This story was published in The Storyteller a few years ago, and won 2nd place for Reader’s Choice.
MISS NORA’S PREMONITION
When Miss Nora woke on Saturday morning, the impression she was going to die that day sat as heavily on her chest as last night’s onion sandwich.
Miss Nora had had a great many premonitions in her forty-five years, but several years had passed since the last one. In fact, she’d almost forgotten the gift of second sight inherited from her grandmother. Nana could foretell up a storm, but failed to predict her own demise. If she had, maybe she would have washed her feet and combed her hair that day.
Miss Nora’s premonition filled her mind so much she could actually see herself lying in a pink satin-lined casket with frolicking kittens embossed on the fabric. Oh, this dreadful presentiment would surely come true! Clearly an accident would do her in because she was in relative good health for someone her age and weight. She must take extreme care all day and give no mishap an open opportunity.
At precisely seven a.m., she eased out of bed. It seemed prudent to check her home for intruders of murderous intent. She hefted the massive hardbound Bible she kept next to the bed and held it ready to connect with any skull not her own. When her search yielded no prowler, she sighed with relief, double-checked the locks then went have her shower.
As usual, while her water warmed up, she set out her toiletries, towels and the underwear she assigned for Tuesdays. Miss Nora prided herself on her hygiene and grooming. If she were going to die today, she would not have dirty feet and frowsy hair like Nana. She plugged in the hot rollers that had belonged to her mother who had died in 1972 and which Miss Nora had used exactly twice, preferring to wear her hair back in a clasp.
One could say Miss Nora’s showers were the only aspect of her days she approached with exuberance. She splashed and sang and giggled while sudsing her hair and body to a fare-thee-well. The slippery yellow Dial soap slid off the soap dish and onto the floor, unobserved. When she stepped from the shower, her foot missed the slick, wet bar by a quarter of an inch. She failed to notice the soap on the floor as she ran water to brush her teeth. Miss Nora always ran the water full blast during this ritual since her teeth never felt clean unless at least five gallons of water gushed down the drain while she scrubbed molars and bicuspids.
By nine o’clock, Miss Nora had finished her toilette. As she cleaned her bathroom she discovered the errant bar of Dial on the floor. She washed and rinsed it in hot water and never realized how close she came to sliding into the hereafter.
At exactly 9:15 Miss Nora got in her 1985 Dodge Aries with 22,483 miles on the odometer. She sat for a moment. Since a car wreck seemed to be a reliable way to expire when one really did not want to, Miss Nora got out of the car to check the tires, the oil and to stare at the engine as if she might recognize any defect. Satisfied by the apparent safety of her vehicle she got in and drove to the bakery. Her plan: to buy and consume one glazed doughnut and coffee on site then bring two doughnuts home to eat in the privacy of her kitchen, just as she did every day. It was no one’s business if she ate three doughnuts daily (and four on Sunday).
As she drove, she gripped the steering wheel, stiffly leaned forward and fixed her gaze straight ahead. Perhaps she should stay home, but doing so would have broken her routine and spoiled her day. Like her mother before her, Miss Nora resisted any break in her routine.
Joe Bill Madison, on his red Schwinn, streaked across Vine Street not ten feet in front of her and stopped on the sidewalk. He pointed and laughed as she passed; Miss Nora gaped at him.
“You…you…boy!” she managed to holler, shaking her finger.
The blast of an airhorn shocked her into facing forward and witnessing the rapid approach of a Heath & Sons’ feed truck. Miss Nora’s frozen wits barely allowed her to yank the Dodge into the right lane a split second before she might have splattered herself on the truck grill.
“Oh, my. Oh, dear!”
Sailing through a red light with her mind on the two accidents she had narrowly avoided, she did not hear the scream of brakes on pavement, the blare of Roscoe Billings’ pickup horn or the subsequent and protracted cussing Roscoe shouted after her.
Bearing in mind her two near-misses, Miss Nora parked as near to the door of the bakery as possible. She sat for several minutes to calm herself before gingerly slipping from the car to creep feebly inside.
Two teenage girls in jeans sat at her usual table.
Oh, how unsettling. How discombobulating! Everyone knew she sat at that very table every day at this time. And today of all days to have her table usurped by persons with…tattoos! She glared at the girls; they ignored her. She ought to give them a piece of her mind. Instead, she groped her way to the nearest table and sank into an unfamiliar chair.
While other customers got their doughnuts in a sack and their Stryfoam cups of coffee at the counter, Miss Nora insisted on being served her doughnut on a china plate with a knife and fork, and coffee in a real cup. Miss Nora was sure Styrofoam caused cancer, infertility and plantar’s warts.
Such an upsetting day from so many quarters. Enough to ruin one’s appetite. She forced herself to eat her doughnut, chewing each bite thirty-two times so she wouldn’t choke to death.
As she left, Miss Nora again glared at the two girls who failed to take notice. She approached her car with caution, got in with care, backed out with prudence and drove home no faster than fifteen miles an hour—just in case that foolish Joe Bill was trying to get himself run over again.
At home, as she arranged both doughnuts on their plate to warm them in the microwave, she smelled burning plastic. Sniffing, she followed the odor to the bathroom. The ancient hot rollers and their holder smoldered on the counter.
“Oh, my. Oh, dear.” She helplessly fluttered her hands as she viewed the thin line of smoke beginning to rise. “Oh my.”
She turned on the faucet and cupped water in her hands to fling it on the primordial appliance. The curlers sizzled and popped. Miss Nora squealed with fright and fell backward. If her old cat, Patty Jean, hadn’t been behind her, Miss Nora would have cracked her head on the toilet bowl. As it was the cat yeowled beneath her and bit Miss Nora hard on the left tricep as she wriggled free.
Miss Nora lay on the floor and looked up at the ceiling.
“Oh, dear,” she said.
As she lay there contemplating accidents that seemed to run amuck today, she decided would be safer in her bed until tomorrow.
With considerable effort, Miss Nora rolled her copious body into sitting position then, wheezing, hauled herself to her feet. She unplugged the dying, sizzling roller unit then crept into her bedroom where she undressed.
Her Tuesday nightgown had slipped off its hanger in the closet. She picked it up off the floor and shook out the wrinkles. She could always feel wrinkles against her skin. The shaking dislodged a brown recluse spider that scuttled his way into the dark corner of the closet. Miss Nora, ignorant of his presence, slid on her nightie.
She brushed her teeth while water gushed down the drain, brushed her graying hair one hundred times then crawled into bed.
How exasperating to lie in bed at ten-thirty in the morning, her routine muddled and broken! The morning’s events had tired her, though, and her heart pounded like a runaway horse. She’d just take a nice nap and maybe read a magazine when she woke up.
Miss Nora closed her eyes and sighed. She was safe now.
The next morning, when Maybelle Crowley came to mop the floors, she found Miss Nora still in bed, cold and stiff, dead as last week’s fish.
“That’s the way t’go,” Maybelle told the paramedics when they showed up. “Nice and peaceful in your sleep without a worry in the world.”