a short story by Jerry Zinn
“The grass is greener on the other side.” It’s a phrase said by many but truly understood by few. People have said it to me, people who haven’t the slightest appreciation of the meaning.
When I sat down in the hard plastic chair, I tied my shoes slowly. Almost like I was tying them for the first time even though I’d done it thousands of times before. If Law & Order is a reliable source, I had jamais vous. I stood up and moved my feet around, enjoying the comfort of the shoes’ padding. But the enjoyment was short-lived. As I looked to my wrist for the time I became nervous and then slipped from nervous to nauseous. Seeing my wrist bare I patted my pockets in rapid succession.
Scanning the room I was relieved to see my gold watch, with it’s worn, hazelnut strap, resting atop an old issue of TIME Magazine on the coffee table. The timepiece was my father’s, the only remembrance I have of him other than a few choppy memories from toddler days, really just pictures I’ve seen that directed the blips. Even though his impact in my life was small, his watch is the most valuable possession I have, and I don’t think it’d be worth a damn thing at a pawnshop. After all it’s fake.
I threaded the strap through the buckle and pulled until I could slip the stem through the prescribed hole, raised from repetitive use. Then I looked at the face but didn’t bother to read the time; I just wanted the comfort of seeing it. On my way to the door I stopped. Something inside me kept my shoes glued to the floor, and I couldn’t bring myself to move forward. I turned my head and looked back out of the corner of my eye and felt a confusing sense of nostalgia.
“Keep going,” I heard, or maybe just imagined.
I reached for the knob and felt the cold metal on my hand, or perhaps I only pretended it was cold, through my thick callouses. Achingly, the door creaked as I crossed the threshold and stepped outside onto the path. The sun was bright in the sky, brighter than I’d ever known it to be. Slowly I made my way down the path, each step carrying the weight of a milestone. As I approached the end, the fence door opened like a blooming flower with the breeze. Again I found myself paralyzed, and again I heard, “Keep going.”
As if stepping into another dimension, the world around me changed fantastically as I went through the aperture. The fence door swung shut behind me with a jangle. In the sky I didn’t see a shade of blue; I saw open and limitless space. The clouds were not puffs of white cotton dotting the sky; they were passengers on the wind, caught in a migration from one part of the world to another. Even the breeze took on a different meaning. As it washed over my arms, below the rolled cuffs of my beaten button down, I sensed not its pleasant freshness, but the warmth of its welcoming embrace. Through the rustling of the leaves, a couple birds chirped in an orchestrated call and response intended only for me. It was as if the world and I were being introduced after years of exchanging letters.
The fragrance of freshly mowed grass brought tears to my eyes with its soothing aroma. With hesitation I brought my gaze down to meet the source, and yes, the grass was greener. It was greener than it had ever been, greener than any of the sorrowful grass I’d seen in ten years behind that prickled fence, behind that cold-knobbed door, and behind those unforgiving bars.