Five Easy Steps to Living Forever
(On a Houseboat)

by SETH CLABOUGH

1

You’ll want to grow up in a loveless house and lose your two best childhood friends. Chakana will need to go first. The last time you’ll see him is for coffee outside City Bistro on the downtown mall. A year from now this will be last February and you’ll remember him lounging there with his eyes the color of an avocado nut, his long arms resting on the chair back and him saying something like “the transitory nature of everything makes current conditions irrelevant” and then up and drowning over spring break, on the coast of Limón, in a plastic baby pool.

Celia-Rose—with her red lips orange hair, and jittery hands—will need to go next. Probably in the basement with her stepfather’s .22 target pistol, the only item bequeathed to him by a grandmother who, after selling the last of her furniture, said “Nothing is forever” and then let her legs swell up and go purple before dying in a Sarasotan DNR care facility.

As to the visions—the dead with their blue lips, creatures lurking beneath the ice in the deep oceans on Europa, Andromeda cannibalizing the Milky Way—these are far less important than thinking of Earth as an inert sphere of metal, rock, and gas arranged in layers. Avoid, at all costs, realizing it’s not inert, that it’s a whole intertwined system of spheres (atmo, litho, hydro), that it takes a continuously operating machine to harbor lives such as these.

2

Next, at the funeral of a distant relative, you’ll need to be embraced by a big woman in a floral dress, with circular sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. In her eyes you’ll see the renegade comets of the Oort Cloud. Ignore them.

“Don’t worry, dear,” she’ll say with her lips to your ear as people file out of the church. “It’s not like someone’s targeting your friends and family, is it?” You’ll know it’s her because she’ll smell faintly of kitty litter and creeping thyme and because when you don’t see her at the graveside service no one you ask will remember such a lady.

After that you’ll rent an apartment in the city. Let a year pass and then another. Wear your father’s fedora. Fail at your relationships. Go out for drinks with friends you hate. Watch them plummet into marriage, gain weight, and post pictures of their ugly kids. Unfriend them. Go out for drinks alone. On the New Year’s Eve following your parents’ murder suicide, get drunk on White Russians while playing nine-ball at Miller’s and go home with a car salesman named Dennis. Throw up from balconies. Make appointments with realtors, but don’t show up; develop a sense of irony, then dial the out-of-service numbers of childhood friends.

What will happen next is this: you’ll be eating eggs benedict at Mono Loco. Make sure it’s Sunday, that you’re sitting outside, that nobody loves you, that the edges of the sky are burnt orange. That’s when it will happen. If the conditions are right, you’ll feel that pustule of bother move in your gut.

3

From there the final steps are easy: Break your lease, leave everything behind and use your inheritance to buy a cattle farm with a pond in Appomattox. There will likely be an old doublewide on the property. Move into it. Since neutrinos are passing through your body, through entire planets untouched, no one will blame you for ignoring cows. Nourish that pustule, coax it along with regret and insomnia.

Collect trinkets and do-dads via the internet from distant countries. Buy lots of stuff and stack it unopened. Become a hoarder. Tell yourself only Celia-Rose and Chakana could understand. Cut the fences and let the cattle roam, let your dreams be plagued by a fat woman in a big hat. She’ll want to sit on your chest, force kitty litter down your throat, hold your mouth shut and pinch your nose. Let her. It’s like this: Because your mother was gay, because she cried at the sink with her back to everyone—tears smaller than a ladybug’s wing—because she was in love with a planetarium guide named Maxine, because your father once said “misery is a city with more roads leading to it than people to visit” and really meant it, because they aged to become exaggerated versions of their own worst parts.

But you’re above all that now. Even death—theirs, yours, the friends you hate. All that worries you are the peripheries: Celia-Rose surrounded in that basement at her passing not by loved ones, but the odds and ends of her mother’s failed nostalgia shop—Danish salt and pepper shakers, moldy Raggedy Anne and Andy dolls, how they found her on a replica of a tapestry purportedly woven in Brussels, during the middle ages, for Charles V. What bothers you is knowing how cola de chancho fritas floated in the little pool with Chakana, how the only other attendees at his drowning were a crumpled pack of Galouises, a decorative Sarchi oxcart, and the faded photo of a seventh grade girl who years ago had moved away. Sure it’s depressing, but what this will show you is liberating: it’s the details that open portals for death to crawl out.

4

Once you’ve acquired and jailed in unopened boxes all the little details you can and once the doublewide is too full of those items to get to the bathroom or kitchen, it’s finally time to travel to Lynnhaven Used Boats in Portsmith and buy an old trailerable Aqua Casa 16. Get the blue one with the missing seat cushions. Have them deliver it. No matter how they look at you, insist that they put it in the pond.

Take up smoking, if you want. Menthols. Sit on the poop deck and swill warm malt liquor from a tin cup. Who needs friends or parents—any models of happiness to follow—when you have a houseboat, wifi, instant coffee. Do buy a cockatiel, but store everything on the tiny dock. The boat must be clean and bare at all times. Watch the signaling of afternoon light on the water, the flashing of it on the twisting aluminum foil surface. Ignore the handful of malnourished cows that haven’t wandered off, that come to lower their mouths to the pond and glower at you and your little floating kingdom. Tell yourself you never wanted to marry anyway, that you can’t be fooled by pain anymore, that you know how it’s for its own benefit, how it’s like the way fire will burn everything it can, how it wants more of the stuff that keeps it going, that keeps it alive.

Rub your stomach. Name your bother and wait for it to emerge. A bother change everything. The sun rises and sets. Years will want to pass. Let them. It’s up to other people now to worry about why the songs of children still linger over burned down houses.

5

The last part is fairly simple: Float in your circlet. Bump gently (and frequently) against the shore. Reach for items on the dock as you drift by. It’s like an orbit, if you think about it. And if you concentrate, you can feel the moon’s gravity pulling at the edges of the pond. You can eat when you want but don’t sleep too often—you have your little bother to think about. Peer through the windows to check the seals on the boxes in the doublewide. The purchases want out, after all. They want to populate your background, to become peripheries, to open a portal big enough for a fat lady in a wide hat.

Sure, it’s frightening, but you can prevent it now. Wave to the items on the dock—the coffee, tin cup, the cigarettes, the despondent cockatiel. There’s nothing around you. Bask in that power, in your resulting immortality, in the fact that you can remember, without feeling, the day your mother took you to the planetarium. How, when she thought you were watching the light show, you were really watching the guide hold your mother’s hand in the dark. How, when Maxine said, “Whole galaxies are moving away from us at ever increasing speeds, Lucy, some so far out they’ll soon be gone forever,” your mother said, “I know, but forever still has to do with time. And what’s forever compared to this?” and then turned to hide her tears.

Tonight, though, there are no stars visible above the Aqua Casa, and it’s happened. You’re finally holding your little bother in your arms. The gestation was so long, but now you can touch it, kiss it, get to know it. You have nothing but centuries ahead. You have forever. It’s amazing, isn’t it? How such a tiny thing can shrink the world, how there are no connections, how nothing really can be forever.

SETH CLABOUGH is a published scholar, poet, and fiction writer. His debut novel has been picked up for representation by Inkwell Literary Management, and his writing appears in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, the National Association of Writers in Education’s Writing in Education, London’s Litro Magazine, Fjord’s Review, Citron Review, Aesthetica: the Arts & Culture Magazine, Magma Poetry, The Chaffey Review, Sixers Review, and others. He teaches at a small college in Virginia and spends each summer on a beach sleeping, surfing, and forgetting everything he’s ever learned.