My mates at work all think I'm crazy when they see me opening the "Evening Echo" at Astro's "You and Your Stars" column instead of turning to the football results. I'll never convince them I don't believe this stuff any more than they do. For the trouble is, my girl-friend Mavis is a real starry-eyed fan of Astro's. Every word that drops from his pen is a pearl of wisdom to her.
When she first started on this kick I tried to laugh her out of it. Two or three bust-ups later, I brought up the heavy artillery with logical arguments like how can the stars affect our lives when they're millions of miles away, etc, etc. All she would say was, "Mike, you've simply made up your mind not to understand."
Well, I suppose we all have to try it once before we learn that logic and women don't mix. It didn't take me long to cotton on to the fact that, if I wanted Mavis to go on being her usual loving affectionate self, there was only one thing for it - I'd has to keep a jump ahead of her by reading the darned horoscopes myself.
What finally convinced me was this. I'd had a small win on the office sweepstake, so just to show I loved and appreciated her I bought Mavis a big bunch of flowers. I thought at the time that they got rather a cool reception - hardly a word said all evening. Then suddenly, just as we were saying goodnight, floods of tears and out it all came: "You've been seeing that girl from the sales office you used to go out with!"
Guess what her horoscope had said? "An unexpected gift may be covering up an uneasy conscience."
So you can imagine how I felt one Friday evening when, before going to meet Mavis for a meal and a night at the pictures, I read under Sagittarius, her sign: "A pleasant evening could be spoiled by a quarrel with someone close to you." I crammed the paper in my pocket, wishing I could have a few words with the bloke who writes the column. Because if it says it in her horoscope, it will come true - Mavis will see to that!
As I turned into the High Street I could see Mavis waiting for me outside the Tai Fang and even at that distance the thunderclouds were visible. I glanced nervously at my watch - no, I wasn't late. Had I forgotten to ring her at lunchtime? - no, that had been last week.
"Here I am, love", I said when I reached her side. My smile felt a bit pinned on but she didn't seem to notice. "I'm absolutely furious!" she burst out as soon as we were seated at our favourite table. "I'll never speak to our Kathy again!"
My spirits rose, so she'd had a row with her sister – good, that let me out. "My last decent pair of tights, and there she is, walking out wearing them. The brass neck that girl has . . ."
"Well, cheer up, love", I said. "It doesn't really matter. You're wearing a long skirt anyway."
She gave me a pitying look.
"That's exactly why I'm wearing a long skirt", she said loftily. "And if it's raining when we come out of the pictures, I'm not struggling on to the bus in this. We'll have to get a taxi."
I winced slightly at the thought, but things could have been worse.
"Don't let it spoil our night out, Mavis, you look smashing to me anyway", I said cheerily. "And after all, it had to be; it's written in your stars."
She gave me a sharp glance but I kept my face straight.
"You're kidding, aren't you? I thought you didn't believe 'in horoscopes," she-said. Then she saw the paper sticking out of my pocket. "Oh, I haven't had time to read mine today - let's have a look."
I fished the "Echo" out of my pocket and passed it over, still folded open at Astro's column. Mavis studied it carefully.
"There, what am I always telling you? Astro's never wrong. Oh, Look at this - have you read yours? 'Jupiter in your sign may bring a step forward in your career'."
I haw-hawed sceptically. Getting to the top at the firm I worked for was like trying to climb up the down side of a runaway escalator, and even Jupiter with his thunderbolts couldn't frighten our boss enough to get an increase out of him.
I didn't even think of it at first when, on Monday morning, word went round that Mr Midgeley was retiring. In fact the thought that flashed through my mind was, "Oh, no, not another subscription!" What with people leaving, and people getting married, and the hat coming round all the time, I hardly had fifty pence to bless myself with at the end of the month. Then a little sum began to work itself out in my head. Mr Midgeley + retirement = promotion all round. At last I'd be getting my long-awaited move up into the sales office, and a rise as well.
Mavis was thrilled when I told her the news, not only because she saw it as another triumph for Astro, but also because to her way of thinking it brought nearer the date of a certain ceremony she'd been dropping a lot of hints about recently. I was so busy calculating what my salary increase would come to after tax that I didn't realise there was a big snag, but Mavis spotted it the minute she heard the words "sales office".
"If you're moving in there", she said, "I suppose that means you'll be working next to that Judy you used to be so keen on."
I never quite managed to fathom out why Mavis imagines I cherished a deep and lasting passion for Judy. It was true I'd taken her out a few times, when we were both new to the office and didn't know anyone else, but that was long before I met Mavis; and in any case I wasn't by any means the first man in Mavis's life, if all her stories were to be believed.
"Judy's not interested in me", I told her. "She's going out with a boy called Derek who's a reporter on the 'Echo'."
Mavis merely sniffed. "All the same, I bet she's never forgiven me for taking you away from her."
The next night I'd arranged to meet Mavis outside our office, and I was standing at the bus stop when suddenly Judy came galloping up.
"Hello, Mike, congrats on your promotion", she chirped. "Are you waiting for Mavis?"
"Yes, she's due on the next bus", I told her, wondering why she seemed to find it necessary to flap her hand about under my nose.
"Oh, Mike, you're as thick as two planks! Haven't you noticed my ring? Derek and I got engaged last night. I suppose it'll be you and Mavis next", she added coyly.
It occurred to me I'd better have a good look at this ring, so that I'd have some idea of what Mavis would be expecting me to come up with in due course, so I took hold of. Judy's hand. At that moment Judy gave a little squeal. "Ooooh, there's Mavis now!"
"Where?" I looked round.
I thought I saw Mavis on that bus that just passed", Judy explained. "But it couldn't have been, could it, or else she'd have got off at the stop."
I waited for the next bus, and the one after that, but there was no sign of Mavis. After half an hour I decided I'd better phone her home. Her mother answered.
"What on earth's the matter with Mavis?" she asked right away. "Have you had a row?"
I explained that I hadn't even seen her.
"Well, it's very funny, she came home twenty minutes ago, went straight up to her room and slammed the door, and she's been sobbing her heart out ever since. I think you'd better come round and see her, Mike. I'll tell her you're on the way."
When I got to Mavis's place I was handed a note she'd pushed under her door. It was smudged and tear–stained but I managed to get the message which was, roughly, that anything slimy which cared to crawl out from under a stone would receive a rather warmer welcome from Mavis than I was ever likely to get. She also added that she'd seen me holding hands with Judy at the bus stop, and that she might have known better than to trust anyone born under the sign of the Scorpion.
The next week was the most wretched I've ever lived through. I got fed up hearing that scruffy kid brother of Mavis's at the other end of the phone saying, "No, Mike, my sister's not in at the moment, tee–hee." A couple of nights I waited outside the store where she worked, but out she came arm in arm with a girl friend on each side and they all swept by laughing and chatting merrily, leaving me with the feeling I was getting type–cast in the role of the Invisible Man.
When it got round to Friday, which had always been our big night out, I was really in the dumps and wondering what to do to fill in the evening. Judy had come down out of the clouds a bit by this time and at morning coffee–break she noticed my long face and asked what was wrong. Being a girl she understood Mavis's point of view straight away.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I can see what she must have thought", she said. "I suppose it's no use offering to go round and explain - she'd probably slam the door in my face."
She stirred her coffee thoughtfully, then suddenly her eyes sparkled.
"I know! Mavis always reads Astro's column in the 'Echo', doesn't she? Well, Derek knows Astro quite well. Supposing I phone him at the paper and see if they can change Mavis's horoscope for tonight - you know, forgive and forget, something like that."
Judy meant well but I hadn't much faith in her idea, and when the office-boy brought in the papers at half-past five I just shoved mine in my coat-pocket and went on getting ready to go home, with the prospect of spending a lonely evening glowering miserably at the box.
The phone rang just as I opened the front door and I picked it up without much interest. Mavis's tearful voice fell on my ear like rain on the thirsty desert.
"Oh, Mike, I've been so stupid - and so miserable! How can you ever forgive me?"
We had a blissful reunion in the sitting-room at her place,. with her mother keeping Kathy and the kid brother firmly out of the way. It wasn't till I was sitting there, at peace with the world, waiting for Mavis to get dressed up so we could go out and celebrate, that something she'd whispered to me between kisses suddenly rang a bell.
"It's all thanks to Astro, isn't it, mike darling?" That's what she'd said. I whipped out my paper and turned to the usual page. Yes, there it was - 'Sagittarius: Beware of jumping to hasty conclusions. Make sure you know the facts before you condemn.'
I smiled quietly to myself. Perhaps Astro wasn't such a menace after all. And as for Judy, she was a real pal. I wouldn't forget this when the subscription list came round for her wedding present.
Well, I needn't go into details, except that I was glad I'd taken the chance to have a good look at Judy's ring so I won't appear so ignorant when Mavis and I pay that visit to the jeweller's we've planned for next payday.
There's just one thing I haven't quite sorted out yet. Next morning I phoned Judy to say thanks, but as soon as she heard my voice she started to apologise.
"Sorry, Mike, I did phone Derek yesterday, but he said it was too late to change anything in that evening's paper."
Well, coincidences happen all the time. Of course they do. Don't they?