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.

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6 thoughts on “The Chosen Path

  1. That’s a really strong piece of writing Rebecca – you’ve certainly made us feel sorry for her situation. I wonder if she’ll regret her decision with the baby.

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  2. Hi Rebecca, it’s great to read a story like this, when I’ve just written something similar! I like your take on it, there’s a real sense of the characters. I like the switch half way through where we learn more about Tony and the backstory – it led on nicely from the hook in the first para or so: “Whose baby is this? Could this be something to do with the neighbours? Is this something to do with Tony?” I thought this was a great line – lull the reader into thinking she’s asking a set of normal questions and then hit us with Tony. It’s a great ending – just when you think she’s going to take the baby in. If you wanted to expand this into a longer piece you definitely have enough material to do that. Since you asked for suggestions, I wondered if some of the backstory could be made more immediate by turning them into scenes themselves? (obviously this would make it longer, which you may not want to do!) We could see the parents being won over by Tony, or the day when she realises he’s seeing other women. Hope that helps!

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  3. Thanks Kate, that’s really helpful feedback. I had considered making it longer as you suggest with some additional scenes but didn’t want it to be too long to be a short story and wondered whether the typical reader of blog posts may get a bit bored?! I might think about doing that elsewhere and see how it turns out.

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  4. I really love your description of how the character sees the baby as angry, because it’s something you wouldn’t associate with a new born. Also the second part of the story is really strong and I didn’t see the ending coming.
    You were right to write in first person – I think the most important thing when you do this is to put yourself in the characters position and think about how they would be feeling and you have done that. Well done

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