Mrs McGillicuddy Takes Charge

Mrs. McGillicuddy locked the door behind her and counted her change. One dollar and fifty-five cents … yes, enough for her bus fare into the city to meet her daughter, Jane. She checked that her door was truly locked and re-checked her money before waddling away down the street to the nearby bus stop. She was such a gentle, dowdy old thing, harmless and vulnerable. She scarcely glanced at the sign near her door. Mme McGillicuddy – Readings. A talent that had earned her beatings as a child now gave her a respectable living.

Mrs. McGillicuddy boarded her bus and settled with a sigh into one of the few vacant seats. Her bunion was worrying her and it was good to rest. She looked around, but none of her many friends were travelling today. The bus stopped, took on passengers, disgorged others from each of its doors, and drove on, repeating the process with a monotony that Mrs. McGillicuddy found soothing. She dozed.

She awoke from a light sleep and looked quickly around. Nobody had noticed her nap. Suddenly, she caught a glimpse of a face. It was that of a young woman, a very attractive young woman. It was the sadness in the face that caught Mrs. McGillicuddy’s attention. The woman noticed her staring; the stranger’s face blushed red, and its owner quickly turned her gaze to the view from the bus window.

Mrs. McGillicuddy readied herself to disembark as the bus neared her stop. She pushed past the young woman, pausing only briefly to drop one of her business cards into the young woman’s hand. She greeted her daughter with a broad smile and a hug as they prepared to spend a pleasant afternoon together.

Mrs. McGillicuddy opened the door next morning in response to a tentative knock. She was not surprised to find yesterday’s stranger on her doorstep. The woman’s face was pale, and she stood without speaking. She clutched a card in one hand. Across her shoulder was slung a cheap grey bag, its strap worn and ragged from much twisting.

“Come in, my dear,” said Mrs. McGillicuddy. “I’ll make us both a cup of herbal tea, Okay?”

The woman entered and looked around. A much-worn lounge suite, its stuffing showing through the shiny seats complemented a low table, on which magazines devoted to tarot card readings and psychometry wrestled for space. The woman sat down while Mrs. McGillicuddy walked into an adjoining kitchen and began to make some tea. Satisfied, she brought two cups to the table and placed one in front of her visitor.

“Drink up now, my dear,” she said. “Problems don’t look so bad when you have a cup of tea under your belt.”

The woman looked into Mrs. McGillicuddy’s face. “I feel such a fool,” she said. “I don’t wish to be rude but I don’t even know what I’m doing here. My name is Francine Walton. I don’t believe any of this psychic nonsense!” she blurted out. “I’m sorry. That was terribly rude! I don’t mean to be.”

“But you’re troubled and you’ve come to me because you cannot think what else to do,” Mrs. McGillicuddy said, and smiled.

The young woman looked a little taken aback and then nodded. “Yes. Yes, that’s why I’m here. I don’t know what to do.” She retrieved a handkerchief from her bag, and dabbed at her eyes.

“Let me see if I can help,” Mrs. McGillicuddy replied. “Let me have something of yours. Something small, but something that’s very personally yours.” She continued to smile into the young woman’s startled face. Her smile reflected the warmth and inner peace that Mrs. McGillicuddy always felt when she knew she could do somebody a service.

The young woman smiled, tentatively at first, and then more broadly as she relaxed upon the worn, old sofa.

“This is a little drawing I’ve done,” she replied. She blushed. “It isn’t very good but… well, it’s mine.” She handed the object to her hostess, and waited.

Mrs. Mc Gillicuddy held the drawing and appeared to study its lines before closing her eyes. “You were upset just before you drew this,” she said. “I can feel the emotion locked away, venting itself in the pen strokes from your hand. Something was troubling you. Something to do with your boy-friend or husband. No, not a husband. He wants you to join him in something. You don’t know what it is. Something to do with a garden? But not a garden… not quite. But you are very hesitant. He’s pressuring you, and you don’t like that. You’ve quarrelled, and you don’t know if he’s going to return to you.” Mrs. McGillicuddy opened her eyes to the pale face of her visitor. The woman’s eyes were wide open in astonishment.

“How did you know that?” she gasped. “That’s almost exactly right. My partner, Eddie, wants my daughter and me to go with him and join a cult. It’s called the Garden of Goodness. Eddie says that it has renewed his faith in people. He’s threatened to leave us if we don’t go with him. But, how did you know? How could you possibly have known all that?”

Mrs. McGillicuddy smiled and drank her tea. She made no answer.

Francine began to speak, slowly at first, but as she became more into her story, her pace quickened and she poured out her feelings.

“Eddie’s a good man… truly he is. He’s just a little demanding, that’s all. He has difficulty with coping with the time I have to give to my daughter. She’s very precious to me, you see. And I can’t give him all the time he demands. He pushes me around occasionally, but I don’t mind that. I can understand his frustration with his job and so on. He expected to be promoted but he was passed over… but that wasn’t his fault. He hits me a few times, but that’s all right. I know I have nothing special about me. He says that we couldn’t live without him as I’m only good for waiting on tables.” Francine stopped and cuddled her tea-cup in her hands.

“This drawing,” Mrs.McGillicuddy said, “you did this?”

“Oh, that old thing,” Francine replied. “I have hundreds of those. I just do faces, mostly of my daughter. Eddie says they’re not very good and I usually toss them out with the garbage. I’m sorry, but you wanted something personal of mine and…”

“I’d like to keep it,” Mrs. Mc Gillicuddy answered. “Call it my fee, full payment.” She smiled at her young visitor’s flustered face.

“What, no money at all?” Francine asked.

Mrs. McGillicuddy shook her head. “I would like to show this to a young friend of mine. And I’d like you to come back to see me… shall we say tomorrow at eleven? You go home and look really closely at your daughter and think about what you’ve told me. Okay?”

Mrs. McGillicuddy showed her visitor out and made her way with cautious steps up the flight of stairs to where her landlord had his studio. The stairs were steep and dark, and she was old and somewhat feeble. She knocked on the door and, in response to a bellowed “Door’s open!”, entered a well lit room.

“Hi Gary,” she said, as she closed the door behind her.

“Hello my favourite soothsayer! What brings you to my den?” The young man finished touching up an iridescent green water buffalo on his easel. “Whatever it is, my day is all the better for your company.”

“Gary! A green water buffalo?” Mrs. McGillicuddy gasped.

“Well, why not?” answered Gary. “Green, pink… whatever suits my mood. Now, you haven’t made your way up those steep stairs of mine for no reason. What have you there?”

Mrs. McGillicuddy handed him the drawing and proceeded to tell him about her visitor. “What do you think, Gary?” she asked.

He tore his attention from the sketch and replied. “Well, I hate your visitor already. She can draw much better than I’ll ever be able to. I know a fellow that prints birthday and Christmas cards who would employ her on the spot. When’s she coming back? She is coming back, you sly old thing. She is, isn’t she?”

“Tomorrow,” Mrs. McGillicuddy said.

“I want to meet her,” Gary answered. “If she can do bodies as well as she can do faces, I want to meet her. You knew she was good, didn’t you. Not much gets past you.”

At eleven o’clock next day, Mrs. McGillicuddy answered a knock at her door. Francine had returned. She had a nasty bruise below her right eye. Mrs. McGillicuddy ushered her into her living room and began to make a cup of tea. Just then, Gary stumbled down the stairs and called out. “Make that three, O wise woman!” He proceeded to make himself known to Francine, and soon the two of them were chattering like old friends about art and theatre, and business matters that Mrs. McGillicuddy did not pretend to understand.

Francine interrupted Gary’s flow of words to thank Mrs. McGillicuddy for her patience. “I’m so thankful you made me look at what I have,” she said. “I’ve decided to make do on my own. We’ll survive… I’ll see about a table-waiting job to get us started.” She stopped. “Eddie’s gone to join his bloody commune or whatever it was. He got very angry,” she admitted as she touched her bruised face. Mrs. McGillicuddy was certain she heard Gary’s mumbled “bastard,” but he was talking art again, and Francine was laughing and arguing light-heartedly with him.

Soon, Mrs. McGillicuddy was left alone as her two young friends went off to see a “Greetings Card” publisher that Gary said he knew. She smiled in contentment as she studied her fee for services rendered just yesterday.