by in the auld country. I’ll nae have you going hungry.” I asked her where the ‘old country’ was. She didn’t reply.

Nana poured us glasses of milk and carried the plates of faux meat to the table. The tin of peas still sat in the boiling water as she shut off the burner. She fished about in the drawer and found a bottle opener and levered the triangular tip into the top of the tinned peas.

A loud hiss preceded the geyser of thick, green liquid that shot from the opening and hit the middle of the nicotine stain on the ceiling. Time stopped momentarily…her holding onto the opener, my sister with a piece of toast inches in front of her face and me with a mouthful of Spam.

Nana cranked the opener handle to fully remove the lid from the tin of peas. She came to our table and poured half of the green substance onto my plate and half on my sister’s plate. Green paste dripped from her cheeks and the end of her nose. She wiped her face with the sleeve of her housecoat and began tidying the kitchen. Giselle and I glanced at each other and tried to stifle our laughter.

That was the last time the three of us were together. My sister died days before Christmas that year of an inoperable brain tumor. As fate, or destiny, would have it, Nana Lomax died the same day back in Scotland. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the cancer that got her but a massive heart attack.

Nana’s predictions? Without a doubt, she and Giselle are managing nicely with God’s love…just like she said. I met a nice red haired girl in high school and we eventually had two daughters. I’ll amuse the girls now and then by ripping open a couple of tea bags and reading the leaves. I don’t have Nana’s magic, so I just make stuff up.

What the hell does a guy like me know about magic anyway? I spend all day driving around Manhattan in a yellow cab.
*Teacup image courtesy of


Laurita said...

I love the character you've created in Nana. Such an odd duck, a little rough around the edges, but loveable. I really like the loitering ducks, and the detail about the dad making stuff up. This is a lovely little story, entertaining and heartwarming.

pegjet said...

Another gem. The voices and characterizations in thise are fantastic. I wondered what the yellow things buzzing would be. Great way to bring it home.

Laura Eno said...

I love the memoir feel to this. Lovely stuff.

John Wiswell said...

The opening is very charming. The old style of "We went here, and this person could do this unusual thing" is a lovely formula. Naturally you had to twist it up a little at the end. Thanks for sharing, Alan.

David Barber said...

A fantastic read, Alan. Any of it true? My nana could read tea leaves, apparently, but I was a bit too young to remember. Excellent writing!

Have a great weekend!

K.C. Shaw said...

I loved every word of this, first to last! Fantastic!

Linda said...

Wonderful story. Left me with hair raised on my arms and tears in my eyes at the same time. Peace...

Anonymous said...

Absolutely thrilling - I love Nana and wish she were mine.

"Nana lit a cigarette and squinted at the cups through smoke and thick lenses that hadn’t seen a wash since the Queen’s coronation."

From the tin of peas to the spam and toast, I feel like I've been inside that house - and you're so gentle with the reveal at the end, it's just a perfect piece. Lovely.

Cathy Olliffe said...

You know what? I was going to ask you to read this aloud last night, you and Laurita with her story - I mean, what an opportunity I missed.
It would have been lovely to hear your gentle voice move over this equally lovely story. Charming in every sense of the word; sad; so true to life. And the peas put a smile on my face through the sadness.
A winner, Alan.

Anonymous said...

Lovely story. I'm glad Giselle was satisfied with her fortune, I knew it was going to be something Nana didn't want to reveal.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Laurita- Thanks for the kind words, Laurita. I think all nana's should be odd ducks.

Peggy- Thank you, glad you liked it. I was a bit concerned that the 'yellow buzzing objects'.

Laura- Memoir...I like that! Thanks, Laura.

John- Thanks John, I always appreciate your observations (and praise).

David- Thanks! 'Nana' is sort of a composite character of both my grandmothers and my Aunt Jenny (who really did read tea leaves).

KC- Thanks! Doesn't it make you want to take that up as a hobby? It's probably less dangerous than fencing.

Linda- Thanks a lot!

DJ- I appreciate all those kind things you said! I'm pleased you liked the end. I was worried that it would be too much of a downer.

Cathy- Read it aloud? You know that I'm far too shy for that! Besides, my accent would be far too confusing. Everyone's nana should make them smile once in a while (yikes, did that rhyme?)

Mari said...

Nana's prediction to Giselle is heart wrenching. I knew the girl would be short lived...

The story as a whole is lovely, though. Nice one Alan! :)

Anonymous said...

Great story. The details build a rich tapestry of what Nana's life was like - the can of peas exploding and dripping off her nose was fantastic.

Love how you tied in the yellow objects to the taxi cab.

Fitting that Nana died the same day as her granddaughter - maybe her final gift to Giselle?

katey said...

Ah, I really enjoyed that, Alan. It was a kind of sad and kind of sweet and had some beautiful (and funny) images.

Cathy Olliffe said...

I get it, I really get it, now Alan. We pulled into a Comfort Inn in Gander today and there they were: bright yellow taxi cabs, lots of them! And the name of the business? Busy Bee Taxi!
I thought: Alan's story!!!!

kathryn said...

This was a fabulous story, Alan. That moment when Nana opened the peas and the green goo flew like a geyser to the ceiling...priceless!

I also wonder how much of your own past is woven into this story. They say the best stories are based in truth, right?

Alan W. Davidson said...

Kari- Thanks, I'm glad too about Giselle but kind of sad the story ended that way for the both of them.

Mari- Thanks for those kind words, Mari!

VR- The final gift...I like that. And the exploding peas was not one of her finest moments.

Katey- Thank you. I struggled a bit for the mix of happy and sad.

Cathy- Getoutta here! They don't have Yellow cabs...perhaps it was a convention where NYC drivers brought up their cabs to The Rock to attend...

Kathryn- Thank you kindly! Pea incident...true to an extent...

Pamila Payne said...

As others have said, your characters feel so real that your fiction reads like memoir, beautifully rendered memoir of a very interesting person. This was a particularly beautiful piece, with a quirkiness to it that just made it all the more lifelike.

Lily Childs said...

Alan, I always like to have a bit of cry on a Sunday and your story's kicked me off.

I absolutely adore the nostalgia here and Nana's indulgence after the poverty of the 'auld country' is really touching.

I felt I was in that kitchen; it was just like my own great-grandmother's. I loved her even though she used to get cross with me for over-polishing her brass candlesticks as she made lunch, always - it seemed - sending me outside out of her way to pick nasturtiums to decorate the table.

Beautiful story, true or not.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this tale, Alan, and the way you brought all the pieces together. That Nana is quite a character. Nicely done.

Entre Nous said...

I adore this story.

Danielle Ferries said...

What a gorgeous view of your childhood. Thanks for sharing.

G.P. Ching said...

Brilliant. The nostalgia is palpable and the voice so real it's hard to believe this is fiction. Fabulous, fabulous writing.

Bukowski's Basement said...

You know this DID have a memoir feel to it... This delivered for me in a HUGE HUGE way, Alan.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Pamila- Thanks. I really appreciate those kind words, Pamila.

Lily- I'm glad that the story brought back memories of your great-grandmother. And I think they all had a set of brass candlesticks...!

Danielle- Thank you. Although I didn't see them very often, I have fond memories of both my grandmothers.

Joni- Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Danielle- You are most welcome.

GP- Thank you. I like that's got a comfortable feel to it.

Ant- I'm pleased you enjoyed the story, sir.

Sue H said...

Sorry - I thought I'd already posted a comment on here....I was half asleep (jet-lagged) when I read this the other day and actually thought it was 'for real'!

Well done, a very entertaining read with lots of visual stimuli that really conjours up an imitable old lady!

Lou Freshwater said...

Nana reminds me so much of one of my 'great-aunts' who would cook crab stew with the dead ash on her cigarette hanging over it the whole time. It never fell, though.

Wonderful tale, Alan. And what a wonderful character.

Gracie said...

Gorgeous story, Alan. I felt like I was right there in that kitchen. My mom used to smoke over cooking, too, and I'd stare in wonder at the long ash hanging and never falling into the food.

And I agree, this would be wonderful to hear sometime.

Love it!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Sue- Well, some parts are real and some are a tad exhagerated. Glad that you enjoyed the story.

Lou- It's nice to hear that my story can bring back such memories (umm...only if the memories are good, of course...)

Gracie- Thanks. I'm pleased that you liked it. Perhaps one day I'll have the wherewithall to do audio recordings (I shall enter the 21st century one of these days!)

Crystal said...

This was so beautiful. What a wonderful nana to have.

A. S. Boudreau said...

This story has such a real life feel to it, that it strikes the heart chord.

I know a Scottish Nana that lives here in the States now with her grandchildren and I don't know if she reads tea leaves but I love to listen to her talk!