The following is an exercise in writing a one page short story.
The child wanted a story.
But the stories were all worn.
They had holes in them. Great, gaping holes through which you could stick your foot if you really wanted to.
“So, there was a princess,” I began, gamely enough.
The child pursed her lips thoughtfully, expectantly. This was good. The child liked tales of princesses.
“She was the most beautiful in all… the pirate ship,” I paused, apprehensive. The child’s head inclined on her neck, but she refrained from speech. Clearly, she was going to let me go a little further before she rebelled against the plot. “There were small pirates with green teeth and tall pirates with black teeth and medium sized pirates with no teeth at all, but the greatest of all the pirates was the Captain… Charming.”
“Why was he called Charming?” the child asked, marking her place in the story. If things went rapidly downhill, she now knew precisely where it started.
“Because of alliteration,” I answered with false bravado.
“What’s alliteration?” she parried, her eyes narrowing. This gave me an idea.
“It’s a kind of swordplay.” Her brow crinkled and she stared a big, incredulous, cavernous glare. “With words.” That little bit of truth doused the outer edges of her disbelief and she settled back down to listen. “One day as he rode by on his handsome white horse, called Beauteous…”
The child’s spine stiffened and she measured out her disdain. “A horse? On a pirate ship?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, judging that any attempt at explanation could lead to further metafictional infractions. “Now, where were we? A horse called Beauteous… He met a man and tried to sell him the cow.”
“I thought it was a horse,” the dry response came back, like Narcissus’ sarcastic echo.
“It was. A magical horse. It turned into a cow.”
“Then the story should say so.”
I lifted my nose in the air. “It probably assumes most people know that.”
Her mouth struggled with irritation, then lapsed into a frown. “Okay… horse turns into cow.”
“But all the man had was… a daughter with golden hair. Now, this daughter was so lovely that the sun hid from their kingdom, ashamed of its… warts. And straight away grabbed the prince and stuffed him in an oven!”
“But Dad…” There was no getting by that fierce rebuff.
“Oh well,” I said at last, gently. “It’s all worn, but it’s soft.” I wrapped the remnants of story around the child and kissed her forehead. “Sleep tight, tucked up happily ever after.”
The child blinked once, then twice, a very slow, sleepy blink, and then her lashes closed up shop for the night. I turned out the light, noticing one frayed strand of story had caught on my fingernail.
“But the wolf huffed and he…”