What Happens Next

by Len Newland

What happens next is a matter of statistical probability. Will you step in that puddle? Will you even see it? Will you realise that you did step in it?

You will be pleased to learn that in the science of statistical probability, there is what is known as the Central Limit Theorem. What it says in plain English is that things tend to come back to par anyway.

Let’s say, for instance, that you did step in the puddle, but you didn’t notice because you have too much on your mind. You are a teenager, your girlfriend Elsie has just jilted you, and you are furious about it. You stomp home regardless of puddles, and stand just inside your front gate, fuming, but feeling safe and secure in your patch of ground while you dream up all sorts of artful revenge on the fickle Elsie.

Now, because you have stopped moving your foot, it generates less heat. The gentle breeze takes this opportunity to cool your sock. Suddenly, your sock feels wet.

You look down and exclaim, “Oh, shit!” loudly enough to be heard in the place where gentlemen gather at the end of your block. You wonder how your sock came to be so damp.

The noise of your expletive alarms your faithful dog Fido. He whimpers. You turn your baleful eye upon him and draw an erroneous conclusion about the source of the dampness in your sock.

“Bloody dog!” you yell.

Then, in wrathful decision, you take three swift paces and kick poor Fido in the place where he will least like it.

Now it’s Fido’s turn. Knowing he’s out of favour, but having no clue why, he slinks away into the street to consider the matter. There he meets Bitsa, the small mongrel from down the way. Today is obviously not a day for friendly relationships, so Fido growls and bites Bitsa roughly on the neck.

The disease is transmitted again. Bitsa runs off, and as soon as his path is clear, he goes home to find his mistress, Mrs Beetham. He tries to tell her all about the crude treatment he has so unjustly received, but all that her human ears can understand of it is, “Yap, yap, yap!”

Unfortunately, Bitsa has chosen his moment of complaint rather badly. Mrs Beetham is in the process of removing her family’s dinner, a large, runny meat pie, from her oven. Instead of her usual swift, sure transfer from the oven to the cooling tray, Bitsa’s sudden interruption makes her jump, and she drops the pie.

The pie joins in the merry proceedings. It doesn’t merely land in one squelchy lump on the floor, where it could at least be fed to Bitsa. Oh, no. The soft, moist crust breaks as the pie falls, and its runny, boiling contents splash everywhere. All over the floor, on the stove, on the cupboards, and significantly, on Mrs Beetham’s bare lower legs.

The lava-like fluid drives Mrs Beetham temporarily insane.

“Oh, shit!” she cries.

Then she looks around guiltily to see if any of her children have arrived home in time to have their young ears sullied by her unseemly language.

To Mrs Beetham’s conservative horror, one of her children has come home. Little Jimmy is standing at the kitchen door, his eyes opened wide in consternation. Does Mrs Beetham apologise for her indiscretion? Does she hasten to the little fellow to comfort his obvious shock over his mother’s maladventure and her indecorous response to it? She does not.

“Get out of here!” she yells irrationally at him.

Perhaps by having him not there, she can forget that he was. Or perhaps the burns on her legs have distracted her. Whatever her later justifications might be, Jimmy bursts into tears and gets out as commanded, leaving his mother to fling cold dishwashing sponges at her legs to ease her suffering.

Jimmy realises that he won’t find any consolation at home. Mum is hopping mad, as if the loss of the erstwhile dinner were somehow his fault. Bitsa is no longer available. Although his yapping has been stopped by Mrs Beetham’s initial utterance, and regardless of the appetising meaty stuff cooling on the floor, Bitsa has taken good heed of his mistress’ departure instruction and has run off somewhere else. And Dad isn’t due home for a while yet. Jimmy has to look outside his home for sympathy.

He goes to his friend Jeffrey’s house. The virus of the day rides along with him. When he gets together with Jeffrey, his tears dry up, but he is still not his usual careful self. On his way to the refrigerator with Jeffrey for a comforting glass of milk, he accidentally bumps Jeffrey’s teenage sister as she is leaving the kitchen. The freshly made cup of coffee she is carrying spills all over the front of her dress.

“Oh, shit!” she exclaims. “My new dress! It’s ruined!”

Jimmy and Jeffrey shrink like violets from her presence as she expands her theme to include the clothing allowance now blown, the infinitely inferior choice of outfit left for her evening’s activities, and the major disaster of this blow to her teenage pride.

The name of Jeffrey’s sister is Elsie. Until very recently, she was your girlfriend. Your revenge for having been jilted by her is sweet, even if you don’t know about it.

So when matters go astray, don’t get hung up. Take comfort in the science of statistical probability. These things have a way of balancing out, even without your deliberate intervention. Just put your socks in the wash, and carry on with your life.

Copyright © 2010 Len Newland.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, May 2010.

This page last updated 2nd May 2010.