Elle never read her horoscope. She’d never been to see a medium. She’d never used Tarot cards. She didn’t believe in psychics or ghosts and she didn’t worry if she saw a lone magpie. She was far too rational for any of that superstitious nonsense. So why she was willing to let a plastic toy make life changing decision for her she didn’t know. The ritual was always the same. First, she closed her eyes. Then she asked the question. She thought about it, formed the words clearly in her mind, until she could almost see them. Then she said it out loud. She turned the ball three times, shook it, then held it still. She waited for a count of three, and only then did she open her eyes.
It was during one of those summer heatwaves, when the papers all go mad with pictures of girls in bikinis and declarations of how the temperature in the UK is higher than in some really hot country, even if it is probably because it’s winter there. Elle was sitting in the park reading and wondering whether or not to get an ice cream from the van parked across the road. She took the 8 ball out of her bag and consulted it quietly, hoping no one was looking. Ah, good answer! She got herself a huge cornet and sat on a bench, trying not to let it drip all over her. Nearby a small child was crying because his ice cream had fallen off its cone onto his shoe.
Jamie appeared at her side, smirking. ‘I thought you said you were on a diet.’
‘Ah, that. I am, I’m doing really well actually. This doesn’t count, it’s mainly E numbers.’
‘I suppose that’s ok then.’ He sat down and put his arm around her. They sat like that for a while, not saying anything. They had been together long enough now that they were comfortable in silence, or at least he was. They didn’t really talk as much as Elle would have liked, not about the sort of things she wanted to talk about anyway. But they were comfortable together, and that was important.
They had a barbeque in Jamie’s garden that evening. Elle’s mother had made a cake and they had champagne while everyone toasted their engagement. Elle looked at the ring on her finger and smiled.
‘Are you happy?’ said Jamie.
‘Of course I’m happy, I’m here with you.’
‘It took you long enough to give me an answer,’ he teased. ‘I sat by the phone all night.’
‘I had things to think about. Questions to ask.’
‘What sort of questions?’
‘Never you mind. Are you going to get me another drink or what?’
She watched him, still smiling. She had made the right decision, she knew that. They were a wonderful couple, everyone said so. She loved him, more than she had thought she could ever love anyone. And her loved her. True, she had never really been bothered about marriage, but he had asked and she had to answer. Once she knew what to tell him she was certain. It was what she wanted. Jamie didn’t need to know why she had said yes, only that she had.
Everything was perfect for the first couple of years. They bought a bigger house and Elle started a new job. Things couldn’t have been better.
Elle was sitting at her desk one day, trying to decide on a present for Jamie. Their second wedding anniversary was coming up soon and she wanted to do something special. They had been talking about decorating the spare bedroom ever since they moved in but they never got around to making a start. She could take the afternoon off and do it before he got home. She opened her desk drawer and took out the 8 ball.
‘Should I go home and paint the spare room?’
She arrived home at lunchtime, after stopping to buy paint and brushes on the way. The moment she reached the driveway she sensed that something wasn’t right. She tried the door – it was open. She went inside and walked slowly up the stairs. She stopped outside the bedroom and asked another question. ‘Should I go in?’
Of course, she realised later, that was the one answer she should have ignored. She should haved turned, gone back downstairs and out of the house. She should have walked away. But instead she reached out, turned the handle and opened the door. It was like in a film, all slow motion. Blonde hair. A naked figure flitting past. Pleas and excuses and exclamations of, ‘I thought you were at work!’ Tears and shouting and slamming doors. Then accusations. He said she’d never really loved him, that she’d just wanted to get married and she didn’t really care who to. She said he didn’t know what love was. He said he was sorry, it was a mistake, it would never happen again. She called him a liar. Then she left.
Elle spent the rest of that day walking. Walking and drinking. She arrived back home late that night, stumbled into the house, still crying. He was upstairs waiting for her. She went into the bedroom, not bothering to turn on the light. They stood together in the darkness, each waiting for the other to speak.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ said Elle finally.
‘I’ve made a decision.’
‘It was a very hard decision to make. The biggest of my life. But it was also very easy. Just like when you asked me to marry you. I asked a question. ‘Should I marry him?’ I asked, and the answer was yes. So I did.’
Jamie stared at his wife. She was holding something in her right hand. He edged forward very slowly. If he could just get close enough…
Elle took a step back.
‘Don’t come near me.’
‘You’ve been drinking.’
‘What was the question, Elle?’
She laughed and shook her head. ‘I can’t tell you that. I can tell you the answer though, if you like?’
‘Yes. Tell me.’
‘The answer was yes.’
She smiled and reached out for him.
‘Look, a Magic 8 Ball! I always wanted one of these.’ Sarah sat on her desk and showed the ball to Lynn. ‘I found it in the park. Some nutter dropped it. I reckon she was a witch or summat.’
‘Do you think it might be cursed? asked Lynn nervously. Sarah laughed.
‘Don’t be stupid. It’s only a toy. Shall we ask it something?’
‘I could ask it if we’re gonna pass our exams?’
‘No, don’t ask it that! I’d rather not know.’
‘You’ll be fine you little swot. What do you want to ask it then?’
Lynn took the 8 ball and shook it gently. ‘Will I get an iphone for my birthday?’
‘Cool! What does it say?’
‘Ask again later.’
‘What a pice of crap. No wonder that woman didn’t want it. Mind you, the stuff she was asking it, she probably should’ve been locked up.’
‘Why, what did she ask?’ Lynn stared at her friend, wide eyed. ‘You don’t think she was, like, trying to contact the spirit world or summon the devil or something?’
‘Don’t be such a muppet. No, she was just pissed. She kept closing her eyes and shaking it up and down like this, and asking really stupid questions. ‘Does he love her?’ she kept saying. I reckon she was dumped, poor cow. She was bawling her head off.’
‘That’s so sad. Was that before she dropped it?’
‘No, she asked it summat else before she dropped it. She seemed a bit freaked out about it, just ran off.’
‘What did she ask?’
Sarah frowned. ‘Well, it was a bit weird. And I know you get scared dead easily and that.’
‘Oh, come on, tell me. I won’t get scared.’
‘Ok, so she asked it…’
‘Should I kill him?’
‘Yeah, I told you. What a freak. Anyway, shall we ask it something else?’
‘No.’ Lynn passed the ball back to her friend. ‘I don’t think I want to anymore.’ She picked up her books and stood up.
‘Where are you going?’
‘To the library. I told you, I really need to pass these exams. I’ll see you later, ok.’
‘Yeah, see you.’
Sarah looked down at the 8 ball. She shook it once, twice, three times. Then she asked a question.
‘Did she do it?’