If By Chance

Man Holding A Watch In The Hands Before To Put It On. Stock Image - Image  of black, human: 99245885

This is all absolutely true.

Many years ago a friend of mine gave me a present of a visit to a fortune teller in Virginia Beach. I’d never been to one and wasn’t going to diss the idea since I agreed with Jung who said he would “not commit the fashionable stupidity as regarding everything I can’t explain as fraud,” but she had been to one and said I just had to go, so she arranged for me to see this woman. I agreed because our friendship was already solidified by what we both decided had to be fate, that is, it was only a friendship but one which repeatedly was thrown together against odds.

I met Linda first at a CVS in Massachusetts when I lived there, and another friend passing through stopped and needed to buy items at a drug store. While she looked around I talked to the clerk who only later I realized must have thought I was hitting on her while who she thought was my girlfriend, who wasn’t, was down another isle. I left thinking how rude CVS clerks were. A few years later My friend Richard and I were at The Beamen Tavern in the same town having a beer when a server brought us popcorn and she looked familiar. Yeah, it was the same Linda and we laughed at the CVS incident, which she remembered. Anyway, end of that chapter. I moved to Pennsylvania; years pass. I move to Virginia Beach; years and years pass.

I returned from a trip to Russia and a local newspaper sent a reporter to do a story about my teaching at the university in St Petersburg. We were fifteen minutes into the interview in my office when I said she looked familiar and I asked where she was from, and it was indeed the rude CVS, popcorn delivering girl. We laughed and talked about Massachusetts and what she was doing in Virginia Beach (military fiancé) and she left and said we’d have to get coffee sometime and we didn’t; years pass.

My officemate Tom and I were standing in a hallway at Old Dominion University waiting for our first MFA class in creative writing and I read a poster on the wall about the ODU crew team. I said that the last time I had seen a crew team is when I would go for Saturday walks “along the Chuck,” knowing Tom would get the reference since he, too, had once lived near Boston. A woman behind him turned around and said, “You guys must be from Boston; no one else would know to call The Charles River “the Chuck.”

It was the rude CVS, popcorn delivering, newspaper reporter woman from West Boylston, Massachusetts—Linda. This time we had coffee. We got along tremendously and we laughed at the thin line between coincidence and serendipity, and I pointed out that Georges Braque said that the only valuable things in life are those we can’t explain, and a year or two later, just before moving back to Massachusetts for good and getting married, she told me she had been to a fortune teller at the Beach who nailed so much of this and I just had to go so she bought for me a gift certificate and made an appointment.

So I went. This woman’s place was like something out of a Gary Larson cartoon: beads everywhere, candles, a robust woman with a long, flowing serape and bouffant hair, and fat, fake pearls around her healthy neck. Pleasant and calm, she certainly carried an air of confidence about her duties as a soothsayer.

We sat and she asked for something of mine I was wearing so I gave her my watch. “This was given to you by a woman, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said and thought that was a truly safe guess. Not a lot of guys give watches to other guys unless they’re partners or fathers, and that narrows the chances down considerably.

She tightly closed her eyes and held the watch in both hands, caressing it, petting it, and said, “You have lived up North, haven’t you?” I let out a laugh. I didn’t mean to, but I thought, Oh, come on! Not a single person in the south can’t peg my voice and demeanor as from somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon line, but instead simply said, “Why yes!”

“You live near water,” she said.

“Excuse me,” I replied, and she opened her eyes. “We’re in Virginia Beach. I don’t mean to be rude, but we all live near water.” She smiled and agreed these were easy, predictable guesses but she needs to “crossover” to my “happening.” I said of course and thought I no longer wanted to be friends with Linda.

“There’s a woman from your past who is present again or trying to reach you. Someone you haven’t seen since you lived up north.”

Don’t get ahead of me on this one; yes, I also assumed she would know from the gift certificate that Linda bought it for me and had perhaps clued her in, though both women insisted no such verbal transaction occurred.

“You teach, don’t you? Adults.”


“There’s a man in your life.” She hesitated a bit. “No. A boy. A son.”


She ran through several other kind of creepily close assessments of my life, and I remembered that Euripides said that no one is truly free since we are all slaves to fortune, but I decidedly disagreed even though this prognosticator moved close enough to more specific references for me to believe she definitely picked up something or should at the very least be at a Black Jack table in Vegas. Then she asked if I had any questions.

I asked if I’d always be teaching college and if I’d be successful as a writer and if I needed new brakes on the car, and her answers were positive and vague, though declared with confidence. She gave me a fifty percent off coupon for a second visit.

In my car I had four of five messages from Linda all basically asking why I hadn’t called her yet to tell her what happened. I called.

“How’d it go? Isn’t she amazing!?”

“It went well; I need new brakes.”

“Come on, Bob! What’d she say??”

I summed it up for her pretty well and said I had a good time and glad that I did that, which was true, and that I appreciated her setting this up for me. Then added, “But when she told me someone from my past is back in my life or trying to reach me, someone from up north, I knew you guys had talked.”

“BOB! I swear to you, I never gave a hint. I just asked for a certificate and that was it!” I believed her, but between my New York accent walking through the door with a gift certificate just days after someone with a Massachusetts accent had purchased a gift certificate, I’m thinking said psychic threw us together pretty readily.

“Seriously, Linda, that was fun, and close enough to make me want to think about going to one again. That was a great experience, though I was hoping to hear some cool predictions!” Linda laughed and agreed. Then she moved back to New England and I haven’t seen her since, though I’m sure in some strange land somewhere I’ll be ordering a meal and she and her family will be at the next table. It’s how some lives cross paths sometimes, beautifully hopeful and tragically rare.

This place was just around the corner from my parents’ home so I stopped by. Mom and I sat at the kitchen table talking and we laughed about the “coincidences” and the woman fingering my watch like some talisman telling stories about my life. Dad was on the porch and came in as we were laughing.

“Well, hello,” he said, just realizing I had stopped by.

“Hi Dad, sorry but I have to go. Just stopped by fast since I was around the corner.”

“Don’t stay so long next time,” he quipped, and I headed for the door.

“Oh, Robert,” he called after me. “You got a call here yesterday from someone. She said she didn’t know how else to reach you after so many years.”

All of it, perfectly true.

I fingered my watch and walked to the car.

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