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Six Deaths

First prize winner of the 3rd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.

The first time it happened he was in Sydney, on the beach, at the tail end of a hazy backpacking trip. A surfer he’d just met crashed into a massive wave and never came up again. It was all over in a blink.

Once he saw a businessman get hit by a city bus in rush-hour traffic. The passengers made an awkward semicircle around the body as the sirens and horns blared in the background, insistent, inappropriate. One of the passengers stood on the man’s briefcase. A little girl on the curb smiled at her brother. Splat, she said.

That winter he was in a bank when it was held up by a man wearing a plastic Batman mask. He’d come to pay his school fees, but had forgotten the official form. The thief accidentally shot himself in the chest when he was struggling with the teller. Then the teller made off with the money. It was in all the papers.

One time, at an overrated party he’d attended on impulse, an obnoxious blonde nobody would claim to have known had too much tequila and threw herself off the balcony. The cops tried to pin that one on him too, because he was the only one in the room with her when she jumped. He’d been trying to find his coat in the pile.

The next morning one of his friends called him up and said, Damn. You’re like the grim reaper, man. It’s just like Australia, man. It’s like, I’m not taking any risks when I’m around you, man. I’m like, walking on the sidewalk. Taking the long way. I’m like, tying my shoelaces, man.

Three weeks later, he watched through his kitchen window as the neighbour kid fell out of his treehouse onto a patio of large concrete stones. There was a lot of blood that time. The mother came running out of the house, her bathrobe flying open and the ties slapping behind her. She picked the kid up and ran with him around the yard, pressing his face against her shoulder. His arms hung uselessly.

That time he called the police himself as she ran in circles, her breasts mostly hidden, her screams unvarying. When they arrived, it was the same two officers from the party. One of them took off his cap and shook his head. Either you’re the unluckiest fool I’ve ever met, he said. He never finished his sentence.

Then there was his own. It came upon him on a Saturday, by the lake, as he watched a small spotted dog rubbing its back against a tree. Nobody took any notice. They were all watching the boats with the children.

He wondered at the coincidence. Had it all been a preview, an introduction, a preparation? Maybe this happened to everyone. Maybe there was always an elaborate and long-winded warning of the approach.

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