The Great Careers Officer in the Sky pushes her horn-rimmed spectacles up her nose, adjusts her beard, and sighs. It's been a long day. She shifts the damp, wriggling bundle onto her knee and hopes for a swift dispatch down the Tunnel To The World.
'So.' She eyes the fidgeting one without enthusiasm. 'What do you want to Be?'
The infant hiccups and fixes her with a watery, yet penetrating stare.
'Well?' The Great Careers Officer in the Sky manoevres the child into launch mode, thinking of Ovaltine and Jeremy Paxman.
A thought-bubble pulses around the child's head. 'I think...' it whispers, 'I need to...'
'Spit it out, do -' snaps The Great Careers Officer in the Sky, then wishes she hadn't as a gobbet of undigested ambrosia further dampens her knee.
'I think...I feel...I want to Be...' The thought-bubble forms inexorably around the kid's head. The Great Careers Officer in the Sky prays, silently, that this will not be Another One. That they've sent her an accountant. An X-factor wannabe. Even - even a lab technician. But no. She can feel it in her water. She closes her eyes and faces the inevitable.
'I want to Be...a novelist.'
'Now look here -' The Great Careers Officer in the Sky grabs the kid and swivels it to face her. 'Writing just Won't Do. Be a bee-keeper. Be a bean-counter. Be a Beefeater. Be Wayne Rooney.'
'I can't,' the thoughtform whispers. 'I've got to write.'
'But there's no renumeration! No career structure. No pension. Picture this -' The Great Careers Officer in the Sky conjures up a room, a laptop, a desk. 'You're sitting all alone, day after day, just you and your...' she averts her eyes '...novel. Month after month,, year after year, decade after -'
It's useless. The kid's dribbling. Or is it salivating?
'Your partner - if you ever manage to find one - grows to resent you. Your children - should be get time to have 'em - grow to hate you. You grind your teeth at night - and when you're not grinding 'em you're awake, scribbling down ideas which turn out to be crap in the morning. Even your RSI has RSI.'
The Great Careers Officer in the Sky pauses for breath. The child's rosebud lips part in a beatific smile. Or is it wind?
'J.K. Rowling,' it whispers. 'Mary Wesley. Salman Rushdie.'
'Piffle.' The Great Careers Officer in the Sky snorts. 'It's not romantic to eke out a skinny latte in a cafe for years. Or to be hoping for publication in your dotage. It's not funny to be slapped with a Fatwah.'
The infant burps gently, but the thoughtform remains intact.
'You'll become Reclusive. You'll become Obsessive. You'll become Compulsive.'
The child farts gently, but the thoughtform remains intact.
'You'll get Writer's Back. You'll get Writer's Block. You'll get Writer's Itch.'
'Writer's Itch?' The tiny brows arch.
'Ask Emma Darwin. There's nothing she doesn't know about Writer's Itch.'
At least, thinks The Great Careers Officer in the Sky grimly, the X-Factor wannabes are quick and easy. A case of wham, bam, Cowell's your man and crashing out of the competition into a nice safe job in MacDonalds.
Writers. Hanging on like terriers, like bloody limpets. Never know when to let go.
She finds herself gripping the kid, unwilling to send it on its way to certain doom.
'Only think,' she implores the babe, gazing into its innocent eyes. 'You could be anything. Anyone. You could be Rolf Harris.'
'Jane Austen,' whispers the babe. 'F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ernest Hemingway.'
'Spinster. Depressive. Suicide -' roars The Great Careers Officer in the Sky. 'Listen to yourself, child. Have you no ambition?'
The infant winks gently; but the thoughtform remains intact.
'Go on then, if you must. Just don't blame me when you're up to your neck in Slush. Don't blame me when your walls are papered with rejections...'
The babe's brow furrows for a moment, then clears.
'Hope,' it whispers. 'Tenacity. Passion.'
The Great Careers Officer in the Sky heaves a great sigh and positions the child at the entrance of the Tunnel To the World. She thinks of her own novel, waiting for her along with the Ovaltine, and scratches at her beard.
'Goodbye,' she says. 'Good luck.'
And slowly, reluctantly, she lets go.