We’ve got our Backs Against the Wall

                                            [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…”

“Elle!”

“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.” 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “We’ve got our Backs Against the Wall

  1. franklparker

    Poignant, beautiful and true. We have to work to increase that ‘one-in-a-hundred’ somehow. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. We (or most of us) are like latter day Neros, playing whilst the planet burns around us.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you, Carol. Must be particularly poignant for you to read when your people so recently lost everything and still live with their backs against the wall. We are a mad, sad, species of sentients.

      Reply
  2. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Sha’Tara, your story, simple and outright, excels with Elle’s clear vision of the nature of humankind: “We [humans] are a disease, dad, can’t you see?

    You raise several inconvenient truths with that question. The first treatment of any disease would be to stop its progression and spread. Reproduction of a diseased species would be a no-no…

    Reply
  3. Sha'Tara Post author

    Thanks for your own thoughtful reply, Rosaliene. Imagine if our own children had challenged us with such inconvenient truths? How would we have responded?

    Reply
  4. Phil Huston

    The humanist argument against living like there’s a tomorrow. A lot of us were there at one time, the romantics against the pragmatists, never thinking we were shopping for suburban camouflage while peers shopped for clothes. The meet a boy/girl, find a career you can do anything you put your mind to parental don’t know what to say cop out lines. I don’t think they were malicious, I think they walked out of poverty and disillusionment and into the Madison Avenue version of a brighter world and didn’t know what to say to a bunch of kids spouting metaphysics and tree hugging one world-isms. We were innocent, and fancied ourselves visionaries. To paraphrase Grace Slick we were so young and arrogant and naïve we thought we could change the world with a pop song. We didn’t. Unfortunately. But it never hurts to keep lighting up our corners of the world. Maybe someone is listening. Maybe they’re getting run over by a road grader for doing so. But we have to stand for something, even on our own, or we’ll fall for anything. As is easily witnessed by catching any version of the daily news.
    Nice work, by the way.

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks Phil, glad I could provide you with a little soap box there in the corner. I’m sure someone was listening…!

      Reply
  5. jilldennison

    Excellent story … sad, haunting, yet beautiful! Might I have permission to re-blog this story? I think there are elements here that are well worth sharing. And your writing style is beautiful!

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Sure, reblog away. I’ll look into that missing reblog button and see what I can do about that. Meanwhile, just copy and paste… as I said on your blog, I don’t care much about credits! 🙂
      PS: I meant to say “thanks” also… sheesh!

      Reply
  6. jilldennison

    Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Not a writer of fiction, I rarely post fiction by other bloggers, but today I make an exception. I recently discovered Sha’Tara when she visited my blog. This particular story is … well, really I do not have the words to describe it, but it is haunting, sad, beautifully written, and also food for thought. Please take a few minutes to read the story of James Macken and his daughter Elle by Sha’Tara. Thank you for a thought-provoking short story, Sha’Tara, and for your permission to re-blog!

    Reply
  7. davidprosser

    Excellent and unfortunately true. There should be many more parent/child conversations like this if there’s to be any hope of saving the planet.
    Cwtch xxx

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you very much for your warm comment. No doubt, but how many parents are that brave and insightful? In my childhood days and the kind of world I was raised in, most children were more or less adults at Elle’s age. It wasn’t a burden or an imposition, it’s what we all wanted! We didn’t think of ourselves as children and we certainly did not want to be treated as such. I don’t know how the next generation’s values got so twisted, so downgraded.

      Reply
  8. Gronda Morin

    Dear Sha Tara,
    What a thoughtful, real and beautifully moving story that reflects what a lot of us are feeling..

    But it is our young people like Elle who are giving me some hope. These young people are more tolerant of others in minority communities than prior generations.
    Business leaders are despairing as too many young people will just leave if the company doesn’t treat their employees well. This is not business as usual. Some in management call them selfish but I call them peoples who want more balance in their lives and working for a company they can be proud of is part of this picture.

    Recent polls show that young people are leaving the republican party in droves because of their antipathy towards President Trump.

    The vast majority believe in climate change, etc. etc.
    I would tell a young person like Elle, that she is not alone and that other young people are thinking similar thoughts.

    As per a 5/19/17 NYTimes article:
    “Now, the Republican Party is Donald Trump’s party, and fewer than one in three adults under the age of 30 approve of him.”

    “Related Reference: (“Ruy Teixeira”) did a recent Q. and A. with The Atlantic’s Clare Foran and wrote an op-ed in Vox that distills seven reasons for liberal optimism.”

    Thanks for a great post and Hugs, Gronda

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you for that well-thought comment. We continue to live in interesting times. Whether a curse of a blessing depends much on where we happen to live, and how we choose to interpret these times. I just watched a documentary on North Korea titled, “The Happiest People on Earth” – I commented, yes, they are happy, as happy as any prostitute in a brothel. Brainwashed daily, from cradle to the grave, denied access to the Internet or much of non-NK media, how much of the reality of the world do these people grasp, knowing that any tiny deviance from totalitarian worship of their great leader and the party line can spell instant and total disaster? While going through the motions of being happy, happy, how much are they allowing themselves to think? And how much more effective is state propaganda there than in any other place on earth? The apparatchiks ply their trade regardless of what system the people believe they live under – and isn’t the result the same? In North Korea, silent acquiescence. In Americanada and other pretend democracies, lots of tweets and lots of noise. Results: still the same. Pudgy sociopaths with fat little fingers bloated with delusions of grandeur and staggering under loads of jealousy remain the focal point of abhorrence and worship, the two going hand in hand.

      Reply
    2. Sha'Tara Post author

      My first comment did not do justice to your own words, so here goes: “Business leaders are despairing as too many young people will just leave if the company doesn’t treat their employees well. This is not business as usual. Some in management call them selfish but I call them peoples who want more balance in their lives and working for a company they can be proud of is part of this picture.” Along with those leaving the Repub. party, this could be good news for the planet. Remains to be seen if this is a replay of the late 60’s and the Hippie “rebellion” or a left-over of secure and entitled youths with a mommy and daddy home to return to, or a real, heart-felt concern for the need of change. Having entered into, left and condemned outright one failed “revolution” in my youth, I’m cautious. I shall continue to observe, listen, read alternative media and just “sense” where real change may be happening. If these young people are simply exchanging lifeboats, then I don’t expect any real change to happen. If they jump in and start swimming against the current, then the System doesn’t stand a chance. Let’s hear it for the Katniss Everdene’s and Lisbeth Salander’s… let them come alive, from fiction to real life.

      Reply
  9. poeturja

    Lovely! I believe Edgar Cayce said we should live as if it matters but then, he believed in reincarnation. Perhaps that would appeal to the selfish who do not seem to care about the future of the world for their children, but would they care about the future if they knew they personally would be participating in it, eternally? Just my morning thought on too much coffee. Excellent story!

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you. I think selfish people are short-term view people so, no, I don’t think they’d change anything even if they were convinced they’d be coming back. They’d rationalize away the problem, like, “Oh well, by the time I return science will have resolved the problem of” … fill in the blanks. Homo Sapiens’ problem lies in a defective reasoning process.

      Reply
  10. sherazade

    Sono problemi esistenziali molto profondi che coinvolgono tutte le nuove generazioni e non sono certa che noi adulti di oggi lasceremo loro molte possibilità di scelta.
    Molto vero il tuo articolo cara amica💙
    Sherabientot

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Grazie mille per il tuo commento, Shera! (I had to use the translator for that line but I’m trying to learn some basic lines to communicate with you in your language – without the translator!!! 🙂

      Reply

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