By Lori Hetherington
I’ve never been much of a movie buff. Don’t get me wrong: I like movies but I can never remember the title or the plot, not to mention the names of the actors. However, there is a film I saw on television once in the late 1990s that I have never forgotten. In that film, the protagonist, named Helen and played by Gwyneth Paltrow, lives two possible, parallel lives, spawned by the simple act of catching, or not, her commuter train: Sliding Doors.
The idea of sliding doors fascinates me. Can a spur-of-the-moment decision or fluke decide a person’s fate? Is there another me out there going about her life in a parallel universe that I am unaware of? My skin gets crawly when I ponder it deeply, like trying to figure out what’s beyond the most distant galaxy, or wondering if aliens are already living among us on Earth. Questions that are so big they’re scary; more likely it’s the answers that trigger the reaction.
When I saw the film, I was in my thirties, I had been living in Florence for quite a few years, I had a small child, a husband, and a job that seemed to fit me relatively well. Motherhood, an apparently stable family life, employment, friends, life in a beautiful country. But something inside me changed when I watched Sliding Doors, and as a result (or maybe not) so did everything else. I began fantasizing about how my life would be different if I turned right instead of left, if I parked my car here or there, or if I put on heels or sneakers. I didn’t actually become obsessed, but whenever I made an on-the-spot decision I found myself wondering what might have happened had I decided differently.
In an alternative universe, we might see Lori Two (or perhaps, Lori Too) as she seals another deal with a client with a firm shake of hands, as her left tugs on the hem of her business blazer to cover her ample bottom half. She’s shaped like a squat, bulbous Bartlett or Williams pear, not slender with a round base like the Abate variety. She’s known in the insurance industry for her ruthless sales tactics and she is driven to maintain her place at the pinnacle of the business world. Something of a bulldozer with a smoker’s cough. She knows cigarettes are bad for her but, hey, what the hell.
Satisfied with her day’s work, she marches down her new client’s driveway, slaloms around the tricycle and the bright red Water Blaster abandoned on the concrete, heaves her bulk into her minivan, lights up, and pulls away from the curb in the cul-de-sac. She’s already calculated her hefty commission before she reaches the stop sign on the corner.
The ninety minute drive—not bad if you consider it’s rush hour—to her rancho-style suburban home seems to fly by, thanks to a series of phone calls: her secretary, a client, her husband. “Yeah, Louise, I unloaded one hell of a policy on those folks. [Hack, hack.] You’ll find the paperwork on your desk in the mornin’. I’d appreciate you processin’ it first thing, ‘fore they change their minds.” “Oh, Mrs. Waldersmith, so nice to hear from you! I’ll check on that claim of yours and get back to you by noon tomorrow.” “Hey, Bobby, I’m on my way. Grandkids there yet? Waddaya think: a couple of king-sized pizzas? Pepperoni? I’ll be there in twenty… Gawd, Bobby, what did we do back in the ‘80s without cell phones!!!”
I imagine lives as intertwined pieces of string or yarn. Not neatly woven by a master weaver, but mixed up in a jumbled mass. For a certain length, a blue string may be in contact with another segment of blue string, the two pieces lying side by side or one draped over the other. They are free and unhindered, but may, farther along, be knotted together. Perhaps those knots in similarly colored string are points of commonality where a sliding door opens or closes.
Through the centuries there have been many discoveries that have proved what had previously only be theory. For example, the Earth as a round body, or the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein. Maybe someday sliding doors will be known as fact. But until then, hot damn, pass me a slice of that pizza! Cough, cough.
Short bio: Lori Hetherington grew up in California and has spent nearly her entire adult life in Florence Italy, where she works primarily as an Italian to English translator, writing other people’s words. She works on many different texts, from scientific articles for specialist journals to historical and literary fiction, and even contemporary romance. However, she also enjoys writing her own words when she gets the chance. You can find out more about her and her work at www.lhetheringtontranslation.com.