The waiter brought us our check on a little silver tray, bowing while politely setting it beside my plate. Atop the scribbled paper were two fortune cookies, wrapped in wax paper, which suggested they were homemade.
“Oooh,” Paul said from across the table, reaching out.
I playfully slapped his hand away. “I already told you, Paul. Dinner’s on me.”
He kept his hand wavering in the air. “That doesn’t mean you get all the cookies.” He went for the tray again.
I moved it out of his reach — which was fairly easy because he was sloshed on pear wine. “It doesn’t work that way,” I said, waiting for him to put his hand back down.
He lifted a shoulder and sneered in a childish taunt, then picked up his glass instead, slurping down what remained in it. “Vine,” he said, slurring the F.
“You have to follow protocols with these things. You’re not supposed to just grab your own fortune like that. Fate is handed to you.” I picked up the tray. “So I serve you yours, and you serve me mine.” I slid the bill out from under the cookies the way a magician pulls the tablecloth out from under a dinner set. Then I presented him with the cookies on the platter. “Take.”
He picked the cookie on the left — going for the bigger one — and immediately unwrapped its wax paper purse, not bothering to take the tray from my hand and serve me mine.
I set the platter down and slid it across the table, next to the black porcelain plates that had earlier cradled his meal.
“Oh, this is a big one,” he said, holding the cookie in front of his face, and then pinching one end with his free hand. He snapped it crisply in half, with a few small pieces tinkling the porcelain below.
He read it aloud: “There’s nothing more dangerous than an idea if it’s the only one you have.”
“In bed!” he shouted, then laughed in a way that was clearly intended to get the other patrons in the restaurant to join in on the joke.
They uncomfortably tried to ignore him.
I didn’t have that luxury. “Okay, my turn…” I signaled at the remaining cookie by his dinner plate.
Paul was clueless. “Wait, I don’t get it. I thought fortunes were supposed to predict the future.” He scrutinized the tiny ribbon of paper, his lips moving as he whispered it over again to himself, as if double-checking the message. Then he lifted an eyebrow as he repeated it again, as loud as a patron complaining about the food. “This just insults me with a platitude.” He looked at me. “I want to know what the future holds. Give me a new one.”
He moved to pick up the cookie I was waiting on. I lunged and saved it from his grasp. He frowned.
“Paul,” I said with a smile, enjoying the fact that he wasn’t getting what he wanted. “Every fortune cookie does tell the future in its own way. Maybe it’s a warning about some idea you will have in the future…or a mystical comment from the beyond about something you’re working on right now.” I leaned over my own cookie and decided that I might as well just eat it, fate or not.
He frowned, unable to shake his frustration. He looked around the room as if to summon the waiter, then his gaze fell on me, fondling the free cookie. “I feel cheated!”
“Just think about it,” I said, unwrapping the wax paper, eager to get a sugar boost.
Then he gurgled. I looked up.
His chest cavity pushed forward like a rooster’s as his neck went limp. I thought he might be having a heart attack, but then there was an unholy sound of bones popping skin as his ribcage buckled. It was as if his body had been snapped in half, clutched in the fist of an unseen giant.
I shot out of my chair, moving to help him — but it was too late. He fell to the floor.
In halves. Impossibly, one side of Paul’s body slumped to the left and the other fell to the right at exactly the same time. It wasn’t until the place where his shoulders should have been fell to the chair seat and his clothes spilled open that I realized: he had somehow broken in half.
Just like his fortune cookie.
I dropped the cookie I was clutching.
And then I, too, fell to the floor.