17 Telling

I remember my mother telling me bedtime stories. They all started, “Once upon a time...” and they all ended “...and they lived happily ever after.”. No matter what scrapes or adventures the characters had to face, I knew that everything would be all right in the end, that they would always live “happily ever after”.

So, when my parents told me that they were going to separate, I was not unduly worried. No matter what befell us, I kept telling myself, everything would be alright. They would get back together and we would all live happily ever after.

My father moved out of the house to a small flat not far away. I told myself that he was an enchanted prince, locked away in a dungeon. When I went to visit him, I was an adventurer coming to his rescue, riding my noble steed. When he came to visit me, he was a wanderer returning from untold years of exile to tell tales of wonder.

And each time I expected him to tell me that he was coming home for good, that we had reached the “happily ever after” point in the story. The trouble with living in a story rather than telling it, though, is that the good do not always end happily. Even I could see that my parents were happier living apart. It did not matter that I kept telling them that I was unhappy. They both loved me but they could not love each other enough to start again.

The divorce was quick and painless but I still lost something. Now, whenever my mother offered to tell me a story, I shook my head.

“No thanks, Mum. I'm not in the mood,” I would say before rolling over away from her and pretending to go to sleep.

And she would lean over and kiss me good night before leaving the room and I would weep silent tears until I fell asleep.

People told me that time was a great healer. I did not heal but the wound created by my parents' betrayal of my “happy ever after” did scab over. They both met new people and my mother remarried. Our old home was put up for sale and she and my step-father bought a new house. I might have moved in with my father but I did not get on with his latest girlfriend.

When my mother told me that she was going to have a baby, I felt sick but I told her that I was happy for her.

She smiled a little sadly and asked, “Are you sure? I know all of this must take a lot of getting used to.”

“Don't fuss, Mum, I'm fine,” I lied and went up to my room to slash at virtual monsters with a huge, virtual sword. The new baby was a monster, I told myself, the fulfilment of some dark and ancient prophesy. And I was the only person in all the worlds who could stop it from coming into being!

The controller fell from my nerveless fingers. What was I thinking? Was my pain really enough to justify plotting harm to an innocent baby? I looked again at the screen where a huge purple creature with horns as long as its body was making mincemeat of my brave heroes. Without me to tell them what to do, they simply stood and waited for their health meters to tick down, until one by one they crumpled to the ground.

“Game Over” flashed up in harsh red letters on the screen and sad music played.

So, my parents had divorced; their story ended with “game over” rather than “happily ever after”. But what about my story? My story had hardly begun but it had already had its share of twists and turns. Now, the latest twist was my new brother or sister.

I turned the game console off and went back downstairs where my mother was sitting on the couch reading.

“Mum, would you mind telling me a story?” I asked, snuggling in beside her.

“Of course not!” she said, putting down the book and stroking my hair. “Once upon a time...”


Topic: 17 Telling

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