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Jury

Only in that instant did I remember what happened during a sleepover when I was a girl. Clad in rainbow star pajamas to match her name, Celeste shared that she had heard that if we twirled around and said “Blood of Mary” three times, we could see our future reflected in a mirror. She passed the looking glass to Angela first, probably because she seemed so eager. Angela spun around and blurted out three times, “Blood of Mary!” But she saw nothing out of the ordinary when she peered at her reflection. Bummed, she passed the mirror back to Celeste. Celeste tried it with devout enthusiasm, but she got the same result. I confess that I was greatly relieved when it didn’t work for me either.
That must’ve been close to twenty years ago.

Now I’m with two of my sorority sisters from college. We’re at Belfagor’s, of course, definitely the best place for brunch in the city. They make killer Mimosas with dark blood oranges. Reservations are de rigueur.
Scarlett prattled on about her promotion in human resources, which was the excuse for our little Sunday celebration. Meanwhile, Magdalene was distracted, tapping almost superstitiously every few minutes with the tip of her left ring finger on the screen of her gleaming new smart phone. It displayed a champagne-colored bauble she expected to receive shortly from her workaholic advertising executive boyfriend. After all, she’d been seeing him for almost thirteen months already. Every time she made the image reappear, I could almost hear her thinking to herself, “It can’t possibly be a blood diamond,” as if that mantra could make it true.
The place was packed, but the waiter maneuvered with practiced panache, balancing on his tray three drinks, each sporting a pair of olives resembling eyeballs and a tall, leafy stalk of celery. He deposited the first one with a polite, “Ma’am, your Bloody Mary,” before a chic dame who dabbed at the corners of her mouth with a carefully pressed organic linen napkin edged with golden bugle beads. Her faux eyelashes flashed a thank you that I saw for an instant reflected in the shiny carafe of the bistro’s house-prepared harissa hot sauce, which the waiter had left next to her beverage.
He whirled around to leave the second precariously full glass in front of her partner, who surreptitiously admired in her tiny makeup mirror the effect of her recently acquired and freshly applied lip stain Carnelian Candescence – so trendy these days. It worked so well on her that I made a mental note to pick up a tube for myself after we were done here. “Bloody Mary,” he murmured to her with the slightest of bows.
Side-stepping a shopping bag, he hoisted the tray over his head and pirouetted to a booth, placing the remaining glass before a man who already had two empties around his half-eaten plate of Eggs Benedict. Perhaps this third round would finally take the edge off of what was clearly a torturous reunion with his persistently unsatisfied in-laws. “Bloody Mary,” the waiter intoned.
Too late! Why was I looking there? Why did I not recognize the pattern sooner?
As the waiter tipped his polished brass tray to tuck it under his elbow, I glimpsed the whole uncannily repeated scene from my childhood, refracted in miniature. Beyond the din of the brunch crowd, I saw in the tray – is it possible? – a pair of otherworldly amber orbs ushering a pitch-blackness... A creature?... A force?
All at once, a dank, clammy emanation pervaded the entire dining room. Everything suddenly went deathly quiet, and a shroud of darkness loomed indistinctly over all of us. We looked about in momentary confusion.
From a bowl harboring a perfectly sliced Ruby Red grapefruit on the next table, a silver spoon fell end-over-end as if in slow motion. The clatter it made when it struck the Jasper red marble floor suggested a dread portent

like the tolling of a bell
in the fourth circle of Hell.

CONTEST

Image of Brunchin' Around

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