Short Story: “What If I’m Not”

A writer is slightly concerned about the most recent episode of his short story podcast. He shares these concerns with a plumber and is surprised by his response.
Plumber working

Plumber working on pipes under kitchen sink © KOTOIMAGES /

May 05, 2024 07:33 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: Do you ever wonder if you’re the only person who truly exists?

The writer took the mug of tea upstairs and placed it on the floor next to the shower.

“You’re a diamond,” said the plumber, removing the lid from the cistern. “‘Ere, you don’t look too well fella. Night on the raz, was it? Zambuca shots after ten pints, you and the lads? That why the carsie’s stuffed up, is it? Extra large donner on the way home? Chilli sauce, eh?”

“Uh no, thank god,” said the writer, “no, no. I… bad sleep but nothing to uh… to uh… it’s uh, it’s silly really.” 

“Go on mate, what’s her name?”

“No, no, nothing like…” 

“We all make mistakes pal.”

“‘No, it’s… uh… it’s my short story podcast.”

‘‘Listener numbers plummeted have they? Sorry to hear that geez.”

“No, no, they’re uh…”

“You’re concerned that the shift from one genre to another, episode to episode, is far too disconcerting and will hamper your chances of building a regular audience?”

“No, I… not that I…do you think…?”

“Complaints about your lazy, stereotypical representation of tradesmen, is it?”

“No, I… but… I have to… if there’s two characters I have to clearly differentiate their voices or…”

“No troubles me old mucker, what are you like?”

“I mean… I…I…I did the same for me, right? I made the… the writer sound like a hopeless…uh… stuffy, wet fish, a huge exaggeration of… of…of…. how I sound in real life, right?”

“Didn’t pick up on that mate.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t do any more episodes with a writer talking to a plumber.”

“Nah, that was the best one.”

“You think so?”

“A lot better than last week’s gubbins anyway. Episode twelve. What was that all about?”

“Ah well, you see, that’s…. That’s… that’s why I couldn’t sleep, you see…. I…I…I can’t help wondering… You didn’t like it?”

“Maybe I misunderstood it. A geezer dies and it turns out he’s a blob of untethered consciousness from the distant future and that his whole life was a computer simulation. Only his life, the specific life he lived as a human being, that’s the only simulation they’ve been able to make, so every future being in this futuristic nothingness, all they can do for fun is replay being this one bloke again and again and again. So he lives forever and nothing or no one what he ever meets is real. They’re all like philosophical zombies and whatnot.”

“Sounds like you understood it perfectly. So you see, my trouble…”

“And I suppose it was a metaphor for the narcissism of certain writers whose sense of self importance is so astronomically out of control that they’d seriously consider the possibility of being the only conscious being on earth. Ever met anyone like that, have ya geezer?”

“Ah well, I mean, I…”

“So go on geez, why’s this episode been keeping you up at night?”

“I… No… it’s nothing.”

“I mean, it ain’t like you’ve been considering the possibility that you’re the only conscious being on earth or nothing, is it mate?”

Toilet flush.

“That’s all sorted for you, geez. Purring like a beauty. She won’t cause you no more trouble, just stay off those kebabs eh if you know what’s good for ya. And don’t go worrying yourself, eh. I’m conscious too. I promise. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?”

“Well that’s it… if it were true, there’d be no way of knowing.”

“And if there’s no way of knowing, there’s no point in worrying.”

“I know, I know. You’re right. You’re right. It’s just… if they were going to choose someone to model their simulation on…”

“Well they’d have to choose an obscure writer in a terraced house with one constantly malfunctioning toilet…”

“No, no, that’s it… they wouldn’t choose me because I’m anything special. That’s precisely it, they’d choose me because I’m not. If you think about it, their whole aim… sorry, constantly malfunctioning? I thought you said the toilet…”

“Good as new, fella. Good as new. Don’t you worry.”

“The… the… the aim, at least in the story, was to create an equal world. To make everyone experience the exact same life so that we’d achieve total equality. And surely it would make sense for that life to be in many ways ordinary. I don’t think they’d choose someone famous. But they wouldn’t choose a hermit either. And, you know, also, and this is the bit that kind of frightens me, wouldn’t they base it on someone who kind of worked the whole thing out? I mean don’t you think it’s weird, that I spend so much time thinking about this sort of stuff?”

“You’re right,” said the plumber, “I think it’s very weird.”

“I know this idea is ridiculous. But… but the other idea, the one we’re all meant to believe, that’s ridiculous too isn’t it? The odds of me existing, ok. Of my parents having met and their parents, and their parents and their parents, all the way back to the beginning of time. And not just having met but having you know… having you know… at the exact moment in time that they did. Anyway it’s been calculated and it’s trillions and trillions to one. And without those astronomical odds coming in, I wouldn’t exist at all. That’s the idea we’re all meant to accept and well, when you look at it like that, isn’t it more likely that my existence is the result of some sort of artificial something rather than those ridiculous odds?”

The plumber collected up his tools, slung his bag over his shoulder and downed the remainder of his tea. 

“You pose some interesting questions mate. And you know what, maybe you’re right.”

“Oh god,” said the writer, “surely you don’t think so? Do you think it was me writing episode twelve of the podcast, do you think that was what inspired them to base their simulation on me? On someone who worked the whole thing out?”

“Partly anyway. Maybe you’re partly right. Look, if there is an explanation for existence, we ain’t ever gonna know it. So crack on. Enjoy your pints and your zambucas. It’s only those what are certain what need worry about doubts.”

“But yeah, this could all be a simulation based around one person. In some ways it would make more sense than anything else. But if future beings, or computers or aliens or whatever, if they was gonna make a simulation of anyone, they definitely ain’t gonna choose someone what spends all his time thinking about this stuff.”

“Nah, if they was gonna build a simulation around anyone, they’d choose some who is fully engrossed in the ride, someone who don’t suspect for an instant that their senses might be lying to them. Someone rooted and grounded and skeptical about all of this gubbins. That’s the sort of person they’d choose.”

He put the lid back on the cistern. “But then,” he said, “I’d imagine they wouldn’t be able to help themselves, these future beings. And at some point in the simulation, they’d float the idea in front of this person. They’d wave it past their nose, like a faint scent, safe in the knowledge that this person would reject it out of hand.”

The writer frowned. He couldn’t quite follow the line of argument. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t understand.”

“Obvious ain’t it?” said the plumber. “They wouldn’t choose the person what made your podcast, they’d choose one of the listeners.”

[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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