Friday, June 4, 2021


(This article was originally published in Antipodean Sci Fi Issue 271 in April 2021.  You can read a digital version of the original story here at the Antipodean Sci Fi Archives here:

It was one of those days.  

One of those days where I’d woken up angry without reason.  I rolled out of bed with a belligerent cloud swirling about my head as I stumbled through my day, seeking amusement or distraction from my stress.  Had I the courage to be honest with myself, it was me I was angry with.  I was frustrated at having risen so late, and for expending so many wasted hours upon my couch, staring blankly at various screens as I beseeched them for stimulation. 

Though a tired truism of a sentiment, I was easily ensnared by the technological marvels that constitute modern life.  Inconceivable to our antecedents, such devices stood ready to sate any human appetite no matter how banal or pornographic.  Now the hour was late, and my morning had evaporated into a hazy afternoon, making me feel worse.  One lazy indulgence compounded by another.

So, craving at least the pretence of productivity, I did what I had always done when feeling restless — I went for a run.  Donning worn trainers and an old t-shirt, I left the house and began my laboured shuffle through the unremarkable streets of my neighbourhood.  The topography was hilly, ordinary streets winding through tiny peaks and troughs.  My body moved with difficulty, ungracefully, as though through water — a punishment for habitual inactivity.  But it moved nonetheless, and for that I was grateful.  I ran past some old ladies on an amiable ramble and past a gaggle of absent-minded dog walkers.  A fellow runner — a shirtless Adonis — sped past me with relative ease and soon disappeared into the distance.

Still, I persisted, as my lungs burned and groaned under the strain.  Undeterred, I proceeded without destination, past the well-to-do houses sporting high fences and fancy security systems.  The sight of them set my mind musing on the notion of urban separation as a light sprinkle of rain moistened my face.  Turning from a trickle into a shower, the precipitation soaked through my clothes and underwear endowing the uncomfortable sensation of being both sweaty and wet.

Exhausted, I clumsily came to a halt in front of a house atop a hill and locked eyes with a cream-coloured greyhound.  His graceful countenance offered me a doleful stare through the bars of a corrugated iron fence.  I watched him, for a moment, his patient breathing evident in the gentle rise and fall of his ribcage as I felt my own heart pounding like a jackhammer in my chest. 

My anxious demons exercised and exorcised, I limped home in unspectacular fashion, dropping down upon my front step to cool down as I always would before entering the house.  The brief shower I’d traversed was now concluded, leaving small pools and patches of water upon my driveway.  As my heart rate settled, I lamented my poor fitness and stared vacantly at a potted plant by my front door.  I’d placed it there, years ago.  Unremarkable in every respect, its few droopy leaves were a testament to floral mediocrity.  Upon the leading edge of one of the leaves I spied a single raindrop — a remnant from before — dangling precariously, only seconds from falling.

As my eyes focused on the raindrop, I noticed with simple pleasure how the daylight shimmered through the small quantity of water, a tiny iridescent display one-tenth the size of a fingernail.  As I examined the drop more closely, I was able to discern an image — the face of a newborn baby, scrunched up and tiny.  Before I could question the veracity of my vision, the image had changed and the baby had become a boy who soon became a man.  Like a life on fast forward, the man in the raindrop raced through his days and years as I witnessed them all.  The peaks and troughs of his trajectory through existence — exciting, mundane, revelatory and boring.    

Caught up in my act of curious voyeurism, I couldn’t help but notice the little man looked a lot like me. As I savoured my wonder, he clutched his chest in pain, and collapsed without fanfare.  The awful occurrence was random, and arrived without warning.  Before the man could summon help, the drop of water finally fell from its precarious position and splattered onto the floor, exterminating the man inside.  Startled, I inhaled sharply at the sudden finality of it all.  Just like that, it was over.

Sharp pangs of grief pierced my chest as I remembered the man and his life, lost to me, yet still speaking quietly in my thoughts.  In that moment, I conjured the faces of the dead and remembered strange words spoken to me in my sleep.  He’d always be there as a reminder of my mortality and the ticking clock embedded in my brain.

In a single drop of rain I had seen the futility of my illusions that life was long, and that each one of us was somehow significant, special.  A repudiation of all my self-importance in a simple act of nature.  I sat there, in my running shoes, humbled and terrified by the display, feeling suddenly fragile.  Transient.  As the fear fermented in my stomach, I knew I’d witnessed something extraordinary.  To think it happened on such an ordinary day.

I replayed all the ungrateful moments when I’d wished my life was somewhere else, had wished that I was someone else.  What a fool I’d been.  The man in the raindrop would be with me like an albatross, even when I was petulant or lost in a wretched mood.  Even when I wasted my life.  I wiped wetness from my cheeks, mistaking it for rainwater but instead found tears as I fathomed the enormity of my revelation.  The very nature of what we are.  

What we are is nothing at all.


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