The Chosen Path

This is a short story I’ve just written, inspired by a TV programme I saw.  I was a bit outside my comfort zone as I don’t usually like to write in the first person but felt it was needed for this piece.  I’d really welcome any feedback, particularly whether the characters are real enough, and if it seems believable.  I was unsure whether to leave it as it was, make it shorter, or add more back-story so any feedback appreciated. Many thanks!

The Chosen Path

I opened the front door, and there was a baby on the doormat. That’s right, a baby. I almost stepped on it, it was so close to the door, just lying there motionless. It was one of those moments of blind panic where you know you must act quickly, decisively. I knew instantly that this would be a life-changing moment, where the decision I would make must be the right one.

I looked left and right but could see no one. The corridor was silent and still; undisturbed. All sorts of thoughts began to crowd into my head; Whose baby is this? Could this be something to do with the neighbours? Is this something to do with Tony?

I made a decision of sorts, actually a decision to delay making a decision. I picked up the baby, quickly but carefully, turned back into the flat and closed the door. It was so light, there was nothing to it, like a bag of knitting. I took it through into the lounge where the light from the window was better. I could see it was naked inside the cotton pillowcase. It was newly born, female; the umbilical cord stump still attached. There were smears of dried blood on the skin of it’s abdomen; the taut shiny skin rising and falling as it slept.

What am I doing? I thought to myself. I laid it down on the sofa and backed away from it. It was starting to wake up; it began to stretch out it’s arms stiffly and screw up it’s facial features in what appeared to me to be an expression of confused anger. It began to move it’s head rhythmically from side to side and its mouth opened in a silent cry. It’s eyes were still tightly closed, the tiny fists clenched and furious. I could see it must be cold. It’s skin was a purplish-red colour and it’s bottom lip began to quiver. I picked it up again and held it closer to me, I didn’t want it to cry.

I should be dialling 999 I thought. I should do that right now. That would be the correct thing to do. Wait. Don’t make any rash decisions, I said to myself. Just take a few minutes to think about this and decide, calmly. I checked there was nothing I had missed. No, there was no note. Nothing to tell me anything about where this child had come from. Nothing, except the fact of it’s presence on my doorstep.

*

I remember the first time I first took Tony home to meet my parents. I was so young and concerned about their opinions back then and I desperately wanted them to approve. He was twelve years older than me and divorced; of course they had expressed concerns. Probably they hoped I would meet someone closer to my own age, a sweet young man like James Winterson, my Mum’s friend’s son. She’d always hoped we would get together one day but he was never my type.

By this time, I already knew I was serious about him, I hoped he was as serious about me but Tony never gave much away. I thought I knew how he felt about me by little things he would say from time to time and that was enough for me back then.

I needn’t have worried about my parents. Just like he did with me, he charmed them completely. No wonder he was the best salesman in his company. All their previous reservations about him vanished like smoke in the breeze. He took an interest in my father’s work and they spent a good deal of time bonding over their shared love of Everton Football Club. He complimented my mother on her dress and on her choice of curtain fabric and I could see she was as smitten with his smile as I was. Those bright white teeth, those sparkling blue eyes. By the end of that evening I could tell my Father thought he was the son he’d never had and my mother wished she were ten years younger. For the first time, I felt proud. Proud that he had chosen me and that I had finally done something good in their eyes.

Of course I knew there was a compromise to be made somewhere, but that first time I knew he’d been with another woman I was devastated. I felt crushed, pathetic. Like a girlish fool who wasn’t able to give her man what he wanted. He told me it didn’t mean anything, he was married to me wasn’t he? It was just sex, she threw herself at him, had no shame. He had been weak. It was no reflection of his feelings towards me. He would call me ‘little plum’, his nickname for me. It made me feel special, that he had this name for me that was just for him, just for us. See, my real name was Vicky, or Victoria as my parents would sometimes call me.

It would happen again, but I always forgave him because he always stayed with me when I knew he could have gone any number of times if he had wanted to. Sometimes I wondered why he did stay. I never believed our life together could be enough for him. He would always want more, something better, someone more sophisticated, experienced; a real woman.

It took a long time, eighteen years in fact, for me to realise it was just the appearance of respectability that he wanted. Getting married and settling down was what was expected of him by his parents, his boss, his friends. He couldn’t go through the stigma of a second divorce, he had to make this one work somehow. But it didn’t mean he had to be faithful. He just had to choose someone who would fit that bill; someone who would be grateful and wouldn’t complain too much. Someone to cook his dinners, iron his shirts and bring up his children. Only children never came into it. The doctors could never explain what the problem was, but that didn’t help. I knew it was me. How could a man like Tony have had a problem getting a woman pregnant?

That’s how I knew. This baby had to be his. I’d dealt with his women before now. This is the sort of thing one of them would do. They might phone up and ask for Tony then refuse to leave a name and number when he wasn’t in. Or turn up on the doorstep pretending to be an old school friend then seem surprised when I said I was his wife. There was even one who came into the shop where I worked a few times and tried to befriend me. I knew she was one of his, I knew his type by then. He must have told her he was married, but they didn’t seem to care, they were ‘gluttons for punishment’ as my mother would say, just like I was. This hold he seemed to have over people, it must really have been hard work for him, everyone wanting their piece of him at whatever cost. I almost felt sorry for him.

I looked down at the babe in my arms. Just a helpless victim in all of this. I gently stroked her soft head; she had a fuzz of golden hair, just like him. I did the only thing I could. I went downstairs and left her outside someone else’s door. That was the path I chose, to put this problem out of my life, or so I thought. I never said anything to Tony.

Ad Hoc Flash Fiction update

Hi there,

Inspired by Ceri on her blog: https://pieintsky.wordpress.com, I entered last week’s Ad Hoc Flash Fiction competition with the prompt word ‘bark’ and was pleasantly surprised to see that my piece is among the ~50 pieces up for the vote this week! So thank you for suggesting it, and I’d encourage everyone else to have a go too.

This week’s prompt word is ‘note‘ so I’ll try and come up with something again.  I’ve found it really useful having a prompt word and a short deadline to focus the mind, but with only a 150 word limit I thought surely I’d be able to come up with something in the time-frame? Why not give it a try, if you don’t think your piece works for the competition you can always use it as a starting point for something longer.  Good luck!

The Driver

I have decided to post the story I submitted for the final exercise on the SWF course.  The submitted version was slightly shorter to conform to the 1000 word limit, but in this version I have added back in a couple of bits.  The reviews I got on the course were rather brief, so please do give me your feedback, good or bad! Also, especially if you found any aspects of the story confusing as one previous reviewer did.  The story derived from the exercise where we had to think about character stereotypes, but hopefully my characters have some depth! Many thanks, Rebecca

The Driver

Gary lay on his back, gazing up at the textured bedroom ceiling as the early morning light shone through the thin bedroom curtains. He could hear the birds singing in the beech tree through the bedroom window.  A bumbling bee blundered against the curtain before finding it’s way back out again. The warm presence of his sleeping wife next to him breathing softly was comforting. He enjoyed savouring these brief moments of stillness before the day proper began. As was his habit, he waited for the alarm on his phone, knowing without looking that it was nearly time to get up.

Gary dressed quickly and in silence, putting on the clothes he had laid out on his chair the night before; his comfortable baggy jeans and leather belt, faded blue polo shirt and hi-vis vest. He puffed a little putting on his socks, he knew he should really lose a bit of weight but it didn’t really bother him enough to do anything about it.  In the bathroom he splashed some cool water on to his face and glanced at his reflection.  Downstairs he checked the contents of his bag, adding several items from the fridge.  He preferred not to have breakfast before leaving for a day on the road.  Gary made up a large flask of coffee and a strong cup of tea for Lisa.  He crept back into the bedroom and placed it beside her on the bedside table.  Even though she would probably not drink any of it, he liked to do this one small thing for her before he left.  She didn’t like him to leave without saying goodbye so he woke her gently, shaking her shoulder.

‘Lisa, Lisa love. I’m off now. I’ll see you this evening. I’ll put the bins out. There’s a tea there for you, don’t let it go cold.’ Lisa groaned slightly and turned over to face him, her long dark hair stuck to her cheek, her eyes squinting up at him trying not to let in too much light. Usually she went straight back to sleep unless there was something she particularly wanted to tell him.  Gary didn’t like to hang around in the mornings; he liked to get off promptly.  He was already halfway out of the door and his mind was moving on to thinking about his route and where he would stop for his break.

‘What time is it? What time will you be back?’

‘I’m going to work.  I’ll be back this evening.  I’ll call you when I know what time.’

‘Okay. Well it would be nice to have dinner together, I feel like I haven’t really seen you for ages. Shall I do lasagne? Or is there anything you’d prefer?’

‘That sounds nice love, but I can’t promise what time I’ll be back, you know what its like.  If I get delayed at the drop-off who knows.  Are you not going out with Stacy after work?’

‘No, not tonight. Give me a ring later will you, let me know either way?’ Lisa looked up at him pleadingly, her moist dark eyes fixed on to his. She seemed more keen than usual to talk and Gary began to feel slightly irritated. He turned to leave, feeling uncomfortable under her gaze.

‘Yeah sure. Okay,’ he managed, before hastily leaving the room.

‘Bye love,’ he shouted from the landing.

Alone in bed Lisa sat up and reached for the box of tissues on the bedside table. How could she tell him? What on earth was she going to do? He was so clearly not interested. She allowed the tears to well up and roll down her cheeks, splashing on to the duvet cover.

As he headed out of the front door, Gary couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.  He was quite happy when Lisa went out for the evening.  He enjoyed having the time to himself, to watch what he wanted, eat on the sofa, and generally take it easy.  Perhaps that’s why he also loved driving so much, that time he had to himself with his own thoughts in his own space, no manager watching his every move.  Some drivers found this part of the job difficult, the loneliness, lack of contact with their families and difficulty maintaining any kind of relationship.  Some found companionship amongst the other drivers, but Gary preferred to maintain what he felt was a professional distance, rarely taking part in the general banter in the staff rooms at the distribution centres.

He had always been a person who thrived in his own company. As a child his father had died suddenly when he was young and he had no real memory of him. Mum had always worked long hours to make end’s meet, leaving Gary and his younger sister alone for long periods of time.  As a result he had become self-sufficient and independent from a young age.  Inevitably, this sometimes caused friction between Lisa and himself as she naturally seemed to enjoy the company of others more than he did.  It was always Lisa who made the effort to keep in touch with most of their friends, her friends really.  He was grateful to Lisa for this, but sometimes he admitted he found it a strain.  He was really quite happy with their life together just the two of them.  He enjoyed the simplicity of only really having to think about himself, and being looked after by a wife who he genuinely cared about.  Why did she want to change things by bringing someone else into the picture?  He knew he had said that he might like to have a family one day, he just hadn’t thought about that day finally coming.  It had always seemed to him like a far off event in the future that there was no point thinking about too much in the here and now, much like buying a bungalow or taking an interest in gardening.  Things he might do one day, but not now.  He pretended that he hadn’t noticed the baby magazines, the catalogues of baby equipment, and her enthusiasm for redecorating their house.  He avoided the awkward conversations. He hoped that if he did this for long enough, that things would eventually just go back to normal.  By the time he arrived at the depot, all thoughts about Lisa had left his mind.