In December 1962, Donny and his little brother David ran through a train car running along an elevated track in Chicago. Businessmen traveling in from the suburbs to their office jobs looked at them with disdain. Donny chased David and they were both laughing, their cheeks and noses blushed red from the cold. They skittered to a stop in front of the door to the next car.
"Go on, open it," said Donny.
"No," said David, his smile fading.
"Chicken," said Donny. He reached over his brother's head for the handle to the door and pulled, sliding it open. A blast of wintry air assaulted their faces and bare fingers and they squinted. The track whizzed dizzily by below them. "Chicken, chicken, chicken--"
David leapt for the next car but missed the handle; he slid and fell onto the hitch, screamed, flailed, fell again, and disappeared under the train. Donny screamed then fell backwards into the car, pumping his legs out, crawling towards the other passengers, who were shocked, but not quick to comfort him.
Seven years later, Donny stood at the edge of a swimming pool holding an empty beer bottle. A naked woman standing next to him offered him a lit joint but he waved her off. He concentrated, judging the depth of the water, then he dove in, arcing his back quickly, his belly scraping against the rough bottom of the pool. He emerged, wiping his long hair from his eyes, and pulled himself up onto the pool edge to sit back and revel in the warmth of the sun.
There was a loud splash as the naked woman dove in.
"No!" Donny pushed himself into the water. Blood blossomed in the water. The woman floated up, still. Donny swam towards her, and cradled her broken head. "Why?"
Three years later, in the jungle, lying in a foxhole with mud caked all over his uniform, Donny listened to thick raindrops hitting the broad leaves of the surrounding foliage and the somnolent breathing of the other members of the platoon--his friends, his brothers. He felt his bowel becoming restless and so got up and crawled into the underbrush several yards away to relieve himself. As he squatted, a mortar landed in the middle of the platoon, spraying up legs and arms and visceral internal meat. Donny was thrown back, knocked out with the concussion, but was found alive and returned home with a medal in a box.
Five years later, while studying mathematics, he drove home from class, at noon, at as he turned a corner his back axel broke. The car swerved and he fought for control, pumping the brakes, but the car veered into a bus stop with twelve people. The car came to rest in a field, with three bodies wrapped up in the wheels and under the chassis. His face bleeding from an impact with the steering wheel, he got out shakily, and kneeled down to look underneath. He stared at the mess of meat, his face impassive. Others tried to pull him away, but he clung to the car door and the grass, forcing himself to look and absorb the scene.
A decade later, his temples graying, he stood at a chalkboard and wrote numbers. He enjoyed the way particles of chalk fell as he wrote, and accumulated in the shelf for the felt erasers. Occasionally he would graze the slate with his fingertips to feel its calming coolness.
"I can't take it anymore, professor."
Donny turned around and saw one of his students, the one he only remembered as the one with the thick glasses, standing a few feet away, and holding a gun in his hand.
"What are you doing?" asked Donny.
"I can't take the stress," said the student. Tears rolled down his face. He jerked up his hand and put the gun under his chin, pointed up and backward.
"Hang on," said Donny. The student shook his head and sobbed, then pulled the trigger. His body fell backward, and crumpled onto the first row of seats in the classroom. The sound of the shot reverberated through the large room and died out as the body slid further to the floor.
Donny shuffled forward two steps, his shoulders soft and drooped under his cardigan. His hands hung limply by his sides.
"I'm done asking why," he said firmly, then turned his back and completed the irrational equation on the chalkboard.