Congratulations to New Voices writer JT Townley for his story, “O Fortuna.” Told in the collective voice, “O Fortuna” follows a mystery surrounding the words inside a Chinese restaurant’s fortune cookies. Townley does a wonderful job of pairing the strangeness of the fortunes with the curiosity of the narrators, who are suspicious of a new tenant in the building. It contributes to a growing sense of unease in the story that propels readers forward. It’s a fantastic piece and we’re thrilled to be publishing it. Enjoy!
by JT Townley
That was when the complaints began. For a time, it was mostly the regulars, who were always carping about something. Weather’s lousy, said Mr. Chan. What’s that smell? asked Mrs. Zhou. White woman’s bad luck, said Mr. Han. We brought them more dumplings and fried rice and Tsingtao, on the house, and pretended not to hear them.
Yet it wasn’t so easy with the tourists. They came from Iowa and Florida, England and Japan to eat at a real Chinatown restaurant. The Golden Dragon’s listed in all the books. We’re the best. Which is why we cannot ignore what the tourists say, however much we might prefer to. They make mental notes. They write customer reviews and are not afraid to speak their minds.
So when they complained about the cold, gloomy weather, we told them what the TV news said: a temporary atmospheric disturbance. When they asked about the rotten-egg stink permeating the building, we explained it wasn’t just us, the smell was everywhere, but the City was working on it. And when they asked about the constant opera music (not even Chinese), so loud sometimes it shook the walls and rattled the teapots, we tried not to look annoyed and said we had a new tenant in the apartment upstairs.
We told Sister the white woman would be trouble, but did she listen?
Soon most of the griping centered on the fortune cookies. They weren’t even Chinese, but then again, neither were we, in a manner of speaking. Still, the fortune cookies were important to everyone, including the regulars, though we couldn’t fathom why. It wasn’t the sweet, crisp cookie that customers loved so well, but what they found inside: golden nuggets of hope and inspiration. Compassion is a way of being. An inch of time is an inch of gold. Savor your freedom; it is precious. For our part, we never had anything to do with the cookies, so they weren’t our responsibility. We bought them wholesale from Uncle’s company, Golden Gate Fortune Factory. Uncle wrote all the fortunes personally, always had, though he hadn’t come up with any new ones for a dog’s age. But lately something had changed, and customers noticed.
Beware of odors from unfamiliar sources.
To read the rest of “O Fortuna,” click here.