[short story, by Sha’Tara]
James Macken closes down his netbook and goes looking for his daughter. Twelve year old Ellie or “Elle” Macken is leaning on the railing of the cabin’s small patio, looking intently into the night sky. There is no moon and the stars, this high in the Coast Mountains, shine brightly. Despite a light breeze blowing from the west, the summer night remains warm.
His voice breaks the night’s silence, “Elle?”
“I’m over here, dad.”
James walks over to her and leans on the railing, his face following where she was staring. “What’s up there, Elle?”
“ I don’t know, dad. I just feel so funny, so detached, all of a sudden.”
“Funny, like how?” He isn’t joking or pretending. He’d learned long ago to take his daughter very seriously or else. She was already a very deep thinker, or perhaps more of a thinking machine. Her thoughts are her reality.
“Well it’s like this. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, mostly about my future… well really, the future of this world, and however I extrapolate my thoughts on it, I don’t seem able to picture any sane, safe, comfortable or desirable future. OK, so here we are, out here almost by ourselves in these mountainous wilds and it’s really nice. Don’t get me wrong, dad, I love it here, and I’m very grateful that you got us this place where I can spend some of my summer vacations, and I wish mom was alive and with us now… but this is an illusion, isn’t it? We’ve got our backs against the wall, haven’t we?”
“I should understand you by now, Elle, but what exactly do you mean?”
“I mean, dad, this planet has no future as long as mankind, as “we” continue to take over and basically eat it alive. We are a disease, dad, can’t you see?”
James Macken is no fool. He knows exactly what his daughter is saying and he’d be the last person to contradict her observations. In a purely technical sense, she is correct: man is destroying the world, the only world he knows, or can have on which to live. Man is destroying his own living space without the least hope of gaining access to another should this one become unlivable. But he’s a forty-two year old research scientist while his child is but a twelve year old who has yet to commit to any discipline. She’s expressing her emotions about what she sees, hears and reads. He’s thinking that perhaps with puberty in the offing she’ll give more attention to another side of life: romance, and girl stuff. But then, some never do, and based on her IQ scores it could well be that Elle may not pay much attention to that side of life.
“I’m not certain you’re giving us a chance here, Elle. Not everybody is a destroyer of nature.”
“Of course I know that, dad. Most of my teachers are quite keen on making us aware of the problems this world is facing in the immediate future – that being my future – but you know? Most of the kids just smirk, or laugh, or ask really dumb questions, especially when we discuss climate change, for example. People really don’t care, dad. And you know what’s the saddest part? Those who make the laws, the politicians; those who sell stuff, the corporations, it’s the “don’t care” crowd they rely on for votes and consuming! So, how can anything change? How can anything get better?”
“You care, don’t you? There must be others like you in your school?”
“Not many. What if we were one in a hundred – what sort of balance is that? We can talk but then we’re made fun of and ostracized. Most kids can’t go it alone, dad. They need friends and they’ll do almost anything to have friends. So, statistically, the “don’t care” crowd, being the vast majority, forms the winning pool and those who care stop caring to fit in.”
“Sometimes when I listen to you, I think you were born old, Elle. I love you, you know that, don’t you?”
She puts her arm around his waist and looks in his face; “I know dad. I know. But I’m growing up fast and soon I’ll be on my own, having to live with myself. I’ll be the product of my own thoughts and I’ll have to confront a world that is totally alien to the way I think. You know what dad? I’m truly scared. So scared that often I think I should just, you know, call it quits and leave…”
“I’m being totally honest with you dad. When mom died, I nearly did it; I wanted so to follow her. But you were there, as you’re here, and I didn’t want to leave you behind and I knew you wouldn’t come after us, so I stayed. But for two years I haven’t been able to shake the idea that perhaps I would be much better off if I died. How can I really live if I can’t see a future for myself? What’s to live for, dad? All the things I love and care about are being killed and destroyed. The world, my piece of the world, is becoming noisier, dirtier and more dangerous all the time. Something’s so wrong. There’s what they call “degeneracy” happening all around and the more of that there is, it’s like stepping in swamp mud, you don’t know how deep you’ll sink or if you’ll be swallowed whole. On top of that you’re getting older too, and you will die and then I’ll have nobody, nobody at all. That’s not a challenge to me, that’s a nightmare.”
“You’re not alone in that, Elle. But I think you’re both, over-thinking, and under-thinking this whole thing. Isn’t it possible that in a couple of years you’ll fall in love with a boy who is really nice – can’t imagine you falling for some cretin – and he’ll become your world for a while? Then you’ll go to college and find some subjects you really like, pursue a career and then meet the man you will want to marry. Likely you will have kids and you’ll have your own family, make your own world.”
She sighs and leans into him. He can feel her vulnerability, wishing he had something better to offer her. “I’ve thought about that dad. It’s soothing sometimes but it changes nothing. When I speak of the future, I mean “the” future, not just something I’ll carve out and struggle to keep for myself. How could I, in conscience, have kids if I can’t give them a real future? That would be horribly irresponsible of me. I have to be sure and what I’m sure of isn’t conducive to a peaceful and safe life. There’s something seriously wrong with all of our lives; with our life as a people, and I really hate it that I’m one of the very few who can see this, and actually cares about it. I don’t like being alone but I have no choice, see? And what if I found someone who thought like me, was like me, how could we ever have a happy life knowing, and living with, what we know? What would be the point of trying to live together if we decided to spend all our time fighting for causes that take us away from each other, or worse, that land us in jail?”
“I’ll be totally honest with you too, Elle. I truly don’t know. I know that I love you deeply. You’re all that I have left of Amber, of your mother, and you’re so like her in many ways, but so different in others. I admire your intelligence even though it makes it very challenging for me to keep up with you. I think I’ll stop trying to do that, just try to be your friend for now. What you say about leaving breaks my heart, but I know you know that. So instead of panicking about what you may decide to do with your life… I’ll make a friend’s pact with you. Hear me out and let me know if we have a deal. If you come to the end of your road, and you are convinced it is the end, I promise not to stand in your way. You can even tell me that you are leaving, and I’ll let you go. I won’t help you, and I don’t want to know the details, but I promise to honor your choices, your decisions and most certainly, your memory. In this, our private world, Elle, you are no longer a child. Make your own choices and I will support you as best I can. Deal?”
“Oh, dad, no one can ever have had a better father. I love you too; I can feel that so deeply.” And in between deep sobs, she finally managed to say, “We have a deal, dad. Thank you for giving me my freedom to choose.”