When I was six, I had a vision that my eight-year-old sister, Nancy, was sitting at the back of a city bus, coughing while trying to put rouge on her cheeks. I knew it wasn’t a dream because I was awake when it happened, sitting at the kitchen table and colouring in a picture book. Then it felt like a movie had started in my head.
I told my mother that Nancy was going to get sick on a bus and start wearing makeup. She took Nancy to the doctor’s office, and the doctor told her that my sister had a rare kind of tetanus and that she could’ve died if it hadn’t been discovered. My mother was so happy that she gave me a chocolate eclair.
When I was eleven, I had a vision that God, who wore a blue bathrobe, would try to kill my father with a baseball bat. He chased him all over the field in an empty stadium. I told my father to stay out of the way of anything heavy in case God wanted to hit him. A week later, during a thunderstorm, lightning struck a tree next to our house and it fell over onto Dad’s Cavalier sedan, crushing it. Dad called me lucky and gave me a goldfish.
When I was sixteen, I had a vision of myself after graduating from high school—I was wearing something like a nurse’s uniform and sitting in a coffee shop. I was telling someone else about my job, where I could help people who really needed me—poor people with unpaid bills, crooked teeth, and no medical coverage, other poor people who stuttered. In the coffee shop, I could hear children crying at another table and knew that I could help them, too. Afterward, I knew I had to do whatever was asked of me by whoever had sent me the visions. I suspected that wasn’t God, because as far as I understood His actions, He had something against us.
Graduation came and went. Six months passed and there were no more visions, and I wasn’t so sure of my direction. I grew tired of waiting, but I didn’t have anything else to do—I didn’t expect to need anything else to do.
When I turned nineteen, I started working full-time in one of my father’s dry cleaning stores—he has three. It was O.K., because that’s a way of helping people, too. Some nights I would go home and my eyes would feel like they were burning, and I would have migraine headaches that felt like someone was trying to press a dime through the top of my head. I ate chocolate eclairs and gained weight.
My fourth vision came when I was twenty-three. The vision began with a title card like in a silent movie. It read: “A VISION IN TWO PARTS.” The first part was that I would soon have a lot of money and a very nice red car. I wouldn’t have to work in the dry cleaning store, I wouldn’t have headaches, I would stop eating eclairs. The second part was that a space shuttle would explode while it was taking off in Florida. All the astronauts would die because something went wrong with something called a C-ring. After the explosion, people who had watched it happen on TV would feel guilty because they wouldn’t feel as sad as they were the first time a space shuttle exploded.
I wanted to tell someone about the C-ring, but the telephone operator refused to give me a number for the space shuttle people. Two days later, the shuttle blew up.
The day after that, the operator who had refused to help me called and asked how I knew about the C-ring. “Are you a rocket scientist? ” she asked. I found that funny because that’s what Dad would call Nancy and I when we did something really dumb. But she meant it for real.
I told the operator, “No, I just knew that it would happen. I saw it. I can’t tell you how.”
The operator told me her name was Doris, and that she was interested in meeting people like me, people who saw things. She was starting a company that would help people by telling them their futures over the telephone.
Doris thought that people needed special help, and that people didn’t like going to people who were wrapped in sheets. “They always smell like gypsies and there’s never any parking,” she said. Instead, they could phone one of her “super psychic ladies” and, in return for a few dollars a minute, they could get a highly accurate description of events to come.
Mostly, she said, callers wanted to know about romance—problems with boyfriends, husbands, or both. Doris said the company was just starting and she needed a few more ladies. It sounded like I was qualified.
I don’t want you to think that I’m a liar or a bad person, because I never once cheated in school and never kept anything important from my mother and father. I would never deliberately hurt their feelings, or anyone else’s. On the phone that afternoon with Doris, I thought this was what the vision said I should do, and that this would allow me to use my gift. I didn’t have to wait for something to happen any more. I was going to have a car of my own. I had only had four visions in my life, and I had no control over them, but I was confident that this was the thing to do.
I told Doris that, yes, I would take the job. Then I went out and bought myself the sort of dress that I thought a super psychic lady would wear.
The office of PresciEnterprise Inc. was far away in an industrial park in the suburbs—one subway ride and two buses from home. I liked it because the walls were painted the colour fuchsia, and it didn’t smell like cleaning fluid. I had a desk, a telephone, and a book to write down the names of my callers. The phone number was 1-900-FUTURE-U, and my operator number was 514.
At the desk next to mine was a woman who said her name was Carolyn before I even asked.
“Your eyes are so nice,” I said, because they were such a brilliant shade of green.
She thanked me and said that lots of women in this kind of work had green eyes. “Brown eyes like yours mean you’re sensitive, too,” she said.
I thought she might’ve been teasing me, but her smile was warm.
I had no regular callers yet, and I was too nervous to ask how I was supposed to attract any, so I spent the first few days watching Carolyn talk on the phone. People seemed to like what she had to say, even when her news wasn’t good news, which was most of the time. One woman had to cope with the news her husband was cheating on her with her brother. Another was told that her daughter would be in an accident that would leave her with permanent injuries, but that she would still be a lovely piano player. “So you see,” Carolyn told the mother, “it’s not a waste to pay for her lessons.”
It wasn’t smart for Carolyn’s callers to have pets or favourite aunts, because they were always about to die. Carolyn would cry after a call like that, but she couldn’t do it for as long as she wanted to. Doris told her that crying slowed down the working day and didn’t do anyone any good. Carolyn told me that to avoid trouble from Doris, I should learn to keep my feelings to myself.
At lunchtime on my first day, I asked Carolyn how she could tell the future. She told me that there was a lucky stone in her pocket that spoke in a voice she could hear in her mind.
“I found this stone in a sandbox at school when I was a very little girl,” she said. “And I just knew that I’d been waiting for it—you know those feelings you have, and you can’t even remember when or why you first felt them? Anyway, I just put it in my pocket and kept it there ever since. But it’s not like I told anyone about it when I was at school. It’d be embarrassing to tell other kids that you have a talking rock.”
When Carolyn was a teenager, things got bad in her house—her father lost his job and he spent all his time and money gambling. The family needed money, so Carolyn told her father that she had been studying horse racing in her spare time, and that she could pick winners. To her father’s surprise, she was right. But he spent the winnings not on stuff the family needed, but on a speedboat.
“And then,” she said, while stirring a sugar into her coffee, “he tried to loan me out to his buddies as a ‘consultant.’ It was so weird. I had to break up with my first boyfriend because I couldn’t explain to him why all these old men kept calling me. All the while, the stone was complaining, being a real whiner, you know? It’s always been sensitive, but this was too much. I got worried because the stone was starting to pick the wrong horses—on purpose, I’m pretty sure. Then I noticed that there was another voice in my head, except this voice was higher than the stone’s. I thought I was really going crazy. And then I realized a bracelet was talking to me.”
Fearing for her sanity, Carolyn stopped worrying about the horse track. She went to school to become an accountant, but lost interest and dropped out. A few years later, she read an ad that Doris had placed in a magazine, and now was trying to be a super psychic lady. The stone was happy with the work so far, and, Carolyn said, smiling at her joke, “I lost the bracelet a long time ago.”
After lunch we went back to the phones. Carolyn was very good, very calm. I couldn’t do what she did. I got flustered, I mumbled, I had no visions, and the callers got angry.
On my fourth call I became so upset that I began to cry, and then became more upset because I tried to hide my sobs from Doris. When the caller asked why I was crying, I told her it was because her favourite uncle would become very sick with pink eye or pneumonia.
“That’s very strange,” said the caller, “because I don’t have an uncle. I have an aunt, but she lives in Hawaii.” She paused for a long time. “Maybe this uncle you’re talking about is a symbol for someone else, someone who assumes an uncle-like role in my life.”
I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but I told her that that was exactly what I meant.
Eventually, I noticed that all the callers wanted to suggest things like that when I was wrong. From time to time, a caller would wonder why I was always so short of the “ninety-nine per cent” accuracy that was guaranteed in Doris’s advertisements, and why was she paying for this. I said that my powers were too acute, that I knew so many futures that I couldn’t keep them straight. The caller would ponder this and then realize that that must be the case.
Someone in the office had been handing out articles about some psychic ladies who had formed a union at a company in California. People were unhappy to hear about this, so the super psychic ladies—there were fifteen in all—held a meeting at Carolyn’s house. Everyone decided it was a good idea to ask for raises and health benefits if we were to continue working for PresciEnterprise.
“The situation here is totally unreasonable,” said Carolyn. “We all know Doris is making a serious amount of money from our efforts.”
Darla, a super psychic lady I would often have lunch with, looked very concerned. “I have tension headaches so bad I can’t even drive any more and I need a second job to make enough money for rent. I want to be a model, but I can’t afford to see a dentist. Look how crooked my teeth are.”
We all looked.
“Last night, I dreamt that Doris had a purse that overflowed with one-hundred-dollar bills,” said Rolonda, another lady. “The bills kept spewing out like it was a volcano erupting. It made me feel terrible. I couldn’t get back to sleep.”
Jody, a lady I’d never met because she worked an overnight shift, claimed that Doris didn’t even keep the money in her bank, but in a bathtub in her basement. The thought of Doris bathing in that money—our money, my money—made me angry. It was a struggle to make payments on my red Hyundai.
“I think that this is awful and that Doris is a terrible, terrible person,” I said. “But I don’t know where else I could work. What are we supposed to do? ”
“Strike,” said Carolyn, and all the other ladies cheered.
We agreed that a list of demands should be presented to Doris. Irene wrote it because she had the best handwriting. Then we signed our names.
I watched Carolyn and Darla give the list to Doris the next morning. Doris didn’t show any expression—she just took the paper, glanced down at it, returned to her office and stayed there the rest of the day. My shift ended and I left before she came out.
The next morning, I took the subway, then the two buses to get to PresciEnterprise. When I arrived, most of the psychic ladies were standing outside. At first I thought that there was a walkout, like Darla said might happen right away—I was upset because nobody called to tell me. But then I saw Carolyn tugging at a padlock on the office door and some of the ladies were crying.
There was a note on company letterhead on the front door:
Effective immediately, the Denver office of PresciEnterprise Inc. has been closed, pending a transfer to Kuala Lumpur. Management would like to thank the personnel for all of their efforts, and for making this next step in PresciEnterprise’s evolution possible. Employees listed below are encouraged to reapply for positions available—please join us on this adventure! Applications are to be made in person to the Kuala Lumpur branch at 1014 Dang Khot Road in Kuala Lumpur between 1 and 3 P.M. local time on October 1st.
I was confused by the foreign place names. “Have we been fired? ” I asked.
“As far as I can tell, yes,” said Carolyn. Then she started to cry.
I went home. When I told my mother that the office had moved, she said that I should try to go to Malaysia, too. Then I told her how far away it was and she said it was O.K. for me to take a little time between jobs.
But it wasn’t long. A few weeks later I was in a coffee shop and I met a man in the lineup. He was friendly. I told him that I had just lost my job at a phone company. He said that he needed someone to work as a hostess in his restaurant. I said yes.
It turned out to be O.K. I help people there, too, except most people have straight, nice teeth, and I don’t have to lie to them. My father thinks the work suits me. He helped me find my own apartment, one close to work so I didn’t need a car.
A while after I started, Carolyn came in the restaurant with a very handsome man. She was happy to see me—she said that she really enjoyed working with me and told the man that I was sensitive and talented. I didn’t feel like telling her that I really wasn’t much of a super psychic lady, because it would have been awkward. I asked her if she still did readings and she said, no, not professionally. She was now taking a course to become a realtor, because the stone had expressed an interest.
I asked Carolyn about that day when Doris fired everyone, and how that made her feel. “I was just so surprised,” she said. “Shocked, too. I guess she knew we couldn’t sue because we were all on contract. Still, I could not believe that that nasty, horrible woman would take all of that away from us, all that we did. We gave so many people so much help, and I’m worried about what’ll happen to my callers without me.
“What’s worse,” she continued, looking more sad than angry, “is how little it must’ve meant to Doris. For her to close the office because she could make a little bit more money in a country where the workers are so oppressed and miserable and can’t expect more than a few pennies an hour to do really hard mental work like this…that’s so heartless. And I didn’t even see it coming.”
I thought that was a pretty funny thing for a former super psychic lady to say, but I didn’t tell her so.
When I was thirty, I had my fifth vision. A red telephone sat on a little black desk on a beach—the sky overhead was grey and miserable. The phone was ringing. In the water beyond the desk, I could see big seals poking their heads up and imitating the rings with their barks.
Then a figure came running along the beach, just at the water’s edge. As it got closer, I could see that it was me, in a nice green pantsuit. But when I was just a few feet away from the desk, I tripped on a rock and fell into the desk, knocking the telephone into the sand. I stood up and rubbed the spot on my forehead where I hit the desk. The telephone tumbled over again, and then started to blow down the beach as if it were a scrap of newspaper.
The seals kept barking as I heard a man’s voice behind me say, “Oh, that was just terrible! You people are pathetic. And those seals really are the worst I’ve ever seen. Can we get some new seals in here? ”