The Scariest Question

On a spring day—a beach day—I was taken to his office. Good news doesn’t come from offices. That’s usually told in public because it makes the teller look generous, even hero-like, while bad things are held in secret in drab little areas: offices filled with furniture that snarls at you and bites when you sit on it and is lined with shelves of books that no one could possibly want to read or have. Not a piece of fiction in sight. There I sat while the sun laughed at me through a tightly shut window, teasing my hand through smoky glass as outside it bathed my friends in the warmth of the day.

Mr. Bleaker came in and sat down in a chair that replied with a weary squeak. He cleared his throat as only he can, shuffled through a few papers I knew had my name all over them, and smiled in a way that could only be described as wane. I just knew this had to be about the hole in the storeroom in back of the boys’ locker room. I only looked that one time, and Ernesto wasn’t even there. (Damn it!)

“Well, young lady,” Mr. Bleaker said, “I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here. Well, we’ve been looking over your work . . . and it’s good, it’s very good . . . but we’re wondering what plans you have for the future. What would you like to be when you grow up?”

I wished that this had been about the hole in the boys’ locker room. My parents have more respect than to ask me this, and yet, here a near stranger was demanding I tell him something so secret I didn’t even know the answer myself. I guess I could’ve lied, made something up, or got out of it by complaining of stomach cramps after lunch, though I ate at home and my mother was too good a cook. But at that point my brain ran out the door, and left me to face alone the scariest question anyone could ask me when I was sixteen.

This high school had a unique torture system where they continuously bombarded the students with questions like this. Every year we were forced to fill out a form—this school loved forms; the copier ran night and day—demanding we list our various career interests, areas of the world we’d like to visit or live in, and what visions we had of ourselves in the future. ‘Chief Fortuneteller of the Royal Society and John Dee replacement’ didn’t pass muster with them, so I was forced to put down something more mundane like ‘senior augur for the Goddard Space Flight Center on detached assignment to Swansea University.’ I thought it had slipped through until I caught a teacher casing a map of Africa while mumbling the name of the city. (At least she had the right planet.)

“Well, you appear to have an affinity for desiring to forecast the future,” Mr. Bleaker continued. “Well, what do you see for yours?”

The next moment I became numb. I couldn’t even feel the sweat on my hands, and I’m sure my eyes would’ve fallen out if not for the optic nerves. I was alone facing the enemy in his den, and so did the only thing I could to save myself: I counterattacked.

“Mr. Bleaker, what’d you want to be when you were my age?”

“Well, we’re talking about you, young lady, not me.”

“But we are now.”

“Well, I . . .”

“I could see you doing that.”

“Well, it didn’t . . .”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Well, things had changed . . .”

“What things?” Come on, Mr. Bleaker. You can tell me. I’m a teenager.

“Well, by then . . .”

“But you still could’ve gone.”

“Well, it’s not so easy . . .”

“If it’s not so easy for you, then how much harder do you think it’s for me to say?”

That’s when I heard him call ‘Mommy,’ my Mommy, to take me home.

Nothing further was said about it; my parents knew better, and the vice-principal did now, too. Not that I was bratty, but my parents knew, as I did, how unfair I thought the question was. I was sixteen. I couldn’t even vote and I was supposed to be clairvoyant? Would I ever work for NASA? Would I get the chance to visit Wales? Did I love Ernesto? I had no idea of what my ultimate dreams were because . . . I wasn’t done dreaming.

copyright © 2012 by mari t.


2 comments on “The Scariest Question

  1. Nice character development in this snapshot of a teen. It makes me want to know more.

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