Off the Shelf
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On Choosing a Specialty

He stood in the dying light and looked out at the fork in the trail. A soft tangerine sun set at his back, urging him forward. The willows laughed and danced in the rippling wind. Light wisps of cloud clung to the sky above and echoed back the colors of the fading day. Nearby lay a thick swath of brush, within concealed a flock of gossiping swallows. The path before him was shaded a weary gray. Pounded stone and tamped dirt held millennia of memories, countless footsteps of those who came this way before. At the split-point stood an aged wooden signpost. A wrought-iron nail fixed deep in the post, so deep that even the rot and weather had not yet taken it down. The sign it once held did not share the same luck — part dangled from the post and other part consumed by the earth below.

He had never come this way before. How was he to choose the path with no light to show the way but the failing sun? With no one to ask but the chortling birds? With nothing to guide but the broken post? He examined each trail in turn. The left was flush with hedges and idle white flowers. A few steps beyond, a narrow crick made its way hastily across. The right was carpeted in a mulch of fallen leaves, scenting the air with a liquor-sweet perfume. Neither trail gave itself up to him, hiding their secrets within curves and bends that no eye could navigate.

The land grew quiet as the sun died. Burnt orange brushstrokes across the horizon were bruised and purpled by the coming of night. A decision was at hand. Which trail would lead him where he wanted to go? The right or left? Both or neither? A simple choice. An impossible choice.

Joseph Hodapp (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Medical College of Wisconsin

I am currently a third-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin. I have been writing fiction since fourth grade, but medicine has given me a new lens through which to explore non-fiction, as well. I believe in the healing power of creating writing and self-expression. In the face of difficult training, tapping into my creativity helps to feed my soul and keep me in touch with the humanity that made me choose medicine in the first place.