This story was born of the writing prompt:
“You’re mowing your lawn when you notice a tunnel in the road. You’ve never seen it before. It’s a portal to another time, a time when you made a key decision. This is your opportunity to go back and change your mind. What decision do you change and why.”
The Staplefords next door were hiding unsuccessfully behind their curtains as I puffed up and down the lawn pushing my Nan’s ancient mower. Tim had been hinting for days that the lawn needed mowing but I’d stubbornly and secretly refused to do it after his unspoken orders and purposely left it another couple of days before tackling it. I suppose it was my own fault that it rained while I was pouting and made the job harder, still, it gave Old Man Stapleford something to watch, interfering old boot.
The mower strained under the pressure of the moss carpet that had gradually replaced the lush, green lawn over the years. The Staplefords had been known to pass comment to the great and the good of our small community about the disgraceful state of our garden. I’m surprised they hadn’t started a petition to rid the street of the undesirables, they would probably love to but with Tim being the son and heir of the town’s largest employer nobody wanted to get on the wrong side of their generous benefactor.
The mower was only flattening the lawn now and leaving rolled up green masses behind it, a sign that the rusted collection box was full. I’ve forgotten to bring the bin or wheelbarrow around with me and so empty the box on the lichen crusted path for removal later. I can almost hear the derision coming from the hiding Staplefords next door. I begin to mow again, purposely not creating the neat stripes expected by the unwritten neighbourhood etiquette guide. If it existed, I’m sure it would have plenty to say about the wild meadow flowers that I’d sown in place of the neat rose-beds last year. Personally, I preferred the delicate mixture of butterfly attracting blooms that hide the mundane picket fence but apparently, I am to blame for the cabbage destroying army of caterpillars marching upon the street this season.
Five years ago, Tim decided he would join his father in the family business after rebelling against it for so long. Until then, we had always delighted in doing our own thing, going wherever we wanted whenever we felt like it. He was a freelance photographer, I was his muse. We were carefree and living a life of simple pleasures, even our wedding was unattended by the family who regarded us as their dirty little secrets. The opinion of the world was meaningless to us, or just to me as it turned out. The mower was full again and I added the contents of the collection box to the pile, accidentally flicking some into the Staplefords garden, it would give their visiting son Benedict something to do, if he could bend down that far with The Rod of Properness shoved up his back.
A shimmering puddle in the road catches my attention, thoroughly out of place as it hasn’t been raining, it’s not Sunday afternoon so the great and good haven’t been washing their cars either. As I move towards it, I see that it isn’t a puddle on the road but an oval disc, standing vertical and proud and shivering with the soft vibration humming around it. I am mesmerised by it’s presence and need to go to it, touch it if I can. Up close it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, it shimmers like liquid Mother of Pearl and exudes an aura of almost hypnotic serenity. I walk around, the back is identical to the front and it calls to me. Touching it seems like the most important task of my life and I reach out with a shaking hand to the centre of the angelic monolith.
I am at once yanked inside and find myself standing in a bright tunnel, no more than five metres long, each end capped with a Mother of Pearl disc. I feel the gravitational effect of calm pushing down on me, suppressing the fear I should be feeling. The discs are transparent from the inside and I can see the familiar sight of my wayward garden and abandoned lawnmower, at the other end I should be able to see the house across the street, but instead I see the the battered old VW camper that Tim and I lived in when we were first married, parked in our favourite spot near St Ives in Cornwall. I watch as a younger Tim exits the van and falls into his favourite fishing chair, his head falling into his hands. I watch as Tim vanishes and then reappears from the van, seeing the pain on his face again and again. I remember this day, it’s scorched on my memory and is now playing on a one minute loop before my eyes.
An ethereal voice speaks and breaks my somber reverie.
“You must choose.”
I see nothing and no one. I am alone.
“Choose what?” I ask, the veil of calm pressing down my bubbling panic.
“You must choose your path.”
I hear the voice but do nothing, I’m rooted to the spot, struggling to believe that what I’m seeing and hearing is real. It makes no sense. As if feeling my hesitance, the voice speaks again.
“Once in a lifetime, humans are offered the chance to reflect on their lives. Your chance is now. The decision is simple. Change nothing and return to your life or change one key decision and live the life you would have had.”
I look to each end of the short tunnel and understand, Fate is giving me a second chance and my decision is simple. Do I choose my life with Tim as I have it now or do I walk away from him that day on the beach?
“Can I think about it for a few minutes please?” I ask to the bodiless voice.
“Time is irrelevant here.” Was all the reply I received. “But know this, the man will be forgotten to you and you to him if you choose the other path.”
I walked to the end of the tunnel where my current life was on hold, I’d spent so many hours dreaming of escaping this hellhole and now I had the chance I was hesitating. I’d lived in Tim’s shadow for five years in a house that would never feel like home in a neighbourhood that looked down its nose at me. I would never fit in if I lived here for fifty years, I would never be their kind of person. My free spirit was caged and rattling against the inside of my head, my sense of fun repelled by compulsive curtain twitchers. I was suffocating here and wished so many times that Tim had chosen our carefree life together over this stifling, regimented existence. Yet I was scared to erase it all.
At the other end of the tunnel was that care free life. We lived together, needing only each other. We laughed at our families, tied to their drab existences, unaware they were miserable in the lives they thought they wanted. We were so happy, then it had been shattered. Tim’s mother had died and his sister was relentless in her mission to bring Tim home, to make him take his place in the family business. His sense of duty was not buried deep enough to resist the pull of responsibility. He promised it wouldn’t change a thing, we’d still have each other. He knew me, knew that a house, a job, a routine would douse me and so he offered me the chance to leave. I didn’t take it then, believing that having each other was enough.
That was my choice. Stay with Tim, the man I had loved, married and then followed into a life of quiet misery or leave at that moment when it would cause me most pain and live my life the way I wanted to.
I think long and hard, Tim and I do have each other. We have a lovely life in a beautiful house, he has a job that’s the envy of most men in the town. We have everything, the money, the cars, the holidays, but it’s not enough. I can’t tell myself I’m happy and believe it, I’ve become one of those women who have summer and winter curtains, who vacuum pack their off season wardrobe and who make their own Christmas cards. This realisation is enough to make me turn to the other end of the tunnel and walk through to the VW camper van and the last time I can remember being truly happy.
I put down the book I’m reading when I hear the familiar sound of the ancient lawnmower strike up and hurry to the window.
“Benedict! Benedict, come here. Look, that ghastly woman next door is finally mowing the lawn. Why she doesn’t employ a gardener I’ll never know. She must have tiny corpses under all her nails.”
Tim’s wife glances up in my direction but she won’t see me, the curtains are too heavy. Benedict arrives just as she tips the contents of the grass collection box on the path.
“Good lord, it’s a good job mummy and daddy moved house, this would be enough to send them to an early grave.” He said, shaking his head.
I watch her chew up the lawn for another ten minutes until Tim’s car pulls into the driveway. He got out, shut the door, scooped his wife up and went indoors, leaving the lawnmower lying on the grass where she dropped it.
“This neighbourhood is going to the dogs, I wonder if we could raise a petition?” I tut as I return to my book.
Thank you for reading my story, do please let me know what you think by leaving me a comment. All feedback is welcome, especially the constructive type.