The angle of the light streaming in from the window is low. The usual murmur of the traffic from the street just outside my bedroom hits me like a hammer. My head is pounding. There is an overwhelming stench in the room. I groan as I roll over to find a pile of vomit next to two empty wine bottles by the side of my bed.
There is a knock, “Sweetie? Are you up?”
She pokes her head into my bedroom. I look up at her, and maybe it is the way the faint light illuminates the shadows and crevices on her face because she looks especially weary and weathered today. A single mother to three children – husband dead long ago – she struggled hard to do the best she could.
“Mom,” I say, as if I’m hearing myself speak for the first time.
I hear her breathe sharply. I track her eyes going from my sick and back to me. Her face reddens and my stomach drops.
“For God’s sake April!”
“Again. Again! I thought you’d stopped!” Her words thunder in my head as she turns to leave. I quickly pull on a pair of sweatpants and an old sweater and follow.
“My friends keep saying that I’ve been enabling you and every time, I defend you. ‘It’s not your fault’ I say, ‘You’ve had a hard life!’” Her voice echoes in the quiet house. There is love there, or at least I still hope. There are times when I wonder if her disappointment and regret with how I’ve turned out overshadow it.
She stops at the top of the stairs and turns back towards me and the sight of her wet cheeks and clenched fists nearly breaks me. Looking at her so defeated makes me want a drink and immediately I fight hard not to.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” I say. My voice is low and meek and I hate it. She shakes her head.
“Where did I go wrong? What did I do?” She asks. Her eyes beg me for an answer I can’t give. “If only your father were still here, what would he think?”
“Well he’s not here!” I say. A heat rises from my belly and the words escape my mouth before I can stop them. “Sometimes I wish you had died instead of dad.”
My mother jerks back. I don’t know why I said that, maybe because of embarrassment or shame. Maybe I wanted to hurt her as much as I had been hurting.
To my horror, tears begin to fall from my eyes and I take off down the stairs and out the front door. I can hear mom shouting after me but I don’t stop. I run past the hedges and into the street.
I hear my mother scream, and the loud sound of a horn, and then nothing.
I raise my hand to my forehead to shield my eyes and take in my surroundings. It is a quaint street. The hedges are trimmed neatly with cars parked precisely in each driveway.
I turn and my sight lands on a pair playing in the yard across from me. They’re children – a boy and a girl. Both are familiar, but I’ve never seen them before.
“They’re cute aren’t they?”
I let out a yelp. It’s a man talking beside me, on the later side of middle aged, his once dark hair graying. There is a youthful air around him, and when he turns to me I can see his clear blue eyes. They are so very familiar, but I can’t quite place them. He stares at me with a keenness that takes me aback.
“Do I know you?”
He avoids my question. “Oh look, here comes mom.”
I turn back to the children and what I see brings me to my knees. The stranger catches and lowers me gently. His scent is comforting. I feel…safe. I look up at him but he isn’t looking at me. I follow his gaze back to the yard.
I see myself on the lawn. Except, it’s not really me. I look older, but healthier. There is a glow about me that I do not see when I look at myself in the mirror. My dirty blonde hair is darker, and there are wrinkles around the corner of my eyes that look good on me.
I am happy.
The two children jump up and run towards me – the other me.
“Mom!” I hear them shout as they hug her around the middle. I feel a swell of happiness and longing rush up my throat. My children.
I get up and the man steadies me by holding onto my arm and waist. I take a step forward but he holds me back by my elbow.
“Ah, can’t do that I’m afraid,” he says.
“Wh-What is this?”
He smiles and looks around him. “This is your life, April. One of the lives that you could live.”
I let his statement sink in.
“Am I dead?”
He laughs at my question, but there is something pained behind it. He leads me over to the curb behind us and we sit.
“No,” he says finally. “You’re not dead.”
“Then how is this possible?” I ask him.
He doesn’t answer.
This is so very bizarre. I can’t decide if this is a dream or something even stranger.
“Wait,” I say. “You said that this is one of the lives that I could live?”
He looks at me with an emotion that I can’t read. “Life is made up of choices, April. Every choice you make has a consequence. Every consequence gives you more choices to make.”
The man stops and points towards the family on the lawn. My family. “This is a glimpse, a tiny fraction of a look, at the what could be – a potential result of a million other choices that came before this moment in time. You can choose for this life, or any other, but you need to choose now.”
“Now? Why now?”
He looks at me with a sad smile and I feel my insides turn painfully. “You’re dying, April.”
This is the second time he’s used my name when I have never given it to him. But that fact escapes my brain because of what he’s just said.
“You’re dying,” he says. “You were hit. Right here on this street. You ran out. The driver couldn’t react in time. He struck you and sent you flying.”
I can feel a coldness seeping into my bones. I close my eyes and my mother’s screams and a car horn echo in my head.
“Your body bounced off the windshield. You hit the pavement and your head smashed against the asphalt. The paramedics came as fast as they could and they are trying to resuscitate you right now.” The man turns away from me and looks into the street.
“I was sent here to give you a choice, April. To have you decide whether you want to go back or…move on.”
I look at the man’s back and my mind is racing. He turns to me and I can see that he has been crying.
I shake my head, “To go back or move on? What is this, purgatory?”
“Something like that,” he says.
“My life,” I say, but then stop. I want to scream about how much I hate my life, my unemployment, and my alcoholism, about how much I’ve missed my father since he died when I was two. A wave of grief paralyzes me.
I look at my other self playing with our children.
I know what I should choose.
“Have you made your choice?” He asks me knowingly.
I nod and ask, “Who are you?”
He walks towards me until our noses almost touch. From this distance, I can see every small wrinkle and crease on his face. His lines tell a life full of laughter.
His hand moves forward and grabs ahold of my left earlobe. He tugs down gently and a barrage of images assaults me – of my tiny hands grasping his one extended finger, of his warm hands cradling my neck as he puts me to sleep, of him tugging at my ear while I lie in my crib, and a million more of this father loving his daughter to the utmost.
I open eyes that I didn’t even know had been closed.
“Dad,” I say and he beams. Tears cloud my vision and I can’t believe that I am finally looking at my father.
Brightness begins to overwhelm my sense. I want to shout. Wait! Not yet! I don’t want to go just yet.
I call for him as my sight starts to fade. He gives me a small smile that makes my heart feel like all the life is being squeezed out of it. I never knew that something so poignant could look so beautiful.
“I love you, April. Always.”
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