“Shannon, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Chris asked her one day.
A reflective silence answered him.
“Well?” he insisted, nudging her.
“I’m thinking,” she shot back.
“So you haven’t decided yet? You’ve given no thought to what you want to do when you’re twenty or thirty?”
“Of course I’ve given it some thought,” Shannon retorted, “but not all it needs to answer your question.”
“It seems simple enough,” he replied. “Most kids know what they want to do. You don’t?”
“Well you asked me what I want to be first, and now you’re asking me what I want to do, too,” she said, confused. “Which one should I answer first?”
Chris stood up and brushed dry grass off of his overalls, laughing. “They’re the same question. What do you want to be, what do you want to do . . . ya know. Where do you see yourself ten years from now?”
“Well that’s another question! I’ll have to write these down so I won’t lose track of all you want to know.” Shannon shot him a slightly annoyed glance before pulling out her notebook and her pen. She scrawled down three questions: What do I want to be? What do I want to do? Where do I see myself ten years from now?
“Shannon, I think you take me much too . . . what’s the word? Literally. I ask simple questions and you make them into these gigantic puzzles.”
“But don’t you see? There’s so much I want to be, so much I want to do . . . I think it will take me several days to answer you.”
“Perhaps I should have said, ‘what’s one thing you want to be when you grow up?’”
“Oh, now that is easy,” Shannon said, brightening. Chris laughed and kicked at the brittle, yellowing grass, catching some of it between his toes.
“Well, first of all I want to be me, but I have a feeling you want more than that in my answer,” Shannon pondered.
“Of course I do,” he said. He picked up a rock and threw it into the pond. “I think . . . I want to be a happy person, and very well-loved. And I suppose it couldn’t hurt to be well-known.”
“You want to be famous, Shannon?”
“Not exactly famous, but I want people to know me, and feel good that they’ve known me.”
“So what do you want to do? To make people know you, I mean.”
“Well, there’s that question again,” she said, opening her notebook.
“Don’t do that again,” he complained, exasperated. “I want to know one thing you would like to be known for, or maybe two or three things if you can’t pick just the one.”
“I think I want everyone to know me because I can tell good stories. I want everyone to read my stories and then think about the story, and then write me long letters about how much my story changed their lives.”
“Are your stories really that good?”
“I suppose I don’t know, what do you think?”
“I’d tell you if you’d let me read one sometime!”
“But I haven’t written any yet,” Shannon laughed.
“Then how could you ask me what I think of them if they don’t exist?” Chris threw another stone into the pond.
“Oh, they do exist,” she assured him in a hushed tone. “I just haven’t written them down yet. Just because they aren’t yet printed doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”
“Oh,” he said, mystified.
“I can tell them to you. But they will change every time I learn more words and have more experiences.”
“Tell me one of them!” Chris demanded. “I promise I’ll tell you if it’s good.”
“Well, okay,” she relented, trying to sound reluctant. “Here goes. A boy and a girl come to a lake together—”
“Like you and me!” he exclaimed.
“If you interrupt me, it is hardly my story, now is it?”
“I’m sorry, but it begins with you and me.”
“The boy’s name is Jack, and the girl’s name is Wendy. See? They’re not us.”
“I guess not.”
“They come to the lake one day to eat their apples and talk. One day, as they are lying in the grass looking at the brilliant blue sky and its clouds, they begin to tell stories. Jack tells Wendy that the cloud above them looks like a train. Wendy does not see a train; she only sees a baby deer. Jack can see quite clearly that it is a train and tries to convince Wendy that it is not a deer. He points out the train’s steam, and its different cars, and when Jack points those out to her, Wendy can see the train. But when she changes where she looks and what she looks for, she can still see the deer.” When Shannon paused for breath Chris interrupted her.
“Was it a train or a deer?”
“It’s both,” she replied cryptically.
“How can it be?”
“I’m telling you, if you would be quiet.” Chris shut his mouth. “You see, Wendy could still see the deer and she pointed out the deer’s hooves and its sweet face to Jack. Even though he didn’t want to see a baby deer, he could really, truly see it when she explained it to him.”
“That’s neat,” said Chris.
“I’m not done,” said Shannon. “The boy and the girl kept talking about the clouds, and they found that they usually didn’t see the same things but sometimes they could when they tried. But here comes the amazing part.” Shannon looked up at Chris to make sure he was still paying attention, which he was. “They began making up stories that didn’t originate in the clouds. Just out of their own heads. And then they found that they could both find the things of their stories in the sky!”
“How’d they do that?”
“Well, when they were both thinking about the same things, making up the story together, the way they saw the sky was a lot more the same than when they were thinking different thoughts. It only makes sense, don’t you see?”
“Ohhh,” Chris said, looking out over the water.
“So what do you think of my story?”
“Shannon, I think it’s nice. But I wouldn’t have got it if you didn’t explain it to me. I like it better out loud.”
“Well, books can’t be out loud. I can’t just have my readers writing me letters to ask me what I meant, or the book isn’t good for anything anyway.”
“I thought you wanted people to write you letters, when you are famous,” Chris protested.
“Not everyone will miss the point like you,” Shannon barked. “I don’t mean you are stupid but it certainly seems like I was clear enough.”
“I don’t like to read anyway. But I think it is a good story.”
“Thank you,” said Shannon, pacified. She took a bite out of her apple.
“What else do you want to do when you grow up?”
“Oh, well now you’ve got me thinking again,” she pondered.
Chris sat down. “Do you think you might want to be my wife? We could get married.”
“But we’re only twelve,” protested Shannon, looking at him sideways. “We are much too young to be thinking of marriage.”
“I didn’t mean we should get married now, but we could always promise to later.”
“That’s called engagement, you know,” Shannon informed him. “I don’t think I’d like to be engaged.”
“Why not? I think it would be nice to have a wife.”
“But what if I don’t want to be your wife, Christopher?”
He looked shocked. “Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because maybe I’d want to be someone else’s wife, or maybe nobody’s at all,” she explained. “There’s no reason why I should think about marrying you.”
“But don’t you like me?”
“What do you want to do when you grow up?” asked Shannon, trying to change the subject. Chris usually forgot what he was talking about before if he was made to talk about himself.
“I think when I grow up I would like to marry you.”
“And do what?” Shannon was a bit disturbed.
“That isn’t decent to talk about to a girl,” said Shannon, offended.
“But I need a girl to have babies, don’t I? How can you do it without talking about it?”
“Well you’re not going to talk about it to me,” she insisted.
“But you asked me. What else are married people supposed to do? They get married and then they have some babies. Don’t you want any babies?”
“I don’t know if I do. I’m too young to think about babies,” she informed him. “Besides,” she added, “I told you I’m not talking about it anymore.”
“Well what do you want to talk about, you stubborn thing?”
“We could talk about my stories,” she said, brightening.
“But I don’t want to talk about your stories. We already heard one story and now I don’t really feel like listening to you tell another one.”
“You liked the first one, or else you were lying,” she reminded him.
“We can . . . what’s the word? Compromise. We can talk about the clouds, just like in your story.”
“Oh, that sounds nice,” Shannon agreed, delighted.
Chris sat down and peered at the sky.
“That one looks like a frog,” he said, pointing.
“You’re absolutely right.”
SHORT STORIES PAGE