In another version, I shaved the beard and married the nurse. We lived happily or we didn’t. I wrote a novel. It was brilliant or it was well loved.
In another version, I knew then what I know now, which is that you never get both and in most iterations you get neither.
In another version, I knew then what I know now, which is that all versions end the same.
In some tellings, I do not drink from the poisoned cup. The cup is a metaphor, the poison is real.
Perhaps my eyesight is failing. Or my vision is fine and it’s my dreams that let me down.
Perhaps when I wake, the world takes its time sliding into focus, and in those few moments all the stories are true and anything is possible.
The day rises. The other worlds burn.
This is the only fire.
Ward Cleaver & Mike Brady & Fred MacMurray & Dick Van Patten
A man brings his work home. He shows up at the end of the day to dole out discipline & eat meatloaf, to fix bicycles & assign blame. Briefcase. Strong hands. A love of puns. I imagined my parents’ childhood in black & white, playing out in two-act structure on a wooden console in the living room. Get into hot water, get out. TV trays & bottles of Coke, live studio audience & a happy ending. So many cigarettes. My friends’ parents were unhappy & I did not know why. My parents were unhappy & I thought I knew why. I learned the wrong lessons from every episode. Now it is early evening. I’m standing next to my father on the front porch. He slings his coat over his shoulder. He loosens his tie. The porch swing creaks in the wind, rusted chain grinding. We cannot remember whether we are actors or characters.
In the Form of a Question
The boy and the girl hold hands in the third row of a passenger van. It is a school trip. They are headed to a university on the far edge of the state for a scholars’ bowl tournament, where their team will exceed expectations and finish fifth. Knowledge about literature is their strength. Their chemistry teacher is driving. Three sophomores squirm and giggle in the middle row. They are not dating, the boy and the girl, but they will be soon. It will not last, once it begins, and when it ends one of them will be angry at the other for a long time, far beyond any rational time period for grieving such a short relationship. For now it is enough that they hold hands. It is a small gesture of tenderness. It fills them both with faith that anything is possible. This is nonsense, as many things are simply not possible, not in any universe, but they are young, the boy and the girl, so young, and we should not begrudge them this small, temporary foolishness.
Photograph of Amorak Huey by Amorak Huey.