Monday, 26 November 2012

Story - The Mathematics of Fate

The idea for The Mathematics of Fate came to me the same way ideas often come to me, when my mind should be otherwise occupied – which is to say, when I’m at work. I was driving on Highway 250, north of Souris, and was just coming to the intersection at the Trans Canada. When checking for oncoming traffic, I saw a car approaching with BC plates, and had to stop to allow him to get by. I found myself wondering how far he’d driven for us to meet in this exact place and time...

                                    The Mathematics of Fate
                                                                                                CW Lovatt 02/08/11 04/08/11
              “I love you,” Abby told me, and I almost believed her, but I had to ask myself, what are the odds? Then she checked her watch, and in a tired voice, half-pleading (but only half), promised, “Well talk later, okay?” Then she was out the door…and out of my life, without even a wave goodbye.
Im not a huge fan of numbers: artists prefer colours. But lately Ive been wondering a lot about the progressions involved when your wife is late for work, driving too fast, with her radio too loud because shes too preoccupied with that mornings argument to keep her in the moment. Then insert a train into the equation, racing down the tracks all the way from Calgary, destined to meet her at an exact place and time.
See what I mean? What are the odds of that happening? But lets take it one step further.
Why was my wife late that morning? Well, you see, she was having an affair, Im pretty sure. She had all the signs: the preoccupation, the secrecy, coming home late - all of it. That was just part of the big picture, but I didnt know that then. At the time I thought that it was the big picture; thats why I chose that morning to have it out with her.
I keep wondering: why did it have to be that morning? How many nights lying awake, nursing those suspicions, would it take for you to get to that point? With me it was exactly the wrong number, baby. I mean, that morning I rolled snake eyes.
         Abby hadnt come home until well past midnight, yet again, and had stumbled down the stairs five hours later, dressed for work, looking like death warmed over. Id been up for hours, waiting, and had finally decided that enough was enough.
She made straight for the coffeepot, without even a glance in my direction.
 I said, “We have to talk.”
 Body language can tell you a lot. Like the way her shoulders abruptly sagged while she stood there at the counter with her back to me. I didn’t need to be told that her defences were up. You couldn’t batter down those walls. If you wanted in, you had to come in peace…or you had to be prepared to lay siege.
  “Don’t do this,” she warned, like she was tired and a little cross - like she considered that quarrelling at such an ungodly hour was in the worst possible taste - but I couldn’t take this lying down.
   If I had a strategy it was pretty simple. I wasn’t in the mood for a siege. I didn’t even want in anymore. I just wanted to drag up my heavy guns and do some damage of my own, get some payback for all those sleepless nights she’d caused.
    “Don’t do this?” I had to fight to control myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
    “Josh, I -”
     I cut her short and posed the age-old poser of all cuckolded husbands everywhere, “Where were you last night?”
      Oh we were ‘doing this’, all right. It was time to man-up, to start kicking ass and taking names. We were doing this, even if it took all day, and our world came crashing down around our ears! We were doing this because I was finally taking the bull by the horns. Oh yeah, baby, we were doing this ‘til the cows came home, and then some!
       If only it had turned out that way.
       She sighed, “You’re just looking for an argument.”
        Rules were never a big part of Abby’s life. Not so long ago that had been an attraction for me: it was like being with a beautiful spirit, soaring high above the world, redefining the meaning of freedom. Yeah, it had its attractions; I’d always thought of her as someone special, but now that she was taking things to a whole new level, I didn’t think that anymore. Well you don’t, not when the parameters she’s changing are your own.
         I grated, “Don’t give me that! I know when I’m being played!”
         She repeated the sigh, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
         That was Abby to the core: a stone wall around every turn. It would take days to break through, but like I said, I didn’t care about that anymore, and there’s no defence against not caring. I just wanted to get it all off my chest before washing my hands of her.
          Maybe she sensed as much from my tone, because her tactics suddenly changed. She frowned at her watch and exclaimed, “Oh god, I’m late!” before gathering her things and heading for the door. But I guess I got through to her after all, at least a little anyway. I was close to exploding when she stopped at the threshold, just prior to launching herself into oblivion.
           Our eyes met when she said, “Look Josh, I love you, okay?” I think she wanted to say more, but instead she took another frown at her watch - changed her mind -and half-pleaded, “We’ll talk later,” and that was all.
           So much for taking the bull by the horns.
           That ‘I love you’ had to be a lie, but it caught me off-guard, so I hesitated and let her get away. God, if only I’d said something – anything - to hold her back just a few minutes longer.
           The Mounties came by later that morning. I was trying to work, but it was impossible to concentrate. So I was caught off-guard a second time when I answered the doorbell and saw them standing there, with that uncomfortable commiseration written all over their faces.
           The Souris River was in a record flood this spring, and roads were being closed on a daily basis. She’d taken a detour onto the gravel where the CPR crossed near Melita - an uncontrolled intersection without any crossing lights, passing through a thicket of poplars, with the train coming full bore. It had struck her broadside, dragging her for a mile. They assured me that she hadn’t suffered. I wonder, how could they possibly know such a thing?
           Somehow I got through the next few days. I don’t remember much – just more of the same commiseration I’d got from the police. There was a moment at the funeral, when they were putting her in the ground...I think I made a spectacle of myself, but no one said anything. People cut you some slack during times like that.
           I was grieving, but not the way you might think. I was angry more than anything – angry at her for cheating, angry at myself for letting it happen, angry about what was left unspoken. I was in the worst possible place: robbed of my memories, forced to accept that the woman that I was mourning had become a stranger, and of course, constantly tormented with thoughts of her having been with someone else. Every day took more of me away from myself, until I felt like I didn’t exist anymore; and maybe that’s what I wanted – to disappear. I didn’t want to be me, but I was trapped inside my skin, like a prisoner in a cage. Sooner or later I would have to come to terms with it all. Trouble was, I didn’t know how.
           Then came this morning when I saw Abby’s friend, Jane, coming down my lane in her old beat-up VW, the exhaust popping out the occasional smoke-ring along the way. The Beetle managed to make it to the driveway before shuddering to a stop a few yards from the door. Jane got out: a moth-eaten spinster, somewhere in her sixties, wearing a paint-spattered smock, with long tendrils of grey shooting just any-old-how from underneath a crumpled beret. A half-consumed cigarette jutted from her mouth, with most of the ash still attached. Even as I watched, it gave up the ghost and let go, falling, to mingle unnoticed with the varicoloured stains on her smock.
           Without a word, she ducked back inside the car, rummaging around in the bedlam that most people would have called a back seat. Finally she re-emerged with a canvas, covered in plain brown paper wrapping, and carried it over to where I was waiting on the step, wondering why she had come.
            There was little love lost between us. Call it professional differences, call it a case of Order versus Chaos, whatever works for you, but while my wife had still been alive there’d been an unspoken agreement to stay out of one another’s way. Now, under the circumstances, Jane was the last person I expected to come calling.
            Frowning, I acknowledged her presence with a curious, “Hello?”
            Her own frown remained as constant as ever. Instead of replying, she shoved the canvas under my nose, and with her mouth working furiously around the butt of her cigarette, rasped out a throaty, “Here!”
            Astonished, I accepted it in silence. She had her car door open before I finally managed to ask, “What’s this?” uncomfortably aware of how foolish that sounded, even with my mind dulled by grief.
            That’s when I noticed the pain etched on her own face. She wouldn’t look at me, but she didn’t quite look away, either. Instead she scowled at a point somewhere above my shoulder, and explained with laconic defiance, “She was working on it…a surprise…not finished.”  Then she got behind the wheel, the engine erupting in a cloud of foul blue smoke, before she ended with an angry, “Goddam thing’s taking up too much space in my studio!” and with that she was gone, the Beetle chattering discontentedly down my lane, leaving me in a quandary of thoughts, none of which seemed to fit anywhere.
           Mystified, I took the canvas inside, and set it on a kitchen chair.
           Abby and I had met in art school. Since then I’d gone on to some success in the commercial sector, painting ads for magazines, mostly, until a contract with a major brewery had shot me up to the big time. My work kept me busy, maybe too busy to notice just when she’d put her brushes and easel aside. Now, standing in my kitchen, contemplating what lay under that wrapping, I felt a cold chill rush up my spine as the first block of logic slid home.
            Abby had shown promise as an artist. I admired her work – no, that wasn’t right: I was jealous of it. She’d expressed herself in a way that I could never hope to - that beautiful spirit soaring across the sky, leaving a trail of envy in her wake like the fiery tail of a comet. But it had never been in her nature to compromise, and that had cost her plenty. How long had it been after we were married before she’d stopped painting ? A year? Maybe two? Now, staring, mesmerized, at that brown paper mask, I realized that something had inspired her to take it up again…and a second block clicked into place.
           All the progressions were coming too fast, but there was one that stood out well above the others.
           What were the odds?
            Somehow I summoned the courage to reach out a trembling hand to tear the wrapping aside.
            I recognized it at a glance. She’d taken the photo on our honeymoon: of me, with much longer hair, sitting on my old Harley, with a huge prairie sunset glowing in the background. She must have enhanced the colours – I couldn’t believe that anything could be quite as spectacular as that sunset, or that I’d ever been that god-like handsome, but it was obvious that she’d used that photograph as her inspiration.
            Bending closer, I noticed letters intermingled with the charcoals and browns of the unfinished road. Even though my eyes were already tearing, I picked them out without any trouble at all:
            Beautiful Spirit.”




  1. I thought I could just spend ten minutes reading this in my tea break and go back to work.
    I thought I could.
    I did not expect to be changed and needing another cup of tea to make sense of the painful emotions and damp eyes that this beautiful short story churned up.

    Mr Lovatt has done it again and created a character for whom the reader feels genuine emotion and pain.