Life is a ping pong game. The table is the earth and humans are the balls placed upon the table. The paddles are the unseeable forces that control everything, emotions, motivations, desire. We, humans, are the balls because we are controlled by our emotions, our desires and yet we go places. We bounce around and around, back and forth. We are unpredictable. We change direction, we are never satisfied and always moving because that is human nature.
Esther was very much that ball. She bounced around and around. England, China, and New york. Chef, artist, engineer. Bit by bit her savings fiddled away until all she was left with was an overflowing passport and a flustered wife.
“Esther darling, we need to settle down, we're getting old.” Kathleen would protest.
“You're not old until you can't get out of your chair by yourself.” Esther chuckled.
“We're almost forty and we have no house, no jobs, and no money.”
“Kathy, we can make this work!” Esther would promise and the hope in her eye would always just make Kathleen's heart melt. She would try to protest but always give in. Because one last time wouldn't hurt.
Kathleen sighed sadly. “You need to make money.”
Esther waved it off. “Easy peasy.”
Easier said than done. Kathleen thought to herself. In their faded yellow Chevy they drove to Scotland and purchased the cheapest hotel they could find. After dragging only the necessities into a small hotel room with a small creaky bed and wallpaper peeling from the edges Kathleen pulled up her laptop to start looking for work.
“I'm off to town,” Esther announced.
“But darling shouldn't you start looking for a job.”
“Of course! I won't be long.” Esther kissed Kathleen on the forehead before proceeding out the door and into the village.
An hour or so later Esther came back, cheeks pink and hair windswept carrying a large bottle of whiskey.
“To celebrate!” Esther exclaimed.
Kathleen sighed sadly. “To celebrate what exactly?” She asked.
“To being in Scotland!”
“Honey, how much did that cost? We're trying to be careful with our purchases.”
Kathleen was already hesitant but the way Esther covered the price sticker with her hand was what made Kathleen edgy.
The next morning. Kathleen set out for work. She had managed to find a spot working as a bartender at a place not too far from where they were staying. The day was not boring but mindless. Bustling back and forth to serve customer after customer and at the end of the day, she was exhausted. She walked home bundled up in a scarf and her warmest winter coat expecting a hot meal, Esther was home all day it was the least she could do.
Kathleen walked inside to a cold house, all the lights were off and Esther was nowhere in sight. Assuming that Esther had found a job and would be back later Kathleen took a quick shower and dozed off.
She awoke the next morning to find the sheets next to her untouched. Esther had never come home. Frantic and scared, Kathleen rushed out of the house in her nightclothes and ran down the street, the cold stone piercing her feet. “Esther? Esther?” She called hoping to hear some sort of response. She knocked on every door lining the streets but door after door no one had seen Esther.
She checked the town next. It was possible Esther had come home but had fallen asleep on the sofa and was off to work bright and early. While unlikely, it was still possible.
She checked the bakery and the book store. The car dealership and the tv store. But no Esther in sight. About to call the police she heard a raspy chuckle, the kind of chuckle Esther made when she had too much to drink the night before. Kathleen rushed to the little boat shop for where the voice was coming from and threw open the door.
“Esther?” Kathleen shouted.
Esther was stretched out on a weathered blue chair with a mug of coffee in her hand. An old man with a long white beard and a few missing teeth sat across from her chuckling to himself.
“Esther, what are you doing here?” Kathleen asked angrily.
“Hey pumpkin, how are you?” Esther asked, pulling Kathleen into her lap.
“No.” Kathleen stood up and crossed her arms. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh me? You see Davey here was just telling me about this amazing offer! You see Davey runs this ship place and he offered to take us on his boat around the world!”
“For free?” Kathleen asked skeptically.
“Well, not for free of course. We would work for him on his ship.”
“Esther, is this really a good idea?”
“Aye could show you the ship if you'd like?” Davey asked in a rich Scotland accent.
Kathleen was about to decline but Esther grabbed her hand. “Just give it a chance. Please?” And it was the hope in her eyes that made Kathleen unable to say no.
“Show us the ship!” Esther exclaimed.
Davey led them through a rickety old gate. In the back was a dock with magnificent large boats tied up to the harbor. Kathleen relaxed. Surely this can't be too bad. She thought to herself.
Davey kept walking until he reached a white boat titled ‘the windbreaker’ it was smaller than the rest but by no means tiny. After a brief tour of the ship, Davey turned back to Esther.
“So, what d'ya think?”
Before Esther could speak Kathleen intervened. “How much would it cost?”
“Only 50 bucks a day.”
Kathleen turned to Esther. “Esther! We could only afford a year, and then what? He would drop us off at the nearest country with no money in our pockets?!”
Davey intervened. “Once ya run out of money, you can pay rent by helping us all out.” He gave us a crooked smile and pointed to a group of men on the second deck. They were dressed in gritty clothes, their hair disheveled with hairy chins. “Hiya ladys.” One of them smirked.
Kathleen realized what this was. This was a life with no escape once they got on that boat they couldn't leave, they'd spend their days working for these pirates stuck on the sea.
“No,” Kathleen said firmly. “I don't think we’ll be going.”
“Kathy!” Esther exclaims.
“Esther, once we get on that boat we’ll be stuck there. We barely have any money and the only way we’ll be able to pay off our debt is by working for them. It will be a cycle of no escape.”
“So what if they were there forever? It will be fun! Lighten up a bit, this will be the adventure of a lifetime.”
“No. Esther this isn't what I want, I want to have a job, a house, a family. I want to raise kids and have grandchildren. I don't want to be on a boat for the rest of my life.”
“Just do this for me!” Esther pleaded. That same irresistible hope in her eyes. But this time Kathleen just couldn't say yes.
“Go ahead. Your life is your own but my life is mine. I'm staying here. I’m going to have a job, a house, and a family. If you want to throw all of that away for an adventure then you do that.”
Esther’s eyes were full of hurt. “You wouldn't just leave me would you?” She asked sadly.
Kathleen looked at her coldly. “If you want to come with me then feel free.”
Esther was at a loss for words.
“Goodbye, I hope an adventure was what you truly wanted.”
In a ping pong game eventually, the ball stops moving because eventually the paddles need to rest and when that happens the ball has found its place. It has stopped bouncing and has settled down. And on two different ping pong tables, the ball doesn't always end up in the same place.