My sister, Lisa, and I didn’t like to sleep, and our indulgent father didn’t help matters. Putting us to bed was his job because after a full day of us, Mom was worn out. He sat on the slippery edges of our silky green and pink bedspreads with a Bible story book in his hands.
“What story should I read?” he asked every night as if he didn’t know which one we liked.
“The bugs!” Lisa cried. “The bugs” was what she called the plagues of Egypt. We both knew why she asked for the plagues. It was long. If we read “the bugs,” we sat through the water turning to blood (and back), the frogs (and their deaths), the arrival of the lice (and their deaths), the flies (and their deaths), the sickness of the cattle (and their getting better), the boils (and their healing), the hail, the locusts (and their deaths), the darkness (and the return of the light), and the death of the firstborn. If Dad read normal speed, that was at least a half-hour bedtime story, and that didn’t even include the story that came before bedtime because we didn’t really start the bedtime routine when we were in bed. No, we started the bedtime routine out in the burnt-orange La-Z-Boy recliner in the living room where Lisa and I piled onto Daddy’s lap to read one of our books.
“Which story would you like to read?” Daddy asked, flipping through the multitudes of picture books stuffed into the English-walnut magazine rack.
“The Dark Crystal!” we cried. Like the plagues, The Dark Crystal was a long story. While the book looked innocent enough—a mere 46-page picture book—its pages were filled with teeny, tiny text.
Sometimes Daddy caved easily. “Sure,” he said on those occasions and settled in with the book comfortably. But even Daddy’s great patience was occasionally tried by that book.
“Isn’t there another book you’d rather read?” he’d ask. Sometimes he could persuade us to read something else, like Mr. and Mrs. Button’s Wonderful Watchdogs or Where the Wild Things Are. In a year, my brother would arrive and we would read Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb for hours on end and there wouldn’t be room for me on Daddy’s lap any more. But for now, that wasn’t an issue, and the only thing we were thinking was that a good long story would delay bedtime.
Therefore, we usually shook our heads and said, “No, Daddy. We want that book.”
And then Daddy would exercise the skill he was renowned for—speed reading. He picked up that book and began to fly through it, reading so fast our ears could scarcely keep up. When he finally turned the last page, Lisa and I would race down the hall to get into our pajamas while Daddy found the Bible story book. There was no need for us to beg for another story because we knew we had the plagues to come. And when Mom finally cut off our fun by yelling, “Richard, do you know it’s 10:00? Put those girls to bed,” we knew we still had time. There were glasses of water to ask for and nightmares to be had. After all, what child hears about Skeksis and Aughra, water turning to blood and the angel of death and sleeps soundly?