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Matthew Flaming
studied philosophy and creative writing for several years, before becoming an itinerant IT worker on the west coast of the United States.

The sure thing
by M. Flaming

It was night when I first sat down to write this
story. My mother had left for a week on vacation, and
I sat in the darkened dining room of her house, pen
hovering over the ruled lines of a composition book
while outside crickets chanted their summer song and a
bright waxing moon hung in the distance. Earlier that
afternoon, my girlfriend and I had sex on her cheap
futon, in the blue light that slanted into her small
bedroom. Walking home afterwards, just after sunset, I
saw a shooting star slice a brief, shining arc through
the hazy Los Angeles sky. That night, alone at home, I
felt burdened and overwhelmed by an immense sense of
the possibilities that the world contained, pregnant
with unspoken intensities. I was seventeen years old.

I wrote:

Tonight I saw a shooting star, by chance, dropping out
of the sky like God's lost penny, like nothing at all.

Last year I took a trip by train.

To look for connections between these things would be
a mistake. Continuity has the consistency of a
daydream, dissolving and shifting with each passing
moment.

Listen to me. This is a pure story.

Connections change places, take on different meanings.
Parallel lines choose to meet or not to meet based on
various astrological factors. There may be numbers
behind these words, and things more elusive still
behind the numbers. Particles collide and move apart
along precisely calculated paths, precisely insofar as
they believe in the laws of physics.

In theory, the odds against a given event occurring at
a given time are almost infinity-to-one against. The
odds on nothing happening are even worse.

On trains, time moves differently. Stories are told,
each with multiple, equally plausible endings. Certain
things bring connections into existence where none
were before. Railroad tracks, the moon, love.

There are prophets in the streets, prophets on trains,
in the wilderness, in office buildings. Prophets roam
everywhere, each with a future clenched between their
teeth. Prophets everywhere, although the Department of
Probability denies that this is the case.

Railroad tracks, the moon on certain nights. Love.

The odds against meeting the same person twice are so
impossibly huge, my lover says, that it never happens.
A man in Los Angeles says to his wife of twenty years:
"I'm leaving you. I'm going to live with my true love,
a cocktail waitress in Des Moines."

"At least tell me her name," the wife pleads.

"I don't know yet," he says. "But she'll be there."

On the same night in New York, a woman leaves her
husband.

"What are you going to do without me?" he asks.

"I don't know," she says. "Maybe I'll end up as a
cocktail waitress in Des Moines."

Certain things bring connections into existence where
none were before. Nine years and many thousand miles
have passed since I first wrote this story: tonight I
sit inside a half-built house in another country,
while a new lover sleeps a few feet away. Palm trees
rustle in the tropical breeze and in the distance I
can see the lights of town across the black waters of
the bay.

I don't know why I come back to these words, again and
again, adding new syllables, changing the ending. I
don't know why, but I have a hunch.

Particles collide and move apart along precisely
random paths.

And on the sidelines, God grins and places his bet: He
knows a sure thing when He sees one.


(c) Matthew Flaming 2002