Choice

this is a prosaic story about choice, choice is thirteen. choice is growing up in a fairly well to do neighbourhod. she has all the things the other options in the street enjoy, a neat house built by free willy (her dad), an allocated amount of pocket money in return for contributing to keeping the house ship shape (as her dad always says), three meals a day chosen by responsibility (her mum), a bike for moving around her immediate environs (which she has never extended) and an obligation called obligation (her pet black cat with a collar and tinkling bell to warn away the birds).

choice likes her life. it is predictable and secure and fun and she never has to worry about what to do next because there is always free willy, responsibility or obligation to let her know.

the other options in the street are pretty much the same. they go to school to learn how to behave away from home, they join clubs and play sport to understand how to be organised and they sleep comfortably tucked into warm beds with soft toys and billowing duvets and down filled pillows and electric blankets for the colder nights.

they all think waffles for breakfast are a delightful Sunday treat and one hour of tv each night is enough to keep them talking all the morning after. it never occurs to any of them life could be any different.

then one night something different happens anyway. choice feels it in a change of the wind, a new taste in the air, she feels it when she wakes at 2.36am to cramps and a bitter chill that makes her turn up her electric blanket. something is not right and she squirms and twists fitfully in bed for the rest of the night such that she wakes to a crisp bright sunny morning exhausted and grumpy for the first time - only to look out her window and see old mr routine next door being wheeled out to an ambulance never to be seen again.

the new neighbours come from some other place. they play a lot of music and always seem to be fixing and constructing in their backyard, their front yard and their house. choice can see an easel in the bay window opposite her room and a mess of paints and palettes scattered around. choice feels very uncomfortable about this. she knows proper people are always neat and tidy, careful and predictable. she and her family avoid these disruptive new people. free willy and responsibility say they don’t want choice introduced to anything or anyone who might be a bad influence.

at school choice sees the new boy from next door. he is in the next year and he also looks untidy, but whenever he is around choice can’t take her eyes off him. he moves differently, acts differently, speaks differently and when he turns her way it feels like he looks into her instead of at her. choice experiences uncertainty for the first time in her life. this boy unsettles her in ways she hasn’t felt before.

days go by, choice making no choices, just being choice, except she finds herself looking for the boy at every opportunity. find him she does like a a bee finds a flower. she finds those deep grey eyes swinging toward her as if he knows she is looking, as if he wants her to be looking.

without knowing it choice begins to find reasons to be outside in the street more often, obligation gets a leash, the bike gets ridden more than ever, a daily constitutional becomes a health necessity, chores start to be delayed or missed altogether, other options are no longer considered of worth.

then it happens and nothing is ever the same. he is waiting for her at the gate after school. would she mind if they walk home together? they are holding hands in minutes without knowing how or when, they are talking without pause, laughing and listening in wonder. at his house to say good bye he brushes her cheek with his lips. his hand lingers. she never wants him to let go and choice finalises the choice she doesn’t even know she is making. every future choice flows from there and then.

This week the dVerse prompt comes from Christopher Reilly. It is about choice. I chose to write a poem, but I couldn’t make it stick. It turned into prose, a short story and that happened, so here it is.

A change of plan

A bit of a rethink needed this morning. I have been in the habit of alternating time on the bike with a bit of a run – most days. The bike activity varies between the resistance trainer, on the quieter bitumen, dirt tracks or in the bush every now and then. It is something I intend to keep up as is (despite the magpie season). However, the running has presented some serious problems.

The first running problem appeared to be a product of distance and age. As I regularly got further past the 6km mark, my intermittent left hip malalignment became increasingly troublesome. I started having to stop to line up the ball and socket more often. Also, the hip was becoming sore between times, which was new. Hmmm. It was looking like time to reconsider my approach.

Then there was the dog. Running along Spring Crrek Rd one day, there was suddenly a rush of snapping teeth and aggressive growling and barking behind me. A charging border collie had come out of nowhere. I must have passed it in the scrub.

He got under my legs and knocked me to the ground. I landed hard on the bitumen, scoring myself some scrapes and nasty bruises. Luckily he hadn’t got a grip at this stage, but he was coming at me while I was on the ground. Fortunately, he chose to come at my legs again. I was able to kick him in the neck. It must have hurt because he backed off, snarling with his hackles way up.

I was seriously frightened and badly shaken. I had landed square on my hip and wondered if it was broken. Lying there without any mechanical form of defence I was sure those teeth were going to find a mark.

I tentaively stood up to test my weight bearing. It was OK, so I steadily backed away. After a couple of lunges and as I got further down the road the dog started to stand back, more ready to let me go. At this point, I decided this sort of running wasn’t for me.

However, confining yourself exclusively to one form of exercise gets to be a demotivating drag. I will be forever grateful to swimming, which restored me from the severe back injury scrap heap many years ago, when I suffered extruded discs at work. In health, I would choose swimming if I didn’t find it so boring. So, what to do? I tried quigong, but it was to slow for me. Yoga never felt right either.

Then, in the context of all the new research demonstrating the benefits of short bursts of high intensity exercise, I thought running a couple of km along the creek might be good. It was. Beautiful, doable, no hip soreness. But yesteday ….

As has happened several times before, Mary and I were walking along, aware to watch for snakes. As usual, we let our minds and eyes wander upward toward koala and bird spotting. Once again we only became alert to a snake when it was underfoot. Here it is, a medium sized copperhead. Easily mistaken for a red bellied black or a dark coloured brown, you can tell it is a copperhead by the pale triangular scales along the lips.

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So, for the warmer months at least, I think a change of plan is necessary. I see enough snakes to realise that I am genuinely running the risk of a snake strike along the creek. That won’t stop me walking there, but I think running heightens the risk.

Instead, today I ran through town, down to the derelict Armstong St Bridge (see photo in previous post) and back.  Even surfaces, a modest rise, a gravel footpath through town, a low traffic dead end blacktop, scenic rolling hills with the pretty golf course on one side and the solitary water tower on the other, a gorgeous riparian bush zone to look over at the terminus. Not a bad change of plan.

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