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“The man sat, terrified, as the snake woman wrapped her long body around him, holding him tightly in her coils.  She said to him, ‘Do you remember those two white birds you set free?  They were mine.’ ”  My voice is harsh and raspy, and I emphasize the ‘s’ sounds to simulate the hiss of a talking snake.  ” ‘And because you turned them loose, I am going to eat you.’ ”

I’m leaning forward, eyes narrowed dangerously, staring into the faces of two entranced six year old girls.  They are huddled under their blankets in their shared full-size bed, watching me with eyes as wide as dinner plates, mouths slightly agape in what I assume is wonderment.  They don’t look tired at all.  Perhaps I picked the wrong story.

I shift into a deeper register and add an element of panic.  “‘But I didn’t know they were yours!’ said the man.  ‘Isn’t there some way for me to fix this?’ ”

One of the girls jumps a little and shouts, “I know!  I know!  He can just kill the snake woman!”

“Ahh, but the man had already thought of this,” I say sagely.  “The snake woman was magical, and she was huge!”  I stretch my arms as wide as I can, and the girls giggle.  “His only hope was for the snake to give him a chance.  And he knew that magic always gives you a chance.”

“Ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh…..”  Both girls say it in unison, as though magic giving you a chance made complete and total sense.  I can’t help but smile at them.  They’re an adorable pair of tow-headed twins, and they are genuinely enjoying the folk story I chose to tell them.  But it’s not how I expected to be spending my evening.

“Girls, be quite and listen to the story!”  Toni, the girls’ mother, is laughing over my shoulder.  I turn to see her standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame with her arms crossed.  She’s lovely, even with her shoulder length hair pulled back in a pony tail and standing in her lounge pants and t-shirt, which she put on after spilling her daughters’ juice on her nicer attire from earlier in the evening.  I marvel briefly at how things work out.  I’d met her at the bar and, after two hours of intense conversation and smooth talking, she invited me to come home with her.  She insisted her kids would be asleep, but evidently, the sitter hadn’t been successful.  Rather than let the night turn into a total bust, I offered to tell them a story to get them to sleep, and to make myself more appealing to Toni  (After all, what single mother doesn’t love a guy who can entertain her kids?)

It seems to be working.  Toni winks at me.  “I’ll go put on some coffee for when you finish.”  She points at her daughters and gives them a playfully fierce expression, which they return, and leaves the room.

I turn back to the girls, my eyes narrowed again, and they immediately resume their listening positions, knees to their chests, wrapped in a blanket.  “So, back to the man and the snake woman…”

I spend the next twenty minutes regaling the girls with my favorite folk story.  They are as rapt an audience as I could ever hope for, though incapable of resisting the urge to insert comments in the story.  They listen intently as I tell them of the snake woman’s admission that ringing the nearby church bell would free him.  (“See, magic always gives you a chance!”)  They cry out in protest when the snake woman refuses to let the man leave to find and ring the bell.  (“That’s not fair, she’s cheating!!”)  They are shocked when, just as the snake woman tries to eat him, the man hears the bell ringing anyway, and the snake and her house both disappear.  (“Who rung the bell?!  I bet it was a fairy!!”)  One of them sniffles as they discover the bell was rung by the two birds the man had freed one year ago, by slamming their bodies into it, injuring themselves in the process.  (“They wanted to save him like he saved them from being eaten!!”)  And they both cheer when the man cares for the birds, heals them, and sets them free again.  (“I knew there was a happy ending!”)

By the time I finish, the girls are physically drained from the bouncing and shouting.  As Toni is nowhere to be seen, I rise and tuck them into bed, promising to tell them another story the next time I come over if they stay down and go to sleep.  (I don’t anticipate doing so any time soon, but they are insistent.)  They both hug me around the neck, their discomfort with me as a stranger overwhelmed by their enjoyment of the story, before curling up beside each other.  I switch on the Tinkerbell night light and carefully close the door behind me.

I pad down the hall silently, drawn by the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Toni is curled up on the couch facing the muted television, her back to me.  I round the sofa, preparing my best “I put your kids to bed, now let’s do this” dialogue, but am caught by surprised when I see her eyes are closed, and her head is propped up slightly against the back cushion.  She is breathing slowly, deeply, clearly sound asleep.  I watch her for a moment, weighing my options, but I am reminded of how unpleasantly cranky a mother bear can be when roused too early from her slumber.  I decide not to wake her.

Instead, I lean forward and kiss her on the forehead lightly.  “Sleep well, Mama Bear.”

I help myself to a red Solo cup of fresh hot coffee and let myself out of the small apartment, setting the lock on the door knob as I quietly shut myself out.  I feel slightly disappointed that the evening ended so anticlimactically, but the disappointment is tinged with a hint of pride, the source of which I can’t quite identify.  But the coffee is good, and I let it warm my hands as I make my way toward the parking lot.

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5 Comments

  1. As always, Bi, freaking fantastic. See, under all that crazy sex appeal, you really are a gentleman…

  2. Awesome! You are a natural storyteller on so many levels!

    I’ve got two little boys who would eat that story up…and I would probably fall asleep sitting up, too…

  3. Sweet of you not to wake Mama Bear – although I’m sure she wouldn’t have minded at all… ; )

  4. I was in Costco and this guy who looked like he was a Jersey Shore cast member was handing out samples. He charmed my four year old with an elaborate story about Spider Man climbing the wharehouse. It totaly made me think of this story and wonder if he was sharpening his game for some MILF action.

    Great story and so charming that you let her sleep. She may have been a little ticked off that she fell asleep and missed her chance though.

  5. The pride was from putting someone else’s needs before your own. Well done.


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