Dad walks in and strides straight to the Commodore 128. He never changes out of his work clothes before dinner.

I’ve finally learned not to attack him the second he walks in the door, so I walk into my bedroom and shift the piles of papers under my nightstand for a couple of minutes, an eternity for a 9-year-old.

I pick up the piece of notebook paper that’s sitting on top of the stack. I pinch it at both top corners and hold it at arm’s length as I walk back toward the dining room. I don’t want to wrinkle it.

Ground beef sizzles in the kitchen.

I stand beside the heavy computer desk Dad built out of solid doors. He isn’t typing right now.

“I made you a book cover,” I say and hold out the paper.

It’s a rough drawing of an old, bearded man and a boy. The man sits on a log and has his mouth open while the boy sits on the ground, looking attentive. In balloon letters, I’ve written “The Grand Master of Lore” at the top.

He takes the picture.

“Do you want to use it?”

“It’s good. It really goes with the story. I might change the title, though.”

“I can erase that part and write it over again.”

He keeps the picture on his desk.

We are not a literary family.

There’s nothing special about us. Dad works in production and Mom stays home. We’re like every other family in this dusty, country town. We’re just as unwealthy and uncultured as anyone else around here. A little better off than some, a little worse off than others.

We are not a literary family.

Except, we are.

The room that should be our dining room is full of books. We call it the library. There’s no Tolstoy or Woolf here, but it’s still a potential avalanche of words.

We are not a literary family.

But we come up with new worlds every night. When my cousins spend the night, we tell stories about The Thing that lives in my closet. Sometimes The Thing is the spirit of a tiny creature that used to live in our trailer before we bought it. Sometimes it’s a living creature that might pull the other kids into the closet, where they’ll disappear.

Some nights, our dog can talk. Dad tells us about all the adventures we go on with him. He lets us adopt Star and Jumper, the horses he and his sister “owned” in the bedtime stories Pop used to tell them.

Other nights, he reads us The Iliad as a bedtime story.

Mom writes poetry, filling notebooks she won’t let us see. There’s almost always a scratchpad by the computer with a list of related words because she’s trying to find just the right one.

And Dad is writing a fantasy novel. He works on it most nights when he comes home, between cutting wood or fixing the air conditioning ducts our dog tore up.

We have no pedigrees, no connections, no education.

We do have words, though.

We write down the things we’d never dare to say out loud. We transform ugly moments into lyrics that float. We can escape the mesquite trees and cracked mud to go anywhere we want. To any time we want. Nothing is impossible in our house.

I don’t quite do get there yet. I write about talking hippos and magical giraffes that escape from the zoo. I write poems about fat cats and apples.

I may be too little to ride these rapids, but I see how powerful they are. How powerful the people who learn how to navigate them are. I want to be part of that, even if it’s just drawing a book cover.

I want to be one of those people.

 

“Mommy, does your main character have any pets?”

I turn away from the monitor to answer my 9-year-old daughter. “I haven’t given her any.”

“I think she should have an alien dog as a pet.”

She knows just enough about the novel I’m working on to know my main character isn’t quite human. Though, an alien dog wouldn’t exactly work.

“Maybe,” I reply.

She leaves for a while and I try to focus after the interruption. I shouldn’t have tried to write while the kids were home.

She comes back a few minutes later, holding a sheet of copier paper in front of her. She presents it to me.

“I drew a dog for your character. See? It has bat wings. Do you like it?”

I laugh and she scowls at me. She thinks I’m making fun of her. I’m not.

“It’s good. It really goes with the story.”

 

Image Credit: Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon (Creative Commons)

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