I sit in front of the monitor watching the screen. Behind it various streams of wires and rubber snake around the table, forming bushes and foliage akin to that of a forest. The room is dark, all curtains and windows closed, the door barred shut with a lock and an old musty chair.
Inside the monitor I stand before a boardroom filled with men in smart, black business suits, striped ties ironed neatly upon their well-starched vests. A small projector shows a series of elaborately colored slides, each covered in archaic numbers and symbols, charts and diagrams. The men are nodding, some are smiling, while I dribble on, apparently more nerves and delight at their approval than actual confidence.
The screen fizzes and the readjusts. Wires hum with redirected power, stolen from the mains and the ‘faulty’ lamp-post across the street. With a few clicks and switches an image appears, stabilizes, fills with color and…there! It appears to be a park, one with many, many flowers and trees, each lush with life. A lake, with ducks or swans and a few odd reeds sticking along the side…
Adjust…zoom…there I am! The wide-brimmed sun hat and old grey shirt makes it difficult to differentiate me from the background, but I recognize that chin and stubble anywhere! The portable vacuum pack looks heavy, and for all the thriving of the plants around, there sure were a lot of dead leaves.
How depressing. Next.
Another jump. Readjust…focus…scanning, searching and…there!
A beautiful gallery greets me, paintings of nature and people, of lakes and sky and trees. Once more I wear the wide-brimmed hat, though the shirt is considerably newer and stained with paint, the vacuum nowhere in sight. A grin adorns my face as visitors flock into the queue, gasping at the vivid use of colors, at the soft palettes and powerful brush strokes. Better, much better;
A young girl is sitting on a bed with her child, both characters smiling happily despite the filthy state of their home. The gray walls are covered in cracks and cockroaches that skitter in and out of the fading wallpaper. A knock sounds on the termite eaten door, and in enters a familiar face. Weary, tired, wearing the same suit and tie as the man two jumps ago, but much less well-cared for. Yet there are laughter lines that weren’t there before, and though strands of gray dot his hair his eyes are filled with joy and warmth.
I remember how she had smiled back then, back when neither of us was aware of the consequences of our actions. We had been seeing each other for years. Known each other for even longer, long before we knew the meaning of the word ‘romance’. It seemed so natural that day. So…right.
And so the choice had been made and the consequences had been brought forth for us to face. And I-
I made my second choice.
I flick through the channels, jumping from life to life, from moment to moment, through every possibility and every trouser leg of time. If we never had met. If nothing had happened that very first time. If it had been someone else, not her…if I had focused on my work more…if I had not missed that bus…
The machine is a result of all these. Of combined regrets from possibilities that did not exist, of yearnings for things not yet occurred...some of the wires fade off into thin air, but that does not bother me. I didn’t want to make choices anymore, not without knowing the consequences, and so here I am, watching and waiting, thinking and evaluating.
The screen is blurry again but it is no fault of the equipment. My cheeks feel wet. She’s called me three times so far yet I dare not answer in event I trigger a path yet seen. The other paths comfort me, telling me of things I could do, of the potential that exists to be tapped. Yet though I know the consequence, I know not which choice to make. Which path to the businessman? To the scholar? To the unmarried merchant, artist, poet? Or to the happy spouse?
No matter how many possibilities I flick past the screen always comes back to this. As if the machine itself was reminding me. Punishing (?) me. Of the consequences of unseen consequences, of choosing not to choose.
The two embrace, and I feel a brief pang of regret before flicking the channel once more;