n what must have been her hundredth circle through town, Cora finally spotted Juliette walking fast and coatless along the main street, only a block from home. Leaning heavily on her horn, Cora squealed around in a u-turn and jerked the car into park right in the middle of the street — there was no one else on the road at this hour anyway, if you didn’t count the fire trucks that had sped, sirens screaming, by — and jumped out, engine still running.
“Where in hell did you go?” Cora shouted, torn between grabbing Juliette by the shoulders to shake her and throwing her arms in gratitude around the girl. She’d been terrified that Juliette had run away, or worse. Trolling the town, beaming her headlights everywhere she’d hidden out as a teenager: the alleys between the bath houses, the supermarket parking lot, the old gazebo. But there’d been no trace of Juliette.
Now the girl only shrugged. “I had to get out of that pigsty,” she said, in French. “I’m surprised you even noticed I was gone.”
“Of course I noticed you were gone. You scared me half to death.” Cora sniffed, the scent of smoke unmistakable in the crisp pre-dawn air.
“Have you been smoking?” she asked her daughter, taking the girl’s arm and leaning in for a better smell. “Or have you been in a bar somewhere?”
“I haven’t been doing anything,” said Juliette, pulling away. “Can we please go home to bed now?”
Cora was about to relent, more from her own exhaustion than from giving up on trying to figure out what was going on with Juliette, when she heard footsteps on the pavement. Who else would be out at this hour?
Through the darkness emerged a pale puffy face, a nimbus of long frizzy white-blonde hair, a large body wearing an even larger white nightgown and, improbably, a truly enormous pair of fireman’s galoshes.
“Jesus,” said Jimmie Sue Fallon, huffing to a stop beside them. “You sure gave me a run there, young lady.”
Juliette’s eyes were wild — she looked just, Cora thought, flashing on George, like a frightened horse — as she turned her head away, straining toward home.
“Jimmie Sue,” said Cora. Odd that she would call Jimmie Sue soon after she found her father passed out, as she was waiting for George to show up, and then encounter her here on the street in the middle of the night, wearing her nightgown no less. “What’s going on?”
“I figured this was your girl,” said Jimmie Sue, “what with her talking French and all.”
“What is it?” Cora said. “Juliette, can you tell me what Ms. Fallon is talking about?”
“I thought she mighta seen something,” Jimmie Sue said. “About what happened to my place. You musta heard the sirens, Cora. That was my place burning down.”
“Oh, Jimmie Sue,” said Cora, “I’m so sorry.”
The Futureama was as much an institution in Hot Springs as the MAL, as the bath houses and the springs themselves.
“I don’t give a snake’s patooty about the Goddang building,” said the fortune teller. “Place is worth more burned down than it was standing anyway, truth be told. It’s my cards that are irreplaceable. That’s what really has me steamed.”
Jimmie Sue looked hard at Juliette, who would not meet the old woman’s eye.
“Juliette, do you know anything about this?” asked Cora. “Did you see anyone on the street? Near Jimmie Sue’s place?”
Juliette shook her head quickly, refusing to make eye contact with her mother too.
“Aw, don’t worry about it, darlin’,” said Jimmie Sue, swooping in and throwing a meaty arm around Juliette’s shoulders. “I’m sure the cops’ll catch ‘em, sooner or later. I know you’ll do whatever you can to help.”
When Juliette only smiled wanly in response, Cora felt compelled to rush in to say something nice in her daughter’s place.
“I’m sure she’ll do whatever she can, Jimmie Sue,” Cora said. “We all will. In fact, can I drive you somewhere now? Try to find some clothes for you to wear, give you a cup of coffee while you try to make some calls?”
Although Cora, like everybody else in town, had freely availed herself of Jimmie Sue’s services since she was old enough to put together the money for a reading, she’d never been comfortable around the older woman. With her crystals and her chanting, her flamboyant clothes and her pushy manner, the most disturbing as well as the most compelling thing about Jimmie Sue was how often her predictions came true.
“I’m so glad you invited me in,” said Jimmie Sue, now moving to embrace Cora too. “Your father and I, we’ve been seeing each other, you know, since after your mother passed. I saw us living together, in the same place. I just couldn’t see exactly how it was going to happen, until now.”
Cora had to work hard to figure out exactly what Jimmie Sue was saying. She’d invited the woman in for a cup of coffee, hadn’t she? And not to actually live with them? She was pretty sure coffee was all she’d offered.
“It’s Juliette,” Jimmie Sue said, as if in answer to Cora’s question. “I see in her heart, she’s the one who wants to welcome me into your home. She’s afraid, Cora, afraid that something terrible is going to happen to her, that she’s going to get in serious trouble. And she feels like if I were there, with you, at your father’s place, that I’d be able to keep her safe, to help make this a real home for you all. Isn’t that right, Juliette?”
Cora was astonished to see Juliette finally look directly into the old woman’s eyes, and then to at last meet Cora’s own gaze.
“Yes,” the girl said.
Read Cora’s side of the story.