From underneath her wide-brimmed hat, Helen slid down her sunglasses to smile up at Zed, standing in the glare of sunlight on the patio of Doppler’s Bar and Grille.

“May I join you?” he asked.

She said nothing, but she nodded in the direction of an empty chair. He sat down. He looked over at the waitress who was busy with another table. He watched as the waitress disappeared inside the bar.

“I’m Zed,” he said. “Do you live here?”

“On the patio?” she said.

“Not exactly,” he said. “I meant here in Lona.”

“It depends on your definition of living,” she said. “But, yeah, I have a residence here.”

“There are worse places,” he said.

“There are always worse places,” she said. “There are worse circumstances, worse stories, worse songs, worse paintings.”

“Are you a painter?” he asked.

“No, what gave you that idea?”

“You mentioned paintings.”

“I also mentioned songs and stories. Why not singer or writer?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “You just didn’t strike me as a singer or writer.”

“But I strike you as a painter?”

“Not really,” he said. “I was just making conversation.”

“Making conversation? How does one make conversation? Are you a writer?”

“Actually, I am,” he said.

“Oh, and you make a living at it?” she asked.

“It depends on your definition of making a living,” he said.

She laughed. “And what do you write?”

“Whatever comes into my head,” he said. “Or whatever doesn’t.”

“And I would find whatever comes into your head interesting?” she asked. “Or whatever doesn’t?”

“Probably not,” he said. “But every once in a while, it can’t hurt to get out of one’s own head, and explore what’s inside someone else’s.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I find it useful. Besides, I enjoy reading.”

“I’d rather listen to music,” she said. “It requires less involvement.”

“But you can do both at the same time,” he said.

“If I wanted to,” she said.

“And what about you?” he asked. “We have already ruled out writer, singer, and painter. That leaves lots of other possibilities.”

“It does.”


“And…” she said.

“I guess I’m asking what you do,” he said.

“Why don’t you guess?”

The waitress came to their table. Zed hesitated, looking over at Helen. “I’m sorry, I don’t even know your name?”


“Well, Helen, would you like another glass of wine?”

“Why not?” she said.

Zed ordered a glass of wine for Helen, and a beer for himself.

“OK. Let’s see…..I’m still thinking something artistic. A model? A nude model, that’s it.”

Helen laughed. “Nice try. I’m missing some of the key components,” she said, pushing out her tiny breasts.

“I find your body stunning,” Zed said.

“Thank you. It’s what I have,” she said. “But no, not a nude model.”

“A weather girl,” he said.

“What the fuck is a weather girl?”

“You know, one of those pretty young women with her painted on smile who points to an invisible weather map and says how lucky we are to live in such an amazing place.”

“Do you really see me doing that?”

“No. I’m trying to eliminate possibilities. It’s how I function. I eliminate what isn’t in order to get at what is.”

“You studied philosophy in school, didn’t you?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” he said.

“And now you are just another lost philosopher in search of a philosophy,” she said.

“Kind of,” he said.

Helen shook her head. “Why is it that I always attract lost souls? I just wish once that I’d meet someone who had his head on straight.”

“My head is on straight,” he said. “I might look at life through slightly warped lenses, but my head is on straight. I think.”

“Oh well, go on,” she said.

“A teacher,” he said. “It makes sense since you are here in the middle of a work day.”

“Well, no, but you are getting warmer,” she said.

“A school janitor?”

Helen laughed. “No.”

“Bus driver?”

“No, getting colder.”

“I give up. My powers of perception have failed me. If I were to make you up for a story I was writing, I’d make you up as a psychic.”


“You’re a psychic?”

“Not a psychic exactly, rather a seer,” Helen said.

“Cool,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have the gift, that’s obvious.”

“It isn’t actually a gift. More like a curse.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I see things that I’d rather not see,” she said.

“Can you see my future?” Zed asked her.

“I’d rather not,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Because I’d just as soon not know what is ahead for you.”

“What about you? Do you know what lies ahead for yourself?”

“I’ve never tried reading my own palm,” she said.

“You’re a palm reader?” he said.

“This is how I see the future, yes.”

“But you’ve never read your own palm?”

“No,” she said.

“Why not?”

“I told you, I’d rather not know.”

“Well, then, how about reading my palm?” he asked, holding out his hand.

“It’s my day off,” she said.

“Ah, come on,” he said. “It can’t take that long. Besides, what else do you have to do?”

“I’d rather just sit here and enjoy the sunshine.”

“Give me five minutes,” he begged.

“It doesn’t work that way.”


“No,” she said. “It could take up to an hour. This isn’t a scam.”

“I wasn’t suggesting it was,” he said.

“But you were making light of it,” she said.

“Not really,” he said. “I’m curious what lies ahead for me.”

“I can only tell you one thing for sure,” she told him.

“And what is that?”

“When your future ends,” she said.

Zed looked at her. She wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t sure what this meant. Was she telling him that she could see when he would die? And if so, would he want to know?

“You can see that?” he asked.



“I wish I couldn’t. It just comes to me.”

“In a vision?” he asked.

“Something like that, I guess,” she said.

“What kind of vision?”

“How do your ideas for your stories come to you?”

“I’m not sure, they just come to me. Most of them have some connection to things I’ve experienced in my life. Some of them come to me after I begin the story. Once I begin, the story kind of takes on a life of its own,” he told her.

“Exactly,” she said. “Once I look into your palm, your future unfolds right in front of me. I can’t turn away from it. It is there.”

“And it tells you when I’ll die?”

“More or less.”

“And how I’ll die?”

“No. Just when.”

“Exactly when?” he asked her. He looked into her eyes, trying to see if there was a shadow of doubt there. Or maybe a hint of humor. But there wasn’t. She was dead serious.

“Day and time,” she said. “And trust me, no one wants to know.”

“Then why do they come to you?”

“Because they’re afraid,” she said.

“Afraid of what?” he asked.

“Of life,” she said.

He thought about this for a moment. Are we afraid of life? he asked himself. Yeah, we are. We’re scared to death of our own mortality. But that isn’t a reason to want to know when it’ll all end. Even if she told him, could he believe her? How could she prove to him that she really can see the things she says she can see? And would it really matter to him? If he knew when he was going to die, would it change how he lived? He didn’t know. Because he’d never known when he was going to die before. His curiosity tugged at him.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “If you tell them up front that you’re able to see when they’re going to die, why would they go through with it?”

“Just as with you right now, their curiosity overpowers them,” she said.

“Even at that, they don’t have to believe you,” he said.

“No, they don’t,” she said. “And they rarely do. Only the ones who have a long life ahead of them believe me because it doesn’t disturb their reverie.”

“But even those people must feel a little disappointed,” he said. “It’s kind of like knowing how the story ends before you begin.”

“In some ways,” she said. “But in knowing how it ends, the story takes on a different meaning. It has more meaning. Because now you know that it really does end.”

“But you know that anyway,” he said.

“Yes, we’re all going to die, but we don’t think about it,” she said. “We deceive ourselves into believing that it isn’t going to end. Not many of us get the chance to look death squarely in the face.”

“No, I guess not,” he agreed.

“Can you imagine looking your executioner square in the face? Knowing without a doubt that you are about to die? And what do you think you’re going to feel? His pity? Not likely. Death doesn’t care. You’re just another in a long line of futile deaths. You lived futilely, and your death doesn’t change a thing.”

“But that is so fatalistic,” he said.

The waitress set the glass of wine and the tall glass of beer, sweating in the afternoon heat, down on the table. Zed picked it up, thankful to hold on to something. He took a long drink and put the glass down and looked at Helen. She held her glass of wine, studying him from underneath the wide-brimmed hat. He thought she was beautiful, in an unbeautiful sort of way. He could easily fall in love with her, if he hadn’t already. But what kind of life could he expect with someone who knew death so intimately?

“Only if you believe in free will,” she said.

“You don’t?” he asked.

“No, not after what I’ve seen,” she said.

“But since you know that life is so transitory, you of all people should believe in the notion that people should live as fully as possible while they can,” he said.

“Why do you think I have this ability to see the future?” she asked him. She waited for his answer. It was an important question. And hardly anyone got the answer right.

He hesitated, while in his head he quickly, almost frantically, ran through several possible answers, only to discard each one of them. One stuck: she was a messenger from God. But no, that wasn’t it. God wouldn’t need an intermediary. And then it struck him.

“Because there is no free will,” he said. “Everything is determined.”

“Bingo,” she said. “Your background in philosophy has served you well, after all.”

“But it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“Only if you want to cling to the notion of free will,” she said. “And I don’t blame you. It gives you a little control. Otherwise, you have none.”

“But I can think about free will, and I make choices based on what I think, and even what I feel,” he said. “How can that not be an expression of free will?”

“I don’t have answers, I’m just telling you that your fate is determined and that I can see the end.”

“Then it doesn’t matter if I know or not,” he said. He took another drink of his beer, the glass sweating in his hand. The alcohol rushed to his head in the bright sunlight. He looked over at Helen. She took a drink of her wine and smiled at him. In her smile, he felt a lifetime of warmth. She really was beautiful, he thought. What did he have to lose? He should ask her if she wanted to spend the afternoon with him. Maybe they’d make love and talk and make love again, on and off into the night. And they’d declare their love for one another, even though both of them knew how silly it was. But for one afternoon, anyway, they could both believe they were where they belonged. And they could believe in love. And that life was filled with all sorts of prospects. But would she? Would she even give him this one afternoon? It shouldn’t matter to her. Either way. It came down to a flip of a coin. But if it came up heads, when he’d called tails, so be it. He would always get another chance. And he’d continue to get another chance until….until what? Until he ran out of chances.



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