How much of ourselves are made up of our mistakes?
The Dream Machine
Chancy leaned his hoe against the wall of the shed in his backyard garden. The pain in his left leg told him his gardening session was over for a while. He hobbled to the steps, picked up his cane, and climbed the stoop to the screened porch.
He rested in the rocker and enjoyed a moment lost in the colorful scene, which was alive with bees, butterflies, and darting hummingbirds. Then as suddenly as a shooting pain in his left leg, the lily pond he labored over for two seasons grabbed his attention; it nagged at him. It was on the west side of the yard. It was obvious he should have listened to Millie when she suggested he build it on the east side. She even pointed to the exact spot, but he refused. Moving it now would be an admission of bad judgment and surely cue confirming comments from Millie.
The screen door squeaked as Millie pushed it open with her hip and stepped through the door carrying two glasses of lemonade.
"It's a beautiful day. The backyard really looks good. You've done a great job Chancy," she said as she handed him one of the glasses.
Chancy responded with half a smile and an unintelligible grunt.
"How did you sleep last night - that new sleep machine do any good?" Millie asked.
"I don't think I've quite got the hang of setting it up yet. I set it for ocean waves last night. The sounds helped me drift off to sleep; but I kept waking up needing to pee."
"Hah, don't you think maybe that's just the nature of old-men's plumbing?"
They both laughed, although Chancy's sleeping problem was not funny and was getting worse. He often woke up after only an hour's sleep and with uncanny clarity relived a lifetime of things he should have done better or omitted altogether.
Chancy could tell by Millie's kindness and attempts at up-beat banter, she was disquieted by his increasing moodiness.
As they sat quietly, Chancy's eyes moved to the Scandinavian garden troll sitting next to the shed. He had purchased it two weeks earlier.
It's so ugly! What will I ever do with it? I made another wrong choice to brood over. The elegant workmanship must have taken me in; it is beautifully made - but by gosh the dang thing sure is ugly.
The nightly news presented plenty to worry about with reports of politicians indiscriminately blending national security, ideology, and their political goals. But, Chancy had his own concerns as he prepared for bed and possibly another night of restlessness.
He turned on the sleep machine and studied the controls. The electronic device radiated sounds designed to produce an atmosphere conducive to sleep. The sound settings were labeled: Ocean - Birds - Rain - Stream - Clock-Tic and one setting simply marked DREAM. Chancy had tried them all except the DREAM setting. It didn't seem to work; it just emitted a muffled fluttering sound. All of the others worked to relax him, yet the results were not satisfying.
Chancy selected the Dream setting and adjusted the volume to a low but clearly audible level. With a vision of the butterflies fluttering around the backyard garden while avoiding the ugly troll, he drifted off to sleep.
He slept peacefully for most of the night, half-wakening in the wee hours, then catnapping until dawn. He arose refreshed and a little baffled over the absence of his usual cynicism. As he prepared the morning coffee, he noticed he was more tolerant of the pain in his left leg.
The wispy details of last night's dream flashed through his mind for an instant. In the dream, he watched himself at the garden shop as he considered purchasing a Scandinavian troll. He recognized the troll. It was the one in his back yard. Impulsively he stepped into the dream image and screamed, "Don't buy that thing!"
He watched himself turn and walk away without acknowledging the warning.
Chancy made his way to the back-porch rocker, coffee in one hand, cane in the other.
The morning light revealed that the ugly troll was gone. Somebody probably stole the dang thing... good riddance! He felt like a burden had just vanished.
Meanwhile, Millie concluded her tutoring session. Summer tutoring of neighborhood children had become an important part of her life since retiring as a public school teacher. She enjoyed the children since she and Chancy did not have any. She often said, "I didn't have the joy and sorrow of having my own kids but I'm blessed with the loan of others.
The phone rang. Millie knew it was her sister, she calls two or three times a week in the mornings.
"Hello, Millie's finishing school."
"Well you're certainly chipper this morning. What's happening?" Ann asked.
"It's going to be another beautiful day in the neighborhood and I'm just happy to be alive. Everything okay with you?"
"Yeah - same old - Old Maid stuff here. Chancy doing any better?"
"Not that I can tell. His leg hurts and he's still not sleeping well - makes him moody."
"You're lucky to have him. If he'd been killed in that accident when he was a kid, you'd be a lonely old maid like me, so listen to his grumbling and be thankful."
The conversation deteriorated to soap-opera like gossip about people and events of long ago. They finally hung up.
Millie joined Chancy on the back porch.
"Do you notice anything different about the garden this morning?" Chancy asked.
Millie looked around carefully trying to catch any detail that might have changed. "No, only that it's just more beautiful than ever."
"You don't notice anything missing?"
"No, what's missing?"
"I don't know it just seems like something's missing," he fibbed. He was glad she didn't notice the Troll was gone.
Millie went about her business, Chancy lingered, rocking gently thinking of the accident that caused the pain that was getting worse with age.
Barely 12 years old, he and his six cousins were going to the carnival at the fairgrounds across the river. From where they lived, people usually crossed the river in a boat, but that day there was to be a race. Martin his oldest cousin would drive his Model "T" Ford up to the bridge. Ally, Martin's younger brother would take the johnboat. Everybody else had to choose whom they would ride with.
There was a lot of excitement; Chancy couldn't decide which to take. The boat ride would be shorter but probably take longer. The ride in the Model "T" would be fast and exciting. The Model "T" had already started moving when he jumped on the driver's side running board. Everyone was cheering as Martin sped down the road determined to beat Ally and his passengers to the carnival.
Chancy held his breath when he saw the big oak tree appear directly in front of them. He closed his eyes and tried to hold on, but when Martin swung to the right to miss the tree, the left side of Chancy’s body was slammed against it. His left leg was crushed between the car and the trunk of the tree.
Chancy shuddered as he forced the thoughts of that day from his mind. I 'm lucky to be alive. I should have gone with Ally - like that dang lily pond - another wrong decision.
Upon retiring, Chancy again set the sleep machine to the DREAM mode. Although the fluttering sound was mild, he believed last night's sleep was the best he enjoyed in a while. He drifted off to sleep and quickly entered dreamland.
In the dream, he watched an image of himself reveal to Millie his plan to build a lily pond in the back yard. His image showed her the plan he had sketched and pointed to the spot in the yard he had chosen to place it. He watched as Millie pointed to a spot on the other side of the yard and noted that his image was shaking his head. At that point, Chancy stepped into the scene and challenged his image. "Put it where she wants it," he shouted.
Chancy's command appeared to go unnoticed and the images faded away as he was awakened by a pain in his left leg. The pain subsided quickly and peaceful sleep resumed.
Chancy was awakened at dawn by dogs barking in the back yard. He rushed to the bedroom window to see what the commotion was about. He spotted Rascal, the neighbor's collie barking through the fence at a raccoon by the lily pond.
He walked back toward the bed, yawned and stretched; then, startled he quickly moved back to the window. The pond is on the east side of the yard! It's where Millie wanted it, where I should have built it. How can this be?
"Millie, Millie come look at this!"
"What is it?" She rose from the bed, stumbled over to the window and peered out. "It's just Rascal," she said, obviously unimpressed.
"No, I mean the lily pond. See it?"
"Sure I see it, what's the matter with it?"
Chancy paused. Then staring at the pond, he remembered the dream. "Ah... nothing. I thought I saw something."
"You're sure acting strange. There's not much chance of going back to sleep. I'll go make the coffee," Millie said.
Chancy stood staring out the window, still intrigued by the pond's magical relocation and the fact that Millie didn’t notice. A sudden sharp pain in his leg brought the world back in focus. A radical hunch began developing in his mind as he glanced back at the sleep machine.
Chancy worked in the garden all day without tiring. He entertained his hunch about the sleep machine while he attacked his chores even the ones he hated and often put off. He forced his thoughts on the accident that crippled him when he was 12 turning the terrible memory over and over in his mind. Tomorrow will be a great new day for tonight I will take the boat to the carnival.
Millie awoke to the chimes of the wall clock and began her usual routine. She opened the curtains and looked out to the back yard. It was neat but plain. She had often dreamed of beautiful garden but lacking talent and physical energy, she settled for a well-kept lawn with a few shrubs and border plants. A distant, déjà vu-like memory of a gardener called Chancy passed through her mind. Hmm... Chancy. I don't know a gardener by that name, but I remember a boy named Chancy in the sixth grade; he drowned in a boating accident crossing White River.