It’s Story Tuesday…
So here, dear readers, is your short story of the week – as always, feedback, critiques and especially rave reviews are most welcome! I hope you enjoy.
Miss Polly Esther
By Goody Niosi
A month after Lucy’s first and surprisingly popular children’s book launched, she answered the phone. “Lucy Enderby?”
“Sonia Hemmings, here. I’m the chair of the Vancouver Island Children’s Festival.”
Lucy allowed that she had no idea there was such a thing – although she was well aware of the smashingly successful Children’s Festival in Vancouver.
“Well,” Sonia said. “We’re bringing it right here to Vancouver Island. And we’d like you to participate!”
Exciting news indeed. Of course she would participate. “What would you like me to do?” Lucy asked, picturing herself dangling from a wispy silk scarf in a Cirque Eos act – and instantly thinking “no!”
“Well, stories. Your book is soooo amazing,” Sonia gushed. “All that everyday magic – such fun!”
Lucy liked it when people gushed. She still hadn’t got past the thrill of seeing her books on the shelf at Chapters/Indigo.
“You want me to read from my book?” she asked.
“Well, we thought maybe something a bit more entertaining – not that reading isn’t entertaining – but you know – something more visual. Something really exciting. We have so many incredible acts coming – stilt walkers and hoop dancers and acrobats – and we want the children to be hands-on and involved.”
“Fine,” Lucy said. “I’ll do a storytelling workshop.”
“Oh wonderful!” Sonia said. “So – for the brochure – what shall I say it’s all about?”
“Um – well – the group of children and I – we make up stories and sort of act them out. With costumes and things – all very fast, fun and active. Very – uh – hands-on.”
“Perfect. The festival runs three days – so – three shows a day? Thirty minutes each? We’ll put you in the reading room in the library right off the main square.”
Well then. How difficult could it be? She had two months to prepare, which was a very long time, so she filed it under, “Things to do at some other time.”
A couple of weeks later, she noticed the brochures sitting in a rack in a downtown store. Sonia emailed to tell her they had been distributed to the schools and her group slots were filled. She was more popular than the pottery workshop. The last show of each day was reserved for the public. No reservations. She might get a group of three or fifty.
Four weeks before the festival, Lucy thought she ought to turn her attention to what she was actually going to do. Costumes – she had promised dress-up. She called her friend Ruth who was also known as “Candy the Clown.”
“Ruth – do you still have your tickle trunk? The old one? The one you don’t use any more?”
“”The one with the cast-offs?”
“Can I borrow it for the Children’s Festival?”
“Sure. I noticed you’re doing a storytelling workshop. I’m in front of the library all three days making balloon animals.”
“Wonderful – I’ll pick the trunk up tomorrow.”
She had a pretty good idea what was in it: lots and lots of hats and head gear: a pirate’s hat, a plumed three-cornered hat, a tiara, a floppy gold crown, a jewelled turban, reindeer antlers, a knight’s helmet, a Viking horned helmet, a green elf hat, a top hat, a bridal veil, a musketeer hat, even a Robin Hood hat. The trunk contained several capes, a pink tutu, a giant rainbow parachute, various plastic swords and spears, big clown shoes, banana coloured vests and a pair of wire wings. Ruth had spent half a lifetime buying anything that looked like it might be useful clown gear. The stuff she actually used ended up in the good trunk – this was her, “Maybe-someday-but-I-don’t-really-think-so” trunk. As far as Lucy was concerned, it qualified as hands-on costumes.
But what was she going to wear? She bemoaned her lack of costume to her friend Ron over lunch a week before the festival.
“I’ve got something,” he said.
“Something you’ve worn?”
“Only once,” he said. “A couple of Halloweens ago.”
“I don’t know,” Lucy said. “Look at us.”
Lucy weighed just over one hundred pounds and managed to clear five-foot three if she stood up straight and tall. Ron’s heady six feet topped out at well over two hundred pounds.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Finish your eggs benny –we’re going to my place.”
He was right – he did have something: a complete polyester suit – lime green pants with red suspenders, a rainbow-hued checked shirt, a neon-yellow suit jacket and a purple vest. “You see,” he said, as Lucy climbed into the outfit, “The size just makes you look all the more magical and cute.”
Lucy drove away with the outfit in the back seat. She called Sonia from the car. “Have you made up the sign yet for the workshop?”
“Doing it tomorrow.”
Okay – the name of the storyteller is Miss Polly Esther. I’ll spell it for you.”
The night before her first show, Lucy opened the trunk. She’d found a couple of items in the local dollar store that she thought might be useful: a plastic fireman’s helmet, a plastic swashbuckler’s belt and some green dragon horns. She dug down to the bottom of the trunk and found a few things she hadn’t been aware off – a shiny red belt, a couple of pink wigs and a wand. It was a lovely wand: silver and gold with a star at the tip and a flutter of spangles weaving their way down to the handle. It looked properly magical.
Her first show was scheduled for eleven a.m. She arrived half an hour early dressed in her polyester and with the trunk’s red clown shoes on her feet. A team of jugglers was already dancing around the square. From a tent came the sound of drums and back at the far end of the square, a group of children of all sizes and ages were learning hip-hop.
She installed herself in the reading room where the tiered benches rose in front of her. She estimated that the room could hold about sixty people.
She set her trunk down on a long foldout table and sat next to it, dangling her oversize red feet over the edge.
Pretty soon the door opened and a young teacher poked her head in. “Is this the place? Miss Polly Esther?”
“Welcome!” Lucy said with her biggest smile. “Come in!”
The door opened wide and in marched an orderly line of children – grades one and two – boys and girls holding hands two by two. “Top rows first!” the teacher called out. The rows filled, another teacher bringing up the rear. And there they were: a full house of eager, anticipatory faces waiting for something magical to happen.
Lucy took a deep breath. Show time!
“Once upon a time,” she began. “There was a little girl whose mission it was to save the world. But she didn’t know how to do it. The great wizard had only told her that she had to set out on the road and follow the clues she would find. It was a big job for such a young girl but she was brave and decided she would just do it. So she set out on the road. And it was a lovely country road. It wound through fields with horses and cows – and under big shady oak trees. There were flowers in the fields and bees buzzing. Birds were singing songs. It was a perfect summer day. And then the road wound up a hill and just as she got to the top – what jumped out at her?”
A boy in the front row yelled, “A helicopter!”
“Yes!” Lucy cried, jumped off the table and dug up the beany cap with the propeller on top. She fetched the boy, put the beany on his head and started whirling him around the room. “And the helicopter flew around and around and really scared the little girl a lot! But just then, to save her, along came a?
“Prince!” a girl in the top row yelled.
“Of course!” Lucy said, signalling the girl to step down. She quickly placed the floppy crown on the girl’s head and ran around and around the room with both children chasing and giggling. “And the prince chased the helicopter away and made everything safe again.”
With both children seated again and the room already in a chaotic uproar (even the teachers were guffawing deep belly laughs) Lucy felt her nervous butterflies evaporate.
She wove the story: wizards and wolves happened upon the scene. When she asked for a suggestion, which was often, dozens of hands shot into the air. The story contained vampires, lions, knights, puppies and witches. And in the end, as the clock’s hands in the back of the room inched close to eleven-thirty, she wrapped it up with the little girl finding what would save the world: peace and love. She unfurled the giant rainbow parachute and invited everyone underneath it. Shrieks, dancing, laughter, and exhaustion.
The children tumbled chaotically out of the room, breathless and giddy.
“Thank you,” the teachers cried over the their shoulders, trying to round up their mob. “That was wonderful!”
Lucy glowed. She packed up the various hats and swords and bits of netting, stuffed the parachute back in its bag, and packed everything back into the trunk, closing the lid – although it seemed much fuller than before. Bad packing.
The two o’clock session was even more fun than the first. Again the room was packed. At five she prepared for her first public show. Parents hesitantly came in with their children. Was this the right place?
Only the two front rows filled with a group of about a dozen children and five adults. They were the same ages as the school children except for one tiny girl at the far right end. She couldn’t have been more than three years old, sitting with a woman who was probably her grandmother. The girl half-hid her face in the pleats of the woman’s dress, her cloud of blond curls crushed on one side and flying free in corkscrews on the other.
The energy in the room was quieter. Lucy started with a little boy on a quest to save the world. A couple of twin boys front and centre gleefully shouted answers: they suggested warlocks and dragons. In minutes the other children jumped in. The room erupted as it had before. Lucy dashed around, throwing capes over boys’ shoulders, clamping a helmet over a girl’s head, fighting a dragon but not slaying – making friends with it, and everything ending under a parachute that even the parents crawled under.
At five-thirty, the children and adults filed out, still laughing. The only ones left behind were the grandmother and the little curly-headed girl who had sat quietly in the corner.
“Oh,” Lucy said. “You’re still here.”
“Go on,” the woman said to the girl. “Tell Miss Polly Esther.”
Lucy walked close to the girl, and kneeled down face to face. “What do you want to tell me?” she asked.
“I said, ‘a cloud.’”
The woman leaned slightly forward. “When you asked what came around the bend in the road next, Sandy said, ‘a cloud.”
“Ohhhhh.” Lucy searched her memory. “I didn’t hear you. I’m so sorry.”
Sandy looked down at her feet, scuffed her toe along the carpet.
Lucy looked up at the woman. “I didn’t hear her.”
The woman nodded. “I know. She whispered it.”
Sandy looked up again, tears spilling over her pale blond lashes.
Lucy wanted to gather the little girl in her arms. She wanted to rewind and do it all over again. She wanted to flagellate herself. She wanted to make it right.
“Tell you what,” she said. “Come back next time – tomorrow if you can – I’m going to tell a story again and I’m pretty sure we can have a cloud in it – or a princess – or anything at all that you think should be part of the story. Okay?”
The girl nodded.
“I don’t know if we can come back tomorrow,” the woman said.
“I hope you can.”
Lucy watched them go. Please let them come back.
She packed the trunk. She couldn’t quite put the lid down. And she noticed a new frock coat and a pair of butterfly wings. Why had she not seen them before?
She slid the trunk under the table, ready for her first show in the morning.
The school sessions the next day were even better than the day before. The only word Lucy could think of to describe them was “magical.” The frock coat paired with the top hat was perfect for the boy who yelled out “Dracula!” And, amazingly, there was even a plastic set of vampire teeth in the bottom of the hat. And when a little girl said that a butterfly came to chase away the dragon, there were the butterfly wings!
After the second show, Sonia rushed in. “Oh my gosh, she said. “Everyone is talking about your workshop! All the school groups, even the older classes, want in. And of course, they can’t – you’re full! You’re the talk of the festival!”
“Wow! But really, it’s just telling a story.”
“You have no idea!” Sonia said.
At four-thirty, the room was packed for the five o-clock show. Lucy noticed that a new policeman’s hat had appeared as well as a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. The trunk was overflowing. Who was donating these objects?
She looked for Sandy and her grandmother. At five she was ready to close the door. She poked her head out – no sign of any latecomers.
The show was raucous. Lucy barely kept it under control. She walked (or ran) the fine edge of pandemonium and semi-orderly fun. The parents gave her a standing ovation.
When the last person had left and the door closed. Lucy sighed. She gathered the jetsam of the show and began placing it into the trunk – or trying to. Maybe a reorganization would help. She took everything out. How had that new purple vest materialized? And the floppy red bard’s cap? At the bottom of the trunk lay the wand. Oh – she needed to use that. She’d quite forgotten about it down there. The star glowed softly in the light, almost as though it had a light of its own. Batteries, she wondered? No, just a reflection.
She shoved the trunk under the table.
The next morning, she noticed two new sparkly headbands added to the gear overflowing the trunk. Aha! The librarian! Wonderful! All contributions were welcome.
The morning and afternoon shows were exciting and exhausting. As she prepared for the last show of day three, Lucy congratulated herself for getting through them – for doing well – and mostly for the day of rest in her future. Who knew that this silly little workshop would be so exhausting?
She organized her trunk for the last show. There was a new cape – quite small. It was a gossamer thing that came around, clasped in front and would easily wrap around an entire small body. It was white with little shimmers running through it – perhaps a bit of pearly grey with the tiniest tinge of blue. Lucy couldn’t name the material – it was the softest thing she had ever touched. Where had the librarian found it? And how did she manage to sneak these things into the room?
Lucy kept the door closed until ten minutes before five. When she opened it, a tidal wave of children and adults burst in – and in the middle of the pack were Sandy and her grandmother. Lucy beamed at them, couldn’t stop grinning – she thought her face might split. They found a seat front and centre and the show began. A little girl – off to save the world. Sandy sat close to her grandmother, leaning against her but not hiding her face. Good. The usual suspects quickly appeared – a Wizard (with a wizard’s pointy hat) and a dragon (with green, scaly horns) and then an enchanted rabbit – and magically, there was a huge pair of pink and white bunny ears spilling out of the trunk.
Lucy kept her eyes and mostly her ears on the front row, centre.
“And then the girl, after hugging the enchanted rabbit good-bye walked back down the road and as she came around a corner she saw a…”
“A cloud!” Lucy said. “Yes – a beautiful white cloud with sparkles!”
She reached out and took Sandy’s hand, enveloped her in the soft white, sparkly grey with a tinge of blue cloth. It was made for her – just her size; it completely enveloped her little body leaving just a wee head topped with a halo of yellow curls poking out. Sandy’s face was wreathed in smiles.
“And the cloud floated down the road, showing the little girl the way,” Lucy said, taking Sandy by the hand and skipping around and around the room. Sandy giggled and giggled – skipping and hopping.
“But it was a magic cloud!” Lucy said, reaching for the wand with its star tip that wasn’t just glowing – it was flashing light. “And the cloud floated up and up!” Lucy touched Sandy’s head with the wand – and Sandy floated up and up while the cloud cloth threw down rainbows. Sandy giggled twirling in the air; the children squealed, catching rainbows that turned to sparkles in their hands before vanishing in a puff of silver.
“And then the magic cloud came down to earth!” Lucy said.
She waved the wand.
The cloud alit. Sandy ran to her grandmother, still giggling.
Lucy put the wand down. “And after the cloud left,” she said, “Along came a…”
“Policeman!” a girl shouted. Lucy topped the girl’s head with the new policeman’s cap.
And in the end, the big rainbow parachute covered everyone in the room, including Sandy who was still dressed as a cloud. And still giggling.
At five-thirty, the children and adults filed out. “Thank-you; thank-you; that was wonderful; thank you!”
Lucy smiled. Sandy and her grandmother were last to leave.
“Now give that lovely cloak back to Miss Polly,” her grandmother said.
“No,” Lucy said. “It belongs to Sandy. It’s her magic cloud.”
Sandy beamed, hugged her arms around herself. “Thank-you,” she said.
“I don’t know how you do it,” the woman said. “The first one was great. But this! How did you make it look like she was flying? – and all the rainbow stuff! David Copperfield couldn’t have done a better job. Really amazing! Honestly, I don’t know how you did it.”
The door closed behind them. Lucy walked to the trunk and the table full of hats and capes and crowns. “I don’t know how I did it either,” she said.
And she noticed as she packed the trunk for the last time that some items were missing: like the policeman’s’ cap, the bunny ears, the frock coat and vampire teeth. The wand was just a plastic wand with a thick silver cardboard star on top. And the trunk lid closed quite easily.