Futures  by Mary Squillace

Competition: Flash Fiction Challenge 2016, 3rd Round

Genre: Open  Location: A trading floor  Object: A scrapbook

Original Illustration by Yevgenia Nayberg

 

Light pricks my closed eyes, turning black to red behind my lids. I open them and see the rising sun has cast bright golden stripes across an unfamiliar duvet.

 

I roll over. I'm not alone.

 

"She lives," my bedfellow croaks, sounding as groggy as I feel.

 

"Hey there...Josh?" It comes out as more of a question than I mean it to.

 

He laughs and kisses my throbbing temple.

 

"Just so you know—"

 

"I know, you told me; you never do this." He squeezes my shoulder playfully.

 

I wasn't lying. With three margaritas coursing through my veins and exactly one unexpired condom in my purse, last night seemed like as good a time as any to end my six-month drought.

 

"I'll get you some water."

 

He kicks off the covers to reveal the kind of sculpted torso I thought only existed in TV dramas. His room is spare, but neat. Framed pictures of him and his students crowd his shelves. He's a catch, I think.

 

Too bad he'll be dead before the year’s end.

 

He retrieves my crumpled blouse from the floor. My work badge dangles from the collar. He squints at the bold letters under my photo. SEER: C9.

 

"Looks like serious business," he teases.

 

"Futures trader."

 

He lifts an eyebrow.

 

"Boring stuff," I gently pry my blouse from his hands without meeting his eyes.

 

In a few hours my day will start as it always does, on the trading floor. My earliest appointment will be with an entrepreneur who struck big with a tech innovation at the ripe age of nineteen. A first time client, he will marvel at the marble floors, vaulted ceilings, rose gold finishes, and spare-no-expense espresso machines nestled in the corners of the trading room. He'll joke that Seers like myself have come a long way from circus sideshows and tourist traps.

 

"The future is a lucrative business," I'll say before reminding him we have limited time for today's exchange.

 

He's paid an unspeakable sum to learn whether he should sell his company, and he will hand over another twenty grand in cash to ask with downcast eyes if his wife will leave him. I'll tell him with our guaranteed ninety-seven percent accuracy that he should, and she will.

 

I'll pass him a Kleenex and my business card. I'll let him know he can take as long as he needs to process the information, and if he's satisfied with our work, we appreciate word-of-mouth referrals. Later, when the news breaks that his multi-billion-dollar deal closed, I'll cut out the headline and paste it in the scrapbook that's become my makeshift portfolio.

 

My one-o-clock will be a return client. A congresswoman whose reelection bid did not go as I'd projected. Seething, she'll pace, her furious heel-clicks echoing through the hall. She'll demand to know how this could happen as her face turns from crimson to purple.

 

I'll reread her our terms. I'll jot down figures that show what an anomaly this was. In a measured tone, I'll describe that once fate is in motion, the chance that a person exerts free will are nearly nonexistent, statistically speaking. I'll remind her that while humans are predictable creatures, they do possess the capacity to change course. I'll offer her a make-good exchange, but she'll still lean across my desk, misting spittle across my face as she calls me a money-grubbing freak.

 

This won't be my worst appointment today.

 

***

 

"You got time for breakfast, boss lady? I make a mean eggs-in-a-nest."

 

I wriggle into my pencil skirt and step into my patent-leather pumps, stalling for time.

 

I remember bonding over jukebox picks last night. I take in Josh's lopsided grin. The expectant pools of amber that sparkle against his olive skin.

 

And then I see the hazel eyes that will dull, as they sink into the hollows of his skull. I see the skin that will cling to the jagged peaks on his face. I see the black capillaries that will spread across his torso like tortured tree roots. I see the mouth that will twist in anguish, and I hear the last strangled breath that will escape it.

 

"Maybe another time." I reach for my purse.

 

* * *

 

My final appointment will be with a head of state who will arrive with a full security detail. I'll confirm his suspicions about the upcoming attack on his homeland. The one that'll violate a decades-old peace agreement. He'll say nothing as a smile unfurls across his face, but I'll know he's decided to launch the biological weapon that's been ten years in development. I know the virus will wipe out one in four Americans before it's fully contained. That the deaths won't be swift, and they won't be easy. That it'll be generations before we recover. A chill will spider up my arm when he shakes my hand before leaving.

 

That night in my supervisor's office, I'll detail the exchange. I'll ask what we can do. She'll slide the client's contract across the desk. She'll clear her throat and recite our mission. She'll say our loyalties are dictated by the market. That we're in futures, not loss prevention. She'll pull a copy of the client's bill from his file and point to a number with more zeroes than I can count in one glance. She'll explain these are the clients who keep us in business. Who keep our lives comfortable. I'll nod and thank her, but will feel no comfort.

 

***

 

Josh walks me to the door.

 

"You're not going to ghost me now, are you?"

 

I open the door.

 

I think about the acute pain that will wrap itself around my heart in a few months. The grief that will pin me to my bed. The guilt that'll claw at my mind. The ache of loneliness that will cloud my senses and dull my gift.

 

I pause. I think about everything that will happen before that.

 

"Actually, eggs sound good."

  

I let the door close.


---

 

 

Mary Squillace is a writer, editor, and digital media veteran. Her work has appeared in Glamour, Real Simple and Time Out New York, and she's currently the managing editor at TotalBeauty.com. Learn more about her and her work at marysquillace.com.



 


 

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