Future perfect


There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets in the future.

;/ -- Graham Greene, "The Power and the Glory" IT WAS the flashing yellow lights on the small red box that

first attracted the 5-year-old boy. He was on the way out of the diner with his father when they stopped to examine the box, complete with the picture of a gypsy grinning from behind her crystal ball.

"What does the machine do?" asked the boy.

"It tells the future," said the man.

"Will it tell my future? the 5-year-old asked.

"If you put a quarter in the slot and place your hand here, on the top of the machine, it will tell your future."

The boy tried to stretch his dimpled fingers to fill the outline of a large hand painted on the flat surface of the machine. His small fingers covered only two of the five metal electrodes protruding from the tips of each of the machine's painted fingers. The boy worried about his hand not being big enough for a real future, so the man placed his right hand over the boy's, now covering all the crucial electrodes.

"Will it still be my future?" the boy inquired anxiously.

"It will still be your future," the man said.

The father placed a quarter in the machine. For a moment nothing happened. Then the machine began to make a mysterious humming sound. The boy's eyes brightened as a small filament inside the crystal ball began to glow.

A moment later, the machine was printing out the 5-year-old's future. With all the solemnity the occasion warranted, the man read the words gliding across the face of the machine.

"You should be careful this week," the man intoned, "when making serious financial commitments."

For a long moment the boy stood silently, staring at the machine. "Does that mean I'm going to have a good day?" he inquired.

"That means you are going to have a great day," the father said.

They walked out of the diner holding hands.

On the way to pre-school, the man stole small glances in the rear-view mirror at the boy having a great day. After dropping him off and watching the extra little bounce in the boy's step as he moved for the large gray door that led to his future, the father thought about that old bromide that the future holds no guarantees.

He knew it holds some.

Stephen Vicchio teaches philosophy at the College of Notre Dame. His collection of essays (many of which appeared originally on this page), "Ordinary Mysteries," was published recently by Wakefield Editions.

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