“If things had been different, we might have had an affair. Or something even more lasting.” Garrick’s head bowed slightly as he spoke, as if his neck was giving way to the weight of a sigh.
Stella’s reply would remove any hope Garrick might have had for a speck of compassion.
“Well, of course! That statement cannot be disputed because, if things had been different, all manner of circumstances might have changed. You might have been mortally wounded in Vietnam if things had been different. You might have achieved fame or notoriety as a firebrand actor if things had been different. If things had been different, you might have spent twenty years in a Moroccan prison, subject to daily floggings and frequent rape. My point is, things were what things were. Stop your goddamned moping and live in the present!”
Garrick had not suggested he might have had an affair with Stella “if things had been different.” He was reminiscing about a mostly unhatched relationship with Monica Noburnshire, whose marriage with her husband, Paul, had been on its last legs when Garrick met her. Garrick was too young and inexperienced to recognize Monica’s interest in him at the time. Her advances were not sufficiently overt for him to believe that she actually had an interest in him. She was four years his senior and had the face of a movie star. Garrick was transfixed by her long blonde hair; he imagined running his hands through it as he kissed her passionately on the lips. But that was only his imagination. He was too shy to even hint at an interlude with her. Especially since she was married. And he was almost engaged.
Still, when she invited him to drive her sports car back to the office from lunch and then put her arms around his neck as he sat in the driver’s seat, he could imagine his fantasy turning to reality. Later, when their budding relationship was consummated after an after-work drinking binge at a nearby club, he thought reality and fantasy had become one. But something happened to quell the relationship. He didn’t remember what it was. It may have been something consequential, but it could just as easily have been the result of what had always been destined to be a one-night fling.
That it ended without intention had always bothered Garrick. His gloomy recall and his propensity to ask “what if” during the conversation with Stella drew her wrath and her reply. She was having none of his appetite for reminiscing about unfulfilled hunger and the possibility of love. She continued her tirade.
“You always wonder “what if” things had been different. Well they are always different. Different from what they might have been. Every breath you take is different from every other breath. What if the last one was exactly like the one before it? Well your life might have taken a sharp turn and you might have ended up in the gutter, begging for nickels. But it’s just as likely that nothing of the sort would have happened. I wish you’d get over this constant questioning about how your life would have been different if something or other had been different. It’s impossible to know!”
“Don’t you ever wonder how your life would have been different, Stella, if you’d make different decisions along the way? I mean, what if you had taken the job with the airline instead of staying with the bus company? You can never know, of course, but don’t you wonder?”
Stella’s look of exasperation preceded her words. “No, I don’t. Because it’s pointless. I didn’t take the job. The bus company folded and I lost my job. But the same thing could have happened with the airline. Wondering “what if” is the utterly pointless undertaking of fools.”
“So I’m a fool for contemplating how my life might have been different had I made different choices? You’re even more callous and uncaring than I thought.”