Meghan hadn’t noticed the chairs before. They graced the yard which stretched along the side of a house on the street she took every day. Usually she walked with her head down; too anxious to get to work and get the day over with to notice her surroundings. These days, however, she found herself walking slower. Taking her time to get to work. Dragging her feet. Dreading the day. Taking her time to get home. Dragging her feet. Dreading the evening. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d looked up while walking.
The day was slightly sunny with a chance of crap. Pretty typical for Philadelphia, and her life in general. She had no idea what made her pause, but she found herself stopped outside the fence which enclosed the small yard. She stared with fascination at the chairs she’d never noticed before. The way they were grouped in friendly conversation. The ease with which they surveyed the yard. She glanced around. The street remained remarkably empty. She must be late. Again. She’d be in trouble no matter when she showed up, so she might as well take a moment.
Her hands gripped the picket fence until a thorn from the brambles poked her finger.
“Ouch!” She stuck the offended finger in her mouth to suck off the blood. To her right, the gate swung open.
“Must be a ghost, inviting me in.” She laughed to herself. It wasn’t smart to trespass on private property in this part of the city. Still…she took a few hesitant steps toward the gate. She took a deep breath, then before she could talk herself out of it, she rushed through and over to the chairs. She pictured the home owner running out to demand she remove herself at once, and started to get an explanation ready. Hopefully they wouldn’t be carrying any loaded weapons.
Up close, the wood chairs looked weathered, but solid. Inviting. Enticing. It would be so relaxing to sit in one of them, if only for a moment. But which one. The choice seemed important, somehow.
“This is stupid. What possible difference could it make.” She shook herself and laughed. The sound was nervous and high pitched.
“What would you see?”
The old creaky voice behind her startled her so much she gave a small shriek as she swirled around.
“I’m sorry, I was just…” All excuses all flew out of her mind as she found herself confronted by a woman old enough to be her grandmother. The woman’s eyes twinkled, and a kind smile played on her face. Meghan relaxed a bit. “I was just admiring your chairs.”
The woman nodded. “What would you see? Which one draws you most?”
Meghan turned back toward the chairs. “I’m not sure. They all seem nice.”
“Which one draws you the most, Meghan?” The old lady whispered, but the words reached Meghan despite the distance between them.
She contemplated the chairs. Each drew her. If she had to pick one. If she were forced. If the woman insisted.
“I like them all. But…that one. Just a tiny bit.” Meghan pointed to the one on the right.
The old woman laughed. It was a nice, soft laugh. A comforting laugh; full of joy.
“If you would see the future, then you must sit. Please, sit.”
Meghan turned back to the woman. “What do you mean, see the future?”
For answer, the woman merely waved her hands toward the chair.
Meghan shrugged, then stepped forward and slowly lowered herself into the chair. She felt the hard wood under her legs, and saw the old woman smiling with delight.
The world around her swirled, as if someone hit a fast forward button. Meghan gripped the arms of the chair in panic. She screamed, but no sound emerged. Seasons flew by. Snow, heat, snow, heat. She lost count of how many times. It all blurred around her.
When things settled, she remained in the chair, but the chair was on a beach. Ocean waves crashed against rocks in the distance on the right, and licked the shore in front of her. A little girl worked diligently on a sandcastle a few yards away. Another splashed in the waves not far from the first. Seagulls cried over head, the sun warmed her shoulders, and salty air tickled her nose. She tried to stand, but found she couldn’t move from the chair. Frightened, she called out.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
The child didn’t respond.
Meghan looked around, frantic. The old woman had vanished along with the house.
“Sandra, come splash!” The child in the waves slapped her hands in the water. “The water is wonderful!”
“Oh don’t do it, Sandra, ocean waves are dangerous!” Meghan shouted out to her.
“I’m busy, Jenny! I’m building a castle!” Sandra didn’t even look up. Meghan watched as she carefully patted down the sides of the structure with wet sand. The waves reached a bit further up the shore, inching closer to the castle.
“Come on, come swimming with me! It’s fun!” Jenny stomped around, laughing as the water splayed out. She scooped some up with her hands and threw it toward Sandra.
“No, Jenny, I don’t like to swim.” Sandra took a bright, yellow bucket and began packing it with sand.
“How do you know, you’ve never tried it!” Jenny sounded exasperated.
“I just know.”
Meghan tried to get up again, but her arms remained locked on the arms of the chair. The ocean waves crawled higher on the beach and kissed the edge of the sandcastle. Sandra scrambled to shore up the side which threatened to crumble at the watery onslaught.
“Come on, Sandra! The waves are perfect. We can ride them to shore, see?” Jenny jumped as the next wave reached her and rode along with it, coming to rest on the sand just a few feet from Sandra. She rolled over on the sand and giggled.
“Help me save my castle!” Sandra was frantic as she tried to protect her little house from the impending doom.
“Let it go, Sandy. We can build it again.” Jenny held out a hand to Sandra. “You always build castles. Come try something new.”
Sandra sat back, looking defeated as another wave covered her feet and washed away half of her castle. Meghan’s eyes brimmed with tears as her heart went out to the girl who’d worked so hard on something so easily destroyed.
“It’s just sand. Come on.” Jenny took Sandra’s hand and pulled her up. “I’ll show you just when to jump.”
Sandra took one last look back. For a moment, her eyes met Meghan’s. With a start she realized the girl could see her. Sandra gave her the smallest, watery smile. Meghan smiled back. For no good reason, tears streamed down her face.
“Go on, play in the waves. Try something new.” Meghan couldn’t stop the small sob that escaped as she encouraged the girl.
Sandra nodded as she allowed Jenny to pull her away.
The world around her dissolved with the next wave. By the time the water receded, she found herself in the small yard in Philadelphia. The yard, and the street, stood empty. Meghan rose from the chair slowly, then left the yard. On the street, she started to walk toward the store where she worked. Then stopped. She looked back at the yard and the three chairs. The future. The woman had said the future. In the back of her mind she could hear Jenny calling “Come swim! Try something new!”
Meghan hesitated, then started off in a direction she’d never taken before. It was time to find a place to swim.
If you happened upon three chairs, and if they happened to be the sort which could show you the past, present, or future, and you could only choose one…which would you choose?