The below story was previously published in the online journal ThickJam. (Issue #279, May 2013)
Since that publication is no more, I am posting “Madame Regret” here.
Free words for your brain!
Most people call me looking for a reason. A reason to do something. It’s always different. Some want to get a divorce. Some want to quit their job. Some want to have a baby. Some want to get an abortion. They call me, asking, pleading with me to rationalize some epic change in their lives. They don’t say this outright, but I know what they need.
Why me? Well, I’m just the one that picks up the phone. The 1-900 number they call sends them through a touchpad maze until, after they have signed away their credit card, they are redirected to me.
When my phone rings, I pick it up. “Psychic Hotline, this is Madame Elsa, how may I be of service?” Sometimes I call myself Madame Olivia, or Madame Grace. It doesn’t matter. After I say that there is always a pause. Then they speak.
“Yeah… Hi Madame Elsa” Olivia, Grace, Greenroot. “I have this problem. I want to know if I should quit my job.”
Divorce my wife.
Have this baby.
Buy a house.
This is where the psychic part comes in. They expect me to read their future. To karmically sense the outcome. I do, in a way. I have no special powers, no sixth sense or anything. I just know that they all want the same answer. “Yes.” I tell them.
Yes, you should quit that job. You should have this baby. You should get divorced. You should quit school. Yes. Yes. Yes. I rationalize things. I make things okay. They use that little three-letter word as a reason to do what they really wanted to do anyway.
Their response is always the same after that. A heavy sigh of relief. A pause. Then a grateful “Thanks so much, Madame Julie.” Madame Earthwand. Madame Tigerpaw. Madame Silvertop.
I tell them it’s no problem. I have seen the future and they are going to make the right decision. Then they hang up. One minute is all it takes. One minute at $9.95. They have just spent ten bucks to put their minds at ease.
When I first started I would wonder if I was doing the right thing. Telling them to go change their life, just like that, without knowing anything about them except the sound of their sad pleading voice. I always told myself yes. I was helping people. I was making a difference.
Then one day things started to change. I got a call. “Psychic Hotline, this is Madame Rosewood, how may I be of service to you today?”
Silence. Then a man’s voice. Crackling loud. “Madame Rosewood.” I wait. The voice comes again. Solid and angry.
“Or should I say, Madame Orchid.”
Maybe I have used Madame Orchid before, and the voice is as unfamiliar as every voice I hear over that phone.
“I divorced my wife!” The voice is screaming now.
“I divorced my wife and now my life is over! She bled me dry, that bitch! Fuck you Madame Orchid! Fuck you Madame Rose! I have nothing left! Did you see that in my future you fucking hoe bag!”
I hang up. I was just called a hoe bag. Someone just spent ten bucks to call me a fucking hoe bag.
The phone rings again. I gather myself.
“Psychic Hotline, this is Madame Opal, how may I be of service to you today?”
Another voice this time. Female. High and piercing.
“Madame goddamn motherfucking Opal my fucking ass!”
There is screaming in the background. A kid crying. A baby.
“You told me to have that fucking baby you fucking shank! Madame fucking Opal!” The screaming in the background gets louder. I try to talk back, to say that she is just overwhelmed with having a child.
“Overwhelmed! Overwhelmed! You don’t know what over-fucking-whelmed is Madame goddamn Opal! My baby is fucking retarded! Did you hear me? Fucking retarded! I am gonna have to feed him with a bottle for the rest of his life! You told me to have a fucking retarded baby you fucking sick twisted—“
I hang up.
Again, the phone rings.
This time it’s a man yelling that he just quit the best job he ever had because I told him to. He calls me a pube rat.
The next call is a young couple. Each taking turns with the phone. Cursing me for telling them to buy this house. This goddamn crackpit that they just bought. They call me an ass worm and a pus bag.
After that, I stop answering the phone.
I only pushed people toward the decision they were already going to make. They needed me to be their inspiration, and then they need me to be their fall guy. Someone to blame. It wasn’t their decision. I told them to. It was my idea.
After that, I quit my job at the Psychic Hotline.
I got a job at a Tarot Card hotline instead. When people call, I ask them what they want to know. I pretend to shuffle cards and deal out cards and read cards. I make up meanings for the Emperor card and the Lovers card and the Judgment card. After I have dealt all my imaginary cards and told all about their imaginary meanings, I always tell my client exactly what they need to hear.
You are going to regret your decision no matter what you do.