Flash – The Woman Who Saved Me

No WIPpet today, but I thought I’d post a spot of flash fiction. Tied for first place in January’s Flash Fiction over at Devin  O’Branagan’s writing forum. The Feb contest is still up and open if you’re feeling inspired!

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The Woman Who Saved Me

The driving rain tore at her cheeks, the frozen claws of some unseen ice demon. The sharp wind snatched at her hood and scarf, but the effort of holding them down meant exposing her gloved hands to the elements, so she kept them tucked in her pockets.

The neon sign ahead shone like a beacon in the darkness, and with a great deal of relief Megan pushed her way inside. The warm smell of spices enveloped her and she took in the gentle ambience of the teashop. Six years she’d lived in this city, walking the same street day after day, but never had she noticed this place.

“What can I get you, dear?” asked the woman behind the counter.

“Uh,” Megan said, unwrapping her scarf, “Earl grey?”

The woman nodded and disappeared into the back. Megan looked around for a place to sit. It hadn’t been her plan, but a cup of tea on her way home wouldn’t go amiss.

“Why don’t you have a seat over here?”

The offer came from a woman Megan hadn’t noticed on first coming in. The word “gypsy” came to mind at first glance, with her hair tied under a dark red scarf, bangled bracelets around her wrists, and eyes as black as jet under long dark lashes. She reached a hand out to gesture to the chair in front of her, the bracelets jangling together.

Megan pulled off her gloves and tucked them in her pockets.  “Thank you.”

“On a cold night like this, company and warm light will keep the demons away.”

The words niggled in Megan’s mind as familiar, but all she said was “Right,” and looked around to see if any other table would do.

The woman kept her gaze firm and expectant, hand still outstretched, and Megan felt obliged to take the seat.

“My name is Leia, and I’m going to read your fortune.”

“Megan. But I don’t want my fortune told, thanks. I think I’m good with the whole life as a mystery and what not.”

“Very brave of you, but I happen to know you’d give a lot to find out what happened to your father.”

Megan blinked. “Excuse me?”

“He died three years ago today, did he not? Undiagnosed liver illness that took his life within a week of being admitted to hospital.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“I see the whole story when I look at you. You can tell a lot about a person by the history they carry with them. Give me your hand.”

Hesitantly – afraid – Megan reached out her hand, palm up. Leia took it and turned it over, clasping it between her warm fingers.

“I see you going down a dark path. Medical school, diagnostics, obsessing over patient files. You’ll meet someone and fall in love, but your darkness will push him away.”

Megan’s breath hitched in her throat, the application papers for med school laughing at her from the bottom of her purse. The fingers of her free hand wrapped around the purse strap so tightly her knuckles bulged and turned white.

Leia continued. “You have an artist’s soul and that dream shouldn’t be abandonned for an empty road that will only lead to misery. Turn your thoughts to creating. Your father would have wanted it.”

Megan thought of the pile of sketchbooks in her bedroom, lately forgotten and unused. She remembered how much her father had loved her drawings. He had always been the spiritual one, his daughter the more practical, but to be driven into this place by harsh weather, to find this woman here – what would her dad think if she ignored the signs?

“He was my dad and I miss him every single day. I can’t just give up. I need to know.”

“Does it really matter? Will it change how you felt about him, or how you cope with his loss? Set the textbooks aside. Death should not be an obsession for the living.”

Megan’s shoulders slumped and Leia slid a handkerchief into her hand.

“Ah, here’s the tea,” she said, removing her hands from the table so the shopkeep could set down the tray. “A toast.” Leia held up her cup and Megan half-heartedly lifted hers. “To warmth and company that keeps the demons at bay. To life, to love, and a brighter day.”

Megan gasped and nearly dropped her cup. Her father’s words, every night over a cup of hot chocolate. Leia’s eyes twinkled as she sipped her tea and Megan continued to stare. And then she started to laugh.

That night she went home, and tore up the application; then she pulled out her sketchbook and for the first time in three years, started to draw. At first she had no clue what her pencil was doing, but slowly the image took shape. A woman with a patterned scarf over her hair and eyes that saw into the viewer’s soul. When the picture was finally finished, Megan scrawled her name in the bottom corner and added a title at the top: “The Woman who Saved Me.”

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