So this is actually a piece from my first residency in grad school, so it’s just shy of four years old at this point. I haven’t edited it at all (save for one word I added in just before posting it, because I’m not sure why it wasn’t there to begin with) and so I figured hey, let’s show off a first draft. I’ve always been pleased with this little short, and I don’t know what else to do with it.
So. In workshop, we were given the prompt: “Two strangers meet and one or both are changed. Use one adult and one child as the only characters.” Beneath the cut is what I came up with. Enjoy!
“What do you wanna be when you grow up?”
The question took me by surprise, and I looked up from my laptop screen, unsure of who was speaking to me. To my right was a little girl, dirty blonde hair pulled up in pigtails and bright grey eyes gleaming out at me from behind thick green glasses. Her face was still round with baby fat – really too young to be wandering around unescorted, but a quick glance around told me that if the girl’s parents were in the Starbucks, they weren’t within my eyesight.
“Sorry?” I asked, looking back to her again.
She dutifully repeated her question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I gave her a small, sad smile. “Sweetheart, I’m already grown up.”
“How old are you?”
I’d been lying about my age for a few years now – at least to strangers that I’d never meet again. I held it well – my still-full black hair only barely showing a smattering of grey at the temples, my body still fit from a childhood spent in the military, and less wrinkles than most my age – though still more than I wished.
“I’m almost fifty. I’ll turn in February.”
She shook her head. “That’s not old. You’ve still got growing to do. So what do you want to be?”
Her persistence was surprisingly intriguing. I didn’t have much patience for children, but her innocent eyes and baffling questions kept me watching her. “I’m a lawyer.”
Now she was frustrated, putting her hands on her hips in a level of indignation that only children can bear. “That’s what you do,” she replied, dragging out the final word. “What do you want to be?”
I decided to turn the question on her – perhaps giving me an inclination of what kind of answer she wanted. “Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?”
She beamed. “I’m going to be a traveling phil-an-thro-pist.”
“I’m sorry?” There is no possible way she knows what that word means. “You want to be a what?”
“I’m going to be a traveling philanthropist!” Her diction was still clear, if a bit choppy. “I’ll have lots of money, and go around in my car, and make friends to give money to them!” Her smile was so bright.
“How are you going to get that money, hm?” I didn’t want to crush the girl’s dreams, but my curiosity insisted.
She didn’t seem fazed, simply shrugging. “I’ll figure it out.” She poked my knee. “So, mister. What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I remembered back to all the dreams I’d had, back home before I’d moved to America, sitting in the trenches of some distant battleground and dreaming of a life I’d make for myself somewhere else. Remembered everything I’d wanted to do once I got to the States – moved to a tiny apartment in the outskirts of New York City, my job as a mail clerk barely keeping me afloat as a new citizen. I remembered the panic as September 11th hit, supposed members of my own religion – my own home world – nearly destroying the life I was building. And I remembered the men in my law firm, looking at the young graduate they had only hired a year and a half ago, and telling him “Don’t worry, son. You’re a good worker. We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.”
I’d worked so hard to never disappoint them after that.
I leaned over, work on my computer forgotten, and looked into her eyes. “I’m going to be happy, sweetheart. I’m going to build myself a house from the ground up, and put it where I can see a lake below me and the mountains above. And during the week, I’ll fight for people that can’t fight for themselves – and on the weekends, maybe I’ll write. Maybe I’ll just read. Maybe I’ll look out at the lake and go swimming in the dead of winter. I’m going to live, when I grow up. And I’m going to enjoy it.”