All mapped out

by Jenny

She remembered the weight of it, the smell of it, the blues and greens and browns of the atlas’s enormous pages spreading out in front of her on the living room carpet, pooling the world quite literally at her feet.

Even at five years old, the world seemed like one great big adventure and Sally had always, always wanted to travel. She read books and books about different countries, imagining how the teas and spices in the markets of India might smell, or how altitude sickness in the Andes might feel, or the sensation of the midday sun in the outbacks of Australia.

She pictured herself in sturdy boots, camera at the ready and a notebook and pencil in her hand. Ready for anything.

As a teenager she kept journals of her plans; where she would go first, what she would do when she got there, foods she would taste, photographs she would capture. Her future seemed all mapped out and she couldn’t wait to get started on it.

But then Evie had come along and just like that, her future was tied to a crying, dependent bundle.

Evie had been a surprise and Mike hadn’t wanted to put his own travel plans on hold to look after a screaming infant. So Sally found herself at home, holding the baby.

These days her dreams of exploring the world seemed impossibly distant. The closest Sally would ever come to India was the weekly Mum and Toddler yoga class at the church hall. The teacher used to burn incense and Sally had enjoyed that, but Bethany Driscoll had complained that it made her Alicia cough, so she had had to stop.

So Sally shelved her dreams and tried to push them to the back of her mind and tried not to hate Evie for it. It wasn't her fault. But every now and then, when she sat watching David Attenborough documentaries, or read an item in the newspaper about India or Australia she would feel them creep up on her and spark her imagination like they used to in the old days.

But that hurt too much. She pushed them back down again and buried them under Evie’s dirty nappies. The atlas she had shoved out of sight under the bookcase in her living room. Sometimes she could see the cracked brown leather of its spine peeking out and staring at her reproachfully.

One day it all just felt too much. She left work, picked Evie up from the childminder’s and came home to a small, dark, messy house on a small, dark, boring street just a block away from where she grew up. She stood there, surrounded by Evie’s clothes and toys and mess and felt utterly hopeless.

“I wish you’d never been born” she whispered inaudibly to the small girl, who was playing with her plastic baby on the floor and Sally immediately felt a wash of guilt mix in with all her other wretched feelings.

But then Evie leaned over and peered underneath the bookcase at something that caught her eye. She reached out a tiny pudgy hand and, with a huge effort pulled out the old brown atlas from its burrow. It was thick with dust and stiff with neglect, but Sally watched, breathless, as Evie grasped the front cover and reopened her world on the living room floor.