“By The Time You Read This” by Ben Slotky


By the time you read this, I will be a lion and I know and I know. I know it’s hard for you to hear this. It’s hard for me to say this, but I am. I am almost a lion. This is what I’m telling you, what I’m saying. This is part of what I want and need you to hear.
Before I get to that, I should get to this. None of this is new or interesting. Not so deep down, I am not very good. A very good person, I don’t think, and I don’t think I ever have been. Again, none of this is new or interesting or will surprise you, and I need you to know this. It has been hard for me to act like I don’t know this, like I am not aware of this, but I pretend like I don’t even though I do.
By the time you read this, I will be underwater. This is happening, has happened, and may happen at any minute. You know this already. My mother died by Death By Chocolate and by Death By Chocolate I mean a rare auto-immune deficiency that caused her internal organs to shrivel, corrode, and stop working. This is unnecessary, uncomfortable, and exactly what I am talking about. This was about ten years ago, before I went bankrupt, before I got married and divorced, before I turned into a lion. I was younger then, about ten years younger. I was not underwater then, and I had no idea this was going to happen. I have never had any idea that anything was going to happen. I never have.
I used to think I could tell the future. This was before the divorce, the kids, and the dead chocolate. This was before the underwater lion-turning-into. I can tell the future. I am telling you this now because it is true. I could tell it to you right now. Maybe not correctly. I used to think I could tell the future correctly and I would tell my brother this. My brother believed me even though I didn’t and couldn’t. I always knew I couldn’t tell the future correctly. I always knew I was lying. My brother is retarded.
I am about ready to die and may be dead by the time you read this. This could happen any day, could have happened already, could be happening right now. I am dying and this is what I think I want to tell you. I am dying, turning into a lion, am underwater. I need to tell you this.
My first wife does not know I am turning into a lion. She wishes I was dead though. She doesn’t care if I’m underwater or not. She hates me for a lot of reasons and some of those reasons are probably real. We have three boys together. One, two, three, and I am sitting with one of them right now. He is right here. We are underwater, he and I are, he and me are, and I wonder and am wondering right now if we all are. If we all aren’t. I am
sitting on the couch in the house where I used to live with my son who is like me in my arms. We are watching TV, television, a show about lions.
My son points to the TV. He points to a picture of a lion. The lion is lying or laying down. He is in the grass, the lion is, flicking his tail. I wonder if he is swatting flies. The lion yawns and is all teeth. That’s you, my son says to me and it is. That’s you, too I tell him and he looks at me and smiles. He is all face.
You write about things you know and by you I mean I. I don’t know you, I don’t, even though it may seem like I do. It may seem like I know all about you and you know what I mean by you. So you write about what you know and I am telling you this, wanting you to hear this, needing you to know this. And it’s fine that it’s like this, it’s fine because this is exactly what this is, what this is like. So by the time you read this, I could be dead or
underwater or a lion and I don’t know because I can’t tell the future.




Ben Slotky’s first novel, Red Hot Dogs, White Gravy was published by Chiasmus in 2010 and was re-released by Widow & Orphan in 2017. His work has appeared in Numero Cinq, The Santa Monica Review, Golden Handcuffs Review, McSweeney’s, Hobart, Juked, Jellyfish Review, Barrelhouse, and many other publications.He lives in Bloomington, IL with his wife and six sons.

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