The Best-Laid Plans

Submitted into Contest #89 in response to: Write about someone who is always looking toward the future.... view prompt


American Fiction Contemporary

Isa was always making plans. On Sundays, she’d write out her week’s schedule in half-hour increments, including such mundane things as brushing her teeth and changing into pjs. She liked to write it all out, and envision her day down to the tiniest detail. 

In the morning, she double-checked the list, which she had laid beside her alarm clock, and after her morning stretches, added any ideas that had bubbled up in her dreams. She put the things she would not do today either on her “Later” list or in an increasingly fat red journal that held all her lists and ideas to be implemented someday. 

During breakfast (cereal on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, toast on Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday, and pastries on Saturday), she liked to check her horoscope in the newspaper, giggling over the prospect of them coming true. Then she’d dress, checking her clothes for any to donate, and setting aside piles to mend, or remove stains from. The piles grew until she could ignore them no more, and would be put into her checklist as an item marked “Urgent.”

When she left the house, she’d tap the horseshoe over her door, knocking on the wood door jamb, and pulling the door extra tightly behind her. She often imagined that she’d return to thieves having ransacked her place for ...she was never sure what, but fantasized that they thought she was an undercover spy, or an unacknowledged heiress, or secretly harboring fugitives. So she padlocked the door, and stuck the key in a hidden compartment in her purse. 

At night, she laid out her clothes on the brocade chair in her tiny apartment, then took a bath (on Saturdays) or a shower, wrapped up in her robe, and read a book by the light of an artificial tv fire. She particularly liked to read dystopian fiction (even months) or fantasy, tales where something amazing was certainly going to happen in the future.

Isa was always daydreaming. The barista where she got her morning almond-milk extra-sweet chai latte (Monday to Friday) knew full well that she wasn’t paying attention and would thrust the cup in her hand, the lid pressed on extra-tight after the flying foam incident. 

Her neighbors learned to move out of her way when she was walking, and some of the kindlier ones would even gently tug her arm as she neared the ever-present danger of the telephone pole. They remembered the time she had continued to gaze at the sky, tears streaming down her face, the bump on her head turning purple and blue, imagining scenarios where she lay in a coma and a handsome man sat by her side weeping until she awoke. 

In her free hand, Isa held a checklist. It was often yellowed, made from whatever bit of scrap paper she could find, until she bought herself another beautiful pad with checkboxes and lines (the next 31st of the month). In either case, it was a long strip of paper, with things she had to do for the day in neat order. She’d go through them one by one, never skipping any, even when derailed by the time or a missed bus or any other sudden change. While she waited, she dreamed.

By evening, she always wondered where the time had gone and how she hadn’t finished nearly half the things she had planned. So she’d carefully copy the remaining items to a new list for the next day, then proceed with her evening routine. Each day was an endless list of things to be done, some delightful and some banal, interspersed with vivid musings and fantasies in which Isa was the star.

It was on her way to the bakery (Fridays) that it happened. As usual, she had her list in one hand, her tea in the other, and she was daydreaming about buying a box of cream puffs and macarons and handing them out to adorable starving orphans. 

The sweet woman at the salon next door was mopping up when she saw Isa pass, and leaped to pull at her elbow before she crashed into oncoming foot traffic. But the floor was slippery, and the woman slid forward, instead crashing the full weight of her tumbling body into Isa’s. 

The two of them hurtled sideways. Isa’s hand let go of the yellow list, which fluttered in front of a cab. The tea sloshed from the other hand, flying onto the arm of a man on the sidewalk, who cried out in alarm.

Isa tripped on the curb, and stumbled forward, falling onto her hands straight into the street. For a moment, she thought about hospitals, and broken bones, and sadness, and death.

Then, she heard the honking of horns. She heard the jingle of an ice cream truck. She heard a deafening screech. She heard the hiss of a school bus. She heard a man shout, “Look out!” She heard the woman’s scream. 

She fell, and she felt the woman land on top of her, then gently rolled off. Isa felt the warmth of the black pavement, and smelled the tar, and the burning rubber of a tire that was inches from her head. 

A gaggle of young children were walking. She could see their feet and the bottoms of their skirts and shorts, and the faded side of the bus marked “St. Rita’s Shelter.” She heard their oohs and ahhs, and the nun who called to them, “It’s okay, come on!”

A door slammed. A man in white pants and black shoes knelt down beside her, and took her hand in his. She could only see his brown curls, but he was in tears. He smelled of cream and sugar, and his hands were ice-cold. 

She lay there, feeling the ground, listening to his mumblings and prayers, hearing the sirens around her. She felt her breath, and her heart beat in her chest. 

Isa forgot, for a moment, about Sundays and bakery days, lists and dreams. Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled at the woman with the mop, the children, the man. They were really here, and so was she.

April 15, 2021 05:30

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