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Apophenia
Rebecca Field

“The human tendency to look for meaning or patterns in unrelated things”

He is standing in the supermarket when he sees the face of his dead father in a slice of prepacked ham. He doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but he can’t bring himself to leave his father in the cooked meats section, so he puts the packet into his basket. Later, he makes a sandwich, peeling off the slice bearing his father’s face and putting it aside. The slice below looks like a melted version of his father, and he doesn’t have any trouble eating that one with some cheese and sliced tomatoes.

When his colleagues ask how his father died, he lies and says it was a heart attack. He doesn’t say that his father was found lying semi-conscious in his underpants at the bottom of his stairs by a man who came to read the electricity metre, then later died in hospital of double pneumonia. All of that takes too long to explain and invites follow-up questions about his father and their relationship, which he does not wish to get into.

Since his father’s demise, he has chosen DEATH as his starting word in Wordle every day. Sometimes, this strategy is useful, but he frequently wishes he’d chosen differently. The number of guesses taken to complete the puzzle determines how his work will go that day with surprising accuracy. He does not dare stop playing the game each day now he has started. If he does, something terrible might happen.

His mother used to say deaths came in threes, so when he hears that a retired colleague has passed away from a short illness, he tells himself it is a coincidence, although part of him is now on high alert. He waits for the next death hungrily, knowing he will not feel satisfied until it arrives. Each day, his stomach growls as he scours the news. On the third day he learns that a comedian with the same first name as his father has died from cancer, and now he allows himself to relax, just a little. The period of danger has passed.

He arranges his father’s burial in a local cemetery in accordance with the wishes set out in his will. There is no funeral service, no wake, no obituary in the local paper. He thinks about buying flowers but decides against it, having no idea what type his father would like and what would be appropriate for the situation. Funerals are for the living, someone at work once told him. If there is no funeral, it will be even easier to forget this whole thing, he reasons.

Three weeks later, he receives his father’s house keys from the solicitor, but it is another six before he goes round. His father collected gabardine raincoats in varying hues of beige. There are four draped on the hatstand in his father’s hallway, backs hunched, hanging like sloughed skins. He imagines his father looking up at them from where he lay on the threadbare carpet, unable to cover himself as he grew steadily colder each hour. I will not die like that, he says out loud, knowing he has no control over whether he does or not.

His father’s bedroom wallpaper is a repeating pattern in oranges, browns, and mustard yellows. He has no memory of this room. There is a place behind the door where the paper overlaps, disrupting the flow of the design. He wonders if his father noticed this, whether it was done deliberately. In the wardrobe are six more gabardine raincoats, belts dangling like wilted weeds. He takes one out and tries it on, staring at his fogged-flecked reflection in the wardrobe mirror. The face of his own son is in there somewhere. They haven’t spoken for ten years since his marriage ended. He thinks about repeating patterns, and wonders whether it is all too late.

 

 

Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire, UK. She has work in several print anthologies and has also been published online by Reflex Press, The Phare, Ghost Parachute, Fictive Dream, Gone Lawn, Tiny Molecules, Milk Candy Review and Ellipsis Zine among others. Tweets at @RebeccaFwrites  

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