‘And they all lived happily ever after.’
I found that hard to believe given the tale I had just been told. I also found myself left with a plethora of questions, such as whatever had possessed the first two pigs to build their homes with such flimsy materials? It was an avant garde decision, a cocked nose to society, to use straw and twigs instead of the universally regarded brick. And what had turned the wolf into such a nasty bully, so intent on wrecking others’ possessions? Plus, why hadn’t he been dealt with with the full force of the law after he’d blown down the first house? And that’s another point: how on earth would a creature be able to demolish properties using only their breath? I remembered watching Mother trying to blow out the candles on her birthday cake; it took her three attempts and lots of giggling (a result, I was sure, of the glasses of fizzing liquid she had imbibed) before she managed to extinguish just one candle. No, this was a likely story if ever I’d heard one.
My bedtime story remained one of the highlights of my day, even if it did leave me with more questions than answers (including about the one I had heard the other day – I simply cannot suspend my disbelief to believe that a little girl would be stupid enough to mistake a wolf for her grandma. Perhaps an urgent eye test was needed?)
Sufficient literary material was needed to support our reading habit and my parents quickly realised that buying four or five books every week was not sustainable. A trip to a big white building, with rows and rows of books, which I learnt was a ‘library’ was in order.
‘Shush!’ warned Mother.
‘I didn’t say anything,’ protested Father.
‘You’re breathing too loud,’ scolded Mother.
Father looked bemused. ‘I don’t think you have to be that quiet.’
Mother guided me over to a corner of the room where there were hundreds of brightly coloured books. ‘Now then darling, what would you like to read? Pick whatever you like?’
Well. Now there was an invitation. What was I looking for? I pondered this for a moment. ‘A thriller. With perhaps a hint of mystery. And good characterisation. No romance, thank you very much. A smidgen of humour. And a little pathos,’ I said, as ever my words tumbling out as a scream.
A scream that fell on deaf ears however. Mother was already up and off, pulling books off the shelves and piling them on top of each other in her hands. I was furious. What is the point of asking a person for their opinion if you’re not going to pay any attention to them anyway? I let out a furious scream of protestation.
‘She’s still wide awake,’ bemoaned Mother now, closing the tale of the Three Little Pigs. I must admit, I was rather relieved that tonight’s tale was at an end. Mother is a terrible one for overacting and her depiction of the wolf had been exhausting, full of interpretative grunts and roars, and hand gestures. I think in her head she was appearing on a stage before an audience of hundreds, rather than sat on our sofa in front of one rather gormless man and a bemused baby.
‘Shall we read her another?’
Mother shook her head. ‘We’ve read them all now. At least twice.’
Father shrugged. ‘So. She won’t notice.’
I let my mouth fall open, appalled. How dare he? Yes I damn well will notice. I notice far more than he realises. Including how he always emits a loud fart the minute Mother walks out the room.
‘She will notice,’ protested Mother. ‘She’s very bright,’ added my number one fan.
Father shrugged. ‘Maybe we should write our own children’s story then. I mean, how hard can it be?’
Mother didn’t respond at first, just stared into the distance. ‘Hmmmm. Maybe you’re onto something there. I once wrote a poem that was published in the school magazine so I’ve clearly got a talent. It was about a flower or twig or something.’ As she spoke, her face grew more animated, and she added: ‘You never know. We could write a bestseller.’
‘And make a million,’ agreed Father, encouraging and just a fraction excited. ‘Like that Harry Potter lady.’
A row then ensued for the next fifteen minutes as Mother and Father wrestled with the topic of how they would spend the millions they were sure to make from their ‘Harry Potter mark two’ book. I tried to communicate to them that I felt their arguing was premature in the extreme but they weren’t listening. At one point, it got personal with Mother accusing Father of being ‘a stingy, miserable old sod’ to which Father declared Mother had ‘a total disregard for money and would blow it all within a week on handbags and cake.’
After a while, they realised what they had been doing originally, before their argument had broken out and Father went off to get a pad and pen so that they could write their opus.
‘So….’ Began Father. ‘We need a character.’
‘Yes. Children love ducks. It’s all the quacking they do. Kids find that hilarious.’
Father looked doubtful but reluctantly conceded. ‘O-kay. Well that will do for now. So what does this duck do?’
‘Mmmmm. Maybe they’re a phantom bread stealer. Y’know, because ducks love bread.’
‘I don’t think that will engage the reader,’ suggested Father, dismissively.
‘I didn’t realise that you were such an expert,’ retorted Mother, sarcastically.
‘I have a better idea,’ continued Father. ‘They could be a duck that travels all over the world, visiting new countries. ‘International Duck.’ He can teach kids about different cultures and languages….and stuff like that.’
It was Mother’s turn to look doubtful but Father had control of the pen and let his imagination run away with them.
I, meanwhile, stared at them, aghast as they threw ideas around with abandon. All terrible. I may only be little but even I could tell that this tale was appalling.
After about ten minutes of ‘brainstorming’, their dreams of literary fame and fortune were on the brink of tatters.
‘Read it back to me then,’ said Mother.
‘International Duck looked at the little red book and wondered what it was. Then he realised it was a passport.’
‘Harder than you think isn’t it?’
Father nodded. And then he looked at me, in Mother’s arms, as if remembering my presence. And then he began: ‘Once upon a time there was a beautiful little princess called,’ and then he said my name. I perked up, interested. ‘She was the sweetest little girl ever. She had the prettiest eyes her mummy and daddy had ever seen and the loveliest smile. Sometimes she could be grumpy but this was usually only when she was hungry – which was all the time then,’ Father laughed at his own joke which I thought was arrogant. I urged him to continue, silently. He did. ‘She was such a special little girl and her mummy and daddy loved her more than she would ever realise. Day or night, she lit up their lives.’
Hmmm. I don’t know what it was about this story but it really spoke to me. There was something about the main character I really liked, she seemed to be my sort of girl. Father’s voice was lilting and soft for once and before I knew it, I was stumbling into sleep, where I was sure that I would dream about a little princess called….