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“Paris. Berlin. Rio de Janeiro. New York…”
The same reoccurring dream has plagued my sleep every night for fourteen days. It always began the same way. I’d start out at my family’s cabin, skipping stones across the lake. The stones would hit the water softly without ripples. Once they landed, they would expand into stone plates, making way for a large, white arrow, letting me know it was okay to proceed.
At the end of the stone path, I’d see a sign post pointing towards Paris, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, New York, and always one other arrow pointing to something I rather refuse. I made it as far as the sign post the first few nights of the dream, but now I’m reasonably hesitant.
Tonight, I’m determined to put the dream to rest. I approached the sign. A loud buzzer went off. It was closely followed by the disembodied voice of Bob Barker:
“It’s tiiiiiiime to play “WHY ME?” The crowd went nuts. “For those playing at home, let’s go back over the rules. A contestant of our choosing stands at the gates of Beelzebub where one wrong move can mean something dour on the lines of certain death and/or an eternity of SAT testing preparation. Trust me when I say both can be terrible. Today’s contestant is our returning competitor: Jason Brazil. Jason, how does it feel to be staring at the gates of your own infinite demise once again?”
I scratched my head, “I guess that is still to be determined—?”
“Bob. My name is Bob.”
“I guess that is still to be determined, Bob.” The words fell out of my mouth like I was on autopilot. I was a puppet. They had the strings.
The crowd made a loud resounding Oooh noise as a spot light shone on the sign post. A showgirl closely resembling my Great Aunt Wanda dressed in a toga waddled over to the post. She quickly removed the sheet that covered the mystery arrow while I swallowed the vomit in my mouth.
To my horror, the words were revealed in bright shiny letters: “Marry Margaret.” Coincidentally, those were the same words that appeared every night. The crowd responded with glee, “MARRY HER. MARRY HER. MARRY HER!” and “IT’S BEEN FIVE YEARS! WE WANT NIECES AND NEPHEWS! GIVE US NIECES AND NEPHEWS!”
Bob came back over the speakers, “Well, Jason, what will it be? You have the option to marry Margaret or practically do anything else you want. It could be anything else in the world as long as it’s done in Paris, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, and New York. You could finally get that writing degree or all of your dreams could come true, but who wants that? You could also marry Margaret, be a nervous wreck, and drink yourself into a stupor. How does that sound, audience? Doesn’t that sound great?”
“MARRY HER. MARRY HER. MARRY HER.”
Choosing should've been easy. I’d spent my twenties begging for an opportunity to discover who I was and, especially, who I was without Margaret. We’d known each other for 14 years, been dating for 5, lived together for three. We even rescued a dog together. My family loved her. They cited her as a family staple, so what’s wrong with me? She’s all I had ever known.
The same pondering hit me every single time I’d had the dream and every time I chose something besides “Marry Margaret” I'd get plunged into eternal Hellfire. Marrying her was no longer what I wanted, but it was exactly what everyone expected me to do.
Personally, I felt Margaret deserved better than me. Our relationship was no longer healthy, intimately or financially. It was time to let her go. So, for the 15th straight night, I chose Paris and the gate opened up, releasing demons, fire, and my assigned SAT testing.
Bob Barker was chuffed as chips. He said, "Good luck getting your money back for that ring! Mwahahahaha!"
I woke up in a cold sweat after Margaret nudged me. I sprung out of bed, feeling a heavy constraint on my lungs.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
I studied her eyes. Her expression was blank. She also looked like she was on autopilot. I took a deep breath and yelled, “I need to go to Atlanta,” as I stormed out of the bedroom.
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.