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"You Don't Believe in Fate", short story excerpt

Thursday 4/23/20

“Think of it like a trick of fate,” your father said. “You manage it.”

Standard ops in terms of the old man’s speech. “You handle it.”

Once he tried a new word combo. “You ameliorate it,” but that didn’t work. He wasn’t old at the time.

Remarks people made caused you to think of songs you liked. You’d work bits from lyrics into your speech, gave them the inflection of a quote acquired as your own. “Think of it like a trick of the light,” you thought. A favorite Who song. You’d play it doing homework in middle school. Father and sister in the room on the other side of yours. She had a hard time sleeping. You listened with your headphones on, certain that the tapping of your feet, in their socks, couldn’t be heard through the wall, but the old man would come in and say, “hey, she needs to get to bed, keep it down, bud,” then make a fist and shake it, as if you rocked like a motherfucker. Your sister said socks were like gloves that just hadn’t been stitched into shape yet. Many of hers were pink. She sounded wise in matters of colors and character. Whatever. She probably knew best. Girls, right?

But fate has to play some out-sized tricks for you to come back and live in a house that was the first house you lived in. Fate has to be a magician. Maybe fate is Houdini, but you did a book report on him, and he was a sham. Broke into hardware stores, planted fake locks and chains, bought them, freed himself as everyone wondered how he did it. That’s how he did it. You don’t believe in fate.

But you'll walk around the house, sure. Layouts don’t change. Stairs never go anywhere, ironically. They are always the parts of buildings that never move. Rooms can shift when houses are gutted and redone, stairs are stable. There’s no blood in the basement that had been on the cement for so long where you had cut yourself on a knife your parents let you buy—finally—because you didn’t want them to know. The new people must have cleaned it up. You saw photos of their family. You’d dreamed about this house. Meant a lot to you. Very happy then. The woman who was the mother and the wife in the photos was comely. When you were younger you would have said she had a ripping bod.

Perhaps they were just leasing the house to you. It wasn’t yours again. Maybe you had brain trauma and couldn’t process what had happened to the world, that everyone had to take the nearest shelter, the people who were left, right away, STAT, a public service broadcast filled the air, speakers in trees or clouds, and you sometimes came back here to look at the old house, so you just ran in.

I don’t fucking know, man. Don’t ask me. I’m just telling you the best I can. You want to open the drawers in the bedroom of the adults, see what this woman has in there. But you’ve read about people plucking a hair from their head, wetting it with their tongue, sticking it over the seam where a drawer opens so they can see later if someone opened it.

Your folks are in the family room when you come back down. “Jesus, this is strange, right?” you say. Your sister isn’t there but she phones in a while, which is good, because you’ve wanted to catch up since she died. She’s coming back from a hockey game. Summer league. They’re going to stop for pizza. You had hoped to see more of her that summer. “Yeah, yeah, no, right, yeah, un-huh, yes, no, I am, really, no, I didn’t say that, right right right, okay, I miss you, too. Be safe. What? No, I know, this is fucking weird. House looks the same. These people have their shit in it. I guess they’ll get it later. See you soon.”

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