The woman behind the fortune teller
“You’re all set for the babies,” I said. We had decided to meet at Merete’s apartment. She didn’t really have to be at work at a certain time and we wanted the privacy. Her apartment was minimalist in a grey and brown colour scheme which I personally wouldn’t have gone for, but with her choice of furniture; she’d somehow made it work. The nursery had been kitted out with two small beds stuffed animals, and the open wardrobe contained some baby clothes. I noticed she’d chosen gender neutral colours mostly.
“I don’t want to know what they are until they’re born,” she said.
“I’m nervous,” she said.
“Of becoming a mum?”
“Yes. But I was actually thinking of the mid-summer murders article. The first instalment will be published today.”
“But that’s really exciting!” I exclaimed.
We went into the kitchen where Merete started grinding coffee beans.
“But, I am nervous of becoming a mum too. I often wonder whether I’m cut out to be one.”
“Can I ask how old you are?”
“I’m thirty-five. So I’m a big girl who shouldn’t have any issues. It’s just that, I never planned on having babies.”
I knew I had wanted babies from I was quite young. And I had wanted them before I was twenty-five. That was before I knew how young that really was, how much I still wanted to do before I had them, but most importantly I wanted to be in a good stable relationship too. And I had been firmly single at that age. After that, my goal had been thirty. But I never quite felt Ronald (please don’t call me Ron) was somebody I wanted as the father of my children.
“You’ll be fab,” I said. Just don’t over-caffeinate yourself.”
Merete laughed. “You should have seen me before I got knocked up,” she said. “I drank at least ten cups a day. So taking that down to two is pretty amazing of me if I may say so. And I may”.
We were sitting in the living room with coffee and open sandwiches and Merete had her file and laptop on the table in front of her.
“How on earth did you find her using that picture? It wasn’t exactly as if she was trying to show her face very well.”
“Well,” said Merete. I was actually surprised when you sent me the picture. Because one of the first serious interviews I did for this paper, about ten years ago, was about life in a mental institution. And one of the patients I interviewed was this woman.”
“Oh really,” I said and leaned forward as she fired up her laptop so I could see the screen better. She went into a series of file folders, and it didn’t take long before she found the article.
It was entitled “When the world don’t make sense” and told the story of three people who lived in a closed psychiatric ward. They talked openly about their diagnosis, how life had been before they got to the hospital and how they envisaged their future on the outside. It was an informative piece that was an easy read as well as being reflective.
The first guy was a man with schizophrenia. The second was a woman with multiple personalities. She would have been the most intriguing to me had it not been for the third woman. Her name was Laura Nilsen and at the time the article was written, she was twenty-two years old. She had been at the institution for two years. She’ was going in and out of psychosis. And she described that when she was in a bad period, she could become very violent. She said that she’d been one of those children who had grown up in foster homes and been trouble at school. She had done some petty crimes in her teens and had been placed in a home for difficult youth when she was sixteen.
From the age of eighteen, and till she was twenty-one, she had lived in moderately supported accommodation. That meant she was free to come, go and do whatever she needed to do, but that there was staff she could call on if she felt like she was going to have a panic attack, or was otherwise mentally unwell. Because even though this was before her returning psychosis, she had been diagnosed as depressed at the time.
What had landed her in the psychiatric ward in the end was one day when she, unknown to herself, had her first known episode of psychosis coming on. She had been at work. She was a dinner lady at a canteen for some firm and she enjoyed her job. One of the workers had asked her something, she couldn’t remember what it was, although it was probably a perfectly normal question. Instead of answering, she had lifted a heavy pan full of hot soup and thrown it in the face of the poor man who had ended up in hospital with third degree burns. She had been hopeful about the future. She was to move to supported accommodation in a few months and she was already feeling better.
The last question Merete had asked her was if she ever regretted anything she’d ever done under psychosis.
“I regret what happened to that man in the canteen… He did recover eventually I heard. It’s awful to hear what you’ve done to other people when you’re mentally present. A bit like a blackout from drinking too much alcohol, only it’s much, much worse. And I regret one more thing. I once stayed with a foster family where I really enjoyed myself, just before I went to live in the home. Partly because the parents of the dad really loved me as a granddaughter. I especially got on with my foster grandfather or grandpa as he allowed me to call him. He once asked me to carry out a big favour for him that he was too old and no longer strong enough to do. But I never got a chance to do it, because at the time, I just couldn’t. I can’t say what the thing is, but it was to help him fulfil what he called his life mission. If he is still alive when I move out, I will help him do what I couldn’t do before.”
“That’s really odd,” I said.
Merete nodded. “I planned to delete it from the article, but I kept it in there. And the editor said the life mission thing was very touching.”
“I suppose he has a point. Only that way of wording it… I don’t know.” I poured myself a huge glass of water and drank.
“Can I see her picture?”
Merete enlarged the photo belonging to the article. A young woman wearing tracksuit bottom and a t-shirt with long strawberry blond hair look back at me. As Clairvoyant Clara, she must have been using green lenses, because in this picture her eyes were…. I gasped. I had seen her before. One eye was blue and the other one grey. I had put her to the back of my mind, but seeing those eyes made the memories come rushing back.
“What’s wrong?” Merete asked.
I groaned and put a hand in front of my eyes.
“Please, can someone stop this thing?” I said.
It was 1999 and the last year grandma was alive. The day in question had been especially hot, so I decided to go for a swim. After a while, I had been joined by a girl who was perhaps a few years older than me. She had asked if she too could swim. I didn’t really mind. Maybe the girl was new in the neighbourhood. Maybe we could become friends? She never gave me her name and I don’t think I gave her mine either. But she told me she was visiting the people who lived in the blue house and pointed towards where Gerda lived. And she said that she was only there for the day.
We ended up playing around in the water, having contests to see who could swim the fastest. And after a while, she proposed we try and see who could stay under water the longest. It was salt water, so I wasn’t keen, but agreed to try it once. She went first. Her lung capacity was amazing, but I remember at one point feeling worried that she hadn’t come up to breathe for air. When her head finally broke the surface, it was my turn. I went under, and immediately felt as if something or someone was trying to hold me there. I struggled, but whoever it was held my head down so hard that I couldn’t get up until the pressure on my head eased and I broke the surface to see Grandma approaching us.
What?” I’d said looking the other girl square in the eyes. But she’d only smiled and said “I was only joking around.”
I had not found the joke funny in the slightest and I’d never seen the girl again either.
“Until Friday. Then you saw her again. And she told you that you might die. Amund was the man she called Grandpa,” Merete concluded.
I nodded, having reached the same conclusion. “I wonder what that life mission was exactly. I guess it doesn’t matter now though. He’s senile and probably doesn’t know his right foot from his left.”
Merete stared at me blankly before nodding.
“Of course he is senile. I forgot that.”
I thought her reaction was rather strange, but decided not dwell on it. She had a lot to think about after all, the soon to be mother.
The woman behind the fortune teller