An Accumulation of Things


Of course, nothing was really Brian’s fault. He could think back all the way and say with confidence that he was last at fault at age nine, that thing with his sister and the hockey stick. But the game had been her idea, and besides, she ought to have been wearing a helmet.

This time, the facts were murkier: there was the stalled car, and the bird (a purple finch), and the falling branch. Plus, the rollerblader in the cycling lane, the worst kind of nuisance, kicking left and right and wearing no helmet (like Brian’s sister that time), skates improperly fastened and ankles bowed inward as he juddered over ruts and deeked around pot holes.

What led to the collision? Well, in Brian’s opinion, it was an accumulation of things, but in Brian’s opinion, it also was rooted in his name. There would’ve been no accident if he weren’t called Brian Paddington, of this he is certain.

Brian Paddington hates his name and often imagines life as someone pleasant-sounding like Townsend or Flatbush, or even plain like Johnson. If he were called Bartleby perhaps he’d converse with greater ease at parties, holding his own as he mingles and grips his glass, tinkling the ice cubes in a casual way without sloshing tonic down his shirt like Paddington always does.

Perhaps if he were Brian Caruthers, he’d be a partner at the firm instead of working the beat and getting saddled with lame clients, and would move his body like he belonged in it, would swing a golf club without grunting, able to land a ball square on the green. Although, then his body would belong to Brian Caruthers, and what if Caruthers thought golf was for jerks? Brian would miss golf.

If he were Franklin, he might have a kept woman named Sarah shacked up in a secret apartment. He’d send parcels of nice candy and tender underwear picked out by his secretary (who Franklin would be polite enough to call his “executive assistant”). Sarah would answer the door to admit Brian Franklin each Monday and Thursday, but would receive no other callers. In books, things often turn out poorly for kept ladies, like in Sister Carrie or The House of Mirth, but Brian would make sure he did right by his lover. If only his name were Franklin.

Instead, he is Brian Paddington, with a boyish face and plump mouth that angles downward, all his suits purchased on credit. He speaks low when he speaks at all, and was made fun of at a diner two days ago for using such a tiny voice to order corned beef. Brian Paddington dreads office get-togethers and has never attended the Friday happy hour, although tonight that will change.

The evening will begin awkwardly, conclude disastrously, and Brian will blame his name for the outcome. If he were Edwards, would he need to mop his palms on his thighs before shaking hands, or want to vomit less at the prospect of trading pleasantries with colleagues? Would he grow less sodden as the hour grows late? Surely Brian Edwards would remember to hold his drink in his left so that he wouldn’t have to shift his glass and shake with a wet and icy right. Surely Edwards would have left the party earlier; surely Edwards would have noticed that purple finch in time.


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