The Gift

Written by Jean Roberts


"Patti Maguire – Psychic medium to the Stars". Patti looked at the poster and at her own face smiling back at her. It had been awhile since she’d been anything to the stars. These days her audiences were more likely to be a boozy crowd at a Working Men’s Club or a charity evening for the Women’s Institute. It hadn’t always been this way. In the early days she’d had to play this type of venue, but she’d been on the way up then, and you had to start
somewhere. She also had private clients. Bored housewives who wanted to hear that they were going to win the lottery, or meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger and be whisked away to a life of luxury. Or grieving relatives who needed to know that their dearly departed had gone to a better place. People could be so gullible.

Patti sank deeper into the old green armchair in dressing room number two, and felt the old springs digging into her ample posterior, but as uncomfortable as it was, she couldn’t be bothered to move. She was exhausted. The shows seemed to be taking more out of her these days. It would be her forty third birthday in a couple of months, and recently she had been giving some serious thought to retiring. To giving up the weeks of travelling up and down the country, staying in different bed and breakfasts night after night; not knowing which town she was in, or even what day of the week it was. Almost twenty years in the business was enough. Patti looked across the room to where Deana her manager for the past sixteen years, was packing the stage outfits into a large suitcase.

‘I’ve decided to retire at the end of this tour.’ She spat the words out so fast that when Deana didn’t respond, she wondered if she’d heard her, ‘Did you hear what I said?’

Deana continued folding the clothes ‘Yes.’


‘And what?’ Deana didn’t look up from her task.

‘And, what do you think?’ Patti couldn’t see Deana’s face to read her expression. Deana sighed and let the pink chiffon blouse she was folding fall into the suitcase as she turned to meet Patti’s gaze.

‘Why, why now?’ there was a sharpness to her voice, ‘It was a good house tonight and you want to give it all up? For what?’ she raised her eyebrows, questioning Patti’s decision.

‘I’m tired D. No, I’m exhausted. Nearly twenty years of this’ she waved a hand around the room ‘and I’ve had enough.’ She slumped a little further into the chair, deflated.

‘Let’s face it, the audiences are getting smaller, we’ve had our day…’ She waited for Deana to say something. But she didn’t. ‘…and let’s face it, I don’t really have the, um…talent for it anymore.’

A muscle twitched in Deana’s jaw ‘Of course you do. It’s a gift what you do Pat, bringing solace and comfort to all those bereaved people.’

‘But it’s a lie isn’t it?’

‘No, no it’s a real talent you have, contacting the other side.’ Deana tried to muster a sweet smile, but she didn’t do sweet anything, so it just looked false and sickly like she’d just taken a mouthful of coffee without her usual three sugars in.

Patti was beginning to feel deflated, but continued, ‘I really haven’t D, I’m just good at reading people. I tell them what they want to hear, that’s all.’

Deana sighed and walked over to Patti’s chair, knelt at her side and gently held her hand.

‘Look, it’s Sunday tomorrow, you can have a lie-in. Have breakfast in bed.’ She tried to be enthusiastic. ‘We can go for a nice drive out somewhere if you want, find a nice little pub, have lunch.’

All the while Deana was thinking that Patti couldn’t retire, not yet. She hadn’t spent the past sixteen or so years creating the ‘Patti Maguire’ of today for it all to thrown away. Deana had financial commitments. There was the little villa in France (that no one knew about) which wouldn’t be mortgage free for another five years, so Patti couldn’t retire yet. Deana would have to be careful, her usual bully boy tactics weren’t going to work this time. Patti closed her eyes for a moment. She knew convincing Deana wouldn’t be easy, but maybe it was going to be harder than she anticipated. She was just about to speak when there was a light knock at the door.

Deana looked annoyed, but was actually a little relieved that this line of conversation had been interrupted ‘Yes, who is it?’ she called out. No reply. There was another light knock at the door. This time Deana heaved herself up off the floor and walked over to the door, ‘I’ll get rid of them.’ she whispered over her shoulder at Patti. But the door began to open slowly just as Deana reached for the handle, and a young woman probably in her early twenties timidly entered the room.

‘Oh, hello, I’m sorry to disturb you’ she looked from Deana to Patti, her voice not much more than a whisper. Deana opened the door wider and invited the woman in. As Deana carried out the niceties and asked how they could help her, Patti studied her. There was something familiar about her, but Patti couldn’t put her finger on what it was. She could have been in the audience earlier she supposed, but something about her made Patti feel a little uncomfortable. She was very ordinary looking. Too ordinary maybe. She was average height, slim-ish; her shoulder length hair a mousey brown and in Patti’s opinion, could do with a wash. She was neither pretty nor unattractive. Her long brown skirt and patterned jumper looked as though they’d seen better days too, as did the flat brown boots which were badly scuffed. Patti could not shake the feeling that she’d met this young woman before, but couldn’t place where.

‘Pat, this is Bethan, she’s a big fan.’ Deana’s voice broke Patti’s thoughts. Patti held her hand out to the woman, ‘Hello Bethan, it’s always a pleasure to meet the audience.’

‘It’s such a relief to meet you at last’ Bethan held her hand a little longer than was comfortable, and her green eyes locked onto Patti’s as though trying to telepathically convey her thoughts. Patti pulled her hand away.

‘Would you like a signed photo? Or maybe have your photo taken with Patti?’ Deana asked in an attempt to break the obvious, but strange tension between the two women.

‘No, thank you, not really one for having my picture taken.’ Bethan replied with a nervous little laugh. ‘I wondered though, if you could contact my mother?’ She looked directly at Patti, then glanced at Deana.

‘Oh, you’d like a private consultation?’ Deana never missing an opportunity to make some money, turned to retrieve their bookings diary from her handbag. ‘Yes, I suppose I do.’

Deana started flicking through the pages in the diary, ‘When would you like?’

Patti wasn’t comfortable with giving a private consultation, especially to this young woman.
It didn’t feel right.

‘There’s a space on Monday afternoon at 2.30 if …’

‘Well, actually’ Bethan interrupted ‘I wondered if you could see me now’ Bethan edged slightly closer to Patti, who was still sitting uncomfortably on the springs of the old
green chair.

‘Oh I don’t know, I’ve just finished a two hour show, and to be honest…’

‘Yes, of course’ Deana closed the diary and smiled at Patti ‘that’ll be okay with you
won’t it?’

Bethan’s face lit up with joy ‘Oh thank, thank you.’

Patti glared at Deana, who was reaching for an old dining chair for Bethan to sit on, and
positioned it in front of Patti.

‘Is this okay Patti?’

But Patti didn’t answer, as Bethan thanked Deana for the chair.
As Patti readjusted herself in her chair.

‘Thank you Deana. You can leave us now’

Patti was about to speak to, when Bethan leaned forward and took both of Patti’s hands in
her own and held them firmly but gently, and whispered ‘Thank you.’

Patti asked Bethan to close her eyes, and prepared to churn out the hackneyed banter people expected, but to her surprise it was Bethan who spoke. Her voice barely a whisper. Aware of only Bethan’s voice, Patti felt surprisingly peaceful. After what seemed like a few minutes later, Bethan kissed her softly on the cheek and with squeeze of her hands, said ‘thank you’ and left the room. Patti opened her eyes, and felt strangely refreshed, as though she’d just woken from a deep restful sleep.

‘I thought she was going to be here forever’ Deana marched back into the room. ‘How did it go? Did you tell her anything interesting?’

‘I can’t tell you, you know that. Confidentiality and all that.’ That’s the line Patti used,
but the truth was she couldn’t remember what had been said. She tried but nothing came
forward. Her mind was blank.

‘How much did you charge her?’

‘What? Nothing. I don’t think I charged her anything.’

‘Oh Patti, you’re hopeless!’ she spat as she rushed out of the dressing room to find
Bethan. But the woman was nowhere to be seen.

It was about twenty minutes later when Deana came back and said she hadn’t been able to find Bethan. Something that didn’t come as a total surprise to Patti. Deana was clearly not happy with the fact that Bethan hadn’t paid for the consultation, and she hadn’t forgotten what Patti had said earlier about retiring. She wondered if she should bring the subject up again or hope it was a flash in the pan. She decided on the former. Patti had other ideas.

‘Deana, we need to talk.’ Her voice very matter-of- fact. ‘About what I said earlier,
about retiring.’

Deana expected her to say it was a mistake, that she’d changed her mind. A moment of
madness brought on by exhaustion. Patti needed a rest. A little holiday. Nothing too extravagant, there was still the property in France to pay for.

‘I want you to cancel the rest of the tour, D, I’m not doing any more shows.’ Deana felt the heat in her face ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’

The argument that ensued was a little one sided. Patti adamant that she wasn’t doing any more shows. Deana trying to persuade her otherwise. Firstly by bullying her, then trying to cajole her, then bullying her again. Patti determined to retire with immediate effect.

Patti eventually won the argument. It cost her of course, financially. Deana wanted a pay-off, which she received. Not as much as the next five years would have given her, but it was better than nothing. The rest of the tour was cancelled, claiming that Patti was suffering from exhaustion. No new dates were ever announced.

Deana gave up show business, and went to live in Milton Keynes, and was last seen working part-time stacking shelves at Tesco. The property in France is for sale. Patti was turning the modest bungalow she’d bought years previously into a comfortable home. Although Deana had siphoned off a lot of the money they earned through the shows, Patti had invested most of her money, so could live comfortably in the retirement she so craved.

Shortly after Bethan’s visit, Patti wrote to Bethan’s mother, telling her of Bethan’s message. It was a heart-warming moment when, a couple of months later, the day after Patti’s forty-third birthday, she received a letter from Ann Tyler, Bethan’s mother. She thanked Patti for her earlier letter and explained how her daughter, Bethan Rose, had been murdered sixteen years ago, two months before her twentieth birthday. The letter Patti had sent Ann had furnished the police with enough information to find Bethan’s remains, and given them enough evidence to arrest her murderer. It would have been Bethan’s birthday the previous day. The same day as Patti's.