I’d like to begin by saying Johnson’s a liar. Johnson’s a goddamn liar if I’ve ever known one, but I’ll be shot and hanged ’n banged if he ain’t real entertaining about it. He’s a funny guy, Johnson. Real funny. So when he’s telling me how Miss Aizawa, the nice lady next door—how her skillet can tell how a person’s going to die, I tell him to go on.
Nineteen fifty-five. Miss Aizawa’s grandfather’s grilled cheese has the image of a lightning bolt burned into it on one side. They think it’s neat. They take a picture with it, because what else is there to do in the fifties, get polio?
Miss Aizawa’s grandfather thinks it’s neat, slaps his wife for sassin’ as is right and good back then, goes out to work. On his way home he’s struck by lightning and dies on his way to the hospital. Extra-crispy, just like his toast.
Nineteen seventy-five. Miss Aizawa’s grand-uncle’s skillet has a pattern of fond—that crap what sticks to the bottom of the pan after you cook— and it looks like the red-cross symbol a little bit. On his way home from work, man remodels the front of an ambulance with his face.
Nineteen ninety-five. Young Miss Aizawa’s dad gets a piece of toast that looks like a bloody splatter. The strawberry jam helps. He trips and falls into a truck, and whaddya know? Strawberry jam everywhere.
Now Johnson insists to me that, like the Aizawas before him, he will be killed by a falling object, because his grilled cheese has a vaguely-anvil-shaped mark burnt into it. I laugh, tell him everything will be fine as long as he pays the money he owes my boss.
I also tell him that everyone knows cursed objects only affect families, duh, that’s basic occultism.
He says I’m full of it, say’s the money’s been paid off already, and I wouldn’t know garbage from trash because I don’t read. I say what does that even mean? He says exactly. I say look, boss says you ain’t paid. I’m not about to go back and tell boss hey re-check the ledgers I bet you read them wrong you schmuck. You know who does that, Johnson? Dead men. Dead men tell their bosses they’re schmucks.
He yells at me that it’s been paid. I tell him firmly and very loudly to stop yelling. He calls me a hypocrite. I say hypo-what-now? (Play dumb. They hate that.) We go back and forth like this for a while. Eventually, he says he’s gonna walk down that big ol’ set of stairs out the apartment, and I’m not gonna do anything to stop him.
I let him go down the long flight of stairs while I calmly go to the room next door and ask Miss Aizawa if I can borrow her skillet. She gives it to me and smiles brightly because she thinks I do not know that she is in love with me… or she might just be polite. It might be prudent to ask about that one.
I look down at Johnson, ten flights down now. I watch him go, toss the heavy skillet up and down in my hands a few times.
It’s been sturdy enough to withstand sixty years of use with minimal repair. When I get a feel for the way it falls, I watch Johnson go and drop the skillet.
Whaddya know? Skillet’s fine. Johnson’s not. Self-fulfilling prophecy. I wash it off, call my people to get rid of the body, and return the metal prophet-pan. We have pancakes and tea the next morning.
Eric Casdorph writes in Morgantown, West Virginia, the only prosperous place in the coal-dusted, grease-slicked mineshaft he calls a home state.