.

 

Looking at the Numbers

With a needle and thread in my hand.

Hey.

What are the odds that you would show up and our time together would fit like an old pair of jeans? Time doesn't usually fit me that way. With you, it fits like jeans I'd wear to play parking-lot football on Thanksgiving. I never had that before. Love, lust, need. But never someone who, like you, could take a bolt of time and tailor it into a 3-piece suit with boutonniere and a matching wool overcoat. Then you leaned into me on the subway and I read my book over your shoulder, while you read yours. I should be careful with this. My friends tell me, “be careful of that. It's hard to find.”

But in the course of things I was wondering the other day if some other pair of jeans would be more comfortable. I thought, be honest, the odds are no good. Past performance indicating future results, we're talking a 5%, 10% chance of success. That's it. After the failure, the prefix "ex" shows up, in front of all those hours on the phone and trips on the bus, the cooking fires and carmelized ginger, expurgated from the record, along with a need to reinvent, restart, deny. 10 years from now, we're more likely to meet each other for lunch than wake up to get our daughter off to school.

Even if we get there, I'm likely to cheat, to be one of those tumescent 40-year-old men full of his own mild power, promising himself that he's causing no pain, egged on and excused by his collaborating friends. He's in there, too. I've got to watch for that shithead self, now that I've found it. He's easy to spot because he has no clothes.

So these are slot-machine odds, which is why I've been so difficult. But you just called me, and in the middle of all the talk about the way we are, you told me you won $50 at the Vegas airport. That every slot you played stuck in the airport won just a little. “I was a little magical,” you said, “or statistically, incredibly lucky.”

So lets say that the cylinders roll around and line up: not three cherries, obviously, but maybe three lemons. I think that did happen. And the payoff is that you're visiting me in the hospital after I break my leg, putting up shelves with me, grouting the tile in the bathroom while I paint the hallway, listening in amused frustration, from the bedroom, as the dog gets into the trash, not talking to me for an afternoon because I'm mean. Who knows, maybe you're digging your fingers into my hand until your draw blood while the midwife - well, more on that later. If I could have all that, and it's more than I ever expected, why not release my independence, my solitude, which has been caged up inside me like carrier pigeons. And let them fly out all over the city and into the country?

That's how I win, and why I have to stop playing, I have to walk out of the casino. I don't wait for a bigger payoff. Like I said, you leaned into me on the subway. It's only been 3 months or so. There will be plenty of doubts. I may not become the better person I want to be. I may not be able to hold to a true course, I may decide that I should go back in the casino, that I owe it to myself. We may be disappointed in one another.

But, thinking it through past the moment, I'd rather make you clothes out of time than play the odds. If I met you in orbit we could touch fingertips, and dive into the atmosphere as meteors. It would be over like that. Instead we're on earth unrolling bolts of cloth made from time, using trust for thread - trust slowly coming off the spindle, thin, easy to snap, sometimes so tight you can pluck it like a guitar string, running our needles through the cloth, using trust to hold time together.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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