The Girl Who Didn’t Know What to Be was in school one day when Ms. Standly, her regular teacher, called in sick and so did Ms. Moore, who was Ms Standly’s assistant, and so did half a dozen other teachers because the Have a Bad Day Flu was going around that month. And so that day a very prim lady who insisted that she be called Mrs. Charity was called to school under emergency circumstance to teach the fourth grade class.
The Girl Who Didn’t Know What to Be didn’t yet know that she didn’t know what to be and so she thought of herself only by the name her parents had given her – Metrissa. Metrissa was very excited with the arrival of Mrs Charity because school had reached that long part of the year when the days went so slowly that they would start again before they had finished. Any change of the routine seemed like a good idea to Metrissa, even if Mrs. Charity seemed a little severe when she walked into class.
“So, class,” she said, “you probably are thinking that because I am a substitute teacher that you will not have to turn your brains on today. Oh yes, I can see it your eyes, you think that you’ll have some fun at Mrs. Charity’s expense.” Mrs. Charity looked around the room very slowly as if she dared them to disagree with her. “Admit that you were thinking that very thing, weren’t you?” she said and looked right at Metrissa.
“Me?” said Metrissa. “Oh no Mrs. Charity, I was not thinking that at all. I was thinking about what you were going to teach us about today.”
“I doubt it. But never mind, I can assure you that you’ll not be having any fun with Mrs. Charity. No one ever has fun at Mrs. Charity’s expense. We are going to start right now with today’s lesson.” Mrs Charity looked around the room again to make sure that nobody had any other ideas. “Today,” she said, “we are going to be discussing occupations. You,” she said pointing at Tommy Motley, “what are you planning to be when you grow up?
Tommy was twisting the collar on his shirt and hadn’t been paying much attention to Mrs Charity. “What?”
“I said, what do you intend to be when you grow up, young man?”
“I’m gonna be a football player.”
“Oh, so you want to chase around a silly ball.”
“Well, I’m gonna play football,” Tommy said.
Mrs Charity shook her head at the hopelessness of it all. Then she turned her gaze on Ben Howard. “How about you?”
“Me too,” said Ben.
“Me too what?”
“I’m going to be a football player, too,” said Ben, “and a ‘gineer”
“A ‘gineer. Like my Dad. He works in an office where he draws plans of buildings and roads and that kind of things and I can go there with him whenever I want.”
“I believe that you mean Engineer, and that seems to be a much better idea than a football player. Engineers build things.”
“Well doesn’t build them. He draws them. He is kind of an artist.”
Mrs Charity went down the rows of students asking what each one wanted to be.
“A movie star.”
“One of those guys that rides up on top of a truck.”
Finally, Mrs Charity reached Metrissa.
“You. What about you? What do you want to be?”
Here was the problem. Metrissa had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up. There were so many choices and she hadn’t yet decided which one was the best. When she was little she used to say that when she grew up she wanted to be a bird so she could fly and that always made the grown-ups laugh but one time her Dad said, “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” and she thought that was good advice so she decided to take her time before deciding what to wish to be. She hadn’t expected that her time would run so short and that Mrs. Charity would be standing in front of her with her stern face and all the other kids would be looking at her, expecting her to announce what she was going to be when she grew up.
“I don’t know.”
“What did you say, girl? Speak up.”
“I said I didn’t know.” She said it much more loudly.
“Well, what would you like to be?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t decided.”
“You must want to be something, don’t you? You don’t want to be a nothing, now do you?”
“No, Mrs Charity. I do not want to be nothing.” Metrissa looked at her shoes.
“Well, dear, what is it you want to be?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sometimes children believe that substitute teachers are fun to poke fun at cause they don’t know anything and won’t ever be back. But not Mrs Charity. No one ever makes fun of Mrs. Charity. So why don’t you just tell us all what you would like to be when you grow up.”
“Really. I don’t know.”
“I don’t find this very funny, girl.” Mrs. Charity turned to the class. “What do you think that this girl should be when she grows up?”
In the back of class, Tommy Tudereaux yelled “a substitute teacher” and Mrs. Charity’s face turned bright red. She snapped back to Metrissa.
“Well, Little-Girl-Who-Doesn’t-Know-Who-To-Be, I guess you wouldn’t object to doing a little thinking about who you want to be, would you?”
“Good. Perhaps you would like to start right now. Why don’t you take that little seat over there in the corner and you just think about who you want to be when you grow up. And when you have decided please let me know. In the meantime, we will go on with our lessons.”
Feeling very small, Metrissa went to the chair in the corner. It was a very small chair and not very comfortable.
“Oh, girl,” said Mrs. Charity, “turn that chair so it faces the wall; I don’t want the class to distract you.”
And so Metrissa sat. And thought. And sat.
And as she thought she turned into the wind and blew out the open school window into the tumbling fall day outside. She whooshed and spun across the schoolyard out of control in the vast pandemonium that she had discovered. She blew over walls. She roared like a train and the roars she roared spread out themselves all about her and she felt like a spirit moving over the earth.
I will be the wind she said to herself. I am the wind. I am everywhere. I am nowhere at once. I am moving always. I am the sky when the sky starts moving.
And then she was back in her seat at school staring into the wall. Behind her she could hear Mrs. Charity talking.
?Yes. That is right. They did not intend to let you sit like lumps on your seats just because a substitute teacher arrived even though I know that’s what you were all expecting. Mrs. Charity knows that’s what you were hoping for when you heard that your regular teacher was sick. You probably didn’t even feel bad when your teacher was ill you were so smugly pleased that you would have a substitute and could sit like lumps on the chairs and throw spitballs and pass notes amongst yourselves snickering all the time.”
The Girl Who Didn’t Know Who To Be became a bursting brilliant ball of light and she was suddenly travelling away from school and town and earth into and through the blue brightness of a fall day and then suddenly through the sky and into the nimble black regions behind the sky where the stars were. She shot forward so fast that she split the night universe, planets whizzing past to either side and the hoary brilliantine stars ahead quickly gone like signs passed by a rushing train. The speed was so fast that all sounds died and she could not feel her toes and then the black regions opened into a blinding homecoming where all light finally comes home to rest.
And she was back in her seat at school.
?That’s the way it is today but that is not the way it has to be. There was a time you know before there was XBox and iPads and children had to spend their own energy to get something done. Thats what they had to do and that what they did. No one should be surprised if you can’t think for yourself when they haven’t given you marching orders.”
Metrissa poured golden liquid amber from the room running in syrupy flowing waves across the school courtyard and into the brilliant undulating light that was waiting there. The light and the amber syrup mixed together with layers of blonde on honey blonde all glowing from the center as if there was a light in the center of the amber honey flowing Metrissa girl.
And then she was back.
Metrissa slowly looked over her shoulder. Mrs. Charity was standing at the front of the room and was holding a globe in her hands as if she was big enough to hold the world. Metrissa turned slowly back to the wall.
?Oh no you don’t” said Mrs Charity. ?I saw you looking. I saw you looking at Mrs. Charity. I saw you wondering if I would let you come back and join the class. Hoping that I would let you come back and join all the children who want to be something when they grow up.” Mrs. Charity gestured with the globe. ?Stand up. Stand up. Have you decided what you will be ?”
She stood up. The children were all looking at her. She did not say a thing. All her words were in front of her.
?Please answer Mrs. Charity. Have you decided?”
Metrissa said, ?I have decided.”
?Well don’t keep us waiting dear, what is it that you want to be?”
?I will be a word maker,” Metrissa said, ?I will make words.”
?Why how odd of you dear. Surely you don’t mean that. We don’t make words. We just, we just, we just use them dear. Why if everyone could just make words then no one would know what anyone meant by them. Don’t you see Mrs Charity’s point?”
?I think that it will be easy to make words. When I make a word people from all over will know what I mean and they will want to use the word and they will ask me for permission.”
?Could you be thinking that Mrs Charity is too old to know what you are doing? Could you be thinking, Miss Don’t Know Who To Be, that Mrs Charity won’t just realize that her leg is being pulled …”
?Yoooouuuccchhh!!!!” yelled Teddy Cumberbun from the back of the Classroom.
They all turned to look. Teddy was standing on his desk. A small green plastic item like a little pencil sharpener was stuck on his finger.
?What is that?” Mrs Charity demanded.
?Its a …, its a …..” Teddy said but he tailed off.
All around his classmates tried to help.
?Its a peashooter.”
?Its an eraser.”
?Its, its its…”
?It is a mortan hand bangle,” said Metrissa. Everyone stopped and looked at her. They knew just what she meant.
?And what,” Mrs Charity asked, ?is a mortan hand bangle?”
?A hand bangle? Seriously? You never?” piped up Jonston Lucree. ?You mean it?”
?She doesn’t dilly.” Metrissa said. ?I can tell. Just by the jurly look.”
Jonston whistled. ?Big time. Let me hear that one again.”
?You heard the hopster. Hankopeebee.” Metrissa said.
?Are you making fun of Mrs Charity, Little Girl Who Doesn’t Know?”
But Metrissa was busy wordmaking the piano commotion in the classroom. ?Its all so bumper glide mizmat,” she said, ?You know what I bigger bobble?”
Mrs Charity smacked the desk with the book in her hand so hard that the thunderboom of the big sky class headroom wardeled around in the high sound snippet. ?I will not have this jilly bizmat here!!” she shouted in tundra glee.
The classroom exploded in laughter.
?No really tob chocks!!!” Mrs Charity screamed.
All the children laughed louder.
Mrs Charity looked hard in all directions until the noise emptied out of the room.
The room was clip clop quiet. No further understanding passed the class. But Metrissa was still on the loud wagon. ?Stick-o-business! Its a billion bizzles for free. Stay julip, melville.”
?That’ll neber belittle, sticks,” said Mrs. Charity. ?That’ll neber belittle.”
Metrissa was well beyond the puzzle. The names were bigger than their meaning. She turned and hopped on a hovering hozzle. And over she sped the classroom and the missing connections and now there was no Charity and none the need, for there was no gap in the admiration she had for this spinning amber planet bearing all to who they were going to be.
And Metrissa was going, too.
The Girl Who Did Not Know Who To Be was originally published in Fiction Vortex. Listen to the audio version here.