Fiction: Of Unions, Intersections, and Empty Sets


by José Pablo Iriarte

unionJosé Iriarte is a Cuban-American writer and high school math teacher living in EPCOT with his wife Lisa and their two teenage kids. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Fantastic Stories of the ImaginationPenumbra, and Fireside Fiction. Learn more at his website:


I’d changed into my pajamas by the time you got home. You bounced with so much excitement over the breakthrough you had at work that I didn’t have the heart to remind you that we’d missed our reservation at Udupi House. That you’d missed our anniversary.

You rooted in the freezer until you found a box of macaroni and cheese and then told me all about your day as you beep-beep-beeped on the microwave and then waited while your dinner turned. How the mathematicians and statisticians on your project finally perfected their model, and proved conclusively that there was no such thing as free will. That every single choice a person made was inevitable once you possessed a calculus sophisticated enough to take into account each stimulus leading up to that choice. The weather. Your headache. Your personal biochemistry. Your history with the other people involved. The time you got caught shoplifting when you were eight. The fact that your mom left your dad and you. How bad your first sexual experience was, all rug burns and failure in your high school band room’s walk-in closet.

Well when you put it that way I could hardly blame you, could I. You forgot our plans because when you were in high school nothing less than straight A’s would satisfy your father. Because when he came to this country he was too poor to go to school at all, and by God his boy was going to rise above that. You forgot our plans because you suffer from a slight attention deficit, something you think you inherited from your mother.

I sat there feeling bitter at first, but I guess I had no choice but to swallow this little oversight, the way I’ve been swallowing little oversights for fourteen years. It’s probably because I was chubby when I was little. It’s probably because I went to an all-girls Dominican school where I wasn’t remotely popular. It’s probably because my hair’s turning gray.

One day maybe I will run into an old college friend—I’ll be popping into the bookstore, the natural consequence of my need to live beyond my own quiet existence, and he’ll be walking out with his purchase because—what are the odds?—his discount card was about to expire. He’ll say, “Let me buy you a coffee and we can catch up,” and I’ll say, sure, because it’s only coffee after all. It would be rude to decline, and when I was seven I was rude to a waitress at Denny’s and got spanked right there, so I learned never to be rude. When he suggests dinner it won’t be me that chooses to accept; it will be my fear of growing old alone like my grandmother did. It will be the movies that told me I have a right to expect some attention from a man, but not a right to demand it from you. When I let him take me back to his apartment after a few too many drinks, that will simply be the inevitable consequence of the alcohol impairing my judgment, too many nights reading or watching television by myself, and the hot flashes that started last year.

No one is ever to blame, are they. This is just the programmed course of events since gas and dust from the sun’s formation accreted to form this planet and everything on it. Longer, even. Or it’s God, only God is not in heaven but in the percentages and decision schema and your precious models.

Tonight, though, these were just idle thoughts, not things that had actually happened. Tonight I looked at you and sighed. I recalled times I’d been too absorbed in my own pursuits to remember you, and how you patiently waited for me to come around. I recalled the way your excitement for your research had once infected me.

I stood as you wolfed down your technicolor TV dinner, planted a kiss on your stubble-peppered cheek, and said, “I’m glad you had a good day.” Then I padded toward our bedroom, wondering if your computer model saw that coming.

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