The Different Thing

Gabe Durham

The young couple was informed: Something today would be different.

It was a time of day again and the sky was active, casting rays onto things, making the things look different in this light than in other light. Birds migrated, and not just longitudinally. Dogs were dogs, ants were active, crocodiles largely inert then not, dinosaurs long toast, and despite rumors, more people had been than were. And more would be than ought; but once people arrived, it was often nice to have them.


At first, things had been good, very good, between the young couple.

They met in a public space. They liked to look at each other. They took turns speaking and angled their bodies toward one another. Fifteen thousand people died from smoking that day. Most smokers remained alive, however. Their region was so full of the living that the guy and the gal knew better than to leave their next meeting up to chance. He gave her a way to find him. She gave him a way to find her.

They resisted making contact until one risked it. The other was glad. They planned ahead times to meet and did so, each time arranging and adorning their bodies to please the other. They told of their pasts and futures and even of their present, such as when one assured the other she was pleased to occupy space with him. They lied in ways their culture deemed acceptable. They discovered binding commonalities and interesting dissimilarities. One spoke of family more than the other. One spoke of religion more than the other. One spoke more than the other. Some aspects of one's values seemed strange to the other. They met in a variety of settings. They allowed one another to come closer, then closer still.

The clothes the young couple wore reflected their beliefs on temperature, mobility, modesty, comfort, and style. Elected officials were criticized widely. Nicer and meaner people passed and were passed. The smart were burdened, the dumb frustrated, the both both.

Things worsened and improved. The more often the two met, the more it was assumed that they would meet again. The more they disclosed, the less there was to learn. Their dissimilarities lost mystique. Laziness lurked. And yet they now knew things about each other, less self-selective things, and still they desired to continue meeting. They learned ways to be with one another. They spoke in voices and volumes each had previously hidden. They pardoned one another. They involved other people and enjoyed one another more and less in the presence of the other people. He solicited others' opinions of her, and she others' opinions of him. Each tried to see as the other might. Each tried to see the other as an outsider would. It was challenging.

The future remained uncertain.

It would have been nice to know more.


As the young couple waited for the time when the different thing was to arrive, pressure mounted on tectonic plates beneath them. What would the different thing be? Their only clues were: It was coming, it hadn't come yet, and it would be different. So anything usual was out.

Another good question: What might the different thing mean for their relationship? The different thing might tear them apart or remind them why they were together. It might pry loose her bad secret or make him say something mean and true he couldn't take back. It might make her lapse on some banned habit. It might drum up in him some lost memory. It almost definitely would surprise them. They'd be a little pissed if it didn't. The pair wanted the different thing and didn't want it but mostly wanted it. When the different thing presented itself, they would surely go along with it.

The temperature changed and changed again. Time stomped on, a real baby.

They ate and drank for need and want, and spoke of the past. She had always known the past would pass, even when what was now the past had been the future. For his part, he'd once felt the promise of possibilities that could no longer happen. Sailed boats like disciplines you've got to start as an adolescent if you want a shot, or like improving bone density, where the best time in life to do it is when you're least affected by it. All the while, they were warmed by the sun, which is not believed to be the kind of star that will explode, but will instead undergo a red giant phase, growing until the earth is incinerated.

The young couple slept briefly, drank, and spoke of the future. He and she were not entirely comfortable with their mortality. Sometimes they did not think about it and other times they willfully thought about it and other times they compulsively thought about it. One thought about it more than the other did.

The fact was: there were still things each had not told the other.


Today Only: a special on journalistic integrity. This anecdote will get obliterated to an indecipherable hell before a single harmless false detail fills in all we can't know. You could paint their shirts red or their trees oak or fashion their coveted different thing into a sexy Panamanian burglar from Amnesty International and spend the rest of your life paying for it.

Time dodged, hunkered, and traipsed, and never at a fixed rate. Big shout-out to Einstein for that one. As if his fame could use the publicity bump. Dear Einsteins among us: We want to know of you. Speak slower and master social media.

The young couple began to wonder if the different thing would ever arrive. Then it arrived.


The young couple surveyed the different thing. It was far more surprising than what they had pictured, but now that the different thing was before them, it felt inevitable. They were drawn and repelled. They aged in its presence. It drew them outside of themselves and then back again. It demanded something of them. It affected their heart rates. They reacted to it. It reacted to them too, but differently.

Had the different thing been a still-different thing, events would have gone differently, but the different thing was only itself. Had the different thing come earlier or later in the day, the couple would have been more or less alert, but they were only as alert as they were. Had sperms chanced other channels, the young couple would not be present to receive the different thing and might instead be replaced by folks for whom the different thing was everyday.

The different thing remained with them for a time, became more familiar and less surprising. They grew bolder in its presence. The young couple began to see how one might eventually grow bored with the different thing, and also began to feel nostalgic, knowing that the different thing would soon be gone.

And soon it was.

Suppose for a minute that the young man gave chase. Suppose he shouted, "Get back here, you Panamania fuck!," his voice raspy and thin. Behind the burglar, suppose a wake of Amnesty pamphlets caught the wind, spun beside the young man's scooter, and took off above the oak-lined street to scatter over the Denver suburbs. The young woman caught up to the young man, panting, hot in her dress and leggings, and took a long swig of Maker's from the flask her dad had given her on her twentieth birthday. (When he was made aware that his daughter was not yet of drinking age, Dad had tried to play it off as a gag gift.) "I shouldn't be drinking in my condition," the young woman said, "but this whole day..." Suppose the young man looked up at her uncertainly. "Condition?" Savor it: Did she just—? Are they—?

Now wipe the dry-erase board clean.

Tonight the young couple would seek shelter, their fussy systems delicate as ever. The water they'd consumed in the last seventy-two hours was an absolute must. Food without water is a joke. Water without heat is a joke. Heat without oxygen is a joke. When all their requirements were fulfilled, the young couple would move down the list and tend to other wants. All that surviving to do, and still the young couple had time for hobbies.