This was a lucky day. I knew as I waited for the elevator.
I got The Tingle.
I felt it in the pit of my belly as the sun parted steam clouds boiling off the building roofs that hemmed in my Brooklyn condo. On the ride down, The Tingle radiated to my toes and fingertips. It peaked as the elevator thumped into the lobby and I danced my way off.
“Whoa there, Miss Karen,” Antoine said tipping his cap. “You’re mighty charged up for a chilly Monday.”
I beamed at him. “Gonna be a good day, Antoine.”
“Right you are, then. Say it and make it so.”
He tripped the revolving door and I glided through.
Antoine had been my first in the city. Lung cancer from decades of inhaling Marlboros. Gone now. Total remission. An uncanny stroke of luck the oncologists couldn’t explain.
Across the street at the Palermo Bakery I squeezed through customers standing three-deep and caught Mario’s eye. He paused long enough to wave before he resumed shoving pastries into a jumbo carry-out sack.
While a woman signed for her purchase, he raised an eyebrow at me.
“Usual, Miss Karen?”
“Actually, I feel like a chocolate croissant today, Mario. If you’ve any left.”
He looked pained but somehow managed to produce one along with my large chai tea in between serving the next customers. I piled bills on the counter and squirted back out the door.
Another one of my saves. Approaching bankruptcy last year, Mario was about to shutter his family shop when business suddenly got good. Actually, it exploded. Hadn’t slowed since.
The Tingle followed me up the street to the bus stop. I must have touched twenty people at Mario’s and another dozen on the crowded sidewalk. Yet there it stayed, teasing me with its electric warmth while I waited for the bus.
When I was little, Mama worried her baby girl had been born with a cursed stomach. Doctors couldn’t figure out my tingling sensation, which came suddenly and left just as abruptly. Pills, rubs, diets and other more dreadful treatments didn’t prevent it. I reached puberty before I learned how to banish the feeling.
Three doors down from us at the time, Jimmy Fletcher lived. I was crazy about him and his zany freckle patterns topped by a shaggy orange mop. He was my Muppet and I his Princess. I swear we could never play enough together.
Jimmy’s dad didn’t see things the same way. To him, Jimmy, Jimmy’s younger sister and their mom were red-haired punching bags. They always sported bruises and cuts from accidents that weren’t accidental. Everyone knew the truth. Everybody ignored it.
It made me furious. I wanted to do something but Jimmy wouldn’t let me. He said it was his problem, not mine.
One night after dinner I took Jimmy a cupcake. It had lots of sprinkles thanks to the extra ones I’d poured on. Walking carefully to Jimmy’s back yard, I got The Tingle. But I almost forgot about it when I spotted him. My beautiful Muppet had two black eyes, dark, purpled and swollen half shut. I was so angry I didn’t know what to say.
He thanked me, told me he always liked me. Said goodbye. Whispered it was time. Finally. Our hands brushed as he took the cupcake.
The Tingle vanished.
Jimmy wobbled through his back door. I waited, hardly daring to breathe. As darkness settled in, Junebugs dinged the porch light globe in doomed futility: ping, ping.
Just like Jimmy. Hopeless. Doomed.
His dad bellowed right before a shotgun roared. Then came screaming. Sirens too. At last the truth had summoned lots of those.
Days later my beautiful Muppet moved away forever. Not doomed. Alive and free. Finally.
From that moment, I swore never to tell anyone what I had. And I haven’t.
The Tingle persisted through the bus ride. As I stepped down to the curb, someone shoved my back. Tea and croissant went flying.
“I’m so sorry,” a woman wailed. “I caught my heel. Are you okay?”
The Tingle was gone.
I looked at her panic-stricken face. “Never better.”
“Let me buy you another,” the woman pleaded just as her coat pocket blared the James Bond theme.
“No worries. Really. You better get that,” I said, smiling as I turned away.
The bus roared off. I tossed out my ruined breakfast and caught snatches of the woman’s conversation.
“… can’t believe you called… been so long… have to get together….”
A dear relative? Long lost lover? Close childhood friend perhaps?
Heading toward my office, my flats practically bounced down the sidewalk.
Someone tapped my arm. “Excuse me… hey!”
A goth girl sporting piercings, chains and a pasty white face framed by khol-encrusted eyes poked me again.
“I saw what you did,” she said. “I know what you are.”
“That woman.” She shrugged her head back towards the bus stop. “Watch what happens next.”
The lady still chattered into her phone, oblivious to the crowd milling around her. Including a silver-haired man in a trench coat, who brushed rudely by her. She spun in a circle, choosing that moment to step into the street.
Just as the next bus arrived.
Brakes squealed. Someone bellowed. I squeezed my eyes shut. No good. I still heard the sickening thud. Then screaming. Sirens soon to follow. Summoned, but by what truth?
“Nice and quick,” Goth Girl said. “They aren’t always.”
Once again I found myself speechless, this time in utter disbelief.
“Thought you were special, didn’t you?” she asked. “So sorry. The man in the coat, he’s like you. Except opposite.”
“Actually, that’s confusing,” she said. “Turns out he’s exactly like me. So you’re not so special after all. Well, guess we’ll be seeing you around. Maybe.”
My eyes shot open.
As Goth Girl strolled away from the accident scene, she smirked back at me.
“Maybe not. Truth is… just not your lucky day.”
In the micro-slices of free time permitted by his high-tech job, Todd Thorne tries to be a decent family man and a writer of dark, disturbing tales.