You're reading the same book you've been reading ever since you were four, when Daddy says you’re memorizing the book and you know it’s true -- whatever memorizing is. All you know is the story.
‘The dark, creaky steps down to the cellar lead out the basement door and into wondrous, unseen worlds.’
You stop reciting words. All you want to do is fly.
You fling the book across the room and run outside to make your own rules, to jump rope with prissy Sally Ann and Jerry next door, whose red curls sit flat on his head, and his orange freckles the size of pennies make everybody laugh. But he jumps rope and plays dolls and bakes cookies with me when Mommy’s not looking. So he’s in.
Sally Ann doesn’t want to play by my rules, so I throw a scowl her way, and my barrette’s half falling out of my brown ringlets as I vroom vroom on my red trike in my pink Annie Oakley cowgirl denim skirt and bolero with real plastic fringe, cap gun and holster at my waist. And the boots. They're real, brown leather cowboy boots with spurs Grandpa gave me after my baby duck died. Poor Ducky Lucky.
Sally Ann always wants rules her way and I want them my way and since this is my house and my yard, I give her a scrunched-up frown and a dead cold glare, which always makes Jerry laugh. Jerry n’me grab the jump rope and invite Sally Ann to jump, but Sally Ann’s curls fall out of place while she's jumping in the July heat and her ruffled skirt and petticoats get dirty when she falls down, and she starts to cry.
Let’s go up to the tree house, then jump off into the wading pool, I say. So we three climb the crab apple tree to the tree house Daddy made for me, and we take flying leaps off the tree into the 9-foot diameter plastic pool in the back yard.
Mommy’s making dinner, so she didn't see the look in my eye that says I want to make mischief. Sally Ann’s eyebrow shoots up and Jerry shakes his head. They know.
Mommy rings the dinner bell. Mischief postponed. Again. An early dinner Mommy says while the sun's still hot in the huge blue sky. All I know is it's another adventure shot to high Heaven. So much for flying.
I didn’t mean for it to end this way.
I meant to tell you about all about flying and how many steps you have to take before you can fly, and how when you’re pretend reading with your father at four it doesn’t count but when you’re sounding out words at six it does.
After dinner, Daddy pulled a chapter book from the shelf with no pictures but its sewn-in binding and thick, crinkly pages smelled like trees.
I sat on Daddy’s lap with a tummy full of juicy hamburger and chocolate cake smothered with thick chocolate frosting.
He began to read: A Child's Book of Fairy Tales.
“A princess locked in a castle far away let down her hair, because a prince on a . . .”
Daddy looked straight at me. Sound it out. The steps will fall into place. Then you’ll be flying.
No, I won’t.
Try, he said.
I looked at the letters I knew so well but didn't understand why they sat bunched up next to each other, whispering into one another's ear as if they were telling a secret I couldn't know.
Weh heh Eye.
Good! More, he said.
It isn’t a word.
Sure it is. What sound does WH make?
He always asked really dumb questions. Weh Heh. It's hopeless.
Run it together.
WehHeh. . .WehHeh. . .WehHeh. . .WHaa. . .WHaaEye. . . Ttt.
Yes! Now the next one, he said.
Heh Ooh Arr Ssse Eee.
Don’t try so hard. Run the H and the O together.
Now the R, he said.
Hohh. . .rr. . .Hohhrr. . .ssse. . .Horse! White Horse!
“A princess locked in a castle far away let down her hair because a prince on a white horse had unlocked the basement door, and…”
I jumped off his lap and flew down the cellar steps, pushed open the basement door and ran into the backyard with my big metal shovel and dug all evening -- all the way to China.
It all counts.