Barbara Wilcock Bland is now living in Lancaster. She is retired. Once she was a school teacher (Juniors) but for most of her working life was employed by BT (British Telecom).
She has written for as long as she can remember, mainly poetry, but also stories. From the 1960s she has had poems published in quite a number of ‘little magazines.’
She loves poetry, music, and cats.
A Road Not Taken
It was pleasant to be coming back to his home town of Lowtherton on the Solway coast, thought Lewis Sedgwick, as his train approached the station. Even more pleasant was the fact that he was coming home as a local celebrity. He was going to be singing the title part of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah.
He looked again at the letter describing the couple who would be putting him up for a few nights. Leonard and Alison Thwaite. He remembered them from schooldays at Lowtherton Grammar School.
There had been a time when he had been quite attracted to Alison Lowry, as she then was called. Perhaps, had he not gone on to Music College, and then to his successful musical career, their relationship might have developed. Still, he was happily married to Nadine, who was a talented pianist, and who accompanied him at some of his concert recitals.
Nadine Lejeune and he had met at college, and she had jested: ‘It is so nice to meet a singer who has something between his ears!’ For other musicians tended to regard singers as being simply instruments for the production of beautiful music, and to have no more intelligence than actual musical instruments, if as much. Lewis’s own second instrument after his voice was the piano, and it came in handy when he was rehearsing new songs, but it was better for recitals that he and Nadine, separately, could each concentrate on their own contribution to the recital.
When he arrived at Lowtherton Station, Alison and Leonard were there to meet him. It had been their suggestion that he should stay with them for a long weekend, rather than returning to his home at Oxford after the performance on Saturday evening.
‘How nice to see you after all these years!’ exclaimed Alison, who had grown into a very attractive woman.
‘The Choral Society are delighted that it is a local lad made good who is starring in their presentation of Mendelssohn’s oratorio.’ said Leonard. ‘Our daughter Zoe will be pleased to meet someone whom she has previously heard only on radio and compact disc.’
‘It is very good of you both to put me up, and to bear with me for more of the usual time.’ Lewis replied. ‘Do you have only the one daughter?’
‘Zoe is the one living at home.’ explained Alison. ‘Our elder daughter Valerie is married with one little boy, so far. They sometimes come and stay with us.’
Leonard and Alison had brought their car, and soon the three of them were heading towards their home at Grindalhowe, a suburb of Lowtherton about a mile from the town centre.
‘What are the acoustics like at the Civic Hall?’ asked Lewis, for it was at the said Civic Hall that the performance was to take place.
‘They are quite good.’ said Leonard. ‘Myself, I prefer the Methodist Church, where we usually put on Messiah just before Christmas. I’m in the choir, among the tenors. You of course are a bass baritone. Alison says that she really prefers listening to baritones rather than tenors, but she quite likes my voice!’
‘So I should hope!’ replied Lewis.
They soon reached Leonard and Alison’s home at Grindalhowe, where his hosts introduced their guest to their younger daughter Zoe, who was playing with their Siamese cat Vicki.
‘What a privilege this is!’ said Zoe. ‘I have nearly all your CDs, and those of your wife Nadine Lejeune. What a pity that you couldn’t bring her.’
‘Nadine has commitments at our local Church in Oxford.’ Lewis explained, as he sat down in the armchair near the hearth.
‘So you are churchgoers, that is good. Dad here is in the Church choir as well as being in the Lowtherton and District Choral Society.’
‘In that case I shall come to Church with you on Sunday!’
At this point Vicki the cat decided to jump up onto Lewis’s knee.
‘She seems to have taken to you,’ commented Alison. ‘Vicki doesn’t usually like strangers.’
‘Cats are very good judges of character.’ said her daughter.
* * *
On the Sunday, after the successful concert of the previous night, and having gone to Church with the family that morning, Lewis was sitting in the living-room reading one of the Sunday papers while Alison and Zoe prepared dinner. Leonard was out in the garden doing some weeding.
The Vicar, whose name was Charles Webster, had spoken to Lewis after the service: ‘I really enjoyed listening to the oratorio last night. You have been given a great gift, Mr. Sedgwick, and it is good that you have used your talent to its fullest extent.’
Leonard was standing near, having come round from the choir vestry: ‘I sometimes wonder whether I have done as much as I could with my own talent, as Lewis has.’
‘You are using that talent in the choir here and in the Choral Society.’ said Mr. Webster.
Lewis remembered how Leonard had commented yesterday afternoon, as they drove to the rehearsal for that evening. ‘I enjoy the rehearsals as much as I do the performance. In fact, I think that I should enjoy the singing even if there were nobody in the audience.’
And Lewis remembered how he had felt a twinge of envy. His friend still found music a pleasure all the time. He himself, who had taken it up profession-ally, and who loved his work, sometimes found that it was tiresome. His teacher had once had to point out that professionals do not always perform when they feel like it. Unless there is a medical reason which would mean that they might injure the voice, they must also sing when they do not feel like it in the least.
The cat Vicki was sitting on the arm of his chair as he read the newspaper. All at once, the cat stiffened as though something had disturbed her. She seemed to be looking at something that he could not see himself. Lewis had often wondered what it was that cats seemed to see when their eyes followed something invisible to humans.
And then he himself saw something. The room seemed to be the same room, but the furniture, apart from the chair where he and the cat were sitting, seemed to be slightly different. There was an upright piano in the corner of the room diagonally from where they were, and a man was playing that instrument. Also in the room were a girl whom he first took to be Zoe, and another Siamese cat with whom she was playing. Then that cat looked towards him and Vicki as if she could see them. The man at the piano had stopped temporarily, and the girl spoke: ‘Dad, Mia seems to be seeing something that we can’t see!’
‘Cats are like that, Natalie,’ said the pianist, ‘I think it is because they are so mysterious that some unfortunate people cannot stand them.’
The pianist turned to smile and look at his daughter, and Lewis gave a gasp of surprise, for the other man was himself as he might have become had he not taken the road that led to a musical career. He also realised that Natalie looked like his sister Mary when she was younger. Like Zoe she had a look about her that reminded him of Alison.
The other Lewis said: ‘Now I must practise my song for the concert that we are going to have at Church.’
Soon he was singing the song My Own Country.
‘A good voice, it would have repaid training.’ thought Lewis. ‘Am I dreaming, or am I seeing a glimpse of my life as it would have been had I not made a musical career for myself?’
A woman came into the room where the man, girl and cat were, and Lewis recognized her as Alison.
‘I wonder if you could have become a professional singer, Lewis?’ she said to her husband.
‘There have been times when I thought that I had missed my vocation.’ admitted her husband. ‘However, if I had gone to musical college, I probably would not have married you, sweetheart, and Natalie here would not have existed.’
‘Unless there are other time lines and alternative universes where that did happen.’ said his daughter.
‘There’s a concert on the radio tonight. Leonard Thwaite is one of the singers.’ said Lewis. ‘I should like to listen to it, and take pleasure in hearing a local lad who has made a successful career as a tenor.’
The two ladies went out and the cat accompanied them.
The other Lewis looked across the room and appeared to see his other self. He looked startled for a moment, then smiled.
‘I’m satisfied with the life that I chose: are you?’
The room reverted to normal.
Lewis realized that yes, he was satisfied with the life that he had chosen. Apparently, in the other time line, Leonard had made the same choice that he himself had made in this one. Was it possible that in that time line Leonard had married Nadine? He felt a twinge of jealousy. But tomorrow he, Lewis, was the one who would be going back home to Oxford, and to Nadine.