The Storyteller (March 2020, Week 2 Day 7)
“Tell my a story?”
“Me, baby. Tell me a story.”
“Tell ME a story?”
Crystal closed her eyes. “Baby, I’m all out of stories.”
“No, mama.” Krissy pulled herself up onto the tall chair across from Crystal, her short limbs dangling for a moment before finding purchase on the railing. “You has one more story.”
“You HAVE one more story. You always has – have one more story.”
Crystal looked at her daughter sitting on her own chair across from her, with tousled hair and smudges on her cheeks. She thought about all the stories she’d had to slog through at work, each one worse than the one before it. She thought about the mamas she’d left who wouldn’t be telling any stories to their babies anytime soon. “Once upon a time,”
Krissy’s face exploded into a smile that crinkled the smudges on her cheeks. “Yay! I like once upon the time stories!”
“A time, baby. Once upon A time. Let me clean you up and get you ready for bed, then I’ll tell you your story.”
Krissy scrambled down the chair and padded off to the bathroom. Crystal cracked her neck, first right, then left, and got up to oversee the clean up. Their apartment was small enough that nothing was ever too far away and large enough for Crystal to be able to have privacy after bedtime. They had moved in earlier that year and she was still working on making it feel like home.
“I brushed my teeth, mama.” Krissy waved her wet and foamy toothbrush around as proof of her words.
“And I’ma brush them once more. You know I need to do my part.”
“Yes, Mama. Aaaaaah.” Krissy opened her mouth and thrust the toothbrush into Crystal’s hand.
Bedtime was their time. No matter how crazy things got at work Crystal made sure she was always home for bedtime. Brushing those little teeth and scrubbing Krissy’s chubby cheeks before helping her into pajamas and tucking her in were the highlights of Crystal’s day.
It took some back and forth to get Krissy into the right pajamas for the evening and to have all the right stuffed animals surrounding her pillow and to have the right nightlights on. As Crystal eased herself down onto Krissy’s bed it was all she could do to keep from climbing in alongside her daughter and falling asleep.
“I’m ready for my story.”
“Of course you are.” Crystal leaned back on the wall and let her eyes close.
“Mama, don’t fall asleep!”
Crystal opened her eyes and smiled. “I’m not sleeping, baby. I need to close my eyes to see the pictures.”
“Can I see the pictures?”
“If you close your eyes you just might.”
Krissy snuggled herself down deeper under the covers until only her chin peeked out. “Ok mama, I’m ready. You close your eyes and I’ll close mine.”
Crystal let her eyes flutter shut and started the story again. “Once upon a time,”
Crystal looked at her daughter and smiled. Krissy’s eyes were squeezed so tight her cheeks almost met her forehead. “What baby?”
“Will the story have a princess or a knight?”
“Are those my only choices?”
Krissy’s eyes popped open. “Mama, Once upon a time stories always have a princess or a knight.”
“How about a knight who is a princess?”
“Oh!” Krissy’s nodding shook the bed. “A Knight Princess?”
“Yeah, baby. Now close those eyes so I can get to telling.”
While Krissy snuggled herself back into place and closed her eyes, Crystal sifted through the faces from work, choosing which one would fuel tonight’s story.
“Once upon a time, there was a princess named Krishanda. She was tall, strong, and smart as all get out. She and her seven sisters worked to keep their kingdom and subjects safe and prosperous. Their mother, Queen Crystalta, ruled all the land that could be seen from the topmost turret of the castle.”
Krissy, her eyes open again, said, “like you and me, Mama”
“Am I going to be tall and strong and smart as all get out?”
“Only if you close those eyes and let me finish this story.”
Krissy smiled and pulled one arm out from beneath the covers, reaching for Crystal’s hand. “Ok, mama.”
Crystal continued where she’d left off. “Princess Krishanda was riding her horse through the eastern part of the kingdom when she heard a woman crying. Following the sound, Princess Krishanda led guided her horse down a lane and found a woman not much older than herself sitting on the ground in front of a small house. She held her head in her hands and her tears dripped onto her skirts.”
Crystal had almost been moved to tears by her final interview of the evening. It was always hardest when the woman sitting across from her, shackled to the chair, was someone who reminded herself of herself. Thinking ‘there but by the grace of God go I’ was never a good feeling, not in her line of work.
“What’s the matter, kind woman?” Princess Krishanda asked as she climbed off her horse.
The woman, not used to having a princess address her directly, stopped crying and swiped at the tears on her cheeks as she scrambled up to standing. “Your highness, forgive me.”
“My name is Krishanda, Princess Krishanda if you must be formal. Please, tell me why you are crying.”
They never expected compassion, and it was often all Crystal had that she could give them. Compassion and dignity were in short supply out in the world and especially in the criminal justice system.
The woman gave a small bow before answering. “Princess Krishanda, I’ve lost my son to the dragon’s den.”
“Dragons are scary!”
“Should we stop the story and finish tomorrow?”
“No, mama. Princess Krishanda will take care of the dragon and the lady and the son. Right? But maybe she won’t hurt the dragon, either?”
Crystal chuckled, warmed by her daughter’s concern, “Baby, do you want to tell this story instead of me?”
Krissy squeezed her eyes shut again.
“Princess Krishanda secured her horse and followed the woman into her home to hear the rest of her story. She sat the woman down, took leaves from her pouch and made her some tea, and then sat across from her to listen. “Tell me what happened, everything that happened, and only speak the truth.”
Crystal thought about how she had taken notes while the woman shared her story, using her laptop as a shield. The clink the chains made as the woman attempted to use her hands underscored her captivity. She had cried the whole time, begging Crystal for the chance to see her son, promising that she had never done this before and wouldn’t do it ever again. Explaining that she’d had to leave to provide for her son since his deadbeat dad had skipped out on them the month before leaving her without resources or a way to get them. Assuring Crystal that she’d left the house locked and the child in the playpen so he wouldn’t get into trouble while she was gone. Swearing that she’d only planned on being gone for an hour round-trip. Justifying her aggression with the officers that blocked her from seeing her son when she returned home.
“Princess Krishanda, my family is in trouble and I had to do something. You saw my land and how barren it is? Our once-fertile crops have stopped growing. Our cows and chickens are hungry and have stopped sharing their milk and eggs. My husband left us in search of work or food or both and hasn’t been seen in twenty-eight days. I am here, alone, with my baby boy and not enough food in the cupboards for either of us. As you can see, we are down to our last turnip. I had to do something to keep us alive.”
Krissy sat up and rubbed her eyes. “This is a scary story.”
Crystal put her hand on Krissy’s cheek. “Are you doubting Princess Krishanda, baby?”
“Oh!” Krissy’s eyes brightened. “The Knight Princess! She will save the day!” Krissy shot one arm up into the sky as if she were pointing a sword.
“I sure hope so, but only a certain little girl stops interrupting and we can find out what that dang dragon has done and fix it.”
Krissy giggled and put her arm down. “Mama?”
“I need to go potty before we find the dragon.”
Crystal pulled the covers back and moved some of the stuffed animals out of the way. “Go on and take care of your business.”
As Krissy padded off to the bathroom Crystal rested her head in her hands and looked around the room. This was the most finished room in the apartment. She had filled the walls with art and words to surround her daughter with images and messages of strength.