I used to tell my sister stories to help her go to sleep, back when she was little. One story I told her I remember like it was yesterday. The summer evenings back home were warm, but not hot like they are in California. Mom and dad were both out for the night, and Lizzie—that’s my sister’s name. Well, it’s actually Elizabeth, but that’s what I call her. Anyway, Lizzie was having trouble going to sleep as usual. I had tried music, I had tried lying down with her, I had tried making warm milk for her, I had even tried calling mom, though there was no answer, as I expected. So, now that all else had failed, I decided to tell her a story.
“Lizzie” I said, leaning against the doorframe of her room, “do you want to hear a story?” She turned to me with a huge smile on her face. Her eyes sparkled and her hands clenched together tight.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” She said, bouncing with every cry to emphasize her excitement.
“Then you have to get in bed silly.” She hastily tossed her toys in a pile and jumped into bed. I grabbed the blue plastic chair from her drawing desk and pulled it over to her bed, then turned the lights out and took a seat. We sat there in silence for a few moments, while I gathered my thoughts. I could hear her short, excited breaths as she waited. In through her mouth, then out through her nose. I took a deep breath, and leaned forward, with my elbows on my knees. My hands hung together loosely between my legs.
“Ok, this story is one is about you, but it’s about a you that’s in a different universe, so you have to picture it for me, ok?”
“Ok,” she whispered.
“Ok, so picture yourself, in a boat on a river,” I must digress, I pulled the setting slightly from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, “the sky is a blistering orange color, because the sun is setting, the edges of the night are creeping in. The river you are running down is large and strong, but you aren’t worried. You lay back in your boat, which is really more of a kayak now that I think about it, and look up at the clouds above you. They look inviting and happy. You see hummingbirds fly over you and can hear the little tweets of some unknown birds in the trees.
“You take a deep breath and feel at peace, but instead of drifting off to sleep you are compelled to sit up, and smell the fresh watery air. You look down the river and see it is leading you into a cave inside a mountain, but there’s no need to fear—this is where you were headed all this time. As you grow closer, the river slows your course, and you see the gaping opening of the cave, like the mouth of some primordial beast, stuck in time the moment before it swallowed its prey.
“You cross into the darkness of the cave—your eyes take a moment to adjust before you can see clearly. You pull a lantern from your bag, and a small box of matches. Your first two strikes prove fruitless, but on the third the match erupts into flame. Using your other hand, you shield the match from them wind, then slip it inside the lantern. When the wick has been lit, you carefully extract the match, and wave it out in the air. The smoke of the match trails off into the darkness, and you toss the remains into the river. You—”
“But that’s littering!” Lizzie intervenes. The pout on her face is clear from the sound of her voice, though there’s a yawn in her voice. She was on her way out— her protest a last defiance before sleep overtakes her.
“Hold on, let me finish. Ok, so what I meant to say was you were about to throw the remains into the water, but then thought better of it. Instead, you ground the extinguished match out on the side of your boat. You raise the lantern onto the pole in your boat, to give a dim light to the cave. The river has slowed your boat to a crawl, and you can see that it seems to stop ahead of you. Strange. Where did the water go. Ahead, there is a shore, and when the water approaches ankle deep, you hop out and pull your boat to shore. The water is cool, but not cold. Your boots slosh in the water, and stick to the sandy floor with each step. Once your boat is secure, you pull out your bag and look at the floor. Fatigue pulls at your eyelids, and you decide to set up camp. You wave your lantern around, to observe the area around you. To your surprise, there’s a pile of wood, sitting as if for a campfire just for you. You set your things down, and light the fire. The wood takes to the fire immediately, and you are warmed. You lie down, and feel the weight of your day pass over your shoulders, the heat of the fire licking at your backside. You feel comfortable, despite your loneliness, and you drift off to sleep.”
I leaned back in my chair, and took another deep breath. The moment of truth. Was Lizzie asleep? I paused and waited. Silence. She was out cold.
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