Libra

Libra
by Eugenie Mora

“Today is the perfect day to go out. It says so right here.” Geneva waved the newspaper. “Success is in the air! Acknowledgment from those who matter—”

“You think Mercury gives a damn about my date?”

“Well, no.” Geneva scowled. “Not with that attitude. Come on, my brother’s been asking you out for an eternity.” Or more precisely, for the seven months since he had returned from New York, tail between his legs, his credentials as a hotshot Wall Street broker largely useless in sleepy Florine, Colorado.

A date would at least get him off the couch and out of the house. If Geneva had to come home to his moping, bloodshot eyes one more day, she was liable to do something she’d regret.

“I don’t know …”

“Guys, guys! If I could have your attention.” At the front of the room, their manager cleared his throat. “And, um, ladies.”

Geneva rolled her eyes. She was just an administrative assistant, but it would have been nice to feel like part of the team for a change. She didn’t need reminding that she had tits.

“Thank you all for coming in early today. It’s, uh, not an easy thing I have to say.” Another cough. “I have bad news, guys.” This time, the pause was brief. Their manager scraped a hand over his face.

A spike of dread slithered under Geneva’s skin.

“Way our orders been coming in, we knew things weren’t going well for some time. We did our best to take precautions, tighten belts, all that … I know every man in this room went above and beyond. Turns out it just weren’t enough. They’re shutting us down, boys—”

Dismay rippled through the gathered crowd. Two hundred men simultaneously groaned and swore, shaking their heads. The cacophony rose and rose, and their manager’s attempts to calm spirits swiftly fell by the wayside.

Geneva gaped. Shutting down? But that meant she wouldn’t have a job come tomorrow. No paycheck. She peered at the newspaper.

Libra – Jupiter is encroaching. Today, take some time to meditate and find the peace you seek. You’re feeling the urge to nest and take care of yourself, and maybe your family…

What a load of crap, Geneva thought, and she tossed the newspaper into the first trashcan she saw.


Cooper’s Glassworks first opened its doors in 1942. Back then, their chief export was windshield panels for the B-17s headed for Europe. They had produced everything from beer bottles to household glassware in the decades since. Every girl in Florine had a father, husband or brother—or more recently, a sister—who clocked in every morning at 7:30 sharp and received a neat Cooper’s Glassworks check at the end of the month.

Standing outside the factory gate, Geneva could barely believe that smoke would never again rise from the tall stacks. Trucks would never wear furrows into the muddy yard. The days of being called into her manager’s office to knot his tie before he closed up shop and went home to his wife were over.

Scruff, her little Jack Russell, whined at her.

“Yes, alright.” Geneva tore herself away from the chicken-wire fence. “We’ll head home.”

She dragged her feet down the potholed asphalt that separated Cooper’s from the rest of town. The air was clean and crisp with early autumn frost. Here and there, Scruff scampered to sniff at weeds. He didn’t seem to care that Florine was quieter.
Outside their next-door neighbor’s clapboard A-frame, a picket stuck out of the ground sporting a “For Sale” sign.

Twenty-three families had packed up and gone. In a town like Florine, that was a sixth of the population. If they kept going this way, Geneva would be alone in a whistle-stop full of geriatrics.

“Gen?” Her brother’s voice tore her from her reverie.

Oh, right. Not alone.

Scruff lunged for the front door, all but choking himself with the leash. Something in Geneva’s chest boiled at the sight. Even her dog was in a rush to leave her.

“I got your paper,” her brother said.

“You left the house?”

Change happened slowly in their family, but recent weeks had shifted the tectonic plates under Geneva’s feet. It was her brother who did most of the cooking and cleaning now, while she only rolled out of bed to take the dog for long walks. It followed that sooner or later Clark would take charge of the grocery shopping.

She slipped off her grimy boots in the mudroom and trailed him into the kitchen. The Florine Daily sat on the wooden table, next to a plate of pancakes.

“They’re probably cold by now. You were gone a while…”

Geneva ignored the probing note in his voice. She snatched up the paper and turned to the horoscope.

Libra – You can accomplish anything! But maybe cut yourself some slack today. Have a bath, read a good book, relax. By the way, you have a great singing voice. Have you considered making Internet videos?

“A great singing voice?” Her brother read over her shoulder. “That’s weirdly specific, isn’t it?”

Geneva stared at the paper. The other entries were the usual vague, “bring your own interpretation” hogwash. Hers was not.

“Whatever,” she said. “Any bacon?” Pancakes without bacon just weren’t worthy of the name.


After a sleepless night and too much reality TV, Geneva made a point to shower and run the electric razor over her bristly scalp before tugging on jeans and a duffle coat and heading into the heart of Florine.

The town was slower to wake since most of its small business had closed their doors. Mom-and-Pop shops stood shoulder to shoulder, their windows shuttered, shadows peeking through lowered blinds.

The general store was still open, mercifully, and the bell above the door gave a sharp chime as Geneva stepped through.

“Morning,” she greeted on the cusp of a yawn. They were out of milk and paper clips to hold her brother’s countless print-out job applications, but Geneva put both out of her mind as she made a beeline for the newspaper rack.

Today’s copy of The Florine Daily was headlined by the latest on big-cat sightings in the woods outside town. Geneva paged through to the horoscope.

Libra – Your hair is plotting against you again today. Must be why you’ve decided to shear it all off.

Open-mouthed, Geneva reread the entry. It was shorter than the rest. It was also eerily accurate. She ran a hand over her bare scalp. Coincidence. Or someone playing a prank.

“When did these come in?”

“Seven sharp, like every other morning,” answered Jerri.

Geneva had fond memories of babysitting him when his father, Jerri Senior, ran the store. He was a good kid; he wouldn’t pull her leg.

Ignoring his quizzical frown, she grabbed another copy of The Florine Daily from the rack.

“Gen? Something wrong?”

Libra – Your hair is plotting …

“What the fuck,” Geneva muttered to herself. Then, shaking off an uneasy shiver. “Everything’s fine. I’ll just—I’m gonna go.”

“Hey! You have to pay for that!”

The door swung shut with that same cheery jangle. Cool wind whistled through Florine, battering Geneva’s cheeks until they were numb.

She glanced down at the newspaper in her hands. There was a name under the astrology section.

She knew what she had to do.


Mr. Mallory,

The state of my hair is none of your goddamn business. Keep harassing me and I’ll report you to the police.

Sincerely,

A reader who expects better.

P.S. You’re lousy at your job.

Satisfied with her anonymous email, Geneva hit send and sat back in her chair. That would show him.

She pictured sad, lonely Devin Mallory at his desk, probably the spitting image of Norman Bates. Well, the fun was over. She was no Marion Crane and she wasn’t about to be bullied out of the last few pleasures life afforded her.

With a flourish, she shut off the computer and went in search of milk for her cereal.


“Oh my God! Do you have to be so loud? It’s like—” Geneva glanced at the grandfather clock in the hall. “Seven in the morning!”

Her brother grinned, face flushed with exertion. “I know. Been up since five.”

“Why?”

“Running.”

Geneva blinked. “Again, why?”

“You know, for a while there I forgot what an amazing town we lived in. All this fresh air …” He sucked in a breath as though to prove it. “Oh, here. I got you the paper. I know how much you—”

She had already yanked it from his hands.

“—love it.” He snorted. “Alright, I’m gonna grab a shower. Waffles sound good?”

Giving him the silent treatment was second nature to Geneva. She scanned the sun signs in search of her own.

Libra – A rude start to the day, followed by a bountiful breakfast. Enjoy it. You have a busy day ahead, Ms. Maldonado.

The blood drained from Geneva’s face. He knew her name. How was that possible? She lunged for the computer, quickly logging in and checking that—yes, she’d used a throwaway email address on a free server.

“Clark!” Her shout echoed through the house, loud enough to prompt an answering bark from poor, startled Scruff. “Clark!”

Her brother rushed back down the stairs.

She pushed the newspaper into his hands. “Read this.”

Long, precious seconds ticked by. Clark’s frown deepened. “What the Hell?”

“It’s not the first time, either. The guy’s stalking me or something—” Geneva put her hands on her hips. “God, I feel sick.”

“I’m calling the paper.”

Sweat sticking his T-shirt to his back, he stalked into the kitchen and grabbed their seldom-used wall phone. A faint ringing echoed down the line.

“They’re not picking up,” he said.

“Then leave a message. Tell ’em we’re ready to sue …”

The call disconnected with no answering machine to pick up the slack.

Two tries later, Clark’s scowl had etched itself firmly onto his brow. “We should go over there.” His face fell. “Oh shit, I forgot. I have a job interview in Denver.”

Geneva scowled. “Well you’re not going. Obviously.”


The battered station wagon rolled over potholes and windswept leaves, crawling along until Geneva eased off the brakes. In the end, she was glad Clark had gone to Denver. She didn’t need him to hold her hand. She could have her reckoning with The Florine Daily all by her lonesome. All she needed was the Maps app on her phone and a little courage.

The building didn’t look like much from the outside. It stood isolated from the rest of Florine, just like Cooper’s Glassworks. It was equally somber.

Geneva pushed past the front door with a sure step.

“Hello?”

The front desk was empty.

She was reminded of her old high school as she peered down the hall, into the bowels of the institution. Same beige walls. Same ugly green-gray wall-to-wall carpet. The Florine Daily produced anywhere between 100 and 200 copies daily, most of which never sold. How it stayed in business, no one quite knew.

A bored-looking woman emerged from the piles upon piles of boxes in the office.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes. Yes, you can. I’m looking for Devin Mallory.”

“Who?”

“He writes the astrology section—”

“Oh!” The woman shook her head. “One of our freelancers.”

Geneva scowled. “You mean he’s not here?”

“Honey, there’s only one writer here and you’re staring at her. What’s he done?”

Rather than say, Geneva showed her today’s horoscope.

“Who’s Ms. Maldonando?”

“Me,” Geneva snapped. “It’s me. He’s writing this shit to me.”

“Huh. So you two know each other?”

Frustration hammered at Geneva’s temples. “No. I’ve never seen him before in my life. Make him stop or I’m going to the police. You got that?”

“Hey, now—”

Geneva held up a hand. “I don’t need your excuses. Do you understand me?”

The woman hitched up her eyebrows. “Yes, Ma’am.”


The phone rang halfway through The Biggest Loser. Geneva picked it up without checking the Caller ID. Only one person called her anymore.

“Yeah?”

“Hey, sis. Just checking in…”

“How was the interview?”

“I mean I don’t want to jinx it, but—”

Geneva had no patience for his wishy-washy answers. “I went to the paper.”

“What? On your own? But we said—”

“I sorted it out.”

Silence on the other end of the line. “Oh. That’s good. Any trouble?”

Geneva thought about the slow drive over, the unsatisfying conversation with the office assistant—or whatever she was—the busted tire on the way home, the washing machine giving up the ghost and flooding the basement with soapy suds. A busy day ahead.

“No trouble. Frankly, it’s been pretty slow over here. Are you on the road?”

“Ah, not yet.” Clark sounded embarrassed. “I actually ran into someone you know. We’re going to have dinner …”

“Swell. Wear a condom.” She hung up before her brother could pretend the thought of an after-dinner treat hadn’t crossed his mind.


In the morning, her first stop was the general store.

“Sorry about yesterday, Jerri,” she called over the aisles.

“Everything okay?”

“Yep, totally.”

“If you want the paper, it just came in …”

Don’t. Don’t do it, she thought. But impulse control had never been Geneva’s strong suit.

“Sure.”

Today’s headline: Strange Sightings at Cooper’s Glassworks. Geneva was computer literate and knew clickbait when she saw it. She turned quickly to the horoscope.

Libra – Alas, your troubles are just beginning. Though it’s hard for you to find joy in others’ achievements, today someone needs you to put on a big, brave smile and say all the right things. Save your venom for anonymous emails.

By the way, that red shirt really suits you.

“Fuck!”

Jerri poked his head around a lollipop carousel. “Gen? Where’re you going?”

“Police station,” she tossed over her shoulder.

Twenty minutes later, she stormed back out with a burgeoning migraine.

She didn’t have high expectations, but being told there was nothing anyone could do stuck in her craw.

“Arrest someone!” she’d snapped into the sheriff’s placid, pained face. “Or, I don’t know, rough him up a bit.”

Her phone rang in her coat pocket. She snatched it out, seeing her brother’s name flashing on the screen.

“How was the date?” Newspaper print fluttered in front of her tightly-shut eyes.

“Great. Listen, I have news.”

“You got the job.”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“I read it in the paper.” Geneva looked down at her copy of The Florine Daily.

Aries – Love, passion, marriage. You will take a great leap into some new and exciting commitment today …

It was tempting to dismiss the prediction, but her brother sounded happier than he had in months. Geneva’s insides twisted. She didn’t have a problem finding joy in other people’s achievements. She didn’t.

Once home, she stood in front of the hall mirror and examined herself in the red shirt. She’d only dug it out of the back of her closet because the washing machine had crapped out.

She didn’t look bad in it.

“Ugh, you’re being ridiculous,” she told her reflection.

Scruff wagged his tail, acquiescent.


Libra – Denial is a dangerous thing. Admit it. The red suits you.

I’m sorry about your hand.


Libra – You of all people should know what it feels like to lose your job. Drop this now and I won’t tell the world you cheated on your senior math final.

Oh. Oops.


Libra – Police? Really? I’m disappointed.

Maybe this’ll teach you: at 4:00 today, your fridge will give up the ghost. At 5:32, your brother will call to say he’s engaged. You’ll be cranky for the call—letters from the IRS can have that effect.


Libra – In 1999, you had a brief affair with your best friend’s married father. Your mother found out, and even on her deathbed, you were still too chickenshit to ask if it changed the way she felt about you.

It did.

Don’t test me.


Libra – You don’t feel so confident today, Libra. And you shouldn’t. Dark energies gather. You feel them pressing in, don’t you? They won’t let you sleep but you can’t stay awake another hour. Don’t fall asleep, Libra. Who knows what happens when you fall asleep?


With a shriek, Geneva flung the newspaper across the kitchen. Her aim was poor. It connected with the window first, then dropped weakly into the sink, next to the crusty, unwashed dishes. She covered her face with her hands.

She couldn’t stop shaking. Two weeks and the messages kept coming and coming. The police refused to get involved. The sheriff’s suggestion had been that she simply stop reading the newspaper—or at least the astrology section. Wasn’t it all a little pagan anyway?

The woman at The Florine Daily had refused to meet with Geneva the three times she’d gone back to complain. On the fourth, two officers had removed Geneva from the premises with a warning that she was to stop harassing the employees.

Scruff sniffed at her woolen socks, his stub tail wagging weakly.

I need to get out of here. The thought settled over Geneva like a blanket. She couldn’t stay in this town. It wasn’t safe.

Devin Mallory knew where to find her.

With a sudden burst of energy, she pushed herself up from the floor. Scruff trailed her into the bedroom.

“We’ll go to Denver. Clark’ll put me up. He owes me.”

She decided against calling ahead. Packing with a bandaged hand was slow going. Geneva gritted her teeth and got on with it, determined not to think of Mallory predicting that she would burn her palm on the grill. It was just a coincidence, like the rest of his eerily accurate divinations.

Between autosuggestion and paranoia, Geneva had built him up in her head as some larger-than-life monster when he was really just another garden-variety creep. Still, she would feel better if she put a few hundred miles between herself and his auguries.

No red garments made it into her suitcase.

“Don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner …” Geneva scooped Scruff into the passenger seat and closed the door. “A break’s exactly what the doctor ordered.”

The station wagon roared to life on her third attempt to rouse the engine. Musty heat filled the interior within seconds. Geneva scrubbed at her eyes. She hadn’t slept in days, but she was fine. She was awake.

She was finally getting away from Florine and its shuttered shop fronts, its silent industry. In Denver, she could find work and maybe have some fun once in a while.

As the road stretched between scraggly hills powdered with frost, Geneva began to drift into the fantasy life that awaited her in the city. She yawned, sinking deeper and deeper into the torn leather upholstery.

Her eyelids drooped slowly, the long ribbon of the interstate narrowing to a thin, silver band. Geneva loosened her hold on the steering wheel.

She was so tired.

The blare of a foghorn cleaved through her somnolence. Geneva opened her blurry eyes a half-second too late. The car swerved of its own choosing, missing the oncoming sedan and skidding off into the ditch beside the road.

Her chest slammed into the steering wheel, too ancient to contain airbags that could mitigate the impact. It was a lucky break. Geneva knew as much as she propped her hands on the dash and tried to get her breath back.

Beside her, Scruff yapped indignantly. He was unharmed.

“You alright?” a muffled voice asked, through the window.

Oh, right. The other driver.

Geneva fumbled for the door lock. It clicked open at a touch. “I think I hit my head…”

“Don’t worry, it’s a just a scratch.”

“You a doctor?”

Through the fog in Geneva’s eyes, a man’s silhouette resolved before her. He was tall and slender, with a mop of dark hair and thick eyebrows. His sallow features reminded her of an actor, but she couldn’t place the resemblance.

“Oh, no.” The stranger smiled. “I’m an astrologer.”


Copyright © 2015 Eugenie Mora