The old man leaned against the concrete barrier on the fourth floor of the parking garage, squinting westward into the low sun. “So much for Tuesday,” he muttered.
“Yep, there it goes,” said the young lady behind him. She hiked herself up to sit on the wall, carelessly battering the back of her heels against the concrete. “Rest in peace.” She offered a brief and amorphous salute to the dying of the light.
The old man sucked at a tooth for a moment. “These days remind me of a story,” he muttered. “You wanna hear a story?” he asked, half playful, looking over his shoulder at the young woman.
“Sure,” she shrugged.
He turned his back to her, taking in the half-ruined abandonment spreading out around the massive building. “There was once a farmer with two sons, lived up in the mountains. His sons were out hunting and they found a wild horse. They captured it, brought it home, and everybody was impressed. Hey, a free horse! That’s like a free car, back then,” he clarified, glancing back at her. “But the old farmer, he wasn’t impressed. ‘Look at your good fortune!’ people said to him, but he shrugged. ‘We’ll see.’ That’s all he’d say.”
He cleared his throat. “But then the sons, they were taming the horse, and one of ’em had a fall. A bad fall, broke his leg in three places, so bad it would never heal right. They bound him up good, and got him a crutch, and everybody was all sympathetic. They said to the farmer, ‘That’s some rotten luck! Your son, with his busted leg!’ But you know that old bastard, he just shook his head, and all he’d say was, ‘We’ll see.'”
He turned from the sunset, looking her in the eye. “Next day, soldiers came. They were conscripting all the able-bodied young men for the war, and they took the farmer’s healthy son, but they left him his son with the busted leg. As they were leaving, the neighbors gathered around. ‘You get to keep your son!’ they said, all excited. ‘That’s a lucky break!’ But he just shook his head.” The old man looked at the young woman. “What do you think that miserable bastard said?”
“We’ll see,” she said with half a smile.
“Damn straight,” the old man said with a nod. He crossed his arms over his chest, looking into the middle distance, sniffing at the wind. “I was twelve years old when I read that story,” he said quietly. “I read it the night before they took my ma off the ventilator. I felt like that goddamn miserable farmer as I watched her die. My uncle, telling me it was a damn shame her insurance ran out. The nurse, with that worried look, telling me her suffering was over and this was a blessing.”
Quiet settled around the two, as though sound faded with the light.
“Helped me set my course,” he murmured. “The idea that I could decide whether a catastrophe was a gift, or a lucky break was a disaster. The idea that you can’t see the future, you don’t know what you’re avoiding, or what you could have had. So you decide if it was good luck or bad luck. Or better yet,” he clarified, looking her in the eye, “you just let it be what it is.” He was quiet for a long moment. “Take the good you can get. Live with the bad. It’s all on the Tao.” He vaguely gestured in a circle. “The Way, you know?”
He turned his back on her again, leaving her oddly alone in the gathering dusk. “So maybe this quarantine is right. Maybe it’s important. Maybe if we break it, we bring disaster on a greater scale. Maybe if we escape we leave the best life we could have had.” He shrugged. “Or maybe getting trapped in here is certain death. Maybe our lives derailed, and unless we get out of here now, it’s over for us.” He sniffed. “Maybe our leaders are cowards, and that opens the way to mass death and chaos; or maybe it doesn’t really matter what the leaders do, because other events are on course and inexorable as fate.”
The strengthening chorus of insects like crickets began their evening rhythm, and the young woman hopped off the wall and stood next to the old man.
“I guess we’ll see,” she said in a small voice.
“Attagirl,” he replied through half a smile.