The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 22, No. 3

Swarm Intelligence

by Thomas Pierce

Take me, God. Take me! Grab me, lift me, release me, rocket me, explode me, decimate me, obliterate me. Wrap your giant God-hand around me and fling me far from this place—  
    I guess you could call it a prayer, this thing I’ve been whispering at night before not falling asleep for three more hours.

An odd time, this year I’ve been having. As if it’s an exception to the rule. As if next year will be any different. I’m old enough now—not quite forty—to know better. Admittedly, I’ve made what my mother calls some “questionable choices” over the last decade, but I try not to have regrets. “Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it,” Kierkegaard says. “Weep over them, you will also regret it.” Whatever path you choose, you regret the ones you didn’t, so what’s the use in overthinking it.
    All sorts of clever ways I’ve found to let myself off the hook.

But as for the thing with my boyfriend—some definite regrets there. Especially the money I lent him. He owes me quite a bit. Not just me but lots of people. The wrong people. He spent far too many afternoons at off-track betting facilities. One in particular. I tagged along once—this was before I realized he had a true problem—and, acting on his advice, lost about five hundred dollars in one swoop. I was devastated, but my boyfriend convinced me it was no big deal.
    Nothing, to him, is a big deal. Overpopulation, climate change, HPV, birthdays—none of it’s a very big deal, so don’t worry, you’re fine, we’re all fine.

“You have your research,” he used to say, “and I have mine.”
    Betting on horses was his science, and his losses were only failed experiments leading up to the inevitable breakthrough. He was the Thomas Edison of horse-betting, in other words. Every time he lost, he learned a new way not to win. Inventing the light bulb, in this analogy, was my boyfriend not getting shot in the leg.
    Then one day I drive over to his apartment, and he doesn’t answer when I knock. I call his phone and can hear it vibrating against something on the other side of the door. The next day I text him. Something like: What the fuck where are you you piece of shit my credit card was just declined and I know it was you. But a touch nicer than that, as I recall. I’m one of those sad people who go through life swallowing heaps of anger and rage, a condition my doctor will tell you is called high blood pressure.
    “Give him a solid week before assuming the worst,” my friend Danica says. “Nine times out of ten, people turn up, one way or another.”
    “Dead or alive.”
    “Uh-huh. Or maimed.”
    So I take her advice and give it a week before reporting him as a missing person. But once the investigator figures out the part about the gambling debts, he stops taking my calls.

Liz, you’re a sucker, you might be thinking, and you’d be right.
    But in my defense, in addition to his being the sort of person who feels most at home at off-track betting facilities, my boyfriend is also incredibly handsome, and a good dancer, and not to mention he promised me he’d put the gambling behind him.
    He even took me to one of his meetings to prove he was really, really trying. Most of the other recovering addicts were lonely, bald men living off social security checks. They’d been compulsive gamblers for decades, blown through hundreds of thousands of dollars, been ostracized from families, and now here they were, seated in folding chairs in a well-lit basement, hunched and sad-eyed, fashioning their miserable lives into three-act tragedies narrated from the final act.
    Anyway, aren’t all interesting stories tales of careful omission?

To read the rest of this story, and others from the Fall 2018 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.