Crystal Ball at a First Grade Carnival
Brock Adams
Break

I'll tell you what's going to happen—you're going to die. But not suddenly. First, you're going to spend weeks in bed, able to mumble vague ideas to family members, eating and drinking and pissing through different tubes. You'll feel yourself slipping away, cell by cell, and it will hurt, and your family will talk behind closed doors as though what's happening to you is some big secret.

But before that your friends will die. You'll be surprised by the ones that go before you do, younger ones, athletes, those who never drank and lived the hard life like you did. But they'll die, and you'll watch them and wear your black suit to the dozens of funerals.

And your wife was the first one to go, remember. Suddenly, mercifully, her car veering into oncoming traffic while she digs in her purse for her lipstick. She'll kill the three people in the other car, by the way.

But before that she has to make her grand return to you, which she will, world-weary and old and desperate for companionship after eight years scrounging the bottom of the barrel for what men are left. You'll have a second marriage, you and a few friends and one of your children, the one who still lives close by. You'll eat stuffed mushrooms and drink cheap whisky and no one will want to dance.

This is after those eight years alone, remember, which in the end turn out to be worse than the months when you're dying. Take some solace in that.

She'll leave you when she finds out on a Sunday morning when she absently opens your email account by mistake. You'll beg her to stay, you'll say that you're sorry, that it's over, that you love her, but she doesn't care. She'll squint shut her eyes and bite her lip as she throws all her clothes into the duffel bag.

Before that, you'll think you're getting away with it. You'll take vacations and have early morning sex with this girl who's fat but half your age. You will feel alive.

And during all of this, remember, you will be working and raising kids. You will hate your job. You'll wish you'd done anything, anything else but what you do, but you know you're too lazy to try it now. You will resent your life, and you'll resent your kids for getting you stuck in that life. They'll know it, and they'll hate you for it. They'll love you, of course—you're their father, after all—but they'll hate you just the same. And they'll move to the other side of the country to raise your grandchildren.

But before all of that, you and your wife will be in love. You will be happy and life will be simple. That's why you married her, anyway—because she was happy with simple things. You gave up so much in college when you chose her. Not only the other girls, but all those other paths that your life could have taken. Marrying her was easier than breaking up with her, wasn't it? She was the easy choice, but as a professional, I can tell you, you could have done better.

Before that you're with lots of girls. You waste high school on them. Floosies.

But that's not until the end of high school. In the years before that, you're stuck in pre-pubescent ugliness, and you have no friends. You're contemplating suicide by thirteen. You get over it, obviously, but I'll tell you now, you're going to hate those years. More than the end of life. But not as much as the eight years when your wife is gone.

Before that though, before any of it, you walk out of here. You wipe that disdaining look off your face and walk out of this tent with your life laid out in front of you like the paths on a chutes and ladders game. Your mom is still waiting in line; she skips her turn because you're crying. She kneels in front of you and wipes your tears with a Halloween-colored napkin. She asks you what's the matter. She offers you a bite of her funnel cake. She tells you that everything's going to be all right. Everything's going to work out. But let me tell you, I'll tell you right now, sugar—it's not.

Brock Adams's fiction has been published in many journals, including The Sewanee Review, Acapella Zoo, and Barrelhouse Online, and has won several awards, including second prize in Playboy's College Fiction Contest. His first collection of stories was released this year—in America, under the title Gulf, and in Italy as Cose Che Puoi Fare con un Barattolo di Zuppa Campbell (Things You Can Do with a Can of Campbell's Soup).

After receiving his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida, he moved to Spartanburg, SC, where he teaches English at the University of South Carolina Upstate.