“Momma, momma, tell us a story!” Their eager facers peered up at her; Celine couldn’t resist. She loved stories, and she wanted her children to love them too, but now they were constantly demanding new ones, and stretching her patience. Their eyes were so wide, so excited, so innocent, that Celine felt herself melt, shoulders relaxing. The children sensed their victory, snuggling in on either side like bookends. She smiled wryly at the thought and pulled the blanket around them.
“What kind of story, angels?”
“One with dragons!” shrieked Derrick.
“One with a party! And pretty clothes,” sighed Essie. Her twin brother pulled a face, but she continued seriously, “and fighting.”
Celine smiled; Derrick seemed mollified, but there was bigger lesson here. “Alright, give me a moment,” she said, intoning her voice like a narrator.
“Once upon a time there were two children, living in a far-off kingdom. This kingdom contained many wonders- fantastical forests, shining seas, happy hamlets, and amazing adventures. The people were kind, generous, and friendly; a stranger was welcomed with open arms. People were still people, of course, still flawed and fragile, as temptable and tempestuous as we are in our world, but something there was different, at least for the two children.”
“What was it?” asked Essie, eyes wide.
“Well,” Celine pretended to consider the question. “What do you think it was?”
“Magic!” shouted Derrick.
“There was magic in that kingdom,” Celine confirmed, eliciting giggles of excitement. “And the children had many adventures. They battled dragons, they danced at balls and parties, they loved, they fought, they cried, they laughed. They grew old and happy, vanquishing enemies and visiting friends. They stayed together, always, even when they grew up and apart. You see, they were linked, and at some point, one or another of the links in that chain drew them back together.”
Essie and Derrick’s faces were screwed up in adorable lines of concentration. They looked across Celine at each other and shook their heads, silent communication between siblings, and as one swung their heads back to her. “How, Momma? How did they do it? What was their magic?”
“Words,” Celine breathed quietly, so her children had to lean in closer to hear her. “The children were surrounded and connected by words. They fed on them, connected to them, thrived on them. Books welcomed them like old friends, even brand-new ones with spines uncracked and words unread. In books, in the words on the pages, the children accomplished impossible feats and made countless friends. They learned and grew and changed, and when they emerged from every story, they were stronger, stronger than all their favorite characters put together. When they felt alone, the words held them close. When the world was too much, the words sheltered them. When they could not find each other, find themselves, the words led them back. When hope failed, the words brought light back from darkness. When death loomed, the words breathed new life and were whole. If life’s story was too grim, there was a story somewhere where the problem could be solved, even for just a little while, and the words were lighthouses leading the weary travelers home. Words lit them and guided them, and when the journey finally came to the end, when there were no more turns in the road, the words were the concluding sentence in the thousands of lives the children had lived. And the children never regretted them, not a single one of the words they had read, for even the ugliest word brings understanding, and even the most misguided character is a teacher and a friend. Words had wrapped themselves into the children’s lives, enmeshed themselves, ingrained themselves, intwined themselves, until they were the most indispensable, most valuable, precious, glorious magic in any kingdom. The end.”
“Wow…” the children breathed, quiet awe radiating like suns from their faces. Celine drew in a careful breath as she watched.
“Momma,” Essie began, carefully, like she knew the particular import of these particular words. “Can Derrick and I be like the two children?”
“Yeah,” Derrick chimed in, softer than usual. “I want to be one of those children too, with Essie.”
A knot Celine had been pointedly ignoring in her chest loosened as she laughed. “Of course, I mean for you both to be, if you want it.” Both children nodded eagerly. “But you have to really want it, for yourself and for no other reason and no other person. You have to be willing to do the work to let the words in.” Now the nods were solemn.
“We will, we promise!” they harmonized.
Celine laughed again, relieved. “Well, you have a bit of an advantage- you can already read a little bit,” she explained. “But you must focus on improving your reading all you can. The sooner you can read the words for yourselves, without someone else, the sooner the words will help you.”
“Can we start today?” begged Essie.
Finally Celine’s laugh was a fully grown animal. “Yes, but I think we’d better have breakfast first, hadn’t we? The first one to the kitchen picks what we have!”
Both children darted from the bed and dashed down the hall, giggling madly. Celine allowed herself a moment to lean against the pillows. They would accept the words and the stories they told. It was the best she could do for her angels. Hope glowed like a candle in her chest as she rose to chase her children towards the future and the myriad stories it would contain.