At one forty-nine and seventeen seconds exactly a builder accidentally drops a brick from floor seven of a nearly completed apartment block being built on the former site of an old weatherboard cottage.
Consider those numbers. One is the number of children born to Edward and Ruby McDonald, who once lived in that cottage; forty-nine is the number of years they lived there; seventeen is how old Ruby was when she married Edward; seven is the number of years its been since they’ve seen their only child.
The brick slips from the builder’s hands and tumbles outwards. It seems to hesitate for a moment in mid-air, noticing perhaps that ground zero is already occupied. By three people. It is two point nine seconds from impact.
Edward, Ruby, and their son George are in the middle of a heated discussion. Edward is a retired tailor, immaculately dressed for every occasion. Ruby is a housewife, not yet retired, not so well-dressed. George is a disgraced accountant who, just that morning, was released from jail. His suit, thinks Edward, looks a little shabby.
The falling brick turns lazily on its lateral axis as it strives to reach a comfortable working relationship with gravity.
Edward and Ruby chose to meet their son at this particular spot, rather than outside the prison gates. Why? Georgie-boy made a bee-line for the site of his inner-city childhood home rather than waiting at said gates for his parents to turn up in their ancient Ford Escort. Why? None of them are wearing hard-hats as prescribed by the building site regulations. Why not?
Three questions. Three people. Three answers.
One. Edward and Ruby have the element of surprise; George has been ambushed. Two. George is there to check on his investment; he expects to make a profit of forty-nine percent on every brick. Three. Rules are made to be broken.
Two seconds and counting.
Four. Edward gambled away his savings and most of the weekly grocery bill, every week for forty-nine years; the cottage had been put in Ruby’s name. Five. Ruby hated Edward and their life together, and she never told him that George was not his son. She signed the cottage over to George to get him out of trouble and because he promised to “see her right”, to find a new life for her. Six. George ventured into shady real-estate development, directed from his prison cell. Her new life wasn’t quite what Ruby expected. She and Edward were turfed out and the cottage demolished.
Seven. The house brick is entirely innocent.
One second left. On who’s head should it fall?
The probability of an entire family being wiped out by one house brick is roughly equal to the probability that Edward would ever stop gambling, Ruby would ever stop hating him, and George would ever see anyone “right”, let alone his mother; precisely 1,491,770,329 to one.
A brick, after all, is just a brick