Short Story: “The Loop”

When we die, we come back as the person to whom we’ve caused the most harm. At least that’s what the plumber says…

Water Pipe Leak And Flood. Emergency Call © Andrey_Popov /

May 26, 2024 04:41 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: Who is the person to whom you have caused the most harm?

When we die, we come back as the person to whom we caused the most harm. 

That’s what he told me. It started with a burst pipe and ended with me entirely changing how I look at the world. 

I was furious about that pipe. Proper furious. There’s a plumber on my five-a-side team. Didn’t even know his name. I still don’t know his name. I just call him mate. He’s saved in my phone as Plumber Five-a-Side. He’s the worst player on our team, and we’re not a good team.

He’s not much cop at plumbing either. I let slip I was having an extension built, and he volunteered to help. Turned up late, disappeared for two hours in the middle of every day, and I had to delay the plasterer and the floor guy three times because he hadn’t done what he was meant to do. Two-floor extension, including a new bedroom for me and the wife. 

So we’re there a few weeks later, having our first proper night’s sleep after weeks of upheaval, and I feel something wet on my face. For a moment I think I’m being licked by the dog and I ignore it. Then, I remember we don’t have a dog. 

Turn on the light, there’s a huge damp patch on the ceiling and by the time I’ve called Plumber Five-a-Side it’s raining. On the inside. My two-year-old’s up now and she’s loving it, this new feature we’ve installed. “Waining, waining, waining she keeps saying.

I call his number. 

“Good morning,” he says. No it bloody well isn’t, it’s 4 AM and it’s raining on the inside.

We fill the room with buckets and bowls but it’s still getting onto our new carpet. 

When he arrives about an hour later, he says, “Good morning,” and I say it back, only I phrase it slightly different. 

And he says, “How’s your wife?” I say she’s bloody well tired, and now she’s spending the day at her mum’s which she really didn’t want to do. “How’s your daughter,” he says? I say “She loves how you’ve made it rain,” and he smiles, and I nearly hit him. “How’s the rest of the house?” he says. How’s your career? “Yes, mate, it’s all fine. Can you please get on and—”

“So it’s just the leak then?” he says, “Everything else in your life is going well.” At this point, he’s on a stepladder and I’m tempted to knock it over. 

“Can I tell you a story?” he says. 

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

He tells me it anyway.

It’s about two brothers who caused each other incalculable harm. They competed for their father’s favor. They competed over women. Over who was cleverer. Stronger. Who had the better job. They were on different sides of every political debate. They caused each other hell. 

And in their early thirties, shortly after their father died, they were let into a secret: we each come back as the person to whom we cause the most harm. Reincarnation doesn’t care about chronological time. You die and you’re reborn as the person you most damaged and now you have to live their life in full and experience all the harm your previous self caused. 

So, the pair of them were stuck in this eternal power struggle that would never end. One brother would spend his life making the other miserable only to be reborn as the other brother and suffer that misery while inflicting an equal helping in return. And on and on it would go. 

So they decided to be nice to each other. But this led to arguments. 

“You be nice to me.” “No you be nice first.” “Have you forgotten you’re coming back as me?” “It’s not me who’s forgotten, it’s you.” “I’ve been nothing but nice to you.” “I’ve been so nice you can’t even believe it.”

The animosity between the two increased and they tore each other apart even more than before. And they both died after a lifetime of anger and were born as each other to repeat the cycle again. 

I’m not sure what trying to tell me. I ask him if he’s trying to imply that I’m gonna come back as him. And he says no; he and his brother have already got that stitched up. 

And I couldn’t help thinking about this idea. I had a great life. An amazing wife. A daughter. A great business. Friends. A nice house, with a nice extension. Money. My health. But was I condemned to return as… as… As who? 

I couldn’t work it out. I’ve upset people, yeah. At some point, I’ve probably upset everyone I know. But suffering? I’ve not caused anyone to suffer. 

Selina? Will I end up causing misery to my daughter? 

No. Never. Not real misery, not like those brothers, I wouldn’t do that to anyone. 

I couldn’t think, I couldn’t work it out. 

A few days later, I get back to the house as the painter had finished going over the ceiling.

All of that anger I felt when the ceiling started leaking, and yet there’s nothing broken that can’t be fixed. I feel relieved but embarrassed at how angry I was. And it wasn’t the first time, was it?

It’s what I do. I allow anger to build up and burst out of me. I’ve not subjected anyone to a campaign of suffering, but I have caused little pockets of misery. 

The stress I caused Cara that morning with the leak. It was bad enough her seeing her ceiling dripping with water, but for me to shout and scream like I did and to tell little Selina not to laugh… Why shouldn’t she laugh? And the way I spoke to the plumber. 

And I’ve done this so many times. I’m nice to people until they piss me off and then I… Who am I coming back as? There’s gonna be a queue. A queue. And when they look at what I have in my life and… and when do I ever express any bloody gratitude for it… and… 

The minute they get home, I wrap Cara and Selina up in my arms and we play and we laugh. We have one of the best evenings we’ve ever had. And Selina falls asleep in our bed.

I struggle to sleep, keep drifting in and out, keep thinking about all the candidates, all the people I’ve upset over the years. All the people I’ve harmed. All the people who will be lining up in that queue to come back as this angry, ungrateful bastard who doesn’t appreciate anything. 

Then I hear Selina say, “waining, waining, waining…”

I call someone else this time. Never mention it to Plumber Five-a-Side. Wasn’t even remotely wound up. Well, a lot less than previously anyway. 

It’s fixed again, now. Re-plastered. Re-painted. And it looks like it’s fixed for good this time. 

The next game, we lose 17–0, and I ask him who he thinks I’ll come back as. I can’t work it out, I say, unless I can come back as everyone I’ve ever met. And he says I shouldn’t worry. 

He says, if you’re anything like most people, you’ll come back as yourself.

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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