Eliza’s favorite movie was Disney’s Pinnochio. Maybe it was a little old, but she identified with the protagonist. Not because she wanted to be a real boy, she was happy being a real girl, but because, like him, she had a conscience. For most people, a conscience was an abstract concept, but Eliza was the envy of her friends because she had a literal grasshopper sitting on her shoulder. It didn’t sing, and it didn’t have a top hat and cane or big, expressive eyes. It was just a normal grasshopper that leapt onto her each morning as soon as she had a shirt on. When Eliza had a challenging decision, the grasshopper crawled up and lifted its body so its forelegs were above the opening to her ear. Then its mandibles clicked and she heard a voice tell her what to do.
When she was a baby, Eliza’s parents had apparently been afraid of the grasshopper and tried several times to kill it. When they took it away from Eliza and let it outside she was inconsolable until it appeared on her shoulder again the next time they let their eyes off her. When they smashed or flushed the grasshopper or trapped it in a jar, it always reappeared. Eventually they grudgingly accepted the grasshopper. It was only when Eliza started to talk and told them what it was telling her that they began to truly appreciate it. Now they seemed comfortable to let their parenting role consist of bragging about their kid and listening to her exploits over the dinner table. The grasshopper did the hard work.
“That young woman is pretending to be your friend,” clicked the grasshopper. Mary’s hair had one curly black strand falling down over her forehead. Eliza thought later she might ask the grasshopper what he would think of her getting a hairstyle like that. The grasshopper continued, “She is not introspective enough to understand her motives, but deeply she just wants to be beloved like you. Be kind to her, help her get some friends. She will come to appreciate why you are the most loved.”
Eliza nodded, and Mary gaped at her. “What – what did it say?”
Eliza beamed – it was a smile the grasshopper had trained her to give through hours in the mirror. She stepped forward and hugged Mary, who was too shocked to react. “Mary,” she whispered into her ear just like the grasshopper, “you are a wonderful and beautiful person.”
Mary blinked as Eliza withdrew. “What?” she asked
“Mary,” said Eliza with a serious pause, “What do you like? How do you like to spend your time?”
“I, uh,” stammered Mary, “I like… football.”
Eliza was the head cheerleader and assistant coach of the men’s junior varsity football team. She was also its lead Instagram and Twitter promoter. Sometimes the junior varsity games drew a bigger crowd than varsity. She didn’t need her grasshopper to tell her that Mary didn’t like football.
“Mary,” said Eliza, “for a moment, stop trying to please or impress anyone. Just for you, what do you like?”
Mary pressed her lips together. She had not considered liking anything besides being liked or things that made her be liked. This was a difficult question, Eliza knew. Eliza saw Mary’s eyes lock on her shoulder, and felt the familiar sensation of the grasshopper climbing back onto her ear. “Mary likes cooking pasta with her mother. She enjoys long walks in the park and writing poetry about boys in her notebook in Social Studies. She has a crush on Chris Evans.”
“Who’s Chris Evans?” Eliza whispered
“Captain America.” The grasshopper replied. Eliza nodded.
“I’m going to see the new Avengers movie with some friends in a few days. Would you like to come?”
“What?” asked Mary, startled from staring at the grasshopper, “oh, yes! When?”
“I’ll be in touch. I have to go work out.” Eliza beamed and left Mary in the hallway.
“That was well done,” whispered the grasshopper, “Now you just have to find some friends she’ll like and plan an outing.”
“It seems like everyone just wants people to like them,” Eliza mused as she let herself into the chemistry lab that was empty during fifth period, “people are so simple.”
“Yes,” agreed the grasshopper, “that is why you shall be the most virtuous of them all.”
Alone between the thick granite tables Eliza began her calisthenics routine. As she did burpees, the grasshopper continued to whisper to her. “How could you have learned what Mary liked without me telling you?”
A chill ran over Eliza. She did not like the suggestion that the grasshopper might someday leave. It was bringing it up more lately. “That’s what you’re here for, though, to tell me. Hey, what do you think if I get a couple strands of hair to fall in my face like Mary? Doesn’t that sound cool?”
“I won’t always be here to help you, Eliza,” the grasshopper pressed, “how can you find out what a person likes if she doesn’t tell you?”
Eliza started a plank. “Well, ugh. I guess I’d, uh, just talk with her for a while and mention a lot of things and see how she responds.”
“Very good,” murmured the grasshopper. “The gym shower will be cold. The heater broke a few hours ago. Be ready for discomfort.”
Eliza steeled herself.