The child determined he was not going to do it, that he was determined not to do it. Along precisely these lines, he said: “I’m not not not not going to do it.”
The father grinned. “If you’re not going to do it,” he said, “then if you’re not not going to do it, that means the opposite of that you’re not going to do it, which is that you are going to do it. Therefore, if you’re not not not going to do it, that means that you’re not going to do the opposite of not going to do it, which is doing it, meaning you’re not going to do it, meaning if you’re not not not not going to do it, you’re going to do the opposite of what not not not going to do it means you’re going to do, which is not it, meaning you are going to do it. So not only are you going to do it because I said so, but you also just told me you were going to do it.”
After that, many years passed during which the father and his child, who in time became his adult child, married with a child of his own, maintained a generally good and positive relationship. The two talked about sports and other common interests, and when the father was widowed, and the child therefore half-orphaned, the child moved him out to the city in which he resided with his own child and still-living wife, a psychologist who earned more money annually than he did, something that, the father marveled to himself (but in an admiring way), did not seem to bother him at all or challenge his sense of masculinity. Initially, the father lived alone in an apartment not far from his child’s home, and then he aged and aged, and body and mind fell into step in their mutual decline, which was less steep than simply steady, and he was moved into a new apartment, much smaller than the first, in an assisted living facility named for a certain kind of fir tree native to the region, where three times a day a woman came to dispense the medications his doctor had deemed necessary and prepare his meals and add thickener to his soups and beverages, and once every evening a woman came to bathe him with dispassionate attentiveness.
At last, he lay in a hospital bed, breath rattling in his chest. His son, his only child, was there with him, this much he knew. Even when, unable to turn his head, he could not see him, he could feel the warmth of his body. At a certain moment a doctor came into the room holding a clipboard and the two of them, doctor and child, conferred in the doorway for a period of time, not terribly long, and then the doctor patted the child on the shoulder and turned to leave in a way that struck the man, even in his semi-delirium, as a bit too decisive, like someone who was finishing up with something, and that was when, for the first time, he felt afraid.
He could not find the words to express this fear, and even if he had he would not have spoken them because he could not speak. But his son, his only child, must have been able to see in his eyes what he was afraid of, or sense it in the vibrations between them, for a moment later he lowered himself into the chair beside the bed and, taking his father by the hand, leaned in close and whispered to him: “Don’t worry, Dad. You’re definitely not not not not going to die.”
Many years later, his own time came, this child who had later become an adult and then himself an old man. After his death he proceeded directly to what could only have been the afterlife, since technically it was now after his life; there, his father, who had reverted to about the age he had been and condition he had been in not long before his condition began to decline, was waiting to greet him. “Good news,” he said, taking him in his arms in a clap-on-the-back sort of way before stepping back to create a little space again between their two non-bodies. “We’re definitely not not not not in hell.”
The child, who had for his part reverted to about the age he had been when his father was at the age to which he appeared to have reverted, was relieved this latter had managed to keep a sense of humor about that whole “not not not not” thing, which he concluded he must have since after all he could only have been joking about being in hell inasmuch as if they were actually in hell (that is to say, not not not not hell), they would undoubtedly be suffering intensely instead of embracing each other and exchanging pleasantries. Sadly, the son was incorrect in this regard: the two of them, as it happened, were very much were in hell, residents of which, he’d not yet learned, are granted a special dispensation to be temporarily relieved of their eternal suffering for precisely long enough to fool new arrivals disposed to trust them, for example their former children, into thinking they are not in hell, this for the specific reason that it makes the subsequent discovery that they are indeed in hell all the more painful, not only because it comes unexpectedly but also because it is accompanied by the discovery that they have been betrayed by a person, or rather non-person, they thought they could trust.
Ironically enough, that the two of them had been thusly dispatched to hell despite having led largely honorable and upright lives in fact owed entirely to the very same “not not not not” thing his father’s reference to which the son had initially mistaken for good humor. This was because God, which is what we call the unnamable entity that decides whether people, once having ceased to be people, should spend their eternal non-lives in heaven or hell, personally despises the obnoxious and the petty, and obviously the first “not not not not” incident recounted in the present narrative was extremely obnoxious and the second no less petty. Had he known this, the son might have appealed to God for clemency by recalling something his father had once told him in life, namely that we are more than our thoughts and actions, a.k.a. just because someone once did something obnoxious and/or petty when they were alive, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were an obnoxious and/or petty person who per God’s own apparently very subjective standards consequently deserved to spend the entirety of their eternal afterlife in burning hellfire shrieking “aarrggh, it hurts,” and “please, make it STOPPPPPP.” But in this case, God would probably have explained that while what his father had told him was a useful thing for a father to say to his son in the interest of helping him live a happy life, the truth is that once you do away with a person’s thoughts and actions, all you’ve got left is a big skin-bag full of meat soup from which someone forgot to remove the bones, and best of luck passing divine judgment on that.
Eli S. Evans has recent or forthcoming work in, among others: N+1, X-R-A-Y Lit, Heavy Feather Review, Fanzine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Expat Lit, Misery Tourism, Rejection Letters, E*ratio Postmodern Poetry, Ligeia, Idle Ink, 433, Squawk Back, Berfrois, Eclectica, Drunk Monkeys, and Right Hand Pointing (One Sentence Poems division). A chapbook with Analog Submission Press (A Partial List of Things I Thought Might Kill Me Before I Started Taking a Daily Dose of Benzodiazepines) was published in August 2020 and a small book of small stories, Obscure & Irregular, is available from Moon Rabbit Books & Ephemera