The alarm clock crowed its jangling song, shaking Tori from her restless dreams. She stretched—her mind hazy in that disorienting moment between sleep and waking. A misty image of a man stood before her, reached out to her, and gently touched her cheek.
Light flashed. Tori blinked. She was in a hospital room. Sweat dripped down her face, matting her hair to her head. The room was a rush of busy silence as the doctors and nurses bent over something—ignoring her, the patient in the bed. Then, a cry broke the silence. Moments later a bundle of bloody baby was placed in her arms. She was so tired her mom had to help her hold him: Sebastian, her son.
Light flashed. Tori blinked. The days of infancy sped by like a smeared water-color painting. Sebastian was three. Tori held his hand as they walked home from the park, her feet dragging from the extra hours she had to work now. Sebastian leapt and jumped and pulled on her tired arms. His high, little voice buzzed with the events of his day—all the minor things that were momentous in his little world. Then, he got quiet. “Do I have a daddy?” Tori’s feet missed a step, almost pulling them both down to the concrete. She caught herself, instinctively offering the support her son needed to regain his balance. “No,” she said.
Light flashed. The scene blurred. Tori blinked. Sebastian was five now. His first day of kindergarten loomed as big in her mind as the sprawling school crouched on the city corner in front of them. Tears flowed freely down her face. She gave Sebastian a big bear hug and watched him run to his teacher, the train on his backpack shaking as if it had jumped its track.
Light flashed. Tori blinked. Years passed in a blur. Financial hardship, problems at school, sick days, a trip to the emergency room for a broken arm, another for a fever that wouldn’t go down, school plays, picnics at the park, tantrums, crushes—all the moments of his life flashed by, until she sat in the audience with bated breath, her hands clasped tightly together, her hair streaked with gray, fine wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. She stared up at the stage. Sebastian walked across, shook hands with the principal, received his diploma, shifted the tassel from one side to the other, and stepped off the stage a high school graduate. Tori stood up and cheered. Sebastian beamed his radiant smile at her.
Light flashed. Tori blinked. Sebastian was at college now, drinking with his buddies at some loud, crazy party, surrounded by drunk freshman girls. Sebastian led one of those girls into a back room. The door closed. Light flashed. Tori blinked. She screamed at her son: “How could you do this?” “It was an accident, Mom, a mistake?” “It’s a baby!” Light flashed. Tori blinked. She held her granddaughter in her arms. Sebastian beamed. The mother sulked. Light flashed. Tori blinked. She held the toddler on her lap while her daddy crossed the stage, this time for his college diploma. They both cheered.
Light flashed. Tori blinked. Years sped by as Sebastian lived his life. He didn’t do anything spectacular. He didn’t cure cancer. He didn’t build a spaceship that could traverse the stars. He didn’t solve the mysteries of the universe. He was still amazing. He held down a good job, which he did well. He raised his daughter—the mother was long gone. He met the love of his life, got married, and they had two more kids. They worked. They played. They lived.
Light flashed. Tori blinked. She laid her head back down on her pillow. She stared up at the shimmering man who wasn’t quite there. The alarm clock still jangled on the table next to her bed. She switched it off and placed her hand over her belly. She couldn’t feel the baby inside her. Not yet.
Tori got up and started the coffee, then took her shower, got dressed, slurped down a cup. Unfocused eyes stared ahead as if she could still see that hazy future of what-might-yet-be. She looked up from her tiny kitchen table and stared at the appointment circled in red. Today was the day she would erase that future. She’d planned to do it. She’d made her choice. She was too poor to have a child. She didn’t even have a high school diploma. She could barely support herself. How could she bring a child into that?
Still, in the dream, they make it. It’s hard, but they make it. Both of them do. Her hand falls to the imperceptible swell of her belly. It was time to go. She set her coffee cup down and stood. She only had to take one step forward to reach the phone and make the might-be real. She only had to take one step forward to reach the door and go ahead with her own plan for her life. Tori took a step forward.