(Wild Beasts: Braving Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants)
Jim was disappointed by the clairvoyant's house. He'd expected a new age nightmare of crystals and candles, and so much incense that his breath would catch in his throat. Her house was disappointingly ordinary: a neat end of terrace with beige carpets, neutral walls and art from Ikea.
She didn't live up to his expectations either, just a middle-aged woman with her hair tied back, an exhausted look, and a top he knew she'd bought at Monsoon, because his wife owned the same one. He'd expected something more...dramatic. The clairvoyant had come highly recommended, which was why he was there to expose her as a fraud for the entertainment of his readers.
"Put your hands on the table, please."
"Palm up or down?"
She shrugged. "Whatever you feel comfortable with."
He put them palm up. She reached out her hands, rested the tips of her fingers gently on his. Closed her eyes for a moment. Then opened them again, looking past Jim and towards the curtains, as if she could see very far away.
"You're not married," she said, and it was all Jim could do not to smile. That'll be news to Marion, he thought. "But you will be, one day." She closed her eyes again, not long, but longer than a blink. "It will be a little sad, because you will find out that she is not able to bear children."
I should hope not, Jim thought. One's enough for me.
The clairvoyant looked at him with compassion. "But although you will always wish you could have become a father, you will find happiness of a kind."
"Of a kind," Jim said.
"Yes," she said, but didn't go on to elaborate. Another long blink. "You miss your brother."
"I do," Jim said. Apart from every other month when we play golf.
"I see him," she said. "In the other world. He is at peace."
Not unless my sister-in-law has changed beyond recognition, he thought, and had to bite down on his lip so that he wouldn't smile.
As he drove home, he started to write the article in his head. He'd make something more dramatic out of the woman and her house, something a little more exotic, it would be interesting for the readers and would also make her seem more calculating.
When he walked through the front door, the photo was gone from the wall. He'd paid a fortune for an hour in a studio for the three of them, and then spent ten times that long arguing over which photo they'd have enlarged and printed on canvas.
No-one was downstairs, and when he went upstairs, no-one was there either. Ben's room was half-full of boxes, the rest taken up by a dusty multigym. Jim walked into their bedroom, dull and slow like he was underwater. He stared at the un-made bed, at the sheets that needed changing a month ago, at the one bedside light. He slid the fitted wardrobe door open, and saw his clothes. Just his clothes.
When his mobile rang and he saw that it was his sister-in-law calling, he knew what she was going to say even before she said it.