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Chancing It
Vivian Wagner

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Here’s what the random word generator gave me: “copper, explain, ill-fated, truck, neat, unite, branch, educated, tenuous, hum, decisive, notice.” I was a detective working clues.

An ill-fated truck carried copper. The neat, educated driver had a tenuous grasp on reality, but he explained to himself, as he drove, that he wanted to unite the hum of the decisive notice he’d received from a sheriff’s deputy with the branches rattling in his head.

I wondered what other hints the machine would offer, so, compulsively, I hit the refresh button: “recess, spiky, blushing, hollow, detailed, weak, taste, profuse, decision, hum, degree, tank.” Of course! It all started to become clear.

Late that night, the truck driver thought back to one particular recess in middle school, when a blushing girl with spiky hair and hollow cheeks detailed what was to come, i.e. the whole truck- carrying-copper business and the ticket and this very night, etc. He listened, weak in the knees, getting a taste of his future, with all of its profuse strangeness and unknowability. And there’s that hum again! Maybe it’s not so random, after all. It takes some degree of confidence not to simply tank when you get a message like that, from a spiky-haired, hollow-cheeked girl, who foretells your future in such bold, stark terms.

I was almost afraid to see what would happen, but I couldn’t stop myself. I again refreshed: “drip, lick, skinny, resolute, needless, carriage, simplistic, watery, creepy, meaty, arrest, fork.” And the strange plot continued to unfold. Or, at least, unravel.

He didn’t mean to be creepy when he pulled the truck over alongside the watery forks of the swamp. He knew he risked arrest, but he felt compelled to park, just for a moment, there in the ink-black night. He looked up at the stars and listened to the slow, resolute drip of water from unseen leaves. He thought, absently, about the undercarriage of his truck, worried that the mud would give him away when he arrived at the transfer station the next day. He licked his finger and held it up to see which way the wind blew, but he got only a wisp of air, not enough to judge direction. He had no need to know the breeze’s direction, anyway. It was just a nervous tic. He felt skinny and alone, there alongside the road, his meaty truck breathing hot air like a tired dragon. This had been a needless stop, he realized. He’d been too simplistic. He’d thought he could solve everything, but he couldn’t. He could only drive on to the next stop, and the next after that, carrying his copper, making sense of things as they came. He hoisted himself back into the cab, put the truck in gear, and drove away, into the dark, toward whatever the universe would generate next.

Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Zone 3, Eyedrum Periodically, 3QR, and other publications. She's also the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books). i