The Third Person Singular

A Story





 by John James Carty


Daniel is nearly six years old. He lives in the city with his mom and dad, his uncle Adolfo and his grandparents. He has a baby brother called Jeronimo and a dog called Gregorio.

Daniel is older than Gregorio and Gregorio is older than Jeronimo. So Daniel is the eldest of the three. Daniel woke up one night – it was very late – because he needed to go to the bathroom. He could find his way to the bathroom with his eyes shut.

However, he opened his eyes a little bit to see where he was going. He knew his toys were lying all over the floor and he didn’t want to step on a plastic truck and hurt his foot. He reached the bathroom door and opened it.

He walked in slowly, his eyes still half-open. The door closed behind him with a bang. This woke him up. He opened his eyes fully and looked around. This wasn’t his bathroom! There were no tiles on the walls, no polished floor, no shower, no toilet, no soap, no towels.

Instead of all these usual things there was only sand-colored rock and a sandy floor. The light was not very strong but as Daniel looked around he realized he was in a big cave.

He could not imagine where his bathroom had gone, or why he was in a cave in the middle of the night. He decided to go and ask his mother about it. He turned around to get out of the cave. But there was no door!

He could see more clearly now that his eyes were used to the weak light. The walls were made of brown rock and the floor seemed to be dirty yellow sand.

Daniel thought all this was surprising. Where was he? What did this mean? He walked forward, looking around him very carefully.

‘Excuse me, you’re standing on my tail,’ said a hoarse voice. Daniel jumped in surprise. He looked at his feet. There was something like an orange rope under his left foot. The ‘rope’ suddenly slid out from under his foot, like a snake.

Daniel’s eyes followed it in wonder. It was a tail. And it belonged to a very big lion who sat on a rock in front of him, his yellow eyes calmly staring into Daniel’s.

‘Hello,’ said Daniel ‘What are you doing in my bathroom?’

The lion roared and laughed, all at the same time,

‘This isn’t your bathroom. It’s my den. It’s where I live.’

‘Oh,’ said Daniel.

‘I suppose you don’t know how you got here, so I won’t ask,’ the lion said, scratching his stomach vigorously.

‘You’re not very wild for a lion, are you?’ Daniel asked, ‘don’t you eat people?’

‘And you’re not very afraid, are you? Little boys are usually afraid of lions. Shouldn’t you be screaming or something?’ Daniel looked very solemn,

‘Well, I don’t think you’re real. I think this is a dream. You couldn’t really bite me if you tried. You’re an illusion, that’s what you are.’

‘An illusion?’ roared the lion, ‘an illusion? How does a little boy like you know a big word like that?’ Daniel shrugged his shoulders,

‘My Dad is a magician: lots of things are illusions. Anyway, “illusion” isn’t a very big word. It’s not as long as “breakfast” for example.’

‘You’re a smart kid, aren’t you? I bet you go to school sometimes.’

 ‘No, I go to school all the time – well, except for vacations,’ Daniel replied.

‘I used to go to school,’ said the lion, ‘and I learned a lot of words. I like short words. I don’t like big words if there is a short word that says the same thing.’ He started to look annoyed and roared ‘I EAT big words and I SPIT them out!’ He was bristling with anger.

Daniel thought it best to say nothing. He looked around the cave again. He could see other shadowy figures; there were other lions sleeping on rocks and baby lions playing near their mothers.

There was an obscure figure sitting on a bench at the back of the cave. It looked like a man holding a shield.

‘Who’s that sitting by the wall?’ he asked the lion, ‘it looks like a man!’

The lion looked over at the bench by the wall,

‘No, no, no,’ he laughed, shaking his head, ‘it’s not a man – it’s a person.’

‘But who is he? What is he doing in a lion’s den?’ The lion jumped down from his rock,

‘Look, I can see you’re a clever boy; I hope you’re not going to give me an argument.’

‘Well, no, of course not,’ said Daniel, ‘I just meant to say, it seems strange to see him here. Who is he, and why is he carrying a shield?’

The lion’s mane bristled as if a strong wind was blowing through it,

‘You can’t see – you don’t know if it’s a “he” or a “she” or an “it”, do you? I told you – it’s a person. I’m the first person, and there’s only one of me, so I’m the first person singular.

‘That’s why I say “I”. You’re the second person and there’s only one of you, so you’re the second person singular and you’re called “you” – OK?  I don’t care what you say; all your father’s magic can’t change that, can it? Remember: I am “I” and you are “you”.’ He coughed politely,

‘Of course, I’m also the king of the jungle and you’re not, but we won’t mention that, eh?’

 ‘Yes, but,’ said Daniel, looking over at the strange person, ‘that doesn’t explain………’

‘Patience, my little pilgrim,’ the lion drawled, ‘I shall explain. You see, if I’m the first person and you’re the second person, the person over there must be something else. There’s only one of him; he’s not me and he’s not you so – ‘

‘He’s the third one!’ Daniel exclaimed. The lion blinked,

‘Hmm, I wouldn’t say it like that, but you’re absolutely right. You’re very bright, aren’t you? On the list of persons this person comes third, after me and you. And your father’s magic can’t change that, see?’

‘Oh,’ said Daniel.

He thought for a moment, looking at the third person singular sitting by the wall. He realized that he was staring, and he knew it was rude to stare, so he gave the person a little wave. The third person singular stood up, bowed courteously, gave him a broad smile and waved back.

Daniel turned to the lion,

‘Why has he got a shield? Did he use to be a gladiator? Does he fight lions?’ The lion laughed,

‘That’s not a shield, that’s the letter ‘s’ – it’s pronounced ess in the alphabet, you know. In English, every third person singular must have an ‘s’ at the end of its verb if the verb is in the present tense.’

‘I don’t understand.’ said Daniel.

The lion sighed a very deep sigh,

‘Where are we now?’ he asked.

‘Don’t ask me,’ said Daniel, ‘I’m supposed to be in the bathroom.’

 The lion shook his mighty head,

 ‘No, where are we in time? Is this the past, the present or the future?’

Daniel laughed,

‘Hah! I don’t even know what world I’m in, never mind what time it is. But you’re going to tell me, aren’t you?’

The lion smiled, very pleased with himself,

‘Yes, we – you and I – are in the present. And in the present tense the third person singular can’t go anywhere without an ‘s’ at the end of his verb.’

‘Oh,’ said Daniel, I didn’t know that.’

‘Didn’t you?’ the lion asked, gently poking him in the chest with his big paw, ‘everybody knows that!’

Daniel wasn’t sure that ‘everybody’ knew that. He was quite certain his brother Jeronimo had no opinions at all on the subject.

‘But what if the third person went out without the ‘s’? What would happen?’

The lion looked afraid. He pounced on Daniel and carefully put his big paw over Daniel’s mouth. He looked around the cave cautiously,

‘Shush! Don’t ever say that! Don’t even think it! It’s too horrible to think about! It’s disgusting if the third person singular goes without an ‘s’ on the verb.’

‘In the present tense, you mean,’ said Daniel.

‘Yes! Good boy!’ the lion grunted, ‘and it wouldn’t be English. It would be something awful, something bad, like crocodile’s breath. Have you ever smelled crocodile’s breath, by the way?’

‘No,’ said Daniel.

‘No, and you don’t want to either. If you ever see a third person singular without an ‘s’ on the verb you must say, “Do you know you haven’t got an ‘s’ with you?” otherwise something terrible will happen.’

The lion jumped back up on his rock,

‘You’d better go to the bathroom now,’ he said.

 As he did so the lion, the cave and the third person singular slowly disappeared before Daniel’s eyes.



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