Rosey Palms Contest winner "The Fortune-Teller of Poplar Street" by Marlin Bressi

"The Fortune-Teller of Poplar Street" by Marlin Bressi

"Such a peculiar little girl," her grandmother would say whenever Rosey would go outside to play. While other neighborhood children would jump rope, play hide and seek, or sell lemonade from a stand on the sidewalk, Rosy Palm would wrap herself in her grandmother's paisley shawl, put on her shower cap and tell fortunes by reading the palms of those who strolled down the quaint tree-lined thoroughfare of Poplar Street.

Rosey's fascination with palmistry developed as a result of her own misfortunes at a young age. When she was only three years old, she had yanked the tail of Mr. Stanley's ornery German Shepherd, Samson, who responded by snapping his fangs at the girl's fingers. Rosy was left with a jagged pink scar which ran down the side of her palm.

"Beautiful afternoon, isn't it?" the woman smiled as she neared Rosey and her makeshift fortune-telling booth.
The scar fascinated the young girl, as well as the lines which zig-zagged across her palm, like highways on a flesh-colored road map. While other children were interested in games and toys, Rosey became fascinated with the human hand. She would spend entire afternoons at the town library reading about fingerprints, fingernails, and any other subject related to the hand. Her favorite, however, was palm-reading.

Rosey's grandmother was dismayed about the girl's interest in fortune-telling. "If your mother and father were still alive, they would surely not find such behavior appropriate for a young girl," Rosey's grandmother would say. Nonetheless, she allowed the girl to read palms and tell fortunes, as long as she stayed within sight of the house.
On this particular mid-summer afternoon, Rosey had taken her grandmother's folding card table and set up a fortune-telling booth on the sidewalk in front of her grandmother's house. Even though her grandmother had gone downtown to buy groceries, Rosey didn't think she would object to her borrowing the table. The passersby were more than happy to give Rosey a quarter for a palm reading, since they had a soft spot in their hearts for the little girl who had, at such a tender age, endured so much hardship.

Before long, a woman came down the street. Her natural beauty was well-concealed behind horn-rimmed glasses, and she was fashionably dressed in a floral dress and white gloves. Rosey immediately liked the woman, and hoped that she could talk her into a palm reading.

"Yes, ma'am," the young girl replied. "My name is Rosey Palms, and I can tell you your fortune for a quarter."

The woman with the glasses chuckled. "That's a tempting offer, young lady. Unfortunately, I don't have much time. I'm waiting for my bus, and before it arrives I wanted to see the house where I grew up."

"You grew up on Poplar Street?" asked Rosey.

"Yes. Right there," the woman replied, pointing to a white house with cheerfully-painted red shutters.

"That's my house!" exclaimed Rosey, her mouth agape in astonishment. 

"I live here with my grandmother. We moved here last year, after. . .  after, my parents passed away."

The woman in glasses gave Rosey a sympathetic stare. "I'm sorry to hear that, my dear," she said. "It must be terribly difficult for you."

"I suppose," replied Rosey. "But I make the best of it. So, you must have been the one who lived in this house before me and Grandma?"
The woman didn't hear the question; she was gazing vacantly at the house, which caused her expression to change into one of sadness. 

Rosey asked her what was wrong.

"Nothing is wrong, dear," she said. "I'm just remembering things. Things that happened long ago, yet are as fresh in my mind as if they just happened today."

Her statement, along with the hint of sadness in her voice, aroused Rosey's curiosity. "What kind of things? Did something bad happen to you when you lived in my house?"

"Something very bad, unfortunately," the woman replied.  She took a moment to compose herself, and then told the young fortune-teller her story. "I was playing outside, and a man came up to me and said he was from the water company, and that he needed to come into the house and check on the water pipes in the basement. There was no one else home, so I let him inside." She paused. "He did some awful things to me." The woman's voice cracked as she recalled the horrendous experience.

"What kind of things?"

The woman in glasses shook her head, and told Rosey that she was too young to understand, and that she didn't want to frighten the young girl with her story.

"Don't be afraid, though. They caught the man and he went to jail for a very long time. I only wish I could have done things differently, and perhaps it wouldn't have happened the way it did. But I was young and naive, and didn't know any better."

"What did the man look like?" asked Rosey. She was deeply interested in hearing the rest of the woman's story. She had read many books about crime in the library, in the books about fingerprints and how they can be used to catch criminals.

"He was a tall man, in a gray suit and a black fedora. He. . ."

"What's wrong?"

The woman took off her glove in order to glance at her watch. 

"Nothing, dear. I just realized that my bus will be here soon and I must leave. It was very nice meeting you, Rosey," she said, extending her ungloved hand to the girl for a handshake.

Rosey shook her hand, noticing the pink jagged scar on the woman's palm. Rosey watched the woman disappear around the corner, and was still grasping the strangeness of the event when she turned around and saw a man walking toward her. He was wearing a gray suit and a black fedora. 

Most of the time, I’m actually a pretty tough guy to please.  Just ask my students, but, I was totally and completely psyched by ALL the stories turned in for my Rosey.  Besides the obvious theme of the fortune teller I think there was a common thread of something that I couldn’t anticipate and had not even imagined as I painted Mz. Palms. 

I know that I’m gushing a bit however I wish I was rich enough to publish a book for each one of these competitions and give them away to people.  As I re-read each story to decide on a winner I kept finding myself surprised by how much I like them all.  Reading these stories are like eating pizza, I can’t stop and I find myself looking forward to the next slice even while digesting the one before.

The one that stood out the most for me was "The Fortune-Teller of Poplar Street" by Marlin Bressi. I think I responded to it the most because it had the same feeling as a lot of the comic books and stories that I loved the most.  It really seemed like e very dark “Tales of the Unexpected” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” but with an even more sinister bent than I expected.  So Marlin you get the drawing.

Another notable story for its innovative and funny elements was “On the Other Hand” by Patrick Nelson.  I even liked the playful double entendre that was his title.  Nelson is very original and I think this one is an important read so I really suggest you do.  In fact, I see bad things in your future if you don’t read all the stories.

Sharing in some of the scariness of Bressi’s story D Bellenghi’s has a kind of “Out damn spot ending!” that I thought was powerful.  It was very visual in some ways and I found myself arrested by it and in keeping with the theme of blood on someone’s hands I think you just might like what Laura Strickland’s main character is destined to do.

The fate of a few of the Rosey characters also veered from the aggressive character of Laura Strickland’s murderess to a slightly more pessimistic but beautifully written pieces of prose by Anthony Adrian Pino and “More than Diamonds” by Dee Turbon whose writings were almost more poetry than prose.  Both have a kind of Mark Helprin magical style that appealed to me.

I predict that you’ll enjoy all the stories in this competition as much as I did.

Read all the stories here:

More competitions on my website:

Renovated Reputations is the result of an internet blogging project in which paintings and assemblages based on vintage and antique vernacular photography are the inspiration for short fiction.

The impetus for this project is based in a solo show of paintings in I am having at ArtHaus Gallery in San Francisco in April through June 25th 2011. 

The show is called
Renovated Reputations: Paintings and Fiction inspired by Vintage Portrait Photographs.
at ArtHaus 411 Brannan Street  San Francisco, CA  94107

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