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The Killfun

              Unlike most years that Jeremiah could recall, this year the spring season had arrived right on time. To celebrate, Jeremiah extended his lunch break by 20 minutes so he could sit on a bench in the park across the street from his office and read an interview with his favorite author, Maude Pyke, on his phone while a fragrant breeze heralding the imminent arrival of greenery tousled his thinning hair.

               The interview turned out to be a snooze – Jeremiah had read what Maude had to say about her troubled second marriage dozens of times – but the fragrant breeze was everything he could have hoped, so he was still having a good time when a younger man in gray jeans and a yellow track jacket interrupted him.

               “Hey there, hi,” said the younger man, waving his hand just above Jeremiah’s phone to draw his eyes upward.

               “Hi,” said Jeremiah, lowering his phone and meeting the younger man’s eyes.

He was younger than Jeremiah, yes, but not much younger, maybe mid-30s. He looked a little like one of Jeremiah’s less likeable cousins. He wore glasses which partially concealed the dark hollows beneath his eyes. “Yeah, hi,” he said. He drew a long breath. “So, here’s what I have to say to you. I’m a person, right? A human being. I have a life, I have a family, I have goals and hopes. I have a name. It’s Otis.”

“Hi, Otis,” said Jeremiah. He wondered if this was leading up to a request for money. Or maybe this was a religious thing and Otis was trying to convert him, trying to win Jeremiah’s soul.

“I know you don’t know me,” said Otis. “You don’t know who I am, right?”

“Right,” said Jeremiah. “I don’t know who you are.”

“So you might not care if I have a particularly good life,” said Otis. “But you don’t have anything against me, right? You don’t want me to suffer?”

“I don’t have any cash on me,” said Jeremiah. “But there’s a sandwich place on the next block. I could get you something there with my card.”

“No, it’s not that,” said Otis. “I have plenty of money, plus I just ate.”

“Oh, OK,” said Jeremiah. “Good.”

“But you don’t want me to suffer, right?” asked Otis.

“No,” said Jeremiah. “I don’t think I want anyone to suffer.”

“Right, exactly,” said Otis. “Maybe an enemy, if you have an enemy. You might want your enemy to suffer. But we’re not enemies.”

“I’m going to stand up,” said Jeremiah. “Just because it feels weird to be sitting on this bench talking to you while you’re standing right in front of me.”

“But we’re not enemies,” said Otis. “Right?”

“Right,” said Jeremiah as he rose to his feet.

“And since I’m not your enemy, you don’t want me to suffer,” said Otis.

“Sure, yes,” said Jeremiah. He felt like they were covering and re-covering a lot of the same conversational ground. But it didn’t feel like this was going to turn out to be proselytization, and if it wasn’t a request for money, what was it? That mystery made Jeremiah nervous.

“But I do suffer,” said Otis, his eyes alight with the recollection of recent suffering.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Jeremiah. He glanced at his phone, checking the time, yep, it was definitely time to head back to the office, definitely time to bring this interaction to a close.

“I suffer because of you,” Otis continued. “You make me suffer. You don’t know me, but you make me suffer. I know you don’t mean to, that it isn’t your intention, but you do, you make me suffer, not just people like you, but you personally, Jeremiah.”

Had Jeremiah told Otis his name? No, he hadn’t. So how did Otis know it? “I have to get back to work,” said Jeremiah. “But I think you need some help, Otis, I think you need some assistance.”

“You’re right,” said Otis. “I do. And you’re the only person who can help me. You’re the only one who makes me suffer, so you’re the only one who can end it.”

“I would if I could,” said Jeremiah. “I wish I could. But I think you’re confused. I think you need to see a professional. A professional doctor.”

“Oh, you think I’m insane?” asked Otis. “I’m in my right mind, I swear I am. I’m totally fine, in good shape, physically healthy, mentally healthy, I’m fine. Except for the suffering.”

“Right, of course,” said Jeremiah. “Except for the suffering.” He turned to leave the park, suddenly eager for the drab sanctuary of his office.

“Whoa, hey, hold on,” said Otis. “You’re just going to leave me to suffer? A fellow person – not even an enemy – you’re just going to let me keep suffering? You don’t even want to know how you could make it stop?”

Jeremiah turned back to Otis, inwardly cursing the beautiful weather that had lured him to this park on this day at this time. “All right, tell me,” he said. “And if it’s actually something I can do, I’ll do it.”

Otis grinned, relief flooding his face. “You mean that? You really mean that?”

“Within reason,” said Jeremiah. “If you ask me to do something unreasonable, then no, I won’t do it.”

Otis’s smile sagged. “Wow,” he said. “I’m not sure…I don’t know if you’ll think it’s reasonable or not. I had so much hope there for a second, but…”

“Just tell me,” said Jeremiah. “I really do have to get back to work. That wasn’t just an excuse. I actually do have to leave. So just hurry up and tell me what you want me to do.”

Otis took his glasses and off and put them in his jacket pocket. “Ever since I was little,” he said, “I’ve been suffering. Not all the time, but just sometimes. Everything will be going fine, I’ll feel fine, but then the suffering will kick in. No doctor was able to figure it out, no expert. You said I should talk to professionals, well, I’ve already done that. They couldn’t help me. I had to figure it out for myself. And I did figure it out, I finally did. And it turns out that I suffer whenever you’re having fun. When you’re having fun, that’s when I suffer. If you’re having a little fun, then I suffer a little. And to be honest, I can live with that. A little suffering is OK. But when you’re having a lot of fun, especially over a long period of time, well, I suffer a lot. And that’s tough. That’s tough to live with. So that’s all I’m asking of you. That’s it. Just that.”

“Just what?” asked Jeremiah. “To stop having fun?”

“Or to have less fun, at least,” said Otis. “At least limit your fun. Try to only have a little fun, and not too often. Or maybe sometimes you can have more than a little fun – a moderate amount of fun – like on your birthday. But not on Christmas, please, because I celebrate Christmas too, and I’d like to be able to have fun on Christmas, which I won’t be able to do if you’re having fun, because then I’ll be suffering.”

“So you can have fun but I can’t,” said Jeremiah. “That’s how you want it to be.”

“Well, my fun doesn’t cause anyone to suffer,” said Otis. “Not that I know of, anyway. If I ever find out that it does, like you’re finding out now, then I’ll be sure to limit it. And before you get too upset, remember that limiting the amount of fun you have doesn’t have to limit the amount of joy you experience, the love you experience, the contentment you experience, and many other very positive feelings you can experience.”

Jeremiah realized he was, in all likelihood, arguing with a madman, and wondered if it was possible to engage in a more futile activity. He needed to alter his approach. “I’ll try,” he said.

“Try what?”

“Try to limit my fun,” said Jeremiah. “Sometimes fun happens when you don’t expect it, but I won’t seek fun. Not too much, anyway.”

“Thank you,” said Otis, his eyes welling liquid gratitude.

“Well, goodbye,” said Jeremiah, and he walked back across the street to the office where, even if Otis’s delusion was correct, there was very little chance of Jeremiah inflicting suffering on anyone but himself for the next few hours.


That night at home, Jeremiah waited until his daughter and his two sons were in bed before telling Margo, his wife, about his interaction with Otis at the park. It was generally advisable, Jeremiah had found, to save any conversations with his wife that might eclipse the one-minute mark until after the three walking interruptions he had sired were all unconscious in their beds in their dark rooms with their doors closed.

By the light of a muted wall-mounted television plus two lamps, Jeremiah and Margo sat hip-to-hip on the family room couch while Jeremiah explained Otis’s assertion that all fun that Jeremiah experienced inflicted suffering upon him, and that he therefore requested that Jeremiah would henceforth endeavor to limit his fun.

“You can’t have fun anymore?” asked Margo, her lips twisting into an incredulous smile.

“He wants me to limit fun,” said Jeremiah. “I’m allowed to have a little light fun on my birthday.”

Margo laughed and laughed, and Jeremiah joined her.

“But how does he define fun?” Margo asked once she collected herself.

“I don’t know,” said Jeremiah. “We didn’t discuss that.”

How did he figure out the connection between your fun and his suffering?” asked Margo. “How did he find you?”

“I don’t know that either,” said Jeremiah.

“It’s almost like,” said Margo, “his story has some dubious elements.” And this got her chuckling again, which got Jeremiah laughing again, and then they both laughed until they were crying, and this went on until Nina, their eight-year-old, emerged from the darkness of the hallway to demand that her parents explain what was so funny, which somehow turned into an argument that woke the other kids, and it wasn’t long before the laughter felt like a distant memory.


The next morning was rainy and blustery. The angle at which Jeremiah held his umbrella to keep his face dry obscured his view of the entrance to his office building enough to prevent him from noticing Otis waiting there until he was next to him beneath the awning.

“You had fun last night,” said Otis, his voice bitter. “It was excruciating.”

“What?” said Jeremiah, collapsing his umbrella. “No I didn’t. It was a normal, boring evening.”

Otis wore a purple windbreaker, less wet than one would expect for a man without an umbrella. That probably meant he’d been waiting under the awning for a while. “You did have fun,” said Otis. “I checked the time right when my suffering started. It was 9:29 p.m. What were you doing at 9:29 p.m. that was so fun, huh? Not even a full day after you told me you’d be limiting your fun going forward!”

“I was…let’s see…I think I was probably talking to my wife,” said Jeremiah. “I was telling her about my day.”

“And what was so fun about that?” asked Otis.

“Nothing,” said Jeremiah. “It was pleasant. That’s all. Were you spying on me? Peeking in my windows to keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t having fun?”

“No,” said Otis. “I don’t need to spy on you to know if you’re having fun. I know when you’re having fun or not based on how much I’m suffering. And last night at 9:29 I started suffering, so I know you were having fun.”

“We laughed a little,” said Jeremiah. “What, I’m not allowed to laugh? I can never laugh again?”

“A little laughter here and there is fine,” said Otis. “I already told you, I’m not asking you to eliminate all fun from your life forever. But I was suffering quite a bit last night. So if you really were just laughing, you must have been laughing pretty hard and for a long time.”

“How am I supposed to laugh without having fun?” asked Jeremiah. He felt himself sinking into the quagmire of this argument with Otis, but did not possess the willpower to stop it.

“Sardonic laughter,” said Otis, ticking the options off on his fingers. “Rueful laughter, mocking laughter.”

“All negative,” said Jeremiah. “Bad forms of laughter.”

“Delighted laughter,” said Otis.

“How would I do delighted laughter without having fun?” asked Jeremiah.

“It would be difficult, I admit,” said Otis. “But not impossible. ‘Fun’ and ‘delight’ are not synonyms.”

Jeremiah scoffed.

“See?” said Otis. “Right there. What you just did was a form of laughter, but I didn’t suffer from it at all.”

Jeremiah laughed again; it came out as a bark, harsh and pointed.

Otis shrugged. “Perfect. I feel fine. You’re laughing, but you’re not having fun.”

“You got that right,” said Jeremiah. He went into his office building with an awful mood rooting itself deep in his core.


That night at dinner, Jeremiah announced to his family that he would be taking the following day off from work, pulling the kids out of school, and driving the whole family to The Heart of Heaven, an amusement park an hour away near Heavenburg, for a day of fun, fun, fun. The kids cheered. Lucas, his ten-year-old, sprang to his feet and began to mimic the head-banging motion he’d seen in an old music video Jeremiah had shown him on the computer. Ross, the six-year-old, also evacuated his chair so he could spin in circles with his arms out, his fingertips inches away from several things that should not be knocked over. Nina’s response was more mature, but Jeremiah could tell she was excited.

“Is the weather supposed to be nice tomorrow?” asked Margo. She aimed a quizzical smile at Jeremiah.

“Yes,” said Jeremiah. “I looked up the forecast for the Heavenburg area earlier. Sunny and high 60s.”

“Is The Heart of Heaven even open for the season yet?”

“They open the first day of spring,” said Jeremiah. “Why would I plan this without checking any of these details? I already got the tickets. We’ll leave at 8 tomorrow so we can be there when they open at 9.”

They arrived at The Heart of Heaven closer to 10. Jeremiah’s life was a series of later-than-hoped-for starts. But once they passed through the Pearly Gates, the fun flowed freely. Everyone had a great time. And Jeremiah’s fun was not limited to the vicarious variety. Yes, he had fun watching his kids have fun, but he had plenty of fun of his very own. Jeremiah had maintained his fondness for rollercoasters deep into his adulthood, and he had fun riding Rapture, he had fun riding Rapture II, he had fun riding The Bound-for-Glory Express, and he had fun riding The Tear-Wiper.

And his fun was not diminished by keeping an eye out for Otis, just on the off chance that he had followed Jeremiah and his family and was now observing Jeremiah’s fun so he could tomorrow claim to have suffered at all the right moments. In fact, watching for Otis maybe increased Jeremiah’s fun, added a little something extra, a little risk, a little spice.

There were times throughout the day when Jeremiah thought about how strange it would be if his fun actually did cause Otis to suffer. He imagined Otis writhing on the floor – a kitchen floor, for some reason, with cream-colored tile – as Jeremiah’s fun spiked again and again, Otis’s only respites coming while Jeremiah stood in lines that were a bit long, and even then Jeremiah’s memories of recent fun and anticipation of more fun in the near future kept Jeremiah’s overall feeling of fun at a low boil. Even the drive home was fun as the kids took turns recounting their favorite moments of the day, proclaiming the fun of this ride or that show or this game or that meal.

As Jeremiah stretched out in bed next to Margo, who was already asleep, he tried to think of ways in which he could have squeezed more fun out of the day. He didn’t think it would have been possible without being substantially richer, but he was willing to concede that being richer could have also impeded his capacity for fun in some way. No, all things considered, the day had been as much fun as Jeremiah could have reasonably hoped. And then he fell asleep and had fun dreams.


The next morning as Jeremiah drove to work, he almost hoped Otis would again be waiting for him outside of his office building. His strategy was all planned out and he was eager for a confrontation. A final confrontation, he hoped, because he felt that whatever conflict there was between him and Otis, it would now be decided. But as he walked from the parking lot to his office building, he did not see Otis lurking near the door, nor anyone else. But wasn’t this also proof of Otis’s fraudulence, in a way? If he had suffered because of Jeremiah’s day full of fun, wouldn’t he certainly be here today to accuse, to blame, and to condemn? So it was less satisfying than a confrontation, yes, but Jeremiah still wore a self-satisfied smirk all the way to his desk.  

At lunch, Jeremiah ate a sandwich in the park seated on the same bench where Otis had first found him, but this attempt did not draw Otis out from wherever he was, from within whatever realm he lurked. It was hard for Jeremiah to imagine what Otis’s life was like when he wasn’t bothering Jeremiah. He waited in the park for an extra ten minutes, but when Otis didn’t appear, Jeremiah went back to work, although he gave himself permission to be too distracted to accomplish much during the afternoon.

Just before two o’clock, Jeremiah got a call from the front desk that there was someone in the lobby asking to see him.

“Send them up!” said Jeremiah, his heart rate rising. So Otis had decided to show his face. Well, then, let the struggle commence. And then let it be ended. Ended forever.

But when, after a few minutes, the knock on Jeremiah’s office door finally came and he called out a casually confident “come in!” it was not Otis who stepped into his office. It was not even a man. It was a woman. She wore a knee-length orange skirt, sneakers, and a gray long-sleeved t-shirt featuring illegible text. Her hair was pulled into a very tight, very long ponytail and she squinted like someone unaccustomed to office-quality lighting.

“I’m sorry,” said Jeremiah. “Who are you?”

“I’m Marcie,” said the woman. “Marcie Bowerman.”

“All right,” said Jeremiah. “Can I help you?”

“I’m sorry,” said Marcie. “I thought you’d recognize me when I said my last name. Or, not recognize me, but that you’d know who I was. I’m Otis Bowerman’s wife.”

“Oh!” said Jeremiah. “Otis never told me his last name.”

“I guess if you had known his last name you might have also thought I could be his sister when you heard my name,” said Marcie. “His unmarried sister. Or a married sister who kept her last name. But he doesn’t have a sister. Maybe you knew that?”

“I didn’t know that either,” said Jeremiah. “I don’t know much at all about your husband, to be honest.” His enthusiasm for a showdown with Otis had shriveled and all that was left was a twitchiness which manifested in Jeremiah spinning the scroll wheel on the top of his computer mouse.

“Well, anyway, putting aside the fact that he doesn’t have a sister,” said Marcie, “Otis asked me to come see you today because he’s too weak to leave the house.” She had stopped two steps inside the door and an odd distance separated her from where Jeremiah sat behind his desk. There were two vacant chairs in the room, but she did not give the impression of someone who would accept an invitation to sit.

“Hmm,” said Jeremiah. “Why is he too weak to leave the house? Is he sick?”

“Not exactly,” said Marcie. “He’s weak because he was suffering all day yesterday. He said it was the worst suffering he’s had in years, and I believe it because I was there watching him suffer, and it looked really bad.”

“And he thinks this was because of me,” said Jeremiah. “Because of something I did.”

“But it was, though, wasn’t it?” asked Marcie. “I mean, didn’t you have a lot of fun pretty much all day yesterday? Isn’t that the only thing that could have caused it?”

“You believe him?” asked Jeremiah. “You honestly believe him when he says that my fun is what causes his suffering?”

“Weren’t you having fun yesterday?” asked Marcie.

Jeremiah was happy to have an opportunity to use his strategy after all. “No,” he said. “I wasn’t having fun yesterday. My family and I were out of town to attend a funeral of a friend. And not only that, but we had car trouble on the way there and on the way back. And I got mild food poisoning from the takeout we ordered when we got home because we were too tired to cook anything. So it was actually one of my least fun days in recent memory. It was sad, exasperating, and physically uncomfortable.” Jeremiah was impressed with his own performance. His delivery of the lie had sounded so true. He couldn’t imagine Marcie as capable of doubting its veracity.

“That can’t be true,” said Marcie.

“It is true,” said Jeremiah, annoyed at needing to cheapen his performance by insisting.

 “Then why would Otis have been suffering so much?” asked Marcie.

“He wasn’t,” said Jeremiah. “He was faking. Or maybe, if his suffering is real – and I wouldn’t think this would be controversial, but here we are – but maybe my fun doesn’t cause his suffering. Maybe it’s caused by – oh, I don’t know – unresolved mental health issues? Right? Could that be the source of his suffering, just like it is for millions of other people in the world?”

“But then why would his suffering match up exactly when you’re having fun?” asked Marcie.

“It doesn’t,” said Jeremiah. “Even if it has on a few occasions, how would anyone know if it always does? And even if you could prove that, you’d never be able to prove causation. Maybe there’s some third thing that both causes me to have fun and Otis to suffer. Maybe my fun and his suffering are just symptoms of that same thing, whatever it is.”

“No,” said Marcie. “Because the thing that causes you to have fun is when you do fun things. And then Otis suffers ‘cause of that.”

“That can’t be proven,” said Jeremiah.

“Then what were you really doing yesterday?” asked Marcie.

Jeremiah’s strategy was not working. He now wondered why he had ever thought it would. He sighed. He wanted it to sound world-weary, but it instead sounded dramatic. “I was at The Heart of Heaven with my family.”

“That’s an amusement park,” said Marcie. “That’s a place people go to have fun. You were having fun there. That’s why Otis spent the whole day suffering.”

“No!” shouted Jeremiah, forgetting where he was. “That can’t be true! If me having fun makes him suffer, then it’s because he doesn’t like me so he doesn’t want me to have fun because having fun makes me feel good and it bothers him when I feel good, which if that’s true, then he deserves to suffer because he’s suffering because of his own mean-spiritedness.”

“Otis isn’t mean-spirited,” said Marcie. “He has nothing against you except for the fact that you keep having fun even though he told you it makes him suffer.”

“I don’t know what your angle is,” said Jeremiah. “I don’t know what either of you get out of this. I don’t know if it’s an elaborate prank or...I don’t…I don’t…” He paused, took a sip of cold coffee from the mug on his desk. “Do you have tile in your kitchen?”

“In our kitchen?” asked Marcie. “Yes. On the floor we do. Why?”

“What color is it?” asked Jeremiah.

“I don’t know,” said Marcie. “Sort of…whitish, I guess.”

“OK, good,” said Jeremiah. “So you wouldn’t describe it as ‘cream-colored.’”

“Actually, now that you mention it,” said Marcie. “I suppose it is cream-colored. That’s the perfect word to describe it, actually.”

“Oh, who cares?” said Jeremiah. “All kitchen tile is cream-colored. Or probably ninety percent of it, at least. That doesn’t prove anything.” But he felt as if something thin and sharp had perforated his stomach and it was leaking acid all over his other guts, defiling them, making them even grosser. It was not a good time to have the taste of cold, bitter, office-quality coffee lingering in his throat at the base of his tongue. He gagged. “I will not let your husband ruin the rest of my life,” he said.

“Life isn’t just about fun,” said Marcie. “I would think you’d be old enough to know that.”

“Why are you here?” asked Jeremiah. “What did you come here to say?”

“Just to let you know how much Otis suffered yesterday,” said Marcie.

“Fine,” said Jeremiah. “You told me.”

And to ask you again to please limit your fun.”

“Great,” said Jeremiah. “So now you can-”

And to see if you would be willing to promise to limit your fun so that Otis wouldn’t have to worry about having another day like yesterday ever again.”

Jeremiah rose from his office chair like a time-lapse video of a weed sprouting from a crack in a parking lot. “I will never limit my fun.”


Jeremiah’s family did not want to go back to The Heart of Heaven.

“Tomorrow?” asked Margo. “We were just there yesterday!”

“But it was so fun,” said Jeremiah. “All day I was thinking that I couldn’t wait to go back, and then I thought, well, we don’t have to wait. We can go again tomorrow! It’s a Saturday so I won’t miss any more work, the kids won’t miss more school. There’s no reason not to!”

“Won’t the lines be even longer on a Saturday?” asked Lucas through a mouth full of ice-cream sandwich. It was a too-practical question for a ten-year-old to be asking. Had Jeremiah been raising him wrong?

“A little longer, sure,” said Jeremiah. “But that’s not a big deal.”

“But the shorter lines from yesterday will be really fresh in our minds,” said Lucas. “And that’ll make the longer lines feel way worse.”

“I don’t wanna go back to The Heart of Heaven tomorrow,” said Ross. He was wearing Nina’s purple snowsuit in the house, for some reason, and his sweaty hair stuck to his forehead and the nape of his neck as a result. “I’m supposed to go to Darwin’s house tomorrow.”

“And what’re you going to do there?” asked Jeremiah.

“Bubble Clash Rocket Elite Wars Limited Avalanche Assault,” said Ross.

 “Is that a title of something?” asked Jeremiah, but Ross was already gone.

Nina didn’t want to go back to The Heart of Heaven the next day either.

“Why not?” asked Jeremiah.

Nina shrugged, and it wasn’t an expressive shrug. Jeremiah could read nothing into it, which led him to believe that Nina herself truly did not know why she didn’t want to go back to The Heart of Heaven the next day. Yet she could not be goaded into the self-reflection that would be required to yield an answer, and eventually Jeremiah’s goading became the answer because it pushed Nina into opposing Jeremiah’s plan out of spite.

So just before eight o’clock the following morning, Jeremiah left for The Heart of Heaven by himself. Departing at his target time did little to compensate for the fact that he was still annoyed at his family’s refusal to join him. And Margo was annoyed at him for going ahead with his plan despite her protests. He didn’t want to explain the whole situation to her, didn’t think he could. And even if he could, he knew Margo would find his conclusions distasteful. She wouldn’t approve.

When the Pearly Gates opened at nine a.m., Jeremiah was one of the first people through them.

By one in the afternoon, he was headed home and feeling rotten.


At home, Jeremiah fended off questions from his family – except for Ross, who was at Darwin’s house – and closed himself in his study to use the computer. It didn’t take long for Jeremiah to find Otis Bowerman of Multioak online. He and Marcie ran a small business out of their home, something to do with restoring antique headboards and only antique headboards, it seemed. Anyway, their home address was right there on the website for Bowerman Antique Headboard Restoration.

“Where are you going now?” asked Margo as Jeremiah breezed past her on his way out the door.

“Bowerman Antique Headboard Restoration,” said Jeremiah, stopping on the porch.

“But we don’t have an antique headboard,” said Margo. “Unless…? You’re getting us one?”

Jeremiah was shocked at how pleased she appeared at the possibility. He never would have guessed she’d be interested in antique headboards. “No,” he said. “We don’t have one and I’m not getting us one.” Disappointments abounded today.

The Bowermans lived in a house well-suited to antique headboard restoration. That’s how Jeremiah felt when he saw it in person, anyway, although he knew nothing about the business of antique headboard restoration. But the house was quaint and large at the same time, three kinds of ivy crawled up the posts supporting the roof above the deep porch, the lawn needed mowing, and a calico cat lounged in a dry bird bath off near the property boundary.

Otis himself answered Jeremiah’s first knock. He wore neither shoes nor socks. He held an open box of sugary cereal in one hand. His hooded sweatshirt was unzipped to reveal a paint-spattered polo shirt beneath. “I was just thinking about you,” Otis said with a smile. The hollows under his eyes were less dark today.

“Oh, were you?” asked Jeremiah. “You were thinking about me? I can’t imagine why.”

Otis recoiled slightly at the venom in Jeremiah’s voice. “Yeah, well, I was thinking about you because today has been one of the nicest I’ve had in a long time. No suffering at all from the time I woke up until now. Completely free of suffering. It’s been really nice, I’ve been able to relax, been able to get some things done around the house. So I was just thinking, you know, about how I was grateful. Toward you, I mean, for limiting your fun so much today. And on a Saturday, too. It means a lot to me. I know probably better than anyone how much fun you usually like to have on Saturdays.”

Jeremiah couldn’t take any more. “You want me dead,” he said, his voice trembling. “Then you’d never have to worry about me having fun again. But you don’t have the guts. So you tried the next best thing. You told me over and over how much my fun makes you suffer in hopes that I’d feel too guilty to have any more fun for the rest of my life. You were hoping that any time I started to have fun, I’d think of you writhing around on your cream-colored kitchen tile, suffering and suffering and suffering, and all the fun would be sucked out of my life. And then you’d be free and clear to live it up while I sank deeper and deeper into a life devoid of fun.”

Otis absorbed this. Then, cautious, revealing nothing, he asked, “Is that what’s happening today? You’re avoiding fun out of guilt?”

“No!” cried Jeremiah. “I tried to have as much fun as I could all morning, but it didn’t work! Not because I felt guilty, but because I was so angry at you that I wanted you to suffer as much as possible. But the pressure to succeed in having fun in order to defeat you spoiled the fun.”

“Huh,” said Otis. “But you said we weren’t enemies. The first day we met, you said you had nothing against me. You said you didn’t want me to suffer.”

“Things have changed,” said Jeremiah. “You changed them.”

Otis’s smile, which had departed as the conversation turned hostile, now threatened to come back. “In that case,” he said, “I guess I’m lucky that you can’t make me suffer anymore. Unless, of course, you forget about all this. And what are the odds of that happening? And even if you did, if I started to feel the occasional twinge of suffering here and there, I’d just find you again, like, hey, remember me?” He was grinning now. He was having fun, and not the nice kind.

You seem to have forgotten something,” said Jeremiah as he backed down the steps and out of the shadow of the porch.

“What’s that?” asked Otis.

“That there’s more than one way to suffer,” said Jeremiah.


Later, when Margo came into the study to ask Jeremiah what he’d spent the last two hours doing on the computer, he didn’t even try to conceal it. “I’m making fake accounts to leave bad reviews about Bowerman Antique Headboard Restoration all over the internet.”

“What?” asked Margo “Why?

Jeremiah leaned back in his rolling office chair. It creaked a threat to tip over, a threat which Jeremiah heeded. He sat up straight. “Well, at first it was just to try to hurt the business,” he said. “Because I’m mad at the owners. But about an hour ago, something happened, Margo. I realized that I was having fun.” His smile displayed a sick sort of relief. “I stumbled into it by accident. If I try to have fun to make Otis suffer, it doesn’t work, but it turns out that if I try to make Otis suffer, I have fun! Which then, in turn, makes him suffer. Or I hope so, anyway. I still wouldn’t say it’s been definitively proven.”

“That’s what all this is about?” asked Margo. “That crazy guy who approached you in the park?”

“Yes,” said Jeremiah.

Margo had a lot to say on the subject, and on the subject of Jeremiah’s strange behavior over the last couple of days, but Jeremiah did not listen for long. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’m sorry to interrupt, and you know I respect your perspective on things, but being lectured is not fun for me, and that plays right into Otis’s hands. That’s what he would want you to do. So before you go on, Margo, I need you to think about whose side you’re on: his or mine?”

And thus began the least fun period of Jeremiah’s life.

Discussion Questions

  • How much would you pay right now for a fully-restored antique headboard?

  • Who finds fun in your suffering?

  • In whose suffering do you find fun?

  • Who suffers for your fun?

  • Whose fun makes you suffer?