Free Will or Fate
by Ariel Mo
“I can’t decide.”
“Come on, you have to.”
“Do I really?”
The man gives a long-suffering sigh, and leans back in his chair. “But we’ve still got a few months before the deadline.”
“One month, two weeks, and one day.”
“That was… Very accurate.”
“Would you expect anything less?”
The woman smiles slightly as she speaks, softening the scoffing tone of her voice. She reaches out a pale, plump hand and picks up a red cookie. “Mmh.” She smacks her lips, and plops the cookie into her mouth.
“How many of those have you got through in just the past hour?”
The woman shrugs. “Two, three.” She takes another bite, chews, and swallows.
A car speeds by outside.
“Okay, six,” she says finally.
The man barks a laugh, and pushes his chair back. The plastic squeaks against the floor; a new scar carves into the wood. The man goes to the refrigerator and opens it. Glasses and jars clink and jingle—the woman’s eyes wander to a shower of dusty sunlight tumbling through the open window, shedding small scales of rainbows left and right—the man reaches in and pulls out a container of juice. He uncaps it, takes a white mug from the counter, and pours it full of juice. The man puts back the container, shuts the fridge door, and brings the mug back to the woman sitting at the table. The orange liquid bubbles and foams and hiccups.
“Thank you, dear,” she says, and takes a long swig.
“So, I was thinking that tomorrow we could—”
“Not now, dear,” the woman says. She sets the mug down on the table and stretches, settling back into a mountain of soft cushions.
The man groans. “I really don’t see why—”
“It’s a very important decision,” the woman says sternly. “It will affect the rest of both of our lives.”
“But what if we just… Waited a few days? Calmed down a bit?”
“We don’t need to calm down.”
“We’ve been arguing about this for hours! I don’t want to say anything to offend you.”
“You probably already have.”
“Well, then, let’s stop.”
“Why are you so insistent we do it now? Why can’t we wait?”
“We don’t have time to wait.”
“One month, two weeks, and one day is a pretty long time.”
“Not for a decision that’s this important.”
A sparrow springs up onto the windowsill; his silhouette clouds the light for barely a second. It turns and chatters to the sparrows in the window above him and the man frowns at it. “Shoo,” he says, waving a lazy hand. The tulips near his elbow flutter; the sparrow keeps chattering.
“We have to make a decision, you know,” the woman says.
“But it’s so…difficult. It’s so important.”
“That’s why we have to decide. As soon as possible.”
“Oh, I know!” The man stands up suddenly. “What if we made a game out of it? We’ll write the options on little slips of paper and I’ll throw them into a hat and you can pick one?”
“Or you can just make a choice,” the woman deadpans.
“It’s not exactly an easy choice to make,” the man argues.
“I don’t want to—I respect your wishes!”
“So I—I don’t want to force you to do something you don’t want!”
“But you’re asking me to choose!”
The man shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I don’t like this. I don’t like having to do this. I’ve never done anything like this, and I can’t. I can’t.”
The woman rubs her forehead. “So you’re going to make me do it?”
“And what if you don’t like what I choose?”
“I don’t care.” The man raises his hands. “I’ll leave it all up to you. You can decide. Choose anything.”
“‘Anything.’” The woman scoffs. “You’ll hate what I choose, and you’ll blame me for it.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Oh, yes, you will.”
A quiver of wind picks up, then, and all the leaves out in the garden begin to sing. Suddenly, they realize that the sparrow had fallen silent long ago and the light had changed from yellow to orange. The man gets up, walks to the window, and peers outside. “Sun’s setting,” he says, his back to the woman.
The woman takes another sip of her juice. “Come on, I can’t do this alone. Help me out here.”
The man fidgets, scratches his neck, wrings his fingers, and finally turns around. “Fine,” he says. “Fine. Let me see them again.”
The woman bites her lip hard enough for it to sting—the man notices the smile she’s trying to hide, and shakes his head lightly; a blast of wind blankets him in cold and he reaches out, grabs the rusty grey handle, and pulls the window shut—she nods at the table in front of her. “They’re right there.”
The man walks back, brows furrowed. He picks up the piece of paper and turns it over, staring at the long list of Xs and lines and the two, remaining, legible words.
The woman hums a melody. “Nessun dorma,” she coos to herself. “Mmmh.” The man frowns harder; he reaches out a finger and traces the lines of the letters on the page. “…estelle…” Outside, the leaves begin to sing again, silent and muted by the glass and wood and stone separating them from the man and woman inside. The sparrows are long gone but a crow croaks, and settles on the window sill. “…volcéro, volcéro!”
“God, I can’t do it!” The man shouts.
The woman sighs. “Really, dear…”
“I’m not good at this, I’m sorry,” he says desperately.
“Fine.” She reaches into a pocket on her red cardigan and pulls out two slips of paper, one purple, one red. She holds them out to him, purple on the left, red on the right. “Pick one.”
His jaw falls open. “What—you had these—the whole time—”
“Just pick one,” she says irritably. “Hurry, we’re going to be late for dinner.”
The man groans, and touches his finger to the slip on the right. “Oh!” The woman says, and twists her hand away. The man lets go. She holds the slips of paper out again, red on the left, purple on the right. “Pick again,” she says cheerily.
The man stares at her. She smiles.
He rolls his eyes and snatches the purple slip of paper and opens it. “Destiny,” he growls. “Destiny. There.”
“Hm, what a lovely name,” the woman says, rubbing her swollen stomach with a pale, slightly plump hand. “You’re going to be a beautiful girl with a beautiful name, Destiny,” she coos.
The man says something.
He shakes his head—“Never mind.”
“No, tell me,” the woman says.
He coughs. And coughs again.
“Just say it.”
“I liked Liberty better, that’s all,” he grumbles.
“Well, I didn’t,” the woman sniffs. “Besides—you had your chance. And you chose Destiny.”
“I guess Fate just wasn’t on your side,” she shrugs. “Now, come on, we’re going to be late for dinner.”