Just after one a.m. I’m in the basement smoking a bowl and playing Mario Kart with my buddy Denny when I get a text from this chick who says I got her pregnant. She tells me her name is Gina, but I don’t know any Ginas. I pause the game and ask Denny if we know any Ginas. He tells me to stop bitching and to play the game and then he un-pauses without warning and Bowser rams me from behind and shoots me off the side of a cliff. As the fishing-pole cloud guy pulls me out of the abyss, I remember everything: Gina, her curly red hair, the bottle of warm triple sec, the accidental blast-off in the backseat of my car. Now my face goes hot and my hands start shaking. Staring at the TV, I see that in the span of about three seconds, I’ve gone from first place with a big lead, to dead last with squid ink splattered across my half of the screen.
From very far away Denny says something and laughs, but I barely hear him. My mind is too busy screaming into the future at a million miles per hour, mourning my life and my dreams and all the things I’ll never get to do if I have a kid. For a split second I see myself forty years from now, bald and fat and sixty-two, still driving a forklift over at the lumberyard. That sobers me up quick. Then, as the jazzy Mario Kart soundtrack plays on a loop in the background, the word pops into my head. In an instant I drop my controller and start typing a text to Gina:
I’m coming over. Where do you live
Before she can answer, I’m up the stairs, out the door, and running down the middle of the empty street, my footsteps clapping off the sloped pavement. With Denny’s brother borrowing his car and mine in the shop, this is my only option.
The cool night air feels good on my face. It cuts past my cheeks smoothly, swiftly, hugging the contours of my head. Soon my eyes adjust to the oily scud of the night. In the black I see a boxy Subaru hatchback parked on the side of the street, a milk white lion sculpture sitting atop a retaining wall. Looking to the row of lightless houses on the left, I imagine all the babies who could be inside those houses right now: babies wrapped in pink or blue blankets, babies wearing those dumb-looking winter caps, babies so fresh from the hospital that their wrinkled legs are still moist. Imagining all that, the word in my head takes on a whole new weight.
From here I take the right onto Darrin and head toward the exit of the development. Spotting a flickering light inside one of the houses, I stop running and look through the front window at the glowing rectangle of a TV. The image is blurred a bit by a pair of sheer curtains, but I can see the dashing characters, alien landscapes, and sparkling particle effects of someone playing a video game. Now my exhaustion catches up to me. In seconds my eyes slip closed and I rest my hands on my knees. Inside my head, I see myself playing Mario Kart with a tall, thin kid who I know is my future son. Here’s me firing a shell and doing an obnoxious impression of Mario. There’s him fighting a grin and telling me to shut up. Here’s me jabbing his ribs and trying to pass on the right. There’s him using a boost and winning the race by a nose.
I open my eyes and feel a hard, wet tightness rising in my throat. Suddenly sure of exactly what I want to do, I reach into my pocket and take out my phone. But before I can start typing a text to Gina, I see that there are six new messages from her waiting to be read:
Dont come over
My parents are really pissed and that would just make things worse
I’m getting it taken care of so you don’t have to worry
Its expensive tho so I need you to pay half
I’ll call you tomorrow Tom
Im sorry for texting so late I just thought you should know
I read her texts five times in a row to make sure I’m not hallucinating. After the fifth time through, the video game inside the house winks off with a splash of blue light. A few seconds after that, my heart slows for the first time since seeing Gina’s original message. Now a wide grin slices across my face and I start laughing out loud. I can’t help it. From here I try to text her back with a quick, ok, talk to you tomorrow, but for some reason the words blur and swim as I type them. Seeing this, I decide to hold off and call Denny instead. He picks up on the third ring. When I start talking my voice comes out weird. It sounds hoarse and thick and honky, as if I’m sick and my nose is all stuffed up. Doing my best to sound normal, I tell him to start walking his ass toward Darrin Road. When he asks why I tell him to stop bitching and to bring his vaporizer.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared in Maudlin House, Five on the Fifth, The Fiction Pool, and others, and is forthcoming in Riggwelter and Asymmetry. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music.