By Jenn Fryer
Jonathon has made a choice. He did not like to make choices. Sophia made the choices, but she was dead; because of the last choice Jonathon made. So Jonathon has made another choice, and now things do not look so good for him today.
Today was one of those rare perfect-weather days, where the sun stands guard in a sky generously powdered with clouds, while soft warm breezes gently brush across your skin. Jonathon didn’t notice the breeze, though. He was fixated on the weeds framing the plot before him. Not so much focusing on the weed itself but rather focusing in an effort to overcome the deep rooted churning of dread building in the pit of his stomach. Today Jonathon’s choice would arrive, and from here, there was no going back from that decision.
The only good decision Jonathon can ever remember making was the day he decided to get married. In a fit of adolescent lust and rebellion, Jonathon chose to marry Sophia. Well, perhaps, chose is the wrong word to use. He didn’t so much choose as he simply stood by and accepted the decision of his bride-to-be. That is how it was with Jonathon. He avoided choice. It was not a fear of commitment, clearly. It was simply a fear of making any decision at all.
Until the day he met Sophia, all decisions were made for Jonathon by his parents. In a home where choice was equal to deviance; where deviation from a choice made by a parent, was considered a vicious act of disobedience, Jonathon learned quickly, through Pavlovian law, to fear making decisions at all.
Decidophobia is what they call it. No, seriously, it’s a real thing. Jonathon looked it up. And when he couldn’t decide if he trusted the described phenomena therein, he showed Sophia. She said it was accurate, that the description fit perfectly. Therefore, Sophia decided that – as identified and outlined by the philosopher Walter Kauffman – Jonathon had Decidophobia.
Tiny, sweet, electric Sophia. With one light, feathery touch she caught Jonathon's attention wholly as a young teen, and with her pouting blood red lips and decidedly set ways, she kept it. He stood no chance. He had no choice. So when she said, "let's get married", he immediately ran to the nearest jewelry store and picked out the shiniest, but cheapest ring he could find. Because let’s be clear, while Jonathon may have been enslaved by his lover, he was still answerable to his banker.
Unfortunately, Sophia did not see things quite that way and exchanged the ring the next day, deciding upon a sleeker, more modern cut – or so she explained. Jonathon, in turn, sold a rare, 1915 Cracker Jack Christy Mathewson baseball card to cover the difference. It was a one-of-kind card, but, then again, his Sophia was a one-of-a-kind gal. Jonathon didn’t even hesitate.
Twenty-five years they were married and Jonathon loved every single minute of those twenty-five years. He loved his wife. He loved the way she commanded their life as efficiently and effectively as an admiral rules his ship. He loved the home Sophia chose for them to share; where he parked his Robin-egg blue compact car – Sophia’s favourite colour– perfectly to the side of their peach batten-board bungalow on the ¼ acre of green manicured lawn. He even loved the mangy little rat that had brought home one day during their fifth year of marriage. Jonathon loved everything about his life and all his wife brought to it. He doted on her as if she were the silky remnant of a rare flower.
To be clear, Sophia was happy as well. She truly loved her Jonathon and his especially easy-going ways. The unlimited support for all her decisions was what she treasured dearly. She had tired long ago of being told what to do in life and held choice to her heart as tightly as a young mother might hold her children – which is an appropriate simile, seeing as neither Sophia nor Jonathon ever had any children. They only had choice, and Sophia made every single one carefully, firmly and completely.
She knew what others said. She recognized the murky smiles of condescension from other men and the jealous snide side-smile of the women. “It was clear who wore the pants in this relationship” they would say. Sophia didn’t care. She was very comfortable in pants. She was a modern woman. And besides, as I have already said, she loved her Jonathon and dedicated the entirety of their marriage to ensure he was protected from the one thing he feared most. With Sophia, Jonathon lived free of decisions and completely unburdened by choice. Together, they lived an idea life of marital bliss.
Still, even Sophia took a day off from decision-making every once-in-a-while, and in a rare moment of impulsivity, she decided she wanted a surprise on her birthday. This year, she told Jonathon, he would choose her birthday cake. He would surprise her with his choice and together they would enjoy that surprise. Jonathon expectedly blanched and stuttered over his words as he tried to gently remind his loving Sophia that decisions and choice were not his forte. But, decision and choice were Sophia’s, and she had decided firmly that Jonathon was choosing the cake this year.
So soon, he stood before the bakery window, agonizing over which cake to bring home. After an hour and a half of staring at other customer choices, he finally settled on a light lemon cake with a simple French vanilla icing. It was perfect for his Sophia, he felt, as it exemplified the beauty found in nature’s simple gifts – well, that and it was the last cake left.
Happy to have made this decision, Jonathon rushed home, cake in hand, to show Sophia. When he opened the front door to the house, she came running excitedly, ready to see what selection her husband had made. Jonathon placed the box proudly on the dining room table and lifted the lid so that she could see. Her smile spread wider and she ran back to the kitchen for plates and forks. “Forget dinner, Jonathon, I want dessert now.”
Maybe if she had waited, until after dinner, before cutting into the cake, events wouldn't have taken such a nasty turn. Maybe if he had capitalized on his knowledge of the ingredients that went into making the splendid cake, and included a list of them to boot, maybe then disaster could have been avoided. Perhaps if he had done that before she took her first bite, it would not have been her last.
But he didn’t. Instead, Jonathan had cut Sophia a generous piece while they both giggled over the falling crumbs and excitedly licked their lips. He then took her fork from her small hands and scooped up an equal amount of cake-to-icing ratio, and placed it neatly onto her waiting and open mouth.
It is impossible to describe the delight that sparkled into her eyes, nor imitate the deep satisfaction she mumbled as she reached for her second bite. Sophia clearly loved Jonathon’s choice. She turned towards him with a look he had never seen before; a sort of surprised wonder. She was thrilled.
Soon, the soft pink circles of her cheeks glowed towards a deeper red as Sophia began to fan herself, coughing slightly on the second bite she had just swallowed. Jonathon, always the attentive spouse, reached for the glass of water nearby and handed it to so she could gently wash down this delightful choice he had made.
As he held the glass towards her, he noticed that her smile had stretched so tightly across her cheeks that her eyes looked swollen. He watched in horror as tears began to run down her face and she grabbed at her throat making deep animal-keening sounds. She dropped so suddenly that Jonathon didn’t have a minute to decide upon what to do. He simply stood in stupefaction as his sweet Sophia’s head hit the corner of the table before her body hit the floor. And for several minutes, he continued to stand, unsure whether to directly aid his dying wife or run for more qualified help. In the end, it was a neighbour who called 911, having stopped by with perfect timing to drop off a birthday card. Jonathon, having this choice made, knelt by his dying wife’s side and held her hand until her ragged breaths ceased.
It turns out, Sophia had a peanut allergy. Not something you would think a husband would be unaware of after twenty-five years of blissful married life. Yet, Jonathon did not know. But he didn’t have to know. Sophia had made all of the decisions.
And this brings us right back to today. This moment as Jonathon kneels awkwardly and pulls the weeds, watching with unusual intent as the roots detach from the comfort and hold of the soil. This moment as he awaits the stonemason’s arrival, bringing with him evidence of Jonathon’s final decision for Sophia: her Epitaph.
He had tried to do this last week. Tried to choose the right words, the perfect turn of phrase. His sister-in-law decided upon the light grey of the stone but insisted he must, at least, decide upon the words that would be used.
The stonemason had presented him with a photo album of his previous works and popular wording from other clients. For Jonathon, the choices all stood as accusations. All implying the guilt he readily felt for having made such a catastrophic decision. Each time he looked at the options presented, he instead saw his wife’s beautiful face distorted in a purple and red death. In the end, he could not make the choice, so he left with the decision unmade.
However, last night, in a moment of unnatural assurance, Jonathon decided upon the words that would introduce his wife to the world of the undead. They were, quite possibly, the most accurate word choice he could have made and yet, they still stung slightly with an accusation that Jonathon had decided he deserved.
Now the stonemason was arriving with the finished piece, etched gently but deeply onto a light grey stone for all to see. “Here lies Sophia Annette Slater. Whose life was not measured by the number of breaths she took, but by the moment that took her breath away.”
Photo Credit: Simon Stratford
Jenn ‘Niffer’ Fryer is a mother, a wife and a writer, enthusiastically scribing her way through life as it continues to entertain her pen. Currently in her second year at Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program, Jennifer is actively putting her skills as a writer to positive and affecting use, both in her community and beyond.