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The Same Old Story Book

For ZoŽ

This time, Father said he wanted to read the same old story book. The three children (five-year old Reggie, seven-year old Monica, and eight-year old William) looked at the bookcase, which was so full of children’s books of every color and size that the volumes were stacked two deep in some places and spilled off the lower shelves and onto the floor like snowdrifts in others. This was only the bookcase in the boys’ room. The one in Monica’s room was just as full to overflowing, though the books in that bookcase were bound mostly in pink and yellow covers, instead of the blue and red covers here in this room. The bookshelves downstairs, a row of them that filled the longest wall of the playroom, were likewise piled high and, in addition, had easily-toppled columns of books leaning against them. If the children or one of their friends weren’t so careful with a Barbie horse or a Hot Wheels car or a Star Wars spaceship, then one of the book piles would come toppling down and, no doubt, scatter the Life or Scrabble game saved for later or completely obliterate (which means destroy) the Lego castle or block tower that serves as mission control for the tan or green army man army. 

The three children oftentimes wanted their Father to read the same story they had read only the last night or just a few days ago and he would wave his hands at the nearest pile of books and say, “With all these books you want to read the same old story book?” He would grab one at random, usually the largest, heaviest one he could find, and declare excitedly, without so much as looking at the cover, “Herein lies dragons and knights and maidens in need of rescue or is it knights and maidens and dragons in need of rescue?” He would flip open the book and say, “Page twenty-three. A sword fight between a giraffe and a monkey!” He’d flip some more pages. “Page seventy-one. The pirate captain discovers a new island with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds as far as his one good eye can see and a light buffet just in case he gets a little hungry.” Father would then look at the three children as if they had just asked to have ketchup on their cake and say, “And you want to read the same old story book?” Flip. “Page one hundred twenty four, paragraph seven, column three. An evil, alien, insectoid race, each with twelve legs, two tails, three heads and an electromagnetic blaster is outwitted by a baby Pegasus!” Flip. “Page quirtle, paragraph smimnot. A Gleep and a Ffrap, the brownish kind, meet the North Wind who blows them across the desert, or is it dessert?, to a place no Gleep or Ffrap has gone before.” He would decry like this for a few minutes until one of them, usually Monica, laughing so hard, had to run hurry to the bathroom lest the pee escape. 

The children knew they had plenty to read. And would, every now and then, make piles of books they had read (or had had read to them) and wonder how it was that they managed to read (or be read) so many pages of so many books. They would also look at the remaining books and wonder if anyone could ever read that many books even if they lived to be two hundred years old. But they also very much enjoyed re-reading a favorite book, one they knew they liked, or a story they had just heard recently and not have to risk listening to something that didn’t turn out to be as good as they had hoped or was, even worse, one of those stories with a lesson in it. Usually, their Father would ignore their pleas to re-read a story and start them off on, in his words, “an uncharted literary adventure.” 

But tonight, it was their Father, glasses readied for reading, pillow propped behind his head in reading position, holding a book none of them had ever before seen and saying, for the first time that they could remember, “Tonight, I think we ought to read the same old story book.”

Oh, his mouth did say those words! And the three children did hear them! But his tone of voice was mischievous and the children knew that, tonight, they were in for something special.

But their Father said nothing more. He simply held the book none of them had ever seen before in his lap and smiled at them.

The three children looked at each other and then at their Father, who still said nothing, and then back at each other until, without one word being said between them, the three children elected eight-year old William as the one who would learn the cause of their Father’s odd behavior.

William thought of many things he might say or do or ask to draw his Father out, but, having learned many times from his Father that if you want a direct answer, ask a direct question, he asked, “What about that book?” He looked at the book in Father’s lap. William added, “I mean, what is that book about and can you, please, read it to us tonight?”

The two other children (five-year old Reggie and seven-year old Monica), again without words, let William know that he had asked the correct question and they, too, sat eyeing the book in Father’s lap.

With the same mischievous expression and tone, Father asked, “This book? T his story book?” He held up the dark blue book for the three children to see. On the cover was a square, black ink, line drawing of an old woman in a rocking chair reading a book that looked very much like the book Father was holding. Above the picture was the title.

William and Monica read the title to themselves. Reggie, however, who was certainly a good reader for his age, but was still only five (five and three quarters if you asked him) read the title aloud, slowly, “The Same Old Story Book.”

Not one of the three children laughed or so much as smiled. They looked from the book to their Father’s eyes. He looked at them in turn, from youngest to oldest, seeming to be either very proud of them or very proud of himself – or maybe it was the story book of which he was so proud? – the children couldn’t tell.

William, again elected as the one who had to shake Father from his revery, asked more than said, “The Same Old Story Book?”

Father nodded.

William, now not sure he wanted to have his Father read from this book which didn’t seem very good judging either by its cover or by its title, did not know what to ask or say next.

Monica, with her sweet, soft, yet oddly riveting voice came to William’s rescue. “What is it about?” she asked.

To the three children’s relief, Father leaned back against the pillow, adjusted his glasses, opened the cover, and said, “Let’s see.”

Even though not one of the three children expected the dull-looking and dull-sounding book to be anything worth hearing, they leaned more closely to their Father and watched carefully as he flipped the cover to reveal the first page.

There were a few words written on the first page, the same as on most every other book: the name of the book again, the name of the author again, and lots of other words and numbers that had nothing to do with the story, but, as Father explained, everything to do with the book itself and its publisher.

The next page was empty. And the next page was– but Father closed the book so quickly that none of the three children saw what was there.

“I think, tonight,” said Father matter-of-factly, “Reggie will read us the story.”

Monica spoke quickly and, as always, assuredly. “Reggie is only five.”

Father looked directly at Monica and said in the same tone as she just used, “I am quite aware of that fact.”

“But he doesn’t read so well yet,” she explained.

“I can assure you Miss Monica,” Father said, “that not only do I appreciate just how good of a reader Reggie is, but that he is fully able to read this story book.”

Monica was at a loss for words, but William came to her rescue and explained what she had on her mind. “Reggie reads too slowly.”

Monica added, “It’s no fun to hear stories when he reads them.”

By now Reggie seemed unhappy, but was also nodding his head up and down not completely agreeing with his sister and brother, but fairly sure that he did not want the pressure of having to practice reading during story time.

Father, again, looked at all three children in turn. “I feel certain that our little Reggie, beginning reader that he is, is more than capable of reading this story at a speed that will entertain us all.”

Monica thought she understood. She announced it as if it were a certainty. “I know! It’s a picture book!”

Father looked at her with pride, smiled, then said, “It is not a picture book. But that was an excellent guess.” Then he said, “We can either spend the rest of story time discussing what may or may not be inside this story book and Reggie’s ability or lack of ability to read it to our satisfaction, or we can hand Reggie the book (Which he did. Reggie took it as though it were a slightly dangerous animal.), lean back (Which he did, fluffing the pillow behind his head.), and have him read us a story.” Father closed his eyes and let his face fall into a peaceful, relaxed state.

After a few seconds and a gentle poke in the shoulder from Monica, Reggie opened the story book slowly.

He came to the first page with the name of the book and the author and the words and numbers that explained all about the book and its publisher. He slowly turned the next page and, as before, it was empty.

He turned to the third page and both the other children groaned.

“Not that story, again!” they both said at once. Monica turned towards her Father. “We’ve heard that one plenty of times.”

William agreed, “I am sick of it, too.”

“Is that so?” asked Father. Then he opened his eyes, looked directly at Reggie and said, softly but firmly, “Please read the story.”

There was no disobeying this tone of voice so Reggie began to read. He read clearly and with no hesitation, “Once upon a time, there was a Prince who-”

“That’s not the way it goes!” declared Monica. “He’s not reading it correctly,” she said to her Father.

“Sounds like he’s doing a fine job to me,” said Father. “Please continue, Reggie.”

Reggie continued, “- a Prince who could see into the future. He had this magic crystal marble that -”

“Dad!” yelled Monica. “That is not the story! He’s making it up!”

“I am not so making it up!” pouted Reggie. “I am reading it.”

Father, unexpectedly, asked, “What do you think William? Do you think he’s making it up and, if so, what should he be reading?”

Father’s eyes were still closed, but both of the other children were looking at William, hoping he, their eldest sibling, took their side.

“He is making it up,” said William with certainty. All three children looked at their Father whose eyes were still peacefully closed.

For a few seconds, Father was silent. Then Father said, “You didn’t answer my complete question, Sweet William. I asked ‘Do you think he’s making it up and if, so, what should he be reading?’”

“He should be reading Hansel and Gretel,” said William. “Not a story about a Prince who could see into the future.”

Monica accused, “William! You’re not telling the truth! Now, you’re making up stuff.”

Father asked gently, “What do you think he should be reading, Monica Mouse?”

“It’s Cinderella.” She pointed her finger at the picture on the first page. “See? That’s Cinderella with the broom and her wicked stepmother in the fancy dress.”

“Is not!” said William, thumping the page with his index finger. “It’s Hansel and Gretel and their little cottage.” The two elder children glared at each other.

“And what do you see in the picture, Reggie?” asked Father calmly. Reggie shrugged. Father, whose eyes were closed, could not see the shrug, so he prodded, “I didn’t hear your answer.”

Reggie shrugged again and said, meekly, “It’s a Prince with marble with a castle in it. Isn’t it?”

“It’s Cinderella!” said Monica.

“Hansel and Gretel!” said William.

“Cinderella!”

“Hansel and Gretel!”

They both looked, more like glared, at Reggie who shrugged and said nothing, so they looked, and again it was more like a glare, at Father whose eyes were still closed. But Father could tell they were looking at him, or at least knew that he needed to take one of their sides in the argument, so he said, still very calmly and reasonably, “Since no one present wants to hear either Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel, I suggest we listen to Reggie’s story. And I think,” said Father with his soft, yet firm voice, “that if we listen very closely and pay careful attention we might just see that Reggie is reading the correct story. Agreed?” he asked.

The two elder children groaned, but after a few seconds they both said, “Agreed.”

“Reggie?”

“Agreed,” said Reggie quickly.

Father laughed. “I meant please continue reading, Reggie.”

Reggie continued reading about the Prince who could see the future and he had just gotten to the part about meeting the witch’s pet Dragon, when Monica said, “Hey!”

Reggie stopped reading.

“Hey?” asked Father, eyes still closed.

“The picture changed!”

“What do you see now?” asked Father.

Monica, a little unsurely, said, “I see Puss in Boots.”

“Hmm,” said Father, “perhaps we need to pay just a little closer attention and listen just a little more intently to Reggie’s story. And I must add, Reggie, that you are doing a great job reading. Not at all stuttery.”

Reggie said brightly, “Thanks,”

So Reggie continued reading and turned the page and continued reading some more even though William said, softly and disappointedly, “It still looks like Hansel and Gretel to me.”

The Prince who could see the future had no trouble avoiding the Witch, since he could tell where she was about to be and not be there himself, but when he carelessly lost the marble and of course the Witch ended up with it, he was just about to walk into her trap, when Monica yelled, “There’s the Prince!”

Again, Monica’s excitement caused Reggie to stop reading at which point she said, “Hey!”

“Again with the ‘Hey?’” asked Father.

“Keep reading!” she told Reggie. “The Prince went away.”

And even though William said somewhat sadly, “I still see Hansel and Gretel,” Reggie continued the story.

The Witch did manage to trap the Prince and left him there so that she could capture the King and Queen and take over the kingdom. The witch’s legion (which means a very large group) of human-sized snakes were just about to attack the castle-

“I see it now!” said William. “There’s the legion of snakes and there’s the castle and what’s that behind the castle?”

“I think it’s the pet Dragon,” said Monica.

Reggie nodded and said, “It is. He’s going to help the King and Queen.”

“How do you know?” asked Monica.

Reggie shrugged and said, “I just do.”

“What’s the Dragon going to do?” asked William.

Before Reggie could say anything, Father interrupted, “Maybe if we listened we’d find out.”

This time Reggie didn’t need to be prompted to continue the story and, as it turned out, he was right about the Dragon. The pet Dragon did save the King and Queen by snatching them away from the snakes just in the nick of time. Even though the Witch could see that her pet Dragon was planning to save the King and Queen, there was very little she could do about it. Without her broom she was unable to fly and the snakes, of course, couldn’t fly, so she and her snakes could only watch as the pet Dragon flew away, her two captives in his grasp.

Soon enough the Dragon also rescued the Prince and the four of them (Dragon, Prince, King, and Queen) came up with a plan to steal back the marble and even though it was little complicated and didn’t make much sense to either Monica or William, the pictures that accompanied it were quite beautiful and all in all “The Prince Who Could See The Future” turned out to be such an exciting story that when Reggie finished and turned the last page to reveal that it was over, both William and Monica said, “Awww!”

But Father didn’t say “Aww!” He said, “That was nice, Reggie. Thank you.”

At which both William and Monica quickly said, “Thanks, Reggie.” And William added, “You did read it very nicely.” And Monica agreed, “He did.”

Father stood up, stretched, yawned and said, “Well, that’s story time for this evening. Time for bed.” But not one of the children moved. Father reached his hand out for the story book, but Reggie was still staring at the last page where the large words read very clearly “The End.” and didn’t see that Father wanted the book.

“Dad?” asked Monica.

“Yes, sweetie?”

But Monica didn’t quite know what question to ask so she looked at William who shrugged, just as Reggie closed the book, looked at the book’s cover and gasped.

“What?!?” exclaimed Monica and William together. They, too, looked at the book and saw that, on the cover, there was now a beautiful, full-color picture of the Prince holding the marble riding the Dragon, above which was the title, reading, “The Prince Who Could See The Future.”

Looking up at Father, William asked, “How did that happen?”

Father shrugged and did not look at all concerned. “Why shouldn’t that be the cover?” he asked. “That’s the story inside.”

“But, it wasn’t when we began,” explained Monica. “When we began, it was called ‘The Same Old Story Book’ and there was a boring old drawing of an old woman sitting in a rocking chair reading.”

“Good memory, Monica,” said Father. “But now it’s not. Now it’s the book that Reggie read.”

The three kids sat on the sofa looking at the cover of the book for a while. Finally, Reggie yawned and handed the book to Father. Then the three children, dreamily, started making going to bed movements and Father, after a few minutes, tucked the two boys in their beds and led Monica into her room.

“Dad?” asked Monica.

“Yes?”

“Is that story book going to something different every time?”

“It could be,” Father said. “But it could also be the same old story, if that’s what you want.” Father gently placed Monica in bed and tucked her in.

“Father?” asked Monica.

“Yes?” he responded.

“That’s cool.”

Father chuckled lightly. “Yes,” said Father, “it is.” He kissed his daughter gently on the cheek, ruffled her hair just a little, and said, “Goodnight, sweetie. Sweet dreams.”

But Monica was already asleep, dreaming, one would expect, of Princes and Dragons and Witches or, perhaps, of something else.

The End


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