"I don't get it."

"What don't you get?"

Marian Harris glanced across the airplane's aisle at the father and son sitting in Row 22, Seats A and B. The boy, about 10 years old, had his father's bright-red hair and prominent freckles, and across his lap lay a large, open book.

"Clouds. I don't understand clouds."

"What don't you understand about them?"

"Well, look out the window. If clouds are like wisps of smoke, then how come they don't drift apart instead of sticking together? And if they stick together, how come when a plane flies through them, it doesn't come out with cloud stuck all over it?"

"Aw, come on, Dad, I'm trying to read," the boy sighed.

The father, in Seat A, peered out the oval window. "Just think if you could reach out, grab a piece of cloud, and take it home! You could keep it in a box in the closet, then take it out and play with it whenever you wanted."

"Dad, clouds can't be pets."

The father turned to his son. "Hmmm, you might be right. And if you kept it, what would you name it? And, John, what if it became tame? Would that mean you couldn't release it back into the wild? Maybe it would get so used to following you to school every day that it wouldn't want to go back to 35,000 feet. And what about the ethical and moral questions?" he wondered aloud, gazing out the window again.

The boy regarded his father for a long moment then shook his head slowly and returned to his book.

Marian had been careful not to give away that she was eavesdropping. She noted that the father was tall and lean, bordering on skinny, his hair was tousled, and his clothes were casual and haphazard. In odd contrast, the boy was neatly dressed with his hair combed. They both wore glasses, but the father's were wire rims while the boy's were more somber, with heavy, black frames.

The impression that they created, Marian thought, was of two people in the wrong bodies, for the father had a child's random curiosity, while the boy was the beleaguered parent.

Marian, if asked what kind of impression she thought she left, would have correctly replied, "Almost none at all."

(End of excerpt)