{a story}

(C) creative commons jesse wang via flickr.com

(C) creative commons jesse wang via flickr.com

"Which way are you going?" the sign asked the little girl.

She paused.

She hadn't really given it much thought, she supposed. The little brick path had just led her here, and she wondered why just now it seemed that she had to actually stop and think about it.

"I'm going there," she said.

"There?" asked the sign, with more than a twinge of suspicion and a little bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. He raised his proverbial eyebrow, wondering just who this little girl with the yellow shoes thought she was, and where she was going. He talked like an old baseball man, out of the side of his mouth, like he could break out as the tenor in a barber shop quartet at any minute, but you didn't really want him to.

"Well I can't help you get to there," he said, "if you don't know where there is."

"Of course I know where there is," she said. "It's where I've been going!"

She looked down at her shoes. They were so friendly. She remembered the day her parents took her to buy the shoes, and they told her, "With these shoes, you can go anywhere you want!"

So off she went down the path, going exactly where they told her to go.

"I'm going anywhere I want!" she told the sign.

The sign laughed. Not a nice laugh, like you'd hear someone do after reading a funny joke. This was a mean laugh.

"Anywhere you want?" he said, and he ended his question with a higher tone, as if he was asking a question, when really he wasn't.

"Yes!" she said, "Anywhere I want."

"Like it's a place?" he asked. "Oh, take me to Anywhere-I-Want, USA?"

The little girl frowned.

"Of course! Can't you help me get there? I want to go there. To anywhere I want."

The sign sighed.

"Well, dear -" he said in a tone of voice that made the little girl realize that he considered her anything but dear, "Anywhere you want is not really a place."

"What do you mean by that?" she asked, her fists clenched tightly at her waist, and her nose wrinkled up at the idea that this place she thought she was going didn't really exist.

"I mean you have to pick. Anywhere is not an option. Can't you see?" he asked.

She nodded, suspiciously. She could see them - she had eyes, after all! She just didn't know which path to choose.

"Pick one. Or two, maybe - but I can't promise you'll get all the way down either of them."

She frowned. She didn't want to pick! They looked hard. They looked nice, of course! Just a little harder than she thought. The one to the far right was full of other people, but none of them really looked like her. The one in the middle looked a little lonely - but it looked peaceful too. There were others, all around, all tempting her to imagine where she would end up, if only she would choose. The one behind her was paved with brick and full of bright smiley happy faces, but it hadn't really helped her much now that she was here, at the sign.

"But none of them are brick," she said. "What about my yellow shoes?"

The sign smiled.

"They might get a little dirty," he said.

"But what if I choose the wrong one?" she asked, tears starting to fill up her green eyes.

"You won't," he said.

"Which one did my friends go down?" she asked, the first tears sliding down her nose.

"Can't tell you," he said. "Some of them went that way, and some of them went the other way."

The little girl sat down.

"That's not an option," he said.

"You're not very nice," she said.

This continued for quite a while. Back and forth they went, the little girl growing more defiant with each spar. The sign knew that this is what would happen, and he had the patience for it after all these years. She cried a lot of tears, and he told her in no uncertain terms to just get over it.

"But what if I don't like where I go?"

"I guarantee you won't, some of the time," the sign replied.

She stood up. She looked behind her. It was easy to see how she got here, of course. But much harder to see where she was going.

"But I'll tell you what,"  said the sign.

"It'll be fine. Whichever way you go. It'll be ok."

She sighed.

And off she went.