Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, p. 877
She went off on a walking holiday in Wales.
She took sensible shoes, a small rucksack, and enough money to satisfy her longings for adventure.
As it turned out, she would need much more of all three by the time her holiday ended.
The first to give out was her rucksack. Over twenty years old, she’d first received it as a gift from her own mum, at the age of twelve, when mother saw her spending more and more time out of doors, sitting on the benches beside the paths in the Gardens across the Park. She’d graciously dipped into her own accounts to provide “this wonderful bag,” as she’d called it. “A real treasure trove.” It was leather, about a foot wide, a foot deep, and a foot across. It had a folding flap and leather straps and brass buckles and two shoulder straps, and she’d carried it with her almost daily since then. She’d never imagined it would wear completely out, but, eventually, the cover flap started to come apart at its seam, and the buckles showed that they were becoming worn, loose, crooked, and jangly. The bottom, which had gotten worn through in several places and patched, looked more like Junky the Clown’s patchwork suit than a leather bag. The patches pulled apart at their seams, they couldn’t hold anything smaller than a grape without needing some kind of layer to line the bottom first, and it frankly had a bit of an odor, collected over years of use by shoes, sweatshirts, old books, hand-sweat, environmental dirt, grease, road grit, and the occasional bit of pigeon shit it found itself dumped back down upon.
The bag finally gave out in Kensington, two days walk along the road to Ghent. She’d spent the morning leisurely, having tea at the B&B before she set off, moving slowly as the morning grew gradually lighter, and as she reached the end of the town she’d slept comfortably in, she hitched the pack higher, as she did, and prepared to step forth.
But with that excessive motion, that rough-and-ready jerking motion, the butt-end of the bag simply couldn’t hold any longer, and dumped itself upon their backs of her calves and feet, showering the road with her extra trousers, small bits of makeup, a half a dozen trinkets picked up here and there reminding her of her various adventures, a love not she’d received years ago and never replied to, two guide books depicting the road ahead, and one explained the best places to get wine in Croatia, half a package of crisps, two lipsticks, and the extra sweater she often carried in adventures like this. Margaret stopped and stared, somewhat taken aback. At that moment, she had exactly no idea what to do next.
And that was a first. Truly, she had never not known what to do before. Even as a three-year-old, she could remember knowing precisely how to play a game with her older brother. At ten, she’d told her parents that they needed to send her to boarding school, for her sake, as her neighbors were also going to send their little one off, and she shouldn’t be left behind with all of the riff-raff and bad influences. And at twenty, she’d bent he one to initiate her relationship, and three years later the marriage, to Kelvin, and three years after that she’d been the one to begin the divorce proceedings.
So for the first time, out of all the wonderful, incredible, fantastic, believable and unbelievable experiences she’d had in her life, Margaret was, simply, unable to decide what to do.
The inaction paralyzed her, and that paralysis created further indecision, which cycled up and up and further on and on, until she startled herself out of her semi-comatose state, notice her watch, and saw that at least an hour had passed with her simply standing on the side of the road.
An hour? My! What might have happened?
If I tell you, I’d ruin the surprise, eh? Better to show you…