Okay so this first one was a little rough. I got a little distracted.
BUT HEY! A week late is better than never doing it.
CONFESSION: I was actually asked this question in a writing group. We had about 5-7 minutes to write a short vignette. The story below is based on the paragraph I wrote in that session.
This is really my first short story in–what feels like–forever, but it’s been a few year.
THE MAGIC OF A STORY
The young girl was excited to visit her uncle because of the vault of fantastical stories he had at the ready. But he didn’t just read them. No, he would put on full productions around the house with costumes and props made from blankets, pillowcases, and her aunt’s church lady hats and scarves. It was like magic the way all the characters came to life through one man. The young girl would always bring extra books for him to read just in case he ever ran out of tales, but he never did. He would always say, “there’s nothing more magical than sharing a story.”
For the young girl’s birthday, she got a massive book of short stories. The first page of each story had the title in elaborate writing with a beautiful African illustration next to it. The corners of each page were highlighted in gold and attached to the headband of the book was a silk bookmark with Akwete cloth-style design. This book has always–with no competition–been her favorite, and the person she wanted to share it with most was her uncle.
On the young girl’s next visit to see her uncle, she showed him the glorious book that was almost too heavy for her to carry. He picked up the book and flipped through pages, admiring the gold page corners and African illustrations.
“Will you read me a story?” She asked with high expectations.
Her uncle smiled and sat her on his lap, “why don’t you read to me for once?”
She protested, saying, “I’m not as good as you. I can’t do the voices.”
“Will you try for me? Just one story and then you can pick any story you want me to read and I will.”
The young girl agreed. She opens to the first story with a marvelous illustration of a bird made up of all the colors weaving a nest. Her uncle was impressed by how well she could bring a story to life. Of course, she stumbled over some vowels and consonants, trying to think of different voices for each character. But it was a wondrous feeling to close his eyes and picture the world his young niece painted with words.
When she finished, she moved the Akwete bookmark to the end of the story to ensure she wouldn’t lose her place. She then closed her eyes and flipped the pages through her fingers, allowing the story to choose itself. Finally, she lands on a page. She opens her eyes to find her finger two thirds through the book on a picture of hippo surfacing from the dark water. Disappointed, she starts her flipping again, but her uncle stops her.
“But I don’t want to story about a hippo.” the young girl whined.
Her uncle flips through the pages, studying each page and sporadically giving deep-thinking grunts. He turns back to the picture of the hippo and places the book down on the chair with the pages facing him.
As always, he grabbed his magic props and costumes and changed his voice to introduce new characters. It was the greatest story he ever told. The young girl watched as he jumped back and forth, in and out of the narrative to turn the pages of the book. He put all of himself into this story, and by the end, he was sweating, entirely out of breath, as if he had just given birth to all the characters in the story.
The young girl was speechless. She had never heard such an amazing story before told with such joy and commitment.
She left her visit feeling excited to devour the rest of the book. However, when she got home to show her mother the story, she realized she never moved the bookmark to the hippo’s story. She only remembered it was toward the end of the book.
The young girl flipped through the catalog of African animals. In her young mind, it felt like days. After flipping through the entire safari, the young girl finally meets eyes with the hippo staring through its brow in the water. Before showing her mother, she begins to read the story, just to refresh her memory–she didn’t want to leave any moment out. However, after the first sentence, she noticed something was different. She didn’t remember the story starting here. She continued reading to find that every word was changed.
The young girl went crying to her mother, hiccuping for air between each syllable.
“The book is broken.” she wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
The mother picked up her daughter, “What do you mean?”
“The book won’t give me the right words.” The young girl opened the book and pushed it towards her mother. “This isn’t the same story!”
The young girl collapsed into her mother’s arms, wondering what she’d done wrong. The mother tried to find the words to explain why the uncle’s stories will never match the book’s narrative. Until she remembered, there’s nothing more magical than sharing a story.
The young girl looked up at her mother with all the innocence in the world, “it’s magic.”
She hands the book to her mother. “It’s magic! He shared it with me. I share it with you. We make the book change. We make the magic!”
The young girl turns the pages with the cover facing her. “It’s your turn, mommy!”
The mother looks at the hippo, and the words across the page–knowing the narrative, character, and words have never and could never change. Yet, she still opened the book hopeful.
The mother began to read the first sentence, and much to her surprise, she did find a new story. No words rearranged or disappeared, but she felt the magic. She felt the spark of inspiration that one sentence can give to anyone willing to unlock their imagination and connect it with another person. A person who needs it. This one sentence has an infinite amount of paths that could lead you to stories full of great quests and journeys and battles, tales of the truest of loves that flow deeper than beauty, and fables with admonishments of all the ways the world can hurt you.
The magic of sharing a story is in both the teller and the listener agreeing to bend the universe to create something just for them that will only last for a moment.