Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The Resolution

Wanda was used to making New Year’s resolutions and holding onto them for as many as 10 or 15 days. Mostly they involved exercise and diet and kept her miserable for the whole of January until she finally accepted that they weren’t going to stick. This year, however, she decided to try something a little different, something that might last; this year she resolved to be more selfish.

She had high hopes for this one. After all, how could a resolution to be more selfish go wrong? It was the perfect choice. She started slowly, cutting in front of traffic on her first day back to work after the holiday and smiling at the inevitable honk. No waiting in line for me today, thank you.

She kept that up for a week until one guy tailgated her off the highway, only breaking away when she pulled into the parking lot at the police station. Perhaps, she decided, there were better ways to be selfish.

The next time she was at the grocery store, she took not one, not two, but three free samples of the cheese and sausage on offer, pretending the glare she received from the sales rep who was passing them out didn’t bother her. “Fank you,” she mumbled around the food in her mouth.

It felt odd embracing selfishness, as if she were working against her natural state, though she’d never considered herself particularly selfless before. Was it just the peculiarity of focusing on being self-centered, of working toward a goal that was so opposite to what she’d been taught? Was that what felt different?

For the next few days at work, she let Andrew do the hard tasks even though before they’d always split them 50-50. He said nothing, but his attitude toward her grew a little chillier, the environment finally becoming unpleasant enough that she succumbed to the unspoken pressure and returned to her earlier ways, even taking the absolute worst job – attempting to collect unpaid invoices – for the next week.

She considered abandoning her resolution at that point. Instead, she fought harder to be selfish, feeling afterwards a combination of thrill and loathing. At Walmart, she raced past an obese, middle-aged woman with a full cart, beating her to the checkout and saving herself five minutes of waiting.

She found one of the neighbor boy’s many golf frisbees in her yard for the umpteenth time and rather than return it, she took it inside and put it in a closet. When Jorge brought donuts to work, she selected the raspberry Bismark. When her brother asked her to babysit on a Friday night, she said she already had plans.

For a time, she mostly managed to keep her resolution, feeling both satisfied and guilty, then defensive and angry. I have the right, she told herself, to do what I want. And yet, she didn’t want this. How could she go on thinking only about herself?

Tuesday in early March, standing at the corner, waiting for the traffic light, the old woman next to her pulling her hand from her pocket and a $20 bill fluttering unnoticed to the ground. She moved her foot over the corner of the bill. Damn! How hard could it be to keep a resolution like this?

“Excuse me,” she said, gesturing toward her shoe. “You dropped something.”

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