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Duets: excerpt


Where Fairy Godmothers come from is not the issue here. For the first thirty-four years of Linda’s life, hers never showed; until now she’d not been needed. Still, a personal Fairy Godmother sitting down beside her on the 9:02 shouldn’t take Linda by surprise: every day she rubs shoulders with people who make things happen.

The FG, one of those women of indeterminate age, a mature thirty-nine or face-lifted fifty-seven, surely a character actress of with great range had she chosen theater as her profession, wore a brown wool coat, open, and a pink sweater covering a matron’s bosom. The coat, cut according to fashion rules half a dozen seasons ago, just escaped judgement from twenty-nine fellow travellers. Fifteen glances had fallen on her over-stuffed carpetbag, a relic so antique, so idiosyncratic, could it be chic? But two minutes out of Edgenarrow, once more preparing to bring greatness to their commerce, fifty-eight eyes were lost in the Journal, the Post, the Times, and two hundred ninety fingers smudged the newsprint.

A thirtieth head turned to its neighbor person. “How do you do, my dear. I’m Mrs. Boucket.”

Linda, musing about an apartment in the city to avoid this daily commute, looked for the first time at the woman beside her. “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

“Oh no. That is, not precisely. But you did summon me.”

“I’m sure I didn’t.”

“Oh yes, dear. On several occasions. The last time, let me see” With some difficulty she unzipped the top of her bag: clothing, files, a couple of paperbacks. She pulled out a small notebook, leaved through. “Three weeks ago Tuesday.”

Very softly Linda laughed. “Faster than the plumber.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Nothing, never mind. Look, you must have me confused with someone else.”

“Oh no, I don’t think so. You are Linda B, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I don’t think I–” Linda stopped. Twenty or so eyes had turned from their papers. A rare thing, conversation on the 9:02.

“Well, Linda, there we are then.” Mrs. Boucket replaced the notebook, struggled to draw the zipper closed. “Do you mind holding the sides together while I do this?”

Linda, wearing a straight black skirt and tight jacket, would have preferred not to. But the woman’s struggled called for help. Linda bent, felt the blouse at her waist pull loose, squeezed; together they succeeded. Pulling back to her seat she brushed her leg against the corner of her attaché case, and felt the nylon of her stocking snag. Damn; yes, on the right calf, a little hole. And a meeting at ten, no time to buy new ones. She felt dishevelled, now would have to rush, a foggy humid day. She scowled, fingered the little tear to make sure Mrs. Boucket saw, then sat back and picked up the newspaper.

“I’m sorry, my dear. But I think I can make it up to you. Now, am I right, you don’t remember bidding me to help you?”

Linda took charge.”Mrs. Boucket, please. I have a long day before me and I’d like to read my–“

“Yes yes dear, in just a minute if you want. But I have my job too. Now then. I’ll tell you who I am. I’m your Fairy Godmother here to offer you a contract.”

“Mrs. Boucket–“

“I know, it’s hard to believe. But truly, you have been asking for me. I’ve been quiet busy, these terrible last days with the Market you know, people are in a truly awful state. Well, we have to set our priorities, just too much work, and my heart isn’t what it used to be.” She sighed, and shook her head.

Linda concentrated on the chess problem. She didn’t play.

“At any rate, here I am, and you have three wishes. Anything you want, my dear.”

Linda ignored her.

“You’ll have to tell me before we reach the city. Thereafter the offer becomes void.”

Linda stared at her horoscope: Romance takes on significant overtones. Beware of strangers. Don’t let small annoyances aggravate you.

“And this offer won’t be repeated.”

Linda, by necessity unaware of the enchanting possibilities the future might bring, shook her head, turned to Mrs. Boucket who held, how curious, a pen; prepared to take notes, but no paper? She squeezed her eyes shut. “I wish you’d go–” Linda’s eyes blinked open. “–away.”

And Mrs. Boucket was gone.