A small, red train packed with toys for the children of a nearby village sat stranded at the base of a steep hill.
“Look!” shouted a toy clown, which wasn’t considered creepy within the context of the time period. The other toys hurried their heads out the windows of the red, marooned train to see a little blue engine puffing down the tracks toward them.
“You there, Engine,” the clown shouted. “We are, sadly, unable to crest this hill. Do you think you would be able to help us get to the other side so that we may bring joy to all of the children of the town?”
“Even though I am small, I think I can,” the Little Blue Engine said as the toys erupted in cheers.
“But I don’t think I’m going to.”
The cheering stopped.
“Why not?” asked a befuddled marionette, which was also a period-appropriate toy for a child and not yet a horrifying closet surprise.
“Well,” the Little Engine began. “I think I can pull this train over that hill. And right now, you also think I can. And the kids in that town over there, they probably think I can too. But if I actually put wheel to track and try, I could fail, then I’d be humiliated.”
“But if you don’t try, then how do you know what you can achieve?” an innocent, doe-eyed stuffed doggy asked.
“Right now, I think I can do lots of stuff. And thinking I can do it is just as good as actually doing it, you know?”
“Literally, what are you talking about?” asked a wooden nutcracker, which is another thing that allegedly brought joy to the life of a Depression-era child.
“Well, if we all think I can pull this train over that hill and I actually do it, then what have I gained? Nothing. I simply met expectations. But if I fail, then we all know I can’t do something we previously thought I could. See how that’s worse? Then we’d still be stuck right here where we started, only now we’d also be trapped by the sea of debris from the unmet expectations of those around me.”
The toys all stared at their feet in silence as the Engine continued. “I’ve gotten good at building myself up in my mind to appease my very fragile ego.”
The Engine somehow lit a cigarette. “I was in a bunch of gifted classes in train engine school. Because of that, everyone around me has always had a high opinion of me. They’ve always believed I could do anything. Do you guys have any Adderall?”
The toys exchanged confused looks. “I picked up my mother’s Xanax prescription to bring home to her,” a shy jack-in-the-box offered.
“All right, yeah, that’ll work.” The Little Engine continued as the wholesome jack-in-the-box begrudgingly retreated into his box to fetch the pills.
“Anyway. Right now, we only definitively know one thing. We know you all cannot get over the hill. We know that because you tried and failed. We don’t know if I can pull it over or not, but we’re all on record saying I think I could do it. Thus, I’m a success in all of our minds. But we know FOR A FACT that you raggedy ass dolls and your piece of shit red engine are failures who cannot crest a big hill. We know that.”
A red-haired doll burst into tears.
“So you’re just never going to try anything?” the, again, perfectly normal marionette asked, her voice cracking with emotion. “You’re never going to test or challenge yourself in order to learn more about yourself?”
“Here’s a challenge: bite my caboose.”
“I’m serious!” exclaimed the marionette. “Can you really go through life living only on hypotheticals, never learning your limits or taking pride in knowing what you can truly achieve?”
The Little Engine tooted his whistle as he rode off over the mountain, alone. “I don’t know if I can live life like that, but I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”