FNS: Branch Points by Judy Salz

Every Friday night we feature a short story, essay, personal narrative, poem,
spoken word, or short film for your enjoyment.

Tonight’s flash fiction is from Judy Salz

Wisps of grey hair escaping from beneath her knitted cap, the elderly woman drew her lap blanket up to her chest against the evening chill. Rocking on her front porch, her worn chair creaked as she gazed up at the nearly barren labyrinth of branches of the ancient oak illuminated by the rising moon. The year was nearing its end, and she took the moment to assess her life, also waning. Her mind, still agile, reached back to her youth.

Eighteen years old, she nestled her blond head against Mike’s shoulder in the front seat of his shiny new 1938 Ford. Lover’s Lane on Saturday night. What could be more romantic? The school year over, she looked forward to a summer of fun before starting college in the fall. Mike proposed that night, catching her by surprise. Marrying him, much as she loved him, would mean supporting his education, and giving up her dreams of a career and independence. With a heavy heart, she turned him down, and always wondered how her life would have evolved had she said yes.

At twenty-four, she held two job offers, one in each hand, her eyes darting uncertainly between them. One was in her home town needing little change in her life. The other was across the country requiring a new beginning, away from everything and everyone she knew. Was she brave enough? If she could leave Mike behind her, she thought, she could attempt something new. The decision was made, but also left her wondering what if.

The increasing chill in the air roused her from her musings. She shivered and wrapped herself more tightly in the blanket, knowing she should move inside, but not wanting to lose the moment, as she relived seminal events in her life.

Her patient, adoring husband of seven years cradled her in his arms on their sofa. Head on his shoulder, her silver streaked blond curls mingled with his salt and pepper crew cut.

His voice was somber. We need to talk, darling. We can’t conceive. We know that now. Do we remain childless or seek adoption? Are we too old in our forties?

Their decision was one she never questioned. Life without her daughter would have been unthinkable.

Momma, I’m pregnant. Her sixteen-year old daughter stood before her, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. What should I do?

I can’t answer that for you. Whatever you decide, I will support you. You’re the one who will have to be able to look yourself in the mirror for the rest of your life, knowing in your heart you did the right thing.

But I’ll always wonder what my life would have been like the other way, Momma.

Yes, you will. Our lives are shaped by the choices we make.

Her old eyes traced a limb of the tree from its take off point on the trunk. At first broad and straight, it began branching and narrowing, and she chose which to follow each time it split. She traced the bough to its end, the tallest and most frail reaching for the sky.

Time to come in, Grandma, she heard.

Smiling, she rose from her rocker, and entered the warmth of her family’s home. I’m so fortunate, she thought. I have no regrets.

Judy Salz, a semi-retired physician, uses her years of patient encounters and life experiences for inspiration. Her stories appear in Helen: A Literary Magazine, MUSED BellaOnline Literary Review, The Literary Nest, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Gnarled Oak Online Literary Journal, Kevin MD, and others. Please visit her webpage at www.judysalz.com.

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