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The Third Kind of Prophecy

We rang in the new year at Jessie's, jam-packed with a dozen of our old crowd and two bar carts. I'd had a Manhattan and a gin martini by the time we flipped on the TV for the countdown. By that point, my social reserves were spent. I lingered by the snack table, staying quiet so I wouldn't spout nonsense the way I tend to do when drinking. You were the one who pulled me to the bar cart to make sure I had a drink at midnight.
"You've had a couple in this already, right?" Jessie asked, taking my glass. "Doesn't work otherwise. It needs your backwash."
I winced and handed over my glass. This was the special cocktail, the one that only worked at New Year's, the one that brought a dream showing the year to come. The recipe was from Jessie's great aunt, who allegedly picked up witchcraft after retiring from her hotel receptionist job.
Before the new year was five minutes old I'd downed the whole thing, too tired to linger. My lipstick had smudged on the back of my hand from suppressing yawns. You'd taken off your heels by that point and seemed grateful when I suggested we share a cab. It stopped at your building first, and you wished me sweet dreams.
I fell from one event to another through a series of subway grates. More than once, among throngs of strangers, I saw my own face looking cheerless and resigned.
When I woke I scribbled down everything I remembered about the dream. My hangover and the strange dream-logic made this difficult, and I could feel details slipping away like morning fog vanishing in the sun. I drew lines, dividing the page into three sections labeled "good," "bad," and "to be determined." Then I crumpled the whole thing up.
I would quit one job for another, acquire a cat, count ceiling tiles from a hospital bed, trace an old scar along the collarbone of a new lover, and convulse with sobs at a funeral. I would lose the lover, the job, and an old friendship. I would move to a new apartment that didn't allow cats.
The year stretched out ahead like an icy road. I didn't like it. I didn't want it.
Three weeks later, I saw you at the deli. I was texting my grandfather when you tapped me on the shoulder.
"How's your year going so far?" you asked.
I deflected. I'd just received a rejection from my top graduate school. But you had a new haircut, a glow in your cheeks, and a dry-clean-only shirt. You rambled a bit about making changes and setting goals.
"I'm a walking cliche, I know."
"The simple magic of a new calendar."
Magic. I read in your face that you did not want to talk about the cocktail dream, though you were thinking about it, and I watched you read the same message in mine.
I've read enough stories to notice that there are two kinds of prophecies: warnings and inevitabilities. Altered choices might forestall the warnings, but inevitabilities will simply arrive by a different route. They are stubborn, like a traveler who rents a car when her flight is canceled and hitchhikes when the car breaks down. No one knows which kind of prophecy they've received until it's come to pass.
I adopted a dog and began nagging my grandfather to remember to take his meds.
In March, when I saw you next, your leg was in traction. The table at the end of the hospital bed held a basket of peace lilies with a card from your mom in Oregon.
"She sent that because she's not coming," you said, your voice even. "I don't have anyone. None of my family lives in this time zone. I was hoping you could feed my cat for me."
"Of course. When did you get a cat?"
"Last month. Foster fail. Maybe you can play with her? I don't know how she'll react, being alone."
A small fear crept into my mind: that this was how I would end up with the cat, that the whole dream was an inevitability after all. You stared at the ceiling. I pretended I didn't notice you trying not to cry.
"Sure, no problem," I said. "What happened?"
"Freak thing. Sidewalk grate came loose as I stepped on it. There was another grate below, and that one held. I'm lucky, except for how I landed. Fractured in three places, can you imagine?"
The fear grew larger now and took a different shape. I imagined how it must have happened on New Year's Eve: reaching without looking for my glass from the cart where you'd set yours down too. Drinking quickly without thinking to notice the shade of the lipstick on the edge of it. If I dreamed yours, then you dreamed mine.
"Hey," I said. "Do you remember Jessie's cocktail, at New Year's? The dream?"
"Oh, that. What trash. If I dreamed anything, I didn't remember it."
You were lying. I could tell. You knew my future, you just hadn't yet worked out that it was mine. I picked a yellowed leaf off the peace lily and considered the possibilities.
There's a third kind of prophecy, then: the one people choose not to know, and the story they make up in its place. Maybe the prophecy comes true anyway. Maybe it only has power if it has an audience. Maybe your cat and fractured leg were random facts to which I was assigning undue weight.
"Yeah," I said. "Same here."
You reached out for my hand and squeezed it. I started a mental list of the things that I'd never tell you and tried not to wonder about the things I hoped, mostly, that you'd never tell me. We let the quiet stay with us for a while, punctuated by the ticking of the clock on the wall.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 1st, 2022
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