THE GIRL WHO TURNED LEFT • by Amber A. Logan

When Papa brushed out her braids at the end of the day, Rita perked up her ears. Papa would often drop pearls of wisdom, mid-sentence, as if continuing a conversation playing out only in his head.

First, silence — save for the sound of coarse bristles stroking through hair — and then:

“…of course, there are infinite possibilities. Every choice, no matter how small, is a crossroads. And every crossroads splits into a new reality.”

Rita sat up straighter on the edge of her bed, digesting her father’s words. “Are there infinite ‘me’s out there somewhere, Papa?”

Her father stopped brushing, cocked his head as if Rita had just said a most amusing non sequitur.

“I suppose there would be, Rita.” He set the brush on the bedside table, smoothed Rita’s curls behind her ears. “There, love. Now time for bed.”

***

Rita approached the sycamore tree in the park behind her primary school. The poor tree was the only one in the field, looming lonely with its large, sparse leaves and flaky bark littering the ground beneath it. Worn footpaths curved to either side of the tree, parting the yellow grasses to form two paths, both leading to the neighborhoods beyond.

Rita paused, inspecting the diverging paths. A crossroads. What if she tried something different today? What if she turned left at the tree, instead of following the usual path to the right?

Rita clutched the straps of her backpack, pulled it tight against her body until she felt the sweat on the back of her shirt.

Infinite possibilities. Infinite realities.

She pulled even tighter until the straps dug into her palms, inhaled a deep breath, and took off running toward the tree.

A few feet shy of where the path split, she skittered to a stop. No, she’d take the path to the right. She liked that path, how the grass tickled her ankles under her skirt. Besides — she eyed the other path — the grass was taller on the left. It probably, she thought with a shudder, contained ticks. Rita closed her eyes and ran down her normal path to the right.

When she’d passed the tree, Rita opened her eyes. To her left she imagined another girl — just like her, with the same navy skirt and white blouse and red backpack pressed against her back — coming around the left side of the tree.

Both girls stopped, eyes wide, mirror images of one another. Then they laughed, hugged as sisters do, and strode their separate paths, the girl who turned left heading further into the field, and Rita — who always turned right — heading toward the street which would lead her home.

***

Sitting at her desk some years later, Rita watched the classroom door. But why didn’t the girl who turned left ever come to school? Maybe when the girl had gone home that night, her father announced he’d gotten the promotion at work and their family really did move to the big house Rita had always dreamt about on the other side of town. Maybe the girl on the left had packed her clothes in boxes, dreaming of her new, spacious room. Maybe the girl on the left attended the elite school by the lake where the girls wore pleated skirts with matching black sweaters and the boys all wore ties and their hair slicked back.

Rita’s teacher swept into the room, closed the door behind her. No girl who turned left.

Rita sighed and pulled out her Norton Anthology.

***

When Rita rented her first flat it had a garden out back, mostly covered with red brick pavers, but with just enough space for a bit of gardening. Rita took the bus to the greenhouse in the village and bought starter flowers. Red poppies to go with the ivy already crawling over the high walls.

Rita dug in the dark earth with her new trowel. She frowned. The girl who turned left would live on a country manor by now, a large white house with a curving drive out front. Rita picked up the package of poppies. The girl who turned left would be planting roses. Pink roses. Large rosebushes to go with her large garden with its manicured lawns and topiary in the shape of exotic animals.

Rita set the flowers in their hole, pressed the dirt around them, and frowned. Bloody hell, she’d forgotten to buy a watering can.

***

When she heard a mewing outside, Rita opened the door for the mangy grey cat on her doorstep. She’d seen a few strays over the years on her walk back from the bus stop and always tried to coax them out with a bite of egg sandwich or a crumble of cheese, but thus far they’d rebuffed her attempts. Nevermind that, for here was a cat on her doorstep, mewing for food, and here she was with a jug of milk in her refrigerator she could never finish off all by herself. As she rushed to the kitchen for a saucer, she thought of the girl who turned left. Surely she had dogs. Several of those fancy dogs — what were they called? Cavalier King Charles Spaniels? They probably followed her throughout the house, trotting on freshly trimmed claws, eating out of crystal bowls and sneaking table scraps from the girl’s numerous children seated at the long dining table. But, of course, the girl who turned left wouldn’t be a girl anymore, either. Rita wiped up the milk she spilled with an old rag.

***

In her final days, lying alone in her bed under a worn quilt and a handful of purring cats, Rita stared bleary-eyed at a vase of poppies on her side table. The girl who turned left would be an old crone like her now, lying in her plush bed with her posh dogs and a vase of roses.

Rita smiled. At least the girl who turned left had also lived in regret, envious of the girl who turned right.


Amber A. Logan is a university professor, freelance editor, and author of speculative fiction living in Kansas with her husband and two children — Fox and Willow. In addition to her degrees in Psychology, Liberal Arts, and International Relations, Amber holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. When she’s not writing, Amber enjoys trips to Japan, exploring unusual vegetarian foods, and reading Haruki Murakami. Amber’s debut novel, THE SECRET GARDEN OF YANAGI INN, was published by CamCat Books in November 2022.


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