Regret is one of my least favorite words. I like the gritty sound of it, but it reminds me of the worst feeling imaginable. Regret often deals with things we can’t change because we’ve already moved on from them. They are set in stone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change them in the future. Regret is the device that enables us to change our future because it happens when we reflect on our past actions and reassess them. Of course, the word for today is actually repentance. Unlike regret, repentance has a feeling of atonement to it that regret doesn’t carry. It feels more active to me than regret does, so it is the word I’ve chosen for this next story.
The Languid Flow of Dreams
Repentance (n): deep sorrow for a past sin or wrongdoing.
Nathan liked to think of parallel worlds.
He sat beside the river, watching his thoughts flow away from him, branching into millions of tiny rivulets that flowed into one sea of consciousness.
What if each of the river segments was a branching path in his life, leading him to a different locus? Could he have altered the river’s path if he had known where it would have led him?
He wanted to walk down the river and stop at each bend to ask himself which moment in his life had impacted its flow.
But, the air around him sang of warmth and summer, and the cicadas hadn’t ceased their humming, and the branch of the maple tree above him flickered back and forth in the breeze, casting his face in alternating patterns of light and shadow.
He wondered if there was a world where he had been a better older brother.
Where he knew the best way to deal with his parents, and the best way to get Lia to stop looking so sad all the time, and the best way to include Bell more so she didn’t always feel so left out.
Maybe then, he wouldn’t have had to wait in the hospital, clutching a pale, cold wrist and comforting a hysterical little girl who didn’t understand why her big sister wasn’t getting up.
He continued, letting the memory rush away from him in the river’s current.
He no longer knew if he was walking beside the river or still laying under the shade of the lanky maple tree. His toes sank into the cool mud, and he embedded his feet in, trying to cling to the sleek, dissolving silt.
He wondered if there was a world where he had been a better husband. Where he had taken more vacations. Where he had splurged and bought his wife flowers despite her claims that they were a waste of money due to their short-life span.
On second thought, maybe potted plants were a better idea. That would have made her happier. Even more so if they were herbs, or things she could use when she got the urge to cook.
He remembered the first moment he had met her. Dripping from the sudden downpour, his clothes sodden and damp, his dark hair a tangled mess, droplets streaming down like he had brought the rain into the office with him.
She had laughed— the sound of the bells in Arcadia— and asked if he had forgotten to bring his umbrella.
That moment too slipped away from his fingers, down the river.
He continued walking, wishing he could hold onto something more concrete than the ebbing river tides.
He wondered if there was a world where he hadn’t made that turn on Kent street. Where he and Ella hadn’t decided to go out for a night together, leaving their 8 year old daughter with her Aunts. Where the other car hadn’t been driving. Where one of them had stopped in time.
Sounds intermingled together in the river’s current.
The lullaby they used to sing to their daughter. The wailing of police sirens. The trriing of the bell on her tricycle. The shattering sound of a collapsing glass shield. Their laughter, interlacing together in his favorite song. The deafening puff of airbags opening way too late. Catching his daughter in his arms after throwing her up into the air. The world tilting and skidding on its axis in a wave of searing, anguished pain.
Gasping, he blinked and was once more beside the river.
He had lost the strength to walk.
Sitting on the bank, he dug the palm of his hands into the sharp stones that bordered the stream. Blood welled up, dripping into the water.
It too left him.
Taking a shuddering breath of the suddenly chilly air, he tried to calm himself. A myriad of images invaded his mind, rendering his task impossible.
Suddenly, he felt a little head rest on his shoulder. Turning in surprise, he saw his daughter. She had a little paper boat in her hand and was smiling up at him.
Why did he suddenly feel like weeping?
“Where are we?” she asked, dipping her toes into the river.
“I don’t know.”
His voice was gravelly, as if he hadn’t used it in a while.
She looked at him, her eyes misty, but continued smiling.
She released the paper boat into the stream. It was eagerly snatched away by the hungry current, plunging into the sightless depths.
“Please come home soon.”
Her voice dissolved away, and when he turned, she had gone.
The paper boat resurfaced, a little down the length of the river. It braved the eddies and languidly drifted away.
He blinked sleepily, and saw the wavering branch of the maple tree once more floating above him.
Soon, he thought.
The dull haze of sleep cradled around him.
Just let me forget a little longer.