As Toni’s tears and sobs subsided, she looked up to see they had once again time shifted. She was sitting on a threadbare recliner in a shadowy apartment. She breathed a heavy sigh.
“Now what?” she asked.
Maude sat on a rocking chair across from Toni, in her flowing black robes once again. She was silently stroking a cat the color of midnight. The kitty arched his back against her hand and purred contently. Maude smiled slightly, as if lost in her own thoughts. Toni noticed two more felines lying at Maude’s feet.
“What’s with the cats? Is this your house?” Toni looked around and noticed a few more cats lying in various areas around the room.
“No dear. This is your house,” Maude replied, still stroking the cat.
“But this doesn’t look like my house.”
“This is your place if you don’t change.”
Toni stared at Maude for a long moment before once again surveying the room, this time with more scrutiny. The furnishings were sparse, only the rocking chair that Maude sat in, the recliner she was sitting in and a few haphazard pieces of furniture. She noticed two cat trees in corners and several litter boxes.
“So, what, I’m a cat lady now?” Toni said with a smirk.
“Sort of, but you still have Rufus too,” Maude replied, still lovingly stroking the cat on her lap.
Toni’s smirk faded and sadness washed over her. So this is what it had come to? She was alone except for her animals. The only living things she ever fully trusted.
Just then Rufus lumbered into the room looking forlorn and old. He gave a feeble attempt at chasing one of the cats from a sunny spot by the door. The car hissed at him, but moved out of the way. He turned about three times and finally settled into the sun with a large snort.
“He can’t see me, right?” Toni asked.
“So how can you pet the cat, but none of them can see me?”
“When you get some supernatural powers then you’ll be able to understand. For now, just take it as it is.”
“Well you don’t have to get prissy with me,” Toni replied tersely.
Maude looked up from her petting and stared at Toni with large, coal black eyes. Toni could feel the cold emanating from the witch. She had forgotten her place. Over the last few hours she had grown to think of her as a friend instead of someone with powers she would never comprehend. Toni knew she had overstepped and she quickly averted her eyes and looked at the floor.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
Maude pushed the cat off her lap and stood up.
“Would you like to see the rest?”
Toni really didn’t, but after being chastised she thought better of speaking her mind. She silently followed Maude from room to depressing room. The rest of the three room apartment was just as sparsely furnished and the walls were drab gray, almost institutional. Already she could feel her spirit dampening and she wasn’t even really in this world. How on earth did she live here?
“So this is where I will be if I don’t get a grip I’m guessing,” she asked Maude.
“You got it. Not too pleasant is it?”
Toni could feel the lump in her throat threatening again. She swallowed hard and forced herself to be strong. If this was her life now, so be it.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Maude interrupted her thoughts. She hated when she did that. “You’re thinking ‘so what, I can do this’. Am I right?”
Toni’s lips curled into a small smile and she once again averted her gaze.
“I’m stronger than you think,” she replied, “I can do this. It’s no big deal.”
“Really? I thought you wanted to be married… have some kids. Was I wrong?”
Toni’s throat constricted tighter at the mention of children. She had always wanted kids, but her childhood wasn’t the greatest. She also knew she hadn’t had the best role model, so what kind of mother would she be? This was probably for the best.
Shaking her of all her doubts, she faced Maude, her face a mask of false confidence.
“Nope – no kids. What kind of mother do you think I’d be? I didn’t have the best role model after all. You showed me that… reinforced it for me really. I’d be better off this way.”
Saying it out loud sounded pretty plausible. She almost convinced herself with that little speech.
Just then Toni saw the door open and her future self walked through the door. She barely recognized herself. This Toni was painfully thin and had huge dark circles under her eyes. She walked through the front room to the kitchen like a zombie, not even noticing Rufus who had roused himself from his sunny spot to greet her. She grabbed a frozen meal from the freezer, popped it into the microwave and starting doing yesterday’s dishes. It was like she was on auto pilot.
Maude caught her gaze and looked deep into her soul. Toni knew her confidence had been revealed as nothing more than fake bravado. She fought the urge to look away, holding Maude’s gaze instead for what seemed like an interminable time. Just as Toni was about to give in, Maude shrugged her shoulders and looked away at Rufus who had returned to his spot in the sun.
“Okay, if you say so,” she replied, “But I still have one more place to show you.”