Ted Patton looked down upon his creation: the small plastic sphere, ten inches in diameter and painted to resemble the Earth, sat on the table in front of him. He held it with both hands so it wouldn’t roll.
“It’s good,” said the head of project development. He sat across the table from Ted, along with two others, an executive and a safety consultant. “It’s a great idea, in fact, but I’m not sure it fits with the current goals of our company at this time.”
“What does that mean?” Ted asked.
The executive answered, leaning forward in his chair: “Your globe is meant to teach. We have dabbled in educational toys in the past, but we primarily manufacture products for entertainment now.”
“It lights up,” Ted explained. He hit a switch on the toy and pushed a country with his finger.
“Cambodia,” a female voice from the toy said, as the country pulsed with an orange glow.
“We saw that,” the executive said. Ted turned off the toy. “The lights would be fun for kids if they were on a plastic dinosaur or plane. But you made it a globe, which makes it an educational toy, not an entertaining one.”
“Why can’t it be both?” Ted said. He placed his left hand on the top of the toy so he could plead using his right. “Recent studies have shown that children cannot locate important countries on a map, not even the nations that we have invaded. It seems that people can find places with a missile, but not with a map.”
“Don’t use the political angle, Mr. Patton,” the executive said. “It doesn’t make your prototype any more fun, just preachy.”
Ted looked to the third man, the safety consultant. He was a reedy man with thick glasses who hadn’t said a single word the entire meeting. When provoked with the glance, he said in a quiet, thin voice: “I don’t see anything especially wrong with it from my perspective, because it looks safe enough. But my colleagues don’t like it, which makes my opinion moot.”
Ted looked down, caressing the plastic with his finger. The executive stood, and the other two men followed.
“I think we’re done here,” the executive said. He walked to Ted’s side of the table and directed the toy maker out of the meeting room. “It’s a good concept, but it’s not right for our company. Please keep us in mind when working on future projects, especially if their intention is entertainment. Good day, Mr. Patton.”
Ted took an elevator down to the lobby and walked outside. He stood on the sidewalk for a minute to consider where he should go next. Eventually, he chose a random direction, content to wander.
He watched strangers pass as he stepped through the crowd, cradling his globe under his arm like a basketball. He had almost forgotten about the toy as he left the building, but now its presence irritated him. It was light, so easy to carry that it surprised him when he had first completed it, but the glossy, colourful appearance of the work weighed him down with embarrassment. Some people could wear childlike imagination with pride; Ted Patton was not one of them.
Several blocks down, he reached a city park and decided to continue his walk there. He met with less people as he walked along the narrow stone path, and those he did meet were in a casual, amiable mood. By the time he came across an empty bench in the middle of the park, his disposition had improved, despite the child’s toy still in his possession.
He sat down at the bench, placing the globe next to him like an old friend. A pond rested across the concrete path from Ted, where a paddling of ducks sailed across the water. A large duck circled the pond, leading little ones behind her. Ted watched them for several minutes.
A group of three girls walked down the path next to Ted’s bench, giggling to each other as they went. Ted lowered his head and pretended to examine a button on his shirt. Once they had passed, he lifted his gaze and glanced in their direction until they were gone.
How could he know what people think? How could he, of all people, find an idea that others would want at any given time? Ted, who spent most days alone in his desk in his small room, melting and molding plastic into shapes, slaving over each piece as if it was the most important. When could he have time to figure out how his ideas fit with the thoughts of others? If he could make an object with every colour of the rainbow, every colour of the world, would they understand then? Would he understand?
He flipped the small switch on the globe next to him, and gently pushed the toy off its seat. The globe bounced off the hard pavement.
“Egypt,” the female voice from the toy said. It continued, rolling through a sward of grass and into the pond. It spun as it floated across the surface, first drowning the Eastern hemisphere, then the Western. When the toy neared the centre of the pond, the moisture made the device malfunction and blurt out many country names at once.
The stuttering syllable dwindled into a deep, low voice before it finally died out. The lights continued for a moment afterwards, every nation alive at once with a blinking orange glow, but eventually they too went out. The toy sank.
(Published January 26, 2014)