When she regained consciousness, Delilah found herself lying on the floor. But this was not the first thing she noticed. The first thing she noticed was that she could breathe again – there was no more clogged sinuses, no more tickled throat, no more vague knocking at her temples. It appeared that she was cured. A feeling of satisfaction and glee descended over her before she even realized that the coolness she was feeling up and down her back was because she was spread out across a concrete floor.
She opened her eyes and found five sets of owlish gazes staring down at her. “I don’t think I introduced myself before. I’m Marjorie Sage but everyone just calls me Madge,” she nattered, reaching down a hand to help Delilah up off the floor.
“Whatever that was it sure packed a punch,” she murmured, putting a hand to her head to try and ward off the dizziness that was descending. But it wasn’t normal dizziness – it was something else entirely. She wasn’t having a hard time balancing herself; it was her senses that were throwing her off. The air seemed to be swarming around her, enveloping her in a tornado of sensations until she felt like she was a little girl, spinning and spinning in a circle out on the grass in her front yard before crumbling to the ground and watching the world try to right itself around her.
Delilah found herself being pushed into a chair. “Easy does it,” Madge murmured as she handed her a glass of water. She took it and drank greedily, parched as soon as the glass was in her hand, and it was refilled three times before she had had enough.
They were all still staring at her, looking more curious than concerned. “Well,” Delilah began, more as a way to fill the awkward silence than anything else, “just let me know how much I owe you for the miracle cure and I’ll be going.”
“Okay, off with the lot of you,” Madge said, shooing the collected crowd away as they exchanged worried glances.
“But Mom we want to stay,” one of the little boys whined, turning a very vivid blue set of pleading eyes at his mother.
“Yeah, we want to stay Mom,” the younger boy chimed in, his eyes magnified by the wire frames balanced on his nose.
“Mommy,” the little girl said in a stage whisper, “are you going to tell her about the necklace?”
Madge shook her head in agreement and the pigtailed little one grinned, showing a missing front tooth and the cause of her precious lisp.
“Can you keep them busy?” Madge asked, turning to the tall man beside her with sandy brown hair and a set of glasses that matched the little boy’s perfectly.
“Of course,” he replied in an overly confident voice. “Because we’re going upstairs to make dinner!” The kids cheered. “And to clean our rooms!” His enthusiasm stayed; the children’s waned. They made a racquet trudging up an unseen set of stairs, voices of descent floating back towards the two of them still in the shop.
Delilah stood and walked around to the front of the counter again, opening her purse as she did so. “How much?” she asked before adding, “and what about my necklace?” Her hand automatically went up to touch it and that trademark calmness descended over her again.
Madge looked at her for a second before sliding something across the counter to lay between them. “You came in here carrying this,” she said running her fingers gently over the cover. “Was there something you wanted to ask me about it?”
“I found this inside of it,” she said, taking the picture out of her pocket and placing it on top of the book.
Madge took it in her hands and a smile instantly appeared on her face. “I remember this,” she laughed, angling ever so slightly so that they could look at the picture together. “We were meeting to talk about the Bonfire and Petros had brought a camera. That’s me, Falen, Giorgio, Persephone, Kacie, and of course your mom. Oh, look how young Antonia looked with that hair.” She giggled.
“We had just convinced her to chop it all off and she had hated it short for the first few days but you know it saved her hours in the morning not having to pleat that long hair of hers. How she lived with five feet of hair for so long I’ll never know. I kept mine only as long as I had to and not a moment longer.”
Madge looked at the quizzical expression on Delilah’s face and stopped the tangential conversation before it started. She could tell the poor girl was confused and restless and they didn’t need any more random comments to have them straying into crazy conversational territory. It was a hard urge for Madge to fight but she could do it if her purpose was important enough and tonight it was.
“Delilah did your mother ever talk about me, about any of us?” she asked, gesturing towards the smiling faces in the picture.
“No,” she replied, taking it back and peering intently into their faces once more, “no I’ve never heard any of those names before.”
“And those names you’d remember,” Madge murmured to herself. After a moment she started rambling again. “Okay, I’m not good at this. As I’m sure you know we’re not good at lying and I never did master the art of evasiveness. Honesty just seems to like to sit on the tip of my tongue and jump out at people as they walk by which, you know, at times isn’t really great for the palm reading but that’s not the point.”
“Honey,” she tried again with a deep breath, “didn’t your mom ever tell you about the things that she could do?”
Delilah had gone from intrigued to slightly frightened. That sounded ominous; the whole conversation was ludicrous and it was starting to scare her. Because maybe she was still hallucinating, not hearing Madge correctly when she was spouting about waiting for her and having five feet of hair. What if she hadn’t walked into an eccentric little shop but some half-baked nightmare and was never going to get out of it.
Madge laughed. “Now, now, calm down there’s no reason to be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid. Why would you say that?” Delilah gulped, trying to sound at ease and almost making it.
“I can smell it on the air. Can’t you? That sharp, metallic taste like aluminum.” And then, she could. She could feel it, the alloy on the back of her tongue and in the air. For a second as she pulled it to the forefront she couldn’t breathe, started choking on the intensity of it.
Madge grabbed the clay jar again and held it up under her nose. It didn’t make her pass out this time but she did swoon just a bit as it chased the tangy taste of metal away.
“What is that?” Delilah asked again as a stool appeared behind her and another glass of water was pressed into her hands.
“Honey, where’s the spaghetti?” a voice yelled from upstairs.
“In the pantry where everything else is,” she replied to her husband before answering Delilah. “It’s a form of the wasabi root that’s vapors are so potent you don’t have to eat it, just inhale. The Japanese think its magic and don’t use it in their regular cooking. In fact that’s what we call it, Magical Wasabi. It acts like a palette cleanser, the same way someone eating a fancy dinner would chow down on sorbet to get ready for the next course.”
“How did ‘Magic Wasabi’ get rid of my cold?”
“Well when it’s a magic cold, remedies are a little different.”
Delilah just stared at her, her gray eyes narrowing ever so slightly. No one else would have noticed but Madge did, her own eyes moving imperceptibly to match. “Oh, I’m not good at this,” she relented, throwing her hands up in the air. “Here’s the skinny. You’re special, just like I’m special, just like your mother was special. We can know things, feel things, understand things that other people can’t. Honey, you’re an Intuit.”
There was a pause. “I’m the maker of small business accounting software?” she asked slowly. Delilah shook her head and got up to leave, throwing a ten down on the counter as she did. “For your Magic Wasabi” came out dripping with sarcasm.
“Wait,” Madge said, stopping her before she had reached the door. “You forgot your book.” Delilah trudged back over to get it but when she laid her hand upon the cover Madge’s hand held hers against it. “Read the cover,” she demanded.
“It’s written in gibberish,” said Delilah, growing weary of these strange little games.
“Read the cover,” Madge insisted, locking eyes with Delilah again. The air started to hum around them again.
“Fine,” she relented with much attitude, grabbing the book to hold it in mid-air. “We smell the blood before the wound is struck. We see the rent of the arm before the arrow strikes. We hear the thud before the apple falls. We know whence danger comes before it takes a single step. Into you, Into all, Intuit.”
She dropped the book and it created a loud thud, reverberating not only along the counter but along the walls, along the building, along space itself. “Honey, you okay down there?” that male voice called from above again as items shook from their places and crashed to the ground.
“We’re just fine Colin dear,” yelled back Madge, never taking her eyes of off Delilah whose breathing had become quick and labored, like it was her body running a marathon and not just the thoughts in her mind racing about.
“How did you . . . how did I . . . ?” Her questions didn’t form, she didn’t let them, her mind dashing to find some non-magical explanation for why words she couldn’t read an hour ago she could read now, see as clear as day, as clear as glass, as clear as crystal. But there wasn’t one.
She didn’t move for almost two minutes; the world itself seemed to have fallen silent and she couldn’t bring herself to budge in fear that it would start tumbling again and the next truth would be even worse than the last. It was Madge who pushed her forward out of her hiccup in time, grabbing her hand and placing it against the cool orange stone at the hollow of her throat. A burst of energy surged through her, making her feel suddenly more alive and alert than she had before.
“This is part of it too?” asked Delilah, tracing her finger carefully around the edge.
Madge laughed. “That is all of it, the beginning and the end.” She reached under the neckline of her own blouse and pulled out a necklace of her own. Her stone was deep purple, shaped in a perfect circle, but they were the same. The same ornate frame, the same translucent look, the same glowing power.
“Hmm,” Madge said finally, taking a seat across from her. “You’re still not sure. Indecision is just hanging all over you. You can smell it, can’t you? Like mothballs in the back of a closet that hasn’t been opened for eons? I’ll just start talking and you can stop me when I’m wrong.”
Madge studied her face for a moment more before continuing. “You had that cold since the day you put on that necklace, I’d say the day before your birthday with only hours to spare if I’m not mistaken. And nothing you did could get rid of it, medicine and vitamin C and more bed rest than any normal person could take but your senses still buzzed and your head was a bit woozy and you just thought it would go away but it never did. And –”
“Mom, did you feel the earthquake?” the little boy with the glasses yelled, running into the shop at full tilt with a fire engine in his hand before seeing Delilah and stopping in his tracks.
“Jordan, what did I say about staying upstairs when Delilah is here?”
“That I should,” he replied, looking down with a guilty face and scuffing his feet against the floor in a truly endearing ‘aw shucks’ manner.
“That’s right, I did. Now what –” Madge began as she hoisted her son up into her arms.
“Sorry, sorry,” Colin interrupted, jogging down the stairs and grabbing the boy from his mother’s arms. Madge gave him a stern look with her vividly violet eyes but he didn’t seem affected, turning a helpless one right back at her. “I can’t help it. Chad and Jam created a distraction by managing to get spaghetti sauce on the ceiling. Plus they like you better, all your fault.” He smiled, gave her a quick kiss, and hoisted his son over his shoulder.
“Come on sack of potatoes,” he said, “maybe we should have you for dinner since you haven’t learned to obey yet. What do you think about that, huh?” Jordan’s laughter filled the whole shop as they trudged back upstairs.
“What a handful,” Madge said with apologetic eyes.
“Oh I think your kids are cute,” Delilah said with sincerity.
“Kids? I was talking about my husband. Wouldn’t be able to put his shoes on the right feet if I wasn’t standing next to him with the answer but he’s got the kids covered. Yeah right.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Fourteen years. He gets more handsome ever year, I get more harried but that’s how it goes I suppose. But we’re off topic. This is not what we’re supposed to be talking about. My love life, lord child you really must hate change to go there.”
“I don’t hate change,” she protested with good effort but Madge just laughed.
“I told you we were bad liars right? That’s because we can always spot lies, from miles away and that’s the biggest one to cross my path since Chad told me the rabbit dyed itself orange for Halloween.
“Hating change is good though,” she said as she reached under the counter and started placing different sized jars between them, “I can work with hating change. Much easier than being skeptical of the supernatural or rigid in your role in the world or agoraphobic. Yes hating change is positively a piece of cake.”
“Why?” Delilah asked, mesmerized by Madge’s quick hands combining things into a bowl, not even needing to keep her attention on them since her eyes were still staring at Delilah’s face.
“Well because I only need to point out that nothing is really changing. Your whole life you’ve been able to do this and it has been leading you to this very spot. Like a tree growing branches, you might not like it but you can’t chose to not grow. I used that one on Jordan to get him to wear the new glasses and it worked pretty well – he doesn’t like change either.
“Of course I also pointed out that he’d look dashing just like his Dad. Hmmm, I can use that one here too. This has been your destiny, passed down from your mother a long time ago, something very special that the two of you shared and will join you forever. Plus if you let me help you I’ll give you the letter she left for you.”
Madge opened the book Delilah had and turned to the very back page to where the picture had been. She tapped around the edge of the book a few times before stopping in the top right corner. She dipped her thumb in the purple powder she had made from memory while they had been talking and smeared it across the page while her other hand very lightly traced a line down the center of her own necklace.
Delilah was expecting something magical to happen with glowing lights or charged air or even some spiritual apparitions wafting up between them but nothing did. Madge just ran her fingernail over the corner, scratching away until the backing popped up and she could grip it firmly between her fingers. She ripped it like she was removing wallpaper from a crumbling old wall, all in one quick line, and revealed an envelope hidden behind it. The ink was glowing bright green against the faded parchment and Delilah could make out her mother’s handwriting, now small and flowery like she had remembered it, spelling out her name.
“Okay,” she said with a deep breath, “I’m ready. Tell me everything.”