Dear Readers, my dispatches will always be free and open to everyone. I am unable to use my hands and I’m writing, via dictation, with the help of my family. If you could become a paid subscriber and support me, it’d mean so much. The librarian, sitting in his familiar place in the pub that evening, had been uncharacteristically quiet. But, according to people who were there, from the moment he pushed through the doors, Arnold looked as if he was bursting with something momentous to say.
I’m an old woman reading this sitting beside a deserted North African shore of the Atlantic Ocean as the sun goes down. It made me wonder, what is in us that yearns for knowledge or certainty of our future life and death and yet can hardly bear for it to be revealed? We peek through our fingers. But peek we must. The inevitability of every step we take. Looking back over the years I can see it was all so predictable. The sound of the surf almost drowns my thoughts. I love your writing.
I enjoyed the story. One of the things I enjoyed was getting to the end of the second paragraph and then realising that I was unexpectedly reading fiction, and not a journey into the past.
Their are consequences (besides those that are eventually faced by Arnold) to being able to accurately predict the time and circumstances of a person's death: For one, it establishes their end as a predetermined event in spacetime. For them to reach that point, many other events (perhaps the totality of events) must also be predetermined. In this scenario, the universe that we think of as crystallising before us, has already crystallised. We spend our lives discovering a small part of it, the way one discovers a book, but we cannot influence it, or shape it to our will.
I suppose this must be the case for anyone who believes in an omnipresent deity. I imagine there is comfort to be had in the knowledge that the invention of the wheel and the song 'S Club Party' are both integral parts of the design of some unfathomably powerful being. Equally though, such determinism could be as random and as ephemeral as the pattern in a kaleidoscope, before it is ground away by a twist of the lens.
While, on the face of it, Arnold's ability is morbidly limited, it is possible to make inferences about the future based upon the circumstances of a person's death. If he meets large numbers of people who all die from the same disease at around the same time, then it would be rational to conclude that another pandemic is imminent. If he encounters someone who will be killed by a flying car, two-decades hence, then we can assume flying cars will have become a reality.
Or, it could be that this person is killed by an ordinary car – a Tesla or a Ford Focus, perhaps – that has somehow become airborne. Where psychic powers are concerned, you can never fully discount some sideways fuckery suddenly swerving out of your blind-spot like a reckless tackle. There is a comic titled 'Ex-Machina' in which a New York politician, named Mitchell Hundred, discovers that he can talk to machines. All seems to be going well, until the day he discovers that a gun, that told him that it was unloaded, had lied to him. If you do not know the provenance of your clairvoyant powers, then you should prepare yourself for an eventual lesson in the limitations of induction.
I can think of a situation that would put Arnold's ability to the test: He runs into an unmarried women who is fated to be killed by her husband. The rational course of action in such a situation would be to avoid getting married – an easy enough thing to do, if you avoid the cocktails at Las Vegas, and any Elvis impersonator wearing a ministerial collar. Maybe the woman marries on her death bed and then her husband plays a role in her assisted suicide.
What if Arnold keeps bumping into unmarried men or women who are destined to be killed by their spouses. Surely some of these deaths will be murders. If that is the case, then I think most people would forgo marriage, in the same way that someone with an allergy to bee stings would cross apiarist off a list hobbies.
It is a shame that Arnold was taken from us so soon, and in such disturbing circumstances, before the possibilities and the limitations of his foresight could be properly explored.
The only talent I have manifested while under the influence of acid, has been the ability to lose shoes – two pairs so far. The logical explanation is that I take them off. I prefer to think of them as peace offerings to the monsters who inhabit the black, sunless depths of my unconscious mind.
Hanif - what a story - this is so different too, absolutely loved it. The truth is, if we did know, would we get it right. Some people do know. The ending was good! Just recently, because (thanks to you)I've started writing again, well editing as a pre runner or whatever you want to call it. did my head in but it has got the engine running. And in conversation with my daughter I think, said endings are the hardest bit of the story to get right. Love the idea, love that Arnold was foisted by his own foresight! It's the whole careful what you wish for thing. I know you want to know what happens in our dreary lives too, so I did request two of the books in your book list, the Sir with Love one, and Proust. I had a text from the library on Thursday to say two of the books requested were in (the third one is Stephen King and whoever is reading it is holding on or a slow reader or something.). Today I made the expedition to the library - and get this there were two parking spaces. it was a careful navigation but a successful reverse into one of them. I even managed to get out my side without injury. Once in the library, which is immediately calming - it's just the perfect atmosphere - surrounded by books, there are corners to just stand and dream in, there is a notice board and you think god all this stuff going on all these groups meeting up - there is a spiritualist one and having been to some before I am very tempted - anyway I ask for and get my two books. There is a machine now to borrow, return and something else I forget. There is the usual mucking about to get your barcode read finally it does and my account registers the fact two books are in my possession. I especially liked that Arnold is a librarian. As usual I hope to hear that your health is improved even in small ways and that your days are easier - are you still receiving visitors? Thank you so much for this story and for writing via your family. Take heart take care love from Maddi in deepest North Yorkshire. X
Though not a Bible reader or a Christian I am reminded of a verse from Psalm 39, King Jemes version:
“LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”
Wonderful ✨ loved this. Perfect bedtime story.
I hope plans towards getting you home are moving along. Love to you and your loved ones x
How brilliant this is! I felt like a 9 year old reading a fairy tale with my jaw dropped open. So simple but richly provocative. Thank you for a wonderful start to the day. You have been given a great gift which you use so well and I wish you so well for your future.
Dear Hanif - I am breathless from reading this. I think I took no real breaths from the third paragraph until the conclusion. The structure and flow are so compelling and the subject gives me much to think on. Thank you for sharing it today.
Shades of Wilde’s “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” (one of my favorites) but yours is so much better Hanif! I love this!! Thanks 💛
A wonderful story. I like that it’s contemporary. Those who predict the future (Tiresias, Cassandra) are always punished but I didn’t see this coming until it was there!
How did he know??? I’m otherwise, speechless!
Bravo! Thank you for tucking me in with a cracking bedtime story this evening. Love your words.