November 1, 2009
I subscribe to a Web site called One More Story that I sometimes enlist to do the work of reading to my older son; it offers him musical accompaniment and much better voice work than I am capable of. Also, the words turn red as they are spoken aloud, which puts me in mind of the King James Bible, where all of Jesus’ talk is printed in red.
I mostly love to read to my son myself, but I get lazy, and he gets bored, and sometimes his younger brother’s intrusions and demands make reading anything but the simplest board books impossible, so sometimes it’s just better for him to go to this site and be read to. It’s almost as good as TV to him, and I get to feel as if I have enriched him without expending any actual effort.
Recently it was pure laziness that drove us to the site; the toddler was sleeping, so I dozed on the couch with my older son curled up beside me, letting the laptop mother him. I dreamt lightly through the first couple of books, then woke at the beginning of Fox, by Margaret Wild.
I can’t do justice to this story by summarizing it, but I can’t ruin it for you either; it’s that perfect. A dog runs through the woods with an injured magpie in his mouth. Her wing is ruined, and she no longer wants to live if she can’t fly. But Dog convinces her he can be her wings; he runs through the woods with Magpie clinging to his back, and she decides she can go on.
Sounds like a sweet story, no? But it goes on: A fox takes shelter with them, and at first I think it is normal sort of children’s book danger, that he will simply want to eat Magpie. But Fox is jealous of the love between Dog and Magpie, and he speaks to her in secret, promising that he can run faster than Dog ever could, that with him she will truly take flight. It’s a seduction, and though she insists she will never leave Dog, Fox’s words work their tendrils into her, and she succumbs.
Fox tears though the forest with Magpie, miles out onto desert plains. Then he shucks her off his back and abandons her. I am wide awake at this point, wondering if it was wise to let my kid listen to this tragic story. Then I decide it’s better for him to learn within the safe space of a story that there are people in the world with this malevolence, who want to take something away from you not so they can have it, but so you can feel the terrible loss they live with always; some people are so lonely and damaged, this is their only communion.
Noting my dismay, my son reassures me, “It’s OK, Mommy. It turns out OK, I think.” Magpie considers just lying down to die in the desert, but instead she begins the long walk home, back to Dog. She’s twice saved by love.