A Statistically Unlikely Scenario Ends in Tragedy

D.L. Poirier

The house was older than the combined lives of the people within it. The impact of this statement is dependent on an unknown integer, x, which represents the number of people within the house. If x = 2, then the fact is hardly impressive. Even if the integer were representative of an elderly couple the possible total would max out around 220 or 230 years, being extremely generous to the couple. An old house, sure, but not impressively so. If x = 10 it seems like we should be impressed, but if that many people are occupying a house they are probably college students aged 17-26. The maximum age in that scenario is hardly more impressive than the elderly couple. If x = 10 there is an embedded implication as to the size of the house, but only if x is equal to the number of residents. If not, then it could just be a small gathering or a failure of a party. There is no implication that x = residents, but this is, in fact, the case.

The truth is x = 18 and the house is 524 years old, which gives the average age of 29.1 years or fewer. Impressive numbers, but believe that the house is much smaller than one would imagine. The house was originally built for a family of five, with a roomy attic for guests. This is a lot of information all at once. One should wonder: Is this the future? Is this in Europe somewhere? And that’s far too many people in a house of that size. Is this the dystopian future? Are the people perhaps refugees? These are all good questions. The answer to all of these questions is: yes.

If one is currently finding it difficult to suspend one’s disbelief, it’s about to get worse. The last person, a male, to enter the house and take up permanent residence was fleeing rising floodwaters from the bank across the street from the house. At that time there were 22 people in the house, with the man it was 23. It was his idea to raise the house with stilts to escape the encroaching water and the house has been on stilts for more than 2 years, the 522nd, 523rd, and what has passed of the 524th year. The resourcefulness of the man propelled him near the top of the house’s hierarchy in contrast to his late arrival. If you want to know more about the man, know that he never let the other 22 residents forget his contribution. He would say things like, “This house would not be here if not for me.”

New question: When there were 23 people in the house was the house older than the combined ages of the people within it? The answer is no, but the numbers are much closer together than one might think, though “much closer” is distractingly vague. The reasoned deduction from this information being that there was a good number of children in the house seeing as how the average age of the people would be 22.7 if their sum equaled the age of the house. A more important question: What happened to cause the five-person difference over two years? Even stranded in a house suspended above rising floodwaters, 2.5 deaths per year seems statistically high. But is it really? The only way to know for sure is to account for all other variables such as food, trade, hygiene, medicine, and the predictive rate by which starvation leads to cannibalism.

Last question: if the stilts collapse, will the destruction of the house and the deaths of all those inside become instantly equal? 0 = 0. The man with the knowledge of stilts and their maintenance was murdered. It’s probable that he wouldn’t have been able to counteract the problem of floodwater current + soil erosion = unalterable displacement of house stilts, but we’ll never know for sure. There is no house and there are no people. The house fell from the stilts that kept it safe.

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D.L. Poirier‘s writing has been previously published by Columbia: Catch and Release, Deadshirt, Lyre, and W49 among others. He holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. More of his work can be found at dlpoirier.com.