SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page


Story by Lara Ehrlich (Read author interview) March 7, 2016

Art by Oscar Keys

Foresight arrives in an Amazon box. The woman thinks of the man she has stopped loving and the job she hates. She is tired of life lessons. They bring her no closer to figuring out what she wants. Foresight tastes like liquid cotton candy. She lies back on the couch with her eyes closed.

She will remain on the couch, waiting. Her waiting will curdle until she forgets what she was waiting for. She will develop bedsores. She will line up soap operas so there’s no time to question her choices. A mouse will die in the wall and she will not bother to find it. The house will fill with the sweet stink of its decay, indistinguishable from the stink of her own body. Her teeth will rot, she will cultivate a yeast infection, and mold will grow under her arms. Her ass crack will fill with fur. She will become one with the couch.

No—she will rise. She will get dressed and have lunch downtown and attend an author reading. When the balding author signs her book, she will be daring and invite him to coffee. He will say yes because he is poor and thirsty, and she is still pretty. They will go around the corner to a nondescript coffee shop that will become “their place.” When they move to the middle of nowhere for the only teaching position he can get, they will remember that coffee shop with nostalgia. She will live in the idyllic past, which will become a source of friction between them. They will alleviate the friction by having first one child and then another. She will mourn who she could have been, while struggling to appreciate the life she has. And when he cheats on her with a student, she will wish she were dead.

She will not go to the author reading. She will walk past the bookstore, averting her gaze from the man at the podium. She will take the train to Newbury Street and celebrate her narrow escape. She will simply stroll and window shop, and buy herself a necklace to remember this day by. But this day will have no bearing on the rest of her life. She will forget where she bought the necklace, and will give it to the daughter she’ll have, with the man she will meet when she signs up for online dating. She will initiate contact with the man she knows will treat her best, who won’t cheat or lie. Some of the others would be better lovers, would take her on trips, worship her, kill for her—but this one will be kind and loyal and give her a beautiful daughter who won’t die like the one she’d have with the musician or turn to drugs like the banker’s son. Or become boring and sullen, like the philosopher’s daughter who would visit only on Christmas.

She is amazed by how similar her children would look, and yet how different. Their fathers’ DNA lengthens and shortens their faces, widens and narrows their eyes, rounds their chins, punches dimples in their cheeks. She will be a different mother to each; comforting to the doctor’s son who strives for approval, strict to the chef’s daughter whose caginess is all too familiar. She will be a different wife, too. She will care for the gentle man when he is dying of prostate cancer, though she has been cuckolding him for years. She will abandon the teacher and their son to travel the world, but will only get as far as Albuquerque. She will take her daughters screaming from the IT guy.

She will be a writer, a real estate agent, a small shop owner; she will celebrate Christmas at a full table, or by watching the Charlie Brown special with mice in the walls and moss in her ears. In none of her lives will she be brilliant or famous or content. Her mediocrity will hound her through a kaleidoscope of futures. She will try to select the one that holds the least pain. But every time she commits to a path, a new choice splits it into still more paths, until she reaches the end and there are no choices left to make.

All the possible futures branch and collapse in front of her. She is everyone and no one. She will stand in the middle of the sidewalk until the dizziness passes. She will turn right or left or throw herself before a bus or just stand here until someone pushes her from behind. She will take Foresight again tomorrow, or she will flush it, preferring the unknown. Or, she will order a year’s supply. Until she decides, she will stand here, and stand, and stand.

About the Author

Lara Ehrlich’s writing appears or is forthcoming in The Normal School, River Styx, The Columbia Review, Paper Darts, Boston Literary Magazine, and The Hairpin, among others. She is working on a short story collection entitled News From a Country Never Visited, and by day she is an editor at Boston University. www.LaraEhrlichWrites.com

About the Artist

Oscar Keys is a photographer living in New Zealand. View his photos on unsplash.com.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-One

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

High Intensity Interval Training for Flash Writers with Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Book Now!

Bring a pen, lots of paper, and your water bottle: this is a high-intensity guided-writing work-out designed to kickstart creativity, and push you into new territory, and exercise flash muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Maybe you’re stuck in a story and looking for a way to proceed.  Maybe you’re looking to generate new ideas.  Maybe your inner editor is holding you back.  Maybe you’re in a rut or have writers’ block or are just wanting to shake things up a bit.  This session is designed to tackle all these issues and help you level up your flash fitness.  Writers of all backgrounds and experience levels warmly welcome; come along, roll up your sleeves, and trust the process.