The following is a short story I wrote about fortune cookies and how a small suggestion can change your outlook on your entire life.
THE FORTUNE COOKIE
“No, no, no!” Kaylie muttered as she frantically went through her purse. Her takeout order was ready and her wallet was missing. People in line behind her shifted their weight, rolled their eyes and grimaced impatiently as she got out of the way.
“You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me!” she exclaimed, dumping her bag out on a near-by table. Lipstick, gum, tampons fell everywhere, but no wallet. All she wanted to do was brighten her day with a little chinese takeout with her last ten bucks.
Quickly retracing her steps, Kaylie jogged her memory. She had it when she got on the subway, her pass was in there, distinctly remembering scanning her pass, putting it in her wallet, and placing it back in her purse. The cabin had been crowded, more than the usual rush hour push. With horror she realized it had to have been stolen. It would have been easy to do, an easy lift with a casual bump. Kaylie’s stomach sank as if she had swallowed a boulder instead of bile.
“Damn,” she said with tears welling in her eyes. “What a crappy day!”
“Who is Kaylie Spencer?” Her mind flashed back to earlier that morning. She overheard Mr. Boxham, the CEO of the accounting firm she worked for, and her supervisor, Mr. Herbert talking outside of her cubical.
“Oh, she’s just the gopher around here.” replied Mr. Herbert. “No more than a glorified secretary.”
“I do more than errands,” she thought. There were rumors of the company being in the red, and she had the feeling they were discussing the cutbacks they would have to make to ensure the company’s survival.
“Well, I suppose we can have everyone get their own coffee, now can’t we?” Mr. Boxham replied. He was writing her off like so many people before him. As if she didn’t matter.
Kaylie’s life was falling apart and she couldn’t keep the shattered pieces together.
“He doesn’t even know me,” she whimpered. Her knees turned to jelly and she sank to the restaurant’s floor and wept. The line moved forward, no one took notice, except for one man.
The restaurant owner, Hu Tsao, a strong believer in karma, looked upon the quivering heap on the floor. With kindness in his voice, he helped her up, guided her through the noisy, steamy kitchen and sat her in the back office. He presented her with some hot, fragrant jasmine tea and sat beside her until her sobbing had subsided and the hiccuping had passed. He left briefly and returned with a paper bag.
“Please, take this, no charge,” he said. Kaylie tried to protest, no stranger to misfortune himself Hu pressed it into her hands.
“Please, take,” he insisted, “I put extra fortune cookie in. Maybe give you good luck.”
He squeezed her lightly on the shoulder and led her to the door. As he watched her go, he said a little prayer and hoped the best for her.
The lifeless, stale air of her apartment only added to her bad humor. Kaylie unceremoniously dropped everything in her arms on the threadbare hazard orange couch in her cramped living room. Miserable, tired, and overwhelmed, she peeled off her clothes and headed for the shower. The lukewarm water trickled out of the faucet, giving her her no comfort.
Plopping down on the couch, she pawed through the takeout. The first box contained almond chicken. Not her favorite, but she and her stomach couldn’t afford to be picky. The other box was steamed rice. In the bottom of the bag rattled three fortune cookies.
Kaylie turned on the T.V. to the news and began to eat. She started a mental list of all the things she would have to do. Call the bank, cancel credit cards, report her ID missing, get a new subway pass...
“I’ll have to wake up extra early just to get to work,” she thought. “Ugh, work...”
Her days were numbered and it loomed over her head. She hated job hunting. The repetitive applications, the inane interviews, and the waiting and pacing and waiting for the damn phone to ring. She groaned at the thought and viciously stabbed at a snow pea.
After she was finished with the food, Kaylie stretched back on the couch and gazed at the ceiling. “What am I going to do?” she sighed. She looked around the room as if searching for her answer among the dusty second-hand furniture and cobwebs. Her eyes landed on the fortune cookies, who seemed to be looking back at her with their wry little grins.
“Huh,” she grumbled, “fortunes.”
She snatched one up, unwrapped it and cracked it open. The fortune slipped out from the crumbling confection, feathering down to her lap. She picked it up and read the inscription.
“Prepare yourself for a change of events in your personal life.”
“The winner of last week’s jackpot...” the news from the T.V. suddenly caught her attention.
“Lucky bastard,” she complained. She turned the paper over in her hand. There were numbers on the back.
“And those winning numbers were,” the anchorman announced with excitement, “35, 24, 21...”
35, 24, 21 was on the slip of paper read.
“...36, 56, 22.”
36, 56, 22! Kaylie jumped up and looked from the screen to the paper and back again. She couldn’t believe it!
“This can’t be!” she shouted. “It has to be a fluke!”
But she couldn’t ignore the coincidence. Quickly, she grabbed another cookie and cracked it open.
“Tomorrow, your lucky color will be green.”
She flipped the paper over to look at the numbers.
“The next lotto drawing is tonight...” the TV reminded her. She could still buy a ticket! Kaylie went to her change jar and scrounged up enough odd coins to buy one. She flew out of the apartment and with the speed of a gazelle, raced to the corner market. Panting, she copied the fortune’s numbers on to the lotto sheet. 10-42-50-53-43-45.
She bought her ticket and practically skipped home. The jackpot was $250,000 and her hopes were high.
That night, Kaylie anxiously awaited the drawing. In a fit of nervous energy, she cleaned the apartment, taking on a new spirit, livable, warm, and cozy. Finally, came the announcement.
“Tonight’s jackpot numbers are... 10.”
“Yes!” she thought and pumped her fist into the air.
“Oh man!” her stomach flipped in her excitement.
Kaylie could hardly contain herself. She perched herself on the couch, breathless, her every muscle tense.
“And the final number is...”
“GET ON WITH IT!” she shouted.
“What!” Kaylie, crestfallen, stepped off the couch and flumped down on the cushion. “One number! Just one number!” she moaned. She looked at the ticket clenched in her fist. Then, she noticed that she did win. Five numbers were enough to win a percentage of the jackpot, making her the winner of $250. Bolstered by this revelation, she went to her closet to find something green.
That night, her usual terrifying stress-induced dreams changed, coming alive with possibilities. Swirling colors and numbers filled her head. When Kaylie woke the next morning she had a brilliant solution to the budget crunch at work. Dressed in a smart green blazer and skirt, she scurried out the door. On her way out, a lone fortune cookie caught her eye. She plucked it off the table and placed it in her bag.
With her fortunate windfall of cash, she took a cab to work, a luxury she could never have afforded before. The driver, a jolly man named Jonny Vert, cracked jokes with her and made pleasant conversation on the way. When she arrived at work, Kaylie found herself in a great mood. She hardly recognized the reflection that shone in the polished elevator doors. Her posture seemed to be straighter, her eyes were wider, and even her hair was not as frizzy and unkempt as it usually was. She noticed people were looking at her, men taking. She blushed at the thought. Even the ambient noise of telephones and the tapping of keyboards sounded symphonic to her. Kaylie knew she had to save her job, everybody’s jobs.
Filled with purpose, she marched to Mr. Boxham’s office, but lost steam when she got to the door.
“What am I doing?” Kaylie said to herself. “Who am I to go barging in there?”
She skulked back to her cubical and flung her bag onto her desk. The violent landing jarred the contents of her purse, the last fortune cookie popped out of the bag and rolled onto her desk. Kaylie picked it up and looked at it. Turning it over and over in her hands, she debated her options. She could see the fortune peeking out between the folds of the crisp treat. She pulled it out delicately and read the inscription.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.”
It was enough to encourage Kaylie back to the office door. She stood there with the fortune in her hand. She read it again, screwed up her courage and knocked on the door. When called inside, she took her small step.
Kaylie went out for her lunch hour. Her usual routine of vending machine fare at her desk while working to stay ahead of her inbox just wouldn’t do today.
Stepping into the fresh air outside, a delectable aroma led her stomach to a small chinese takeout, where she ordered crispy duck and wontons. At the cashier, she noticed a large bowl filled with fortune cookies. When no one was looking, Kaylie grabbed a handful and stuffed them into her bag.
A block away from the takeout, she found a little hideaway. Crammed between two buildings laid a small oasis, with gnarled trees and green grasses, it looked like an mini ancient forrest. She made camp on a natural stone bench where Kaylie relished her meal and watched in awe as a spider tended to her web on a nearby branch.
Kaylie felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time. She felt lighter, jubilant, and at ease. Happy. Casually, she reached into her bag, pulled out a random cookie and read the fortune.
“Your abilities are appreciated.”
“Right you are!” she exclaimed, remembering her pitch to Mr. Boxham. She told him of the terrible waste of company dollars was being spent on paper goods for inter-office mail and couriers to the other offices around the city. Doing everything online would save a lot of money, she noted and gave him a guesstimate on how much money would be saved in a year’s time.
“Brilliant!” he said after she was done talking, “I’ll get Herbert to crunch the numbers.”
It was so satisfying to see Mr. Herbert’s smug expression of contempt when she entered the office, change to the slack-jawed look of surprise after she was done with her impromptu presentation. She wasn’t used to such praise and soaked it in like a sponge.
Kaylie kissed the fortune and put it in her pocket.
Upon her return to the office, she noted a heavy gloom in the air. Her co-workers either looked at her with sorrow or avoided eye contact with her all together. Puzzled, she walked to her cubical where she found the reason for the ominous mood. Mr. Herbert stood at her desk, and on her desk rested a box. One of those boxes, like the ones seen on TV shows and movies. The ones that symbolize someone is fired.
“Ah, Miss Spencer,” Mr Herbert said, his lips pulled back in a snake-like grin. He even hissed as he said her name, “Missss Sssspenssser...”
Kaylie stood in front of him dumbfounded and speechless.
“I suppose you realize what’s going on.” Herbert started.
“But the plan I proposed...” she began to argue.
“... was a good idea,” he interrupted, “however, was a little too late, I’m afraid.”
The rest of what Mr. Herbert had to say fell on deaf ears. Kaylie was back where she started, a martyr of her own plans.
Four unwrapped fortune cookies lined her kitchen table, all had the sinister grin Mr. Herbert gave her when he handed her a severance check. Kaylie smashed the first one with her fist then sifted through the remains for the fortune.
“You shouldn’t overspend at the moment. Frugality is important.”
“No shit,” Kaylie sighed and sank in her seat. She plucked the next one in line.
“You will be spending some time on water soon.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense!” She was afraid of water. Even driving over a bridge made her queasy. Kaylie picked up the third and cracked it open.
“You shouldn’t overspend...”
“Crap, a repeat!” She took the last one and cupped it in her hands and whispered to it, “C’mon, give me something.” Her breath caught as she cracked it open. The cookie snapped evenly in two to reveal nothing but vanilla scented air.
This sent Kaylie into a rage. She threw the cookie halves across the room. Swept the crumbled cookie carcasses from the table in one dramatic swoosh, then banged her head down on the table.
“These cookies are flawed!” she thought. “I was tempted by that sinful crispy duck. Those take out cookies were full of lies.”
She grabbed her purse and headed for Hu’s Chinese Takeout.
Kaylie found him standing by the counter. He patiently listened as she told him what had past.
“So that’s why I need more cookies,” she concluded, “your fortunes work.”
“Stupid child,” he chuckled, “fortune cookies have no power.”
“But they told me what to do and my life got better,” she pleaded.
“It was not the cookies that changed your life,” Hu explained, “It was your heart that changed.”
Kaylie was confused. “But the lottery...”
“That just dumb luck,” he dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. “Real luck, real fortune come from inside. Have a happy heart, have a happy life.”
Kaylie said goodbye to Hu Tsao and went home to think things over.
Two weeks later, Kaylie was on the eastbound ferry to an interview. She returned to her old job to ask Mr. Boxham for a referral. He gave her the name of a colleague, who he happened to know needed “a brilliant young mind,” like her.
She sat in the middle of the ferry, trying to keep her breathing steady. She held a small slip of paper in her hands and when she looked down at it, her head came up with a sly grin.
“You will be spending some time on water soon.”