The light bulb flickered and darkness engulfed Frederick. He tapped the dust-covered glass and it came back on, although the light blinked and looked like it could go out again at any moment. The bulb had been threatening to go out for some months now, but Fred couldn’t afford a new one so the twinkling light would have to do.
He hunched over his desk, his hair falling over his lean shoulders. He brushed aside a lock of graying hair and continued to scribble in his notebook.
Soon. Just a few more hours and my penance will be over. I’ll have done my time. Just a few more hours. Tomorrow. Tomorrow! It’s been seven yea –
The last letters of the word vanished as the ink stopped flowing. Fred licked the tip of the pen and drew a squiggly line on the corner of the sheet. Nothing.
It doesn’t matter, he told himself as he chucked the pen to one side, better dried out than leaking. He rubbed his thumb against the eternal blue stains on his index and middle finger and then took a pencil from the desk drawer.
…years since that fateful day my life crashed to the floor. I did my time, now I can pick up –
With a crack, the tip of the pencil broke off. The light bulb flickered. Fred glared at it.
What did you expect?
He hurled the pencil across the room. It bounced off the wall with a clink and lay on the floor. Wrestling against his nerves, Fred took a deep breath. A draft chilled him to his bones and he drew his jacket tighter around his chest and hugged himself. He hadn’t been able to turn on the heating in the last four winters. Outside, drops of rain pounded against the cracked window and seeped in through the mildewed frame.
I did my time. Seven years of time. Now I can pick up the pieces of my life and start putting them back together. He stared at the calendar he had taped to the wall.
With newfound spirits, Fred closed his notebook and went to bed. Sleeping was the fastest way to make tomorrow come – and he desperately needed tomorrow to come. He flicked away the paint chips that had fallen onto the blanket during the last few hours, put on an extra pair of socks and turned off the light. He fell asleep to the pitter-patter of rain and the hope of approaching good fortune.
Morning came and bright sunlight warmed Fred’s finely creased face. He awoke and jumped out of bed.
“Today! Today is the day!” he whooped as he ran to the bathroom. “It’s over! Seven years of bad luck – I survived!” He turned on the hot water and steam quickly filled the small room while Fred hurried to undress.
“A real shower! With hot water!” He stepped in and soaked his head. For the first time in years, the warm waterfall did not turn into jets of ice. Fred ran fingers through his thinning hair and laughed until he cried. Once clean and flushed from standing under the steaming shower, he stepped out and dried himself.
He rubbed the stubble on his chin and for a moment considered shaving. Then the implications of his thoughtless whim made him freeze. A shiver traveled down his spine. Shaving would involve using a mirror. He didn’t have mirrors anymore. He couldn’t. He wasn’t ready yet.
Forget it. Nothing can ruin today. Today!
He whistled while he dressed and went downstairs to have breakfast. The floorboards creaked under his feet but this morning, for the first time in years, he did not trip or stub his toe. As he passed by the living room he glanced in. He could still envision his widescreen TV and surround sound system. They were gone now, along with most of his possessions, sold off to pay for more important things. A layer of dust covered the little furniture that was left, most of it rickety old pieces he had collected from dumpsters around town.
Fred pursed his lips and went into the kitchen. The refrigerator, the only appliance left, whirred when he opened the door and took out his last carton of milk. He slammed the door shut and waited for the fridge to start its cycle of clunks and kerplunks but, to his surprise, it was quiet. Things were looking up.
He poured the milk into a pot and set it on the stove. This morning the milk did not suddenly bubble over or inexplicably turn sour. Fred drank and looked out the window. Through the glass, the first day of his new life greeted him. He had to go out.
He gulped down his milk and turned on his heel, whistling to himself as he made for the door. He opened it, expecting the doorknob to come off as usual, but not today. Dark clouds loomed over the hills but Fred acknowledged them with a lighthearted shrug. A little rain wouldn’t bring down his parade.
He opened the closet and picked up his umbrella. Then the unthinkable happened. The rickety umbrella snapped open, spewing a cloud of dust over Fred’s face and shoulders. He froze, his mouth agape.
No, no, no! It opened by itself. I didn’t do it! It was an accident! This doesn’t mean anything!
His legs shaking and barely responding, Fred stumbled to the open door. As he approached, a gust of wind slammed it shut and made the entire house tremble and creak.
No! It’s been seven years already!
He twisted the doorknob but it slipped through his fingers and dropped to the floor with a clang. A strip of paint peeled off the ceiling and floated lazily toward the floor, only to settle on Fred’s shoulder. He stood in the hall, his fingers curled around the handle of his open umbrella, and made a decision.
The time had come to stop believing in superstitions; it brought bad luck.
Nadine Ducca is a translator and interpreter specializing in medical translation. Originally from Los Angeles, California, she now lives in sunny Barcelona, Spain. She works as an Exams Supervisor for Cambridge ESOL and teaches English at the Open University of Catalonia. Her work has been published in The Fringe and Weirdyear, and she is now working on a series of science fiction and horror stories for publication. She is also completing the second draft of her first novel, Making Time.