Telling the Story Right
When the books slip from their careless stacks on the shelf, the lights blink out, and the prayers whisper “Amen,” bedtime comes but my boy begs me to stay. “Read me a pretend story,” he says, hoping I will snuggle beside him just a little longer. Daddy says good night and I linger, my head on the pillow beside our little man.
I smile and say, “Okay.”
The stories start with caterpillars who then become butterflies. After a couple of words, I get interrupted because I choose the wrong colors and assign the wrong names.
“No, she’s pink and her name is Abracadabra,” he insists.
“Ok, Abracadabra,” I continue, “goes down the tree and meets her friend Sally.”
“No,” my son breaks in again. “Her name’s Flutter.”
“So Abracadabra and Flutter crawl to the house and—”
“No, they go in the garden.”
Finally, several minutes pass without my editor making changes, but then I start to drift off and hear myself saying silly nonsense, which prompts a nudge against my shoulder.
“Mommy, keep reading.”
The night is young in my son’s eyes, and he asks for one more story. My burst of creativity lasts long enough for a dog named Cheese to trot out of my imagination. Cheese, the classic “man’s best friend,” is really Lassie with a different name because my imagination is just as tired as my body. The dog has adventures about town and then waits for his boy to return from school. I weave a tangled story, hardly knowing what words my lips form next, when my still-wide-awake child informs me: “The boy’s name is Triangle.”
“Timmy” is saved from the name “Jimmy” as the real storyteller cannot keep quiet a second longer. The story of Cheese will continue as three parts, like a play made up of acts.
“Mommy, part one is only about Cheese. Then tell about Cheese and Triangle, and then tell about Square.”
“Who is Square?” I ask, waking up a little.
His outline helps me tell the first two acts, though I still hope he will fall asleep before I must come up with the necessary climax. But he sticks with me through the walk in the woods, where Triangle slips and falls into the creek. Cheese helps pull him out, and then I pause to listen for any amendments to my story. Since there are none, I take the opportunity to run out of words for the night.
“We’ll hear more about Cheese and his geometric family tomorrow,” I tell him. Or maybe we won’t. Perhaps he’ll direct me to return to butterflies or start a cat story that I’ll mix up, and he’ll be forced to take over again. “I love you,” I say.
“I love you too,” he whispers.
I wait for the steady, soft sound of breathing sleep and then wait just a bit more. Will the story continue in his dreams with his faithful companion, Cheese? Will Circle and Trapezoid join us next time in space, fighting “Dark” Vader? I leave the room, full of anticipation for future night stories told right.
Annie Hindman writes from Idaho where she stays home with her five-year-old son. Her work has been published with The Good Mother Project and Mothers Always Write. When she is not trying to answer questions from her son she might be writing on www.touchingoninfinity.com.