The Three Soothsayers of Holopaw

Chapter One

(an excerpt from the novel The Inevitable Death of Hap Ilkarmen)

Hap Ilkarmen knew when he was going to meet his maker—his death had been foretold on three occasions by three separate soothsayers. First by Madame Tawnbisawls, known throughout four counties for her accurate forecasts of the weather; then by Orba Terrocca, the grocer’s blind daughter; and lastly by the most trusted tarot-card reader and palmist in the state, Elder Wisswassy the Omniscient. Each of these women possessed abilities unwavering in their precision, and together they were the very lips of fate, or as the townspeople liked to say, more reliable than laundry hung on a line predicting wind. As far back as anyone could remember, not a single prophecy spoken by the three had ever failed to meet with fruition.

Hap was to die on Saturday, the 3rd of October, at 12:17 in the afternoon outside of Wilson’s Ice Cream and Soda Parlor off Main Street in downtown Holopaw, Florida. He was to be struck down and killed by a rusty red pick-up truck driven by Jackson Plowman, a local farmer and former treasurer of the now defunct Masonic Sons of Native Confederate Veterans Auxiliary, of which Hap’s late father had been a member. Mr. Plowman had at one point been his father’s business partner and had known Hap since he was a child, a pipsqueak bug investigator with a shallow face and long limbs. Wishing the awfulness of his demise to burden no one, Hap least desired it to rest upon the overworked shoulders of one of the township’s meekest patriarchs, and family friend.

But it had been foretold and so it would be. The residents of Holopaw relied heavily on the prognostications to assist in a variety of matters, from larger issues like determining when to plant and harvest their citrus and sweet sorghum crops, to everyday trifles like finding lost keys or determining which rabbit to skin first or what fishing hole would yield the day’s best catch. It was considered an essential investment of time and money to visit one, if not all, of the women for advice. It was not uncommon, even, for the local bank to withhold final approval on its loans until all the paperwork could be properly reviewed by one of the town’s prophets.

It seemed both ordinary and incidental that Hap ran into Madame Tawnbisawls that Friday as he searched the flower vitrines for petunias at Markello’s greenhouse, a gift for his fiancée, the lovely Maria Dosa Ladosa, whom he was engaged to marry in a matter of weeks. He paced the humid aisles, handling the flowers with extreme delicacy, careful to avoid the pricks of cacti resting on the shelves behind him. It was Madame Tawnbisawls, arguing with one of her spirit guides over choice johnfkennedy roses, who first backed into Hap, the bump knocking him into a stand of seed catalogs.

“Ah! Look where you’re going!” Hap heard as he bent down to retrieve the spilled packets. “And you,” exclaimed the Madam, cursing her invisible partner for its lack of forewarning, “sometimes I think your head’s half empty, if you ever had one at all.”

“Sorry, it’s okay, nothing’s hurt,” said Hap, who rose to greet the clumsy shopper only to be sent back on his heels, startled by the sudden proximity of a person he’d only seen on TV. Madame Tawnbisawls, at first glance, was quite grandmotherly, with retreating eyes, gray streaks and a puckered mouth, yet there was an air of mild celebrity about her, an affected leaning-back sort of posture, and long silk scarves that traveled ankle to head, knotting her hair in a bun. Her 9 PM show on Public Access was popular enough for her to make a decent living predicting meteorological events like overcast skies and cold snaps (and the occasional cataclysmic event) with the helpful guidance of departed souls only she could hear. Beyond that, she was known for occasionally slapping children, an act she referred to as ‘wake-up blessings.’

“I’m terribly sorry,” Hap reiterated.

“As you should be,” replied Madame Tawnbisawls. “Among these cobwebs of doubt and circumstantial evidence.”

“I’m sorry?” asked Hap, who didn’t feel he had heard her properly.

“Do you prey on the elderly?” she asked. “Is this how you get your sex jollies?”

“No, ma’am, I would never…”

“Because I will not stand for it. Even now imps in eager caucus raffle for my soul, and I will not have some young punk manhandling me.”

Concerned, Hap apologetically reached for her bicep.

Madame Tawnbisawls’ eyes widened at his touch. She gripped his arm near the elbow and leaned into him, her breath smelling of cherries and cigarettes. Hap instinctively stepped back, but her grip was decisive and strong. Other shoppers began taking notice, adding an extra element of humiliation. The Madame’s jaundiced eyes never wavered from him as she communed with her spirit guide, and even though Hap felt the minor prick of a cactus to his back, he dared not move.

“You, young man,” Madame Tawnbisawls began, “are going to be struck down by a red automobile. Driven by a farmer set with wrinkles. You will have just finished eating an ice cream sundae—mango strawberry lime with hot fudge and peanuts. Between twelve and twelve-thirty on a Saturday very soon. In fact, people will begin releasing the fireworks of the Saccharum Festival after it is finished.”

Hap was dumbfounded, unable to muster a solitary word. The powers of the legendary Madame were inscrutable.

“What will the weather be like?” a stranger called from behind a poinsettia bush.

“Partly cloudy. Humid. In the high eighties,” the Madame stuttered, clutching and kneading her scarves as if they were security blankets. She then quickly turned and fled the greenhouse.

Hap stood alone, his sunken brown eyes blinking in stubborn understanding. So this was how it was going to end. The aisle seemed to narrow and elongate before him, and Hap felt the first murmurs of a panic attack in his chest. Shoppers parted before him in waves. At the exit doors a pot filled of azaleas exploded at his feet, shards everywhere, the dark rich soil on his shoes a brief, indelicate reminder of the cold earth into which he’d soon be interred. Hap glanced up at the lovely woman who’d dropped the plant. She was reservedly dressed in a floral print, the wide-brimmed hat atop her head cinematically askew. She was pretty except for her eyes, which radiated grief.

“She has to be wrong once, right?” Hap asked. “Everyone has to be wrong sometime.”

The woman answered by closing her eyes tightly.

He didn’t even bother to shake the dirt from his shoes. The greenhouse door gave a ding as he pushed through it.

Back in his station wagon, Hap made haste for the Holopaw Feed and Grocery. He took several country roads as shortcuts, pushing the speed limit, and arrived in the gravel lot of the log cabin market sweating like a Belizean roofer. There were only three days left before the Saccharum Festival, for which the town gathered to celebrate the harvest of the year’s sugarcane crops. As a junior member of the League of the Inverted, also known as the Monosacca-Riders (for their group motorcycle excursions to Daytona’s Bike Week every spring), Hap felt a strong commitment to his fellow syrup makers, as well as to the community they served—the bakers, bar owners, chocolaiers, and soda pop makers who regularly purchased his inverted sugar for their delicious recipes. If Madame Tawnbisawls’ prediction was incontrovertible, then Hap had arrangements to make, pronto. Regardless, he believed that seeking a second opinion was certainly excusable, if not outright warranted. So here he was, outside of the feed store, trying to gather his frenzied wits into a genteel sort of calm repose, in hopes that he might secure a conference with Orba Terrocca, the grocer’s blind daughter.

The problem Hap immediately foresaw, his bearings returning with his steadying breath (though he’d still forgotten his keys in the ignition) was the long snaking line of farmers and citizenry in dungarees and denim overalls traveling along the front porch and back around the side of the building, each person figuring out or rehearsing the pair of questions their five dollars would permit them to ask the young Ms. Terrocca. It broke Hap’s heart imagining the inside of the store, too, the weaving line persisting down aisles of canned goods and toilet paper, potato chips and a hundred varieties of bubble gum. The wait-time would be excruciating; reading the ingredients charts on bottles as the dry minutes of his life leaked slowly into the atmosphere. But there was no choice in the matter, so Hap set his sites on the final man in line.

Orba was a rather homely looking sixteen-year-old save for one thing, the dirty-blond hair her aunt meticulously brushed to her elbows. She fancied threadbare dresses with vaguely maritime patterns and spent most of her days sitting on an old pickle barrel with her hands folded in her lap. There she answered questions from visitors and took her arithmetic, history, sociology, economics and spelling, being home schooled. Boys dropped by to ask her questions but never what was in their hearts and besides she seemed uninterested in anything but her fans, of which there were many. A taste of her extraordinary vision required only a personal object from the visitor, like a bracelet or a lucky dime. Orba would rub her hands all over the item and begin shaking. Once she calmed down she’d proceed to answer whatever two questions the visitor felt inclined to ask. The downside was that, apart from agricultural affairs, Orba could only see about a week (week and a half at most) into the future, so no one benefitted from asking about their mortality or the longevities of relationships. Certain issues were strictly off-limits, like state lottery results, which her father, Mr. Dickey Terrocca, the grocer, considered unfair and furthermore un-Christian. Mr. Terrocca adamantly sought to protect his daughter. It had been almost a year since a drifter had stuffed his five dollars into the glass jar at her side and asked if he would be arrested anytime soon. Orba replied in the negative, and two weeks later that man robbed the 7-11 on the corner of Rhoden and Main and the police tracked him down to an abandoned warehouse and made his body nearly unidentifiable with gunfire. From then on, most people mostly stuck to discussing their crops with her. What to plant, when to plant, and when to take it out of the ground. Rumor had it the reason she could forecast crops so well was because as a child she’s lost her sight after accidentally swallowing an insect, the likes of which no one had seen before of since, that had been responsible for killing a great portion of that year’s crops.

Hap had visited Orba on several occasions, knew Dickey fairly well as a friend of his father’s before he passed, and was familiar with the aunt only as Liberty Baptist’s Wednesday pianist. It worried him that his question might upset the family, but after an hour’s wait outside, he tapped the dirt from his shoes, pulled door handle, and walked beneath the chiming bells. Inside the store was cramped and oppressive, a lone off-center ceiling fan responsible for cooling the exceedingly patient but twitchy customers who swatted themselves like cattle. For the next forty minutes Hap endured crop forecasts and land deal warnings and pest deterrents that outsiders might contend straddled the line between wivestale and witchcraft, but the locals knew better. Walk the perimeter of your field at midnight, to be safe. Spill a pint of hen’s blood at the highest point. Sprinkle ladybugs among your crop for the lace bug; moth traps and wasps for the borer; wireworms and white grubs with flooding in May; beware the aphid. Don’t sell to the profiteer—there’s a lucrative mineral under your land. And so on. Orba recommended no pesticide of any kind ever; the earth possessed its own immune system, she believed, and if we ever screwed with that, the land would shake us off it like a bad cold.

The last farmer before him stepped away and Hap approached. Orba straightened up on the pickle barrel, placing her young hands on her knees and offering him a coy smile, her filmy blue eyes dancing like a wave flirting with a coral reef. As he knelt before her, her mouth curved into an affected pout. “Mr. Ilkarmen, are you maybe forgetting something?”

For a moment Hap was lost. He felt the people in line behind him shifting. Then he spied the money jar at her feet. “Oh, oh I’m sorry,” he said, reaching into his back pocket, where he, like so many others, always kept a reserve of five one dollar bills. He checked his other pocket. He pulled out his wallet and looked inside. Five dollars exactly. He stuffed the bill into the jar.

“I need to know the truth,” he began.

“Funny,” she answered. “Most people want me to lie to them.”

This aroused a few chuckles from the peanut gallery.

“Please, Orba, Ms. Terrocca, I need your help. I’m desperate.”

The young girl’s smile disappeared and she reached for Hap’s face, running her fingers along his features as is sculpting them. Her brows arced and she sighed, wiggling her finger for him to approach. Hap turned slightly to check on the others, then stood up and bent towards her.

“I’ll need five more dollars before I can answer you question,” she whispered, her lips almost imperceptibly brushing on his ear. “This doesn’t concern your land at all, does it? And you know Daddy doesn’t like me to talk about such things. If he knew what you wanted to ask, he’d track you down and tan your hide.”

This proliferated odd emotions in Hap, who could only nod in agreement. “But I don’t seem to have any more money with me.”

Orba sighed and pointed at the Jackson Bank ATM in the corner of the store, which spun out bills in five-dollar increments. “Hurry,” she whispered.

“But I’m bone dry,” he said. “I only have my credit cards.”

“Have a little faith, Mr. Ilkarmen,” she breathed against his cheek.

Hap dusted off his blue jeans and went to the ATM, ignoring the others as he took his bankcard from his wallet, lined up the magnetic strip and punched in his code. He’d updated his checkbook a week ago, down to ninety-seven cents after the bills came in, after he’d transferred all his money into a joint account with his fiancé at another bank. The card they’d given him he’d lost, possibly in the wash, and was now waiting for another to arrive in the mail. Until then he had only his credit cards, but Dickey Terrocca’s did not accept them. So he was flabbergasted when the screen showed he had seven dollars and ninety seven cents, covering both Orba’s and the machine’s fee.

“This is unbelievable,” Hap said. “I could have sworn I had nothing in there.”

Orba smiled faintly. “Well I guess we all get a little lucky sometime.”

Snickering and general agreement resounded across the grocery store.

“Now then,” she said. “Your wallet.”

Hap handed her his wallet. Orba held it for a moment, then her body began its subtle quake like a washer or a floor fan without support, building up. Her teeth rattled and her lips turned bluish-white. She dropped the wallet and her eyes went wide.

“You’ll be struck down and killed my Mr. Plowman on Saturday. Twelve-fifteen. No. Twelve-seventeen. Fudge sundaes. A dog chasing its own tail in the grass. A snake circling through a circular pipe.”

Hap’s bowels turned to ice. The world retreated into dream, events without sequence operating independently of his action, though not altogether purposeless. His lower half numb and his forehead a muddy peat bog he rubbed to shield his eyes. He felt the eyes on his neck, pitying him, and hated them all.

“So I’m gonna die.”

“I somehow feel,” Orba said, in a low tone, “that you knew this already, though.”

“Yes,” Hap said. “Madame Tawnbisawls. The greenhouse. I didn’t want to believe her.”

Orba pursed her lips and nodded. “You should go, Mr. Ilkarman. You have a lot to do.”

“Yeah,” Hap replied. “I guess I do.”

Walking the length of the store was a sentence Hap served with dignity, eyes forward. Outside the morning had come and gone without him. It occurred to him to question why Orba had spoken his fate aloud, in front of everyone, but had required they whisper privately beforehand, but the simpleness of the matter over the enormity of his situation caused him to forget the entire matter.

The reason he had chosen first to visit the Feed and Grocery to see Orba, instead of driving downtown to see Wissawassy the Omniscient, was because the palmist’s shop was located on Main Street, directly across the way from the soda parlor where Hap would allegedly take his last meal on Saturday. Parking along the curb, Hap avoided the parlor and turned to the neon sign of Wissawassy’s shop, a hand with an eye at its center, blinking on and off. Hap had never actually met the Omniscient before; she kept to herself and was fond of Thai food delivery, he’d heard. He’d also heard kids refer to her as the Hog Hag of Holopaw, and it seemed the elder townsfolk didn’t have a much higher opinion of her looks. But her abilities were well established, and her word sacrosanct. Hap rang the bell before trying the door, which was open, and found himself in a small foyer hung with thick red curtains. There were two velvet-upholstered chairs facing a table with a deck of tarot cards laid face down. Myrrh incense burned from within a converted garlic baker, sweetening the air. The windows were double-sided, so people could see out but not in. A tall but slender wooden door, from a sailing vessel perhaps, chiseled with carvings and characters Hap imagined were antidotal hexes, led to where Hap did not know. He knocked but no one answered. As he turned to leave, a voice called out: “Hap Ilkarmen, come in.”

So he did.

The room was blue. Everything, the walls, the furniture, the light fixtures. Even the plate the strange woman sitting before him held in one hand, the other dismantling a blueberry muffin above it, was blue. The furs tacked to the walls had been painted blue and blue ornaments hung from a blue chandelier and there was a blue area rug and a blue couch, which Hap took a seat on. The woman alone stood out among the monochromatic scheme—she was a white woman with pure white hair, dressed in a white jumpsuit.

The room was slightly humid and the furs, Hap assumed, were responsible for the slight pungent odor, like wet ferret, clouding his nose. Hap shifted uncomfortably on the couch as the woman finished her lunch. After the last bite, she wadded the moist muffin paper into a ball and deposited it into the back corner of her cheek like a slug of chewing tobacco. Crossing her legs, she braided her fingers over her knee and looked up.

“Do you like that?” she asked.

Hap followed her gaze. A large mirrored ball spun quietly above them. “That?”

“Yes, the ball.”

“I really don’t have an opinion.”

“I feel it adds something to the place. All those little glass mirrors. Each me can be a different me at every turn, you know?”

“I’m sorry, I’ve never—You are…”

“Judy,” she said. “Just call me Judy.”

“Judy, I just need some information. Is Wissawassy the Omniscient around? May I speak with her? I promise it won’t take long.”

“Sure thing, hon,” she said, spitting her muffin dip into a blue paper cup. “Would you mind waiting in the other room while I get her?”

“Of course. Yes ma’am.”

“You know, Hap, not everyone gets to visit this room. You should feel special.”

Caught between standing and sitting, Hap replied, “I do. Absolutely.”

Judy motioned for him to leave. “The Omniscient will be with you momentarily.”

Hap waited in the front room, staring out the window and watching passersby pass by. Un-illuminated, sweetly, insistently dumb to their own mortality, he found their annoyance of the life-giving sun—evidenced by their hats, visors, sunglasses—perverse and hilarious; dew drops on an ear of corn, as he had been until that very morning. He was almost appreciative of the tranquil depression overcoming him. He wished he could maintain this state until after he informed Maria Dosa Ladosa that she’d be a widow long before she’d ever be married. If he could calmly speak to her, then perhaps he could calmly die, as well. The door opened behind him and he turned to greet Judy, but it was not Judy who entered the foyer.

It was the Hog Hag of Holopaw. Moles, countless numbers of them, and skin tags peppering every square inch of her face, as if she’d fallen asleep in a field and the turkey buzzards had pecked at her living flesh. Hair like a bramble of seaweed spun to a springy, cotton-candy-like tornado dropping off to one side. Teeth like a wicked joke. And her eyes, black snakebites in a gang-green wound. It looked as if several people had tried dressing her according to their own fantastically bad tastes and then had given up at all at once together. As if reading his thoughts, the Omniscient’s eyes narrowed.

“Please sit down, Mr. Ilkarmen,” she croaked, extending her hand toward the reading table. Hap obeyed with a polite smile, hiding his sweaty hands.

“Are you Wissawassy?”

“I am the Omniscient,” she confirmed. “The Light in Darkness. The Fortuna of Florida. The Petite Theophany.”

She seated herself in grandiose fashion across the table from him, then dropped the affectation and leaned in. “Petite…ha! Once maybe. They also call me the Dog Ape of Ditchtown, the Butterface Witch, and the Ugliest Woman Alive…Swampzilla.” Holding his stare, she said, “But my favorite is, of course, The Hog Hag of Holopaw.”

“Children can be so cruel,” Hap replied.

“They’re shits. But these I heard from my mailman. He stands outside the soda shop across the way and talks about me with the others,” she said, letting her eyes wander from the window back to him and offering a weak smile. “I can read lips.”

“Larry is a drunk,” Hap offered in sympathy.

The Omniscient nodded and patted his hand appreciatively. “So. You’ve come here with a purpose.”

“No,” said Hap, resigning to his fate. “I came here with no purpose. No life. No anything. I’m going to die.”

“Yes, you are,” the Omniscient replied. “In due time, like every one of us.”

“No. On Saturday,” said Hap. “Twice today it’s been foretold. By Madame Tawnbisawls at the greenhouse. And then by the grocer’s blind daughter this afternoon, right before I drove here to see you.”

The Omniscient’s spoked eyes glistened. “I know.”

“Of course,” said Hap.

“Give me your hands.”

Hap wiped them on his jeans and offered them up. The Omniscient pushed two fingers under his wrists, holding the palms before her at an angle like a drawing board. Then she reached into her shirt and took out her reading glasses and resumed. “Hmm,” she said, pushing into the meat with her thumbs, turning his hands over. “A man of the community. A man with a simple heart. Not to be taken in the ironic sense of Flaubert, mind you, but a man of great spirit and little animosity. Pride in his relationships. Pride in his work. Simple prides like simple syrups.”

Hap couldn’t contain his smirk.

“Ah,” she said, tilting her head to better focus her vision. “A family man?”

“Soon. Or maybe not so.”

“I see,” she said. “And I see…a headache. A hearth. A heartbreak. A harrying. A happenstance…is that how you received your name, may I ask? Were you a happenstance?”

“No, a Happenworth. Family name. If I was a girl they were going to name me Lily.”

The Omniscient laughed out loud. “Parents are the worst kind of luck.” Then she released his hands to the table. She took off her glasses and sat back. “Did you have any more questions?”

“Is that it?”

“I don’t know, is it?”

“Should we maybe do the cards?” he asked, looking over at the tarot deck.

“No need,” she said.

“Am I going to die on Saturday?”

The Omniscient stroked a particularly long hair protruding from a mole on her jaw. “In order for Saturday to happen, Friday must first happen first, correct? And before Friday, tomorrow. And before tomorrow, today must finish. And there are many hours, minutes and seconds that must happen for today to finish. And even those seconds are comprised of milliseconds, which are themselves composed of microseconds. Each unit of time can be halved, and those units halved still, until we find we are standing still, in a place with no time, in a universe comprised of moments occurring simultaneously. If this is true, Mr. Ilkarmen, then you have nothing to worry about. You are both alive and dead and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“But I’m not dead,” said Hap, flexing his fists on the table. “And you are not dead either and what a ridiculous thing to say. Even if this were true, it’s not how I experience life. It’s not how anyone experiences it.”

“But I do, Hap. Past and future is all the same to me. The problem is, I have an awful memory, and so much happens, it’s hard to keep up with. The truth is, the future is made up of as many mundane and boring memories as the past. Just right now I’m remembering I’d forgotten to pack the dishwasher tomorrow. And in my sink there’s ants, ants everywhere, Hap. A little crooked line running to a hole in the panel board behind the faucet and just a mess of ants climbing all over my silverware. I could just kick myself. But as for you, wouldn’t you agree that experience and truth are two separate things?”

“Of course,” said Hap, feeling sorry for his outburst in the company of a respected elder. “I was just looking for an answer to my question.”

“Me too, Hap, me too,” the Omniscient assured him. “But I must read further into a situation in order to remember what will happen to you. I take the clues I’m given, accompanied by an age-respected art,” she said, glancing at his hands, “and try to sort them out. Do you see now why people entrust themselves with me?”

“Yes, I guess so,” said Hap.

“I have to tackle things logically,” she said.

“I guess you do.”

“So let’s continue,” said the Omniscient. “Logically. Have you thought about running away? Just packing what you can grab and blowing town?”

Hap admitted that he had, almost immediately, upon hearing the news.

“Why haven’t you then?”

This was a tough question. There were many things to accomplish before he left. Putting the family farm up on the market, writing out his will, selling his business, explaining the situation to his fiancé. If he were to simply leave, the people that relied upon him most, the workers he employed, the Festival Director, not to mention Dosa, would be left alone to bear the brunt of his responsibilities, and Hap couldn’t live with that, no matter how far he ran. But then again, he’d still be alive.

“So then you believe you have a choice, to stay or go?” asked the Omniscient.

“Even though it might hurt the others, I think, deep down, I’m going to have to leave them,” he said, lowering his head.

“Maybe I can help you with your troubles, Hap. Consider this. Let’s say you have a choice in whether you will live or die. Let’s agree that if you choose to stay, you will die on Saturday. But if you choose to leave, then you will not die on Saturday.”

“I should leave,” said Hap plainly. “I choose not to die.”

The Omniscient held up a finger, one eye slightly closed, asking for his consideration. “So let’s say Saturday comes, and you do not die. That means that today, you really did not have it in your power to choose to die, because whatever you did, it resulted in you not dying. But let’s say Saturday comes, and you die. That means that today, you really didn’t have the power to choose to not to die. In either case, you never had a real choice in the matter. All the choices you could have made today eventually led you to what happens on Saturday. You are powerless to fate.”

“What’s going to happen is what’s going to happen,” said Happenworth.

The Omniscient’s green eyes flared like torches. “The ants are in the kitchen, Hap. They are leaving a trail that tells the others where to find the jam, just as I’m sure out there,” she said, motioning toward the window, “your name is being whispered behind the walls of a hundred households. They have already begun to mourn you, Hap. Events are being planned in your honor. The process has begun.”

“Can you help me?”

“You ask as if I have some power to do so, Hap. But I have none. On Saturday, on the street behind you, you will be run down in broad daylight, in front of the people you love and care for, and who love and care for you.”

Hap controlled his impulse to weep right there at the table and instead felt around his pockets for his wallet, remembering then he had no cash left with which to pay Wissawassy for her services. “I can’t pay you,” he said.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Mr. Ilkarmen,” the Omniscient countered, reaching into a nearby cabinet to withdraw an old-fashioned sliding credit card reader. “Our debts are our debts.”

As he signed the paper receipt, she added, “Make your peace, Hap.” She ripped off the yellow copy and handed it to him. “I have faith in you. One way or another, I know you’ll do right by your community.”

“I’ll try,” he said, rising. “And please, thank Judy for her hospitality.”

The Omniscient gave him a queer look. “Judy? My sister Judy? Why, Mr. Ilkarmen, she’s been dead for years now. Or will be dead. Ha!” She tapped her head. “Senior moments.”

Hap couldn’t be sure what the Omniscient spit into her palm as he opened the front door to leave, looking back, but he was sure that it was blue.

Back on the sidewalk Hap stood staring at himself in the two-way mirror of the Omniscient’s shop, wondering if she was looking back at him, and whether she was dead or alive in there, or both.