Keven Fletcher (revised 2018)

Once upon a time last week, Caleb experienced a thoroughly rotten day. He felt muddled, like his whole world was out of sorts. It wasn’t that anything particularly unfair happened. Everything was fine. You just wouldn’t know it by how Caleb reacted.

Earlier, when Caleb ran towards the slide for the forty-second time, his dad called out that it was time to go. Even though they’d been at the park for an hour, which was as long as they stayed on any day, Caleb spoke up and whined, ‘I don’t wanna go home. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’

That evening when he ate up all of his favourite mac and cheese, but left the vegetables all alone and piled up on the edge of his plate, his mother asked him to finish his dinner. Caleb threw down his fork and wailed, ‘I don’t wanna eat the broccoli. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’

Later when it came time to brush his teeth, even though they still felt a little furry from the mac and cheese and little bits of broccoli were caught in the spaces, Caleb ran from the bathroom in protest and whinged, ‘I don’t wanna brush my teeth. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’

Now, you know and I know and even Caleb knew that things like going home, eating vegetables, and brushing teeth are normal parts of any day and not really worthy of complaint. In fact, it’s nice to have such a thing as a home of our own; and vegetables to keep us healthy; and there’s something pretty cool about sliding one’s tongue across freshly brushed teeth. At the very least, it’s better than living in a box, getting sick, and having our teeth rot. But somehow, in the moment, Caleb forgot this and thought life would be better if he didn’t have to do anything he didn’t feel like doing.

After expelling his last gasp of energy by objecting to his bedtime, Caleb fell into an uneasy sleep.

Although he didn’t remember waking up, Caleb found himself in the kitchen. He poured himself a big bowl of cereal and went to the fridge. Adding the milk was the best part because there was so much sugar in the cereal, it changed from white to a sort of speckled pink. He opened the fridge door and looked on the middle shelf, the lower shelf, the top shelf, but he couldn’t find the milk, which was strange because there was very little food in the fridge for it to hide behind. That’s when his dad walked into the room, humming happily to himself.

Caleb asked, ‘Dad, where’s the milk? I think we’re out.’

His dad stopped humming, frowned, stamped his foot, and whined, ‘I don’t wanna go grocery shopping. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’

Caleb thought this very strange. He slowly backed away from his dad and quietly ate his cereal without milk, which was a little gross and left his mouth pasty, so he couldn’t wait to brush his teeth.

When it came time to drive to school, he found his mom sitting in the living room with her feet up, happily sipping a cup of coffee. Caleb asked, ‘Mom, aren’t we supposed to be leaving?’

His mom put down her coffee, got up, ran out of the room and wailed, ‘I don’t wanna drive to school. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’

Caleb wasn’t quite sure how he got there, but suddenly he found himself at school. He found Ms Duffus whinging to her class, ‘They’re too hard. I don’t wanna do challenge words.’ He came across Mr Frater, sitting on the floor in the middle of the music room where the piano should be, protesting, ‘It’s too heavy, I don’t wanna push the piano.’ He discovered Mr Hawes, turning away a story book that his students wanted him to read, moaning, ‘If it’s not about Olivia, I don’t wanna read it.’

Then his parents came through the door and the teachers came down the hall and even some of his friends joined the chorus as they all whined, wailed, and whinged together, “I don’t wanna. I don’t hafta. I’m not gonna.’

It was at the crescendo of their pleas that Caleb awoke. Rubbing his eyes, he realized that there was a particular phrase that he never wanted to say again.

And something very strange happened that next day.

While standing in line for the slide at the park, Caleb saw an older boy cut into the line in front of a little kid. Now Caleb hadn’t spoken up to challenge a single thing all day, but somehow he felt that this was different. He went up to the older boy and said, ‘Excuse me, we’re waiting in a line.’ Caleb couldn’t believe it was his own voice. There was no whine or wail or whinge in the tone. It didn’t sound anything like his usual complaints. It sounded like a voice talking about something very important; like the words were much bigger than the speaker. And the older boy must have heard it too, because he went to the back of the line.

The little kid looked at Caleb and whispered, ‘thanks.’

When Caleb climbed in his cosy bed that evening. He thought about how his day had gone. He had only spoken up the whole day and somehow he felt better than he had for a long time, like all the stuff going on around him had also found a place to rest. And he fell into a peaceful sleep.

What do you think he dreamt about?