Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An Awkward Length

 I wrote this story about Giles the tailor, his faithful dog Caleb, Anna, and Crow some years ago, and the characters (particularly Caleb) are all becoming indignant that I haven't yet found a readership for them. Somehow, I keep doing this--writing stories that are too short to be middle-grade books, but too long to be magazine stories.

Perhaps you've noticed--I tend to be wordy. These days one of the highest compliments a reviewer can give is to mention the writer's "spare" prose. I am unlikely ever to receive that particular compliment. This morning when I heard Caleb's bark and pulled the story out of my file drawer, I realized that it wouldn't be hard to make it significantly shorter. To tell the truth, through some drastic revising, it  might be made marketable.

The problem is, I don't have any incentive to change it. Other stories are dancing in my imagination these days; THE TAILOR WHO WANTED A WIFE will have to remain imperfect, all nineteen pages of it.

So here I am with another story that will probably never be published. It's "quiet," it's "old-fashioned," it has an "adult protagonist," all negative labels in editorial parlance, and it's LONG. (Did I mention that?) Still, it was fun to write, and  my heart tells me that somewhere there is a child (or an adult with a childlike heart) who will find it fun to read. Maybe you know someone like that, and if you can reader and story, the characters, particularly Caleb, will be happy.
So will I.



Giles the tailor walked in his sleep. Night after night he got up from bed and walked out of his house. He strode down the road, his eyes open but unseeing, his arms out straight in front. The wind whipped his nightshirt around his spindly legs and tried to snatch the nightcap from his head, but Giles did not wake. Stones in the road bruised his bare feet, but Giles slumbered on. As he walked he snored, and the sound of his snore was so loud it woke the birds in their nests and startled the rabbits in their hollows and caused the fox to stop in his wanderings and stare.

All night every night Giles walked and snored and walked and snored. The next day at his sewing his head would droop and nod, and before he knew it he would be fast asleep. "I can't understand it," he would say upon awakening. "Every day I wake up feeling weary to the bone. I must be going to bed too late." That night he would retire earlier than he had the night before, but since this only gave him more time for sleepwalking, his problem grew greater rather than less.

Now it so happened that Giles owned a dog, an old mastiff named Caleb. For years faithful Caleb had shadowed Giles's steps. Now he had reached the age where he liked to lie by the fireside in comfort. But each night when Giles arose and started his long sleepwalk, Caleb arose also. He tried every way he could to head Giles back to bed. He pulled on Giles's nightshirt, but Giles said without waking, "Let go, Caleb." He tried blocking Giles's path, but Giles said, "Move out of the way, Caleb. You're keeping me from my search." Off Giles would go, and Caleb would follow.

One starlit dawn, Caleb and sleepwalking Giles were heading back to the house after a night of wandering.

"What is wrong with your master, Caleb?" asked Crow, flying down from the hickory tree beside Giles's house and hopping along beside Caleb. "His snoring woke me from a sound sleep again last night."

"I don't know," said Caleb miserably. "All I know is my paws are sore from walking the hills every night."

"Well," said Crow, "You'll have to do something. Everyone is complaining -- birds and beasts alike. We can't get any sleep at all. This walking and snoring has to be stopped."

"I'm afraid Giles won't stop sleep-walking till he finds whatever it is he's searching for," said Caleb.

"Then help him look, for goodness' sake," said Crow.

"How can I help when I don't know what he's looking for?

“Ask him,” advised Crow. "If you wait till he's asleep, he'll think he's dreaming your voice. Then you can ask."

That night when Giles threw back his covers and started walking
towards the door, Caleb hurried after him. As Giles released the latch,
Caleb said softly, "Tell me, Master, what is it you search for night after

"Ah, Caleb," said Giles, "You are a faithful dog and have been a
companion to me for many a long year
. But a man reaches a time when a
dog is not enough. I am searching for a wife

"I see," said Caleb. "Well, I don't think you're likely to find one
roaming the countryside late at night
. Why don't we go back to bed now
and look tomor

"No, no," insisted Giles in his sleep-walking voice. "Tomorrow I
must sew the Lord Mayor's new britches. And the day after that, the colonel
is coming to pick up his uniform jacket
. As long as there is light I must
measure and baste, cut and sew. I've no time to look for a wife during the
daylight hours."

Giles strode up the path before Caleb could reply. By the time he
reached the front gate he had begun to snore. Caleb followed unhappily.
His keen ears could hear Mother Rabbit saying in vexation, "There, now,
that tailor's gone and waked the baby again."

From the hickory tree, Crow called down, "Oh, be quiet, Giles," but only "Caw, Caw!" sounded on Giles' ears, and that didn't wake him at all.

Throughout the night as Caleb followed Giles uphill and down, he
tried to think how he could help Giles find a wife.
"We should live closer to
town," he muttered. "Giles never sees anyone but his customers. And if he
somehow meet a young woman, is it likely she'd want to live out in the
country with no neighbors around? The problem is to find a woman who
fancies both Giles and living in the country, not to mention a woman whom
Giles will fancy." Caleb decided that there was nothing he could do by
himself. In the morning he would explain the problem to Crow. Perhaps
Crow could help.

"No problem, no problem at all," boomed Crow the next day "There
must be plenty of women ready and willing to marry an industrious tailor
with a snug little house, even if the house is way out in the country."

"It won't help to have one hundred women ready and willing, if Giles
never meets them," fumed Caleb. "How do we get prospective brides out


"That's easy," said Crow. "I'll call them!"

"You'll call them? You think a bride will come running to your


"Certainly," declared Crow with dignity. "I have been studying
human language, and I have mastered a word or two. Listen to this!" He
cleared his throat, opened his bill, and puffed up his chest feathers. Taking
a deep breath he cried "Caw! Caw!" At the end of each "Caw" he closed his
bill and hummed a little "mmm" sound, so that if you l
istened carefully, you

might hear "Cawm, Cawm."

            “I don't know," Caleb said doubtfully. "It may take a little more than

a crow calling "come" to summon a bevy of brides- to-be."

"You're right," said Crow. "We need an incentive. Something that
will attract young women. What would do the job?"

"How about jewelry?" asked Caleb. "Jewelry or flowers. Well, there
are wild flowers in the fields, and Giles has a gold pocket watch, but I can't
see that either will be of any use."

"Jewelry, eh? Something gold and glittering? It just so happens that
I have in my nest
.. .. wait here!" Crow flew up into the hickory and in a
second was back with a shiny gold chain swinging from his beak. "Always
like a bit of gold in the nest, gives it a touch of distinction. I found this on
the road late last winter and brought it home to Mrs. Crow. She won't part
with it, of course, but in the interests of sleep she'll let us use it as bait, so to
speak. Now here's what we'll do. I'll fly into town and perch near the house
of some likely young woman. I'll caw
, "Come, Come," and when she opens
the door I'll fly down near her with the chain in my beak. Naturally
, she'll
follow me, and I'll lead her out here to Giles' house. The rest is up to him

"One question," said Caleb. "What do you mean by a "likely young


"That's a good point," said Crow thoughtfully. "What do you want in

a prospective mistress?"

"Get a good cook," said Caleb eagerly. "Giles is a fine master, but --
to be truthful -- his table scraps aren't all that tasty. Can't make a decent
gravy, to save his soul

"Wanted, good cook, anything else?" asked Crow.

"No," said Caleb. "We don't want to be too picky. As long as she
fancies Giles
, that's good enough for me."

"I'm off, then," said Crow, and with a great flapping of wings (for he
felt his departure should be impressive) he mounted to the sky and headed
toward town

Later that afternoon, Giles was inside his cottage sewing away on the
mayor's new trousers. After a while he found he was having trouble
keeping his eyes open. "Maybe a cup of tea will help me stay awake," he
." Going to the stove he put on the tea kettle, and while the water
was coming to a boil he stood looking out the window to where the road
towards town wound over the hil

He was startled to see a young woman approaching rapidly. The sun
was streaming down upon her, setting her red hair aglow as if it were on
fire. As she walked she seemed to toss her head angrily, and every so often
she raised her fist and shook it towards the sky. "Hello, what's this?" said
Giles. When the young woman reached his garden gate
, she opened it and
started up the path to the house. Giles went to the door to meet her
. He
didn't notice Crow flying up to the rooftop.

Caleb, lying in a puddle of sun near the doorway, rose and wagged
his tail at the visitor
. She gave him scarcely a glance. "I'm Anna Ericson,"
she said to Giles
. "Do you know anything about that crow?"

"Good day," said Giles in bewilderment. "Crow? What crow?"

"The one who's been outside my window all afternoon, cawing ‘Come, Come!' It's enough to drive a body crazy."

"I don't know anything about any crow," protested Giles. "What
makes you think I would?"

"He's on your roof," she said. "He led me straight to your house,
cawing and cawing, and swinging that bit of jewelry. I was up half the
night with a toothache, just got back from the dentist and settled myself in
for a bit of a nap when that crow came cawing. Not a wink of sleep could I

"It's dreadful to be tired in the daytime, isn't it?" said Giles with

sympathy. "That's the way it's been with me for. .. "

"Well, maybe you don't have anything to do with the crow,"
interrupted the young woman, "but ifhe knows what's good for him, he'll
stay out here where he belongs. I'm getting a pocketful of stones on the way
home, and if he comes bothering me again, he'll wish he hadn't

Without bothering to say good-bye, she turned and fairly flew down
the path. At the gate, she paused and turned. "By the way," she called back,
retel Henson's spring coat could have done with a kick pleat in back."

Giles stood watching her go. "Who does she think she is, giving me
advice on tailoring?" He turned and went back to his sewing. After a

minute he looked up. "Have to be fair, though," he said. "A kick pleat's not
a bad idea." He laid down the garment he was working on and looked out
the open door. "What do you think, old boy?" he asked Caleb
. "Didn't she
have a temper? Pretty, though
." He set to work again.

Caleb walked round to the garden, where Crow was waiting. "I think
we'd better add a qualification," he said, when Crow flapped down among
the onions. "The likely young woman needs have a pleasant disposition."

"Yes," said Crow thoughtfully. "We should have thought of that.

Well, there are other women in town. We'll just keep trying until we find
the right one."

And try they did. For weeks, to Giles' bewilderment, young women
came marching to his door
. One after the other they explained that they had
been summoned by a crow that cawed "Come, Come," and swung a gold
chain from his beak
. Giles was courteous and attentive, but though he was
friendly to all, he seemed uninterested in getting to know any of his visitors

"I'm running out of candidates," said Crow crossly one day. He was
perched on a branch of the hickory while Caleb drowsed in the shade below
"I said I would get prospective brides out here and after that it would be up
to Giles
, but he hardly talks to any of them. I'll tell you frankly, all this
flying back and forth to town is wearing me out."

"Something has happened to Giles," said Caleb. "His eyes are soft
and dreamy, and he walks around the house sighing. When he sees a young
woman approaching on the path from town he brightens up for a minute or
two, but as soon as she gets close enough for him to see her clearly
, he
slumps and sighs again
. It seems as if he's expecting someone special, but
who it might be
I don't know."

Just then Giles came out the door. "I'm going into town, old boy," he
said to Caleb. "Do you want to come along?"

Caleb slowly got to his feet. Why was Giles going to town today?

"This is strange!" he thought.

The road to town wandered through woodland and farmland, and
Caleb's sore paws bothered him exceedingly as he and Giles went their way.
Giles, though, had a spring in his step and hummed a cheerful tune as he
walked. As they were passing a small field, Giles left the roadway and
wandered among the tall grasses where he gathered a bouquet of wild
flowers, purple and yellow and white. He was humming again as he came
back to the road. "Isn't it a beautiful day!" he said.

"Stranger and stranger," thought Caleb.

Drawing near the outskirts of town, Giles put his hand on Caleb's
head. "Now, then, old fellow," he said. "I want you to be on your best
behavior. We're going visiting." In only a few minutes they came to a small
cottage with bright blue shutters and window boxes brimming with
begonias. Giles opened the garden gate and motioned for Caleb to lie down
by the fence. Then he strode up the path and knocked on the door. It swung
open. "Well, if it isn't the tailor with the noisy crow," said a pleasant voice.
Caleb's head swung up. He remembered that voice! Standing in the
doorway was the redheaded young woman who had been so angry at Crow.

"Good morning," said Giles, holding out the flowers. "I thought this
must be your house. How is your tooth?"

"My tooth? Oh, it's fine. But thank you for asking, and thank you for
the flowers. They're lovely."

She was about to close the door when Giles said hurriedly, "By the
way, your suggestion about a kick pleat in Gretel Jensen's coat was a good

one. You sew, then?"

"Since I was a youngster. My father was a tailor in Fribourg, and he
taught me. If I'd been a boy he'd have trained me to take over his business."
She said the last words with some bitterness, and Giles realized that a
woman might think it unfair that tailor
ing was considered a profession only
for men

"I was wondering," he said, "if you might like a job."

"A job?"

"As my assistant. I'd pay you fairly, of course, and you could work as
much or as little as you please. As a matter of fact, recently business has
been so good I ca
n hardly keep ahead of the work."

By the garden gate, Caleb growled softly. He didn't like the way this

conversation was going.

"Well, why not?" Anna said. "All right, when do I start?"

"Fine. I'll be there. "

"I'll be expecting you," said Giles with a shy smile.

One day about two months later the door to Giles's cottage burst open
and Caleb sped out, his departure hastened by a broom to his hindquarters.
"Shame on you, Sir!" cried Anna's voice. "Your place is before the fire, not
upon your master's bed."

Caleb turned a reproachful gaze upon Anna, then walked around the
house into the garden where Crow was inspecting Giles's ripening tomatoes.
"This is a sad day!" Caleb sighed.

"Is it?" asked Crow in surprise. "I feel wonderful! Nothing like a
good night's sleep to make the morning seem fresh and full of promise. I
tell you, since Giles's sleepwalking is a thing of the past I feel like a new


"I feel like a new dog!" There was bitterness in Caleb's voice. "All
these years Giles and I have lived together peacefully
, respecting each
other's ways, and now this upstart girl comes in and starts changing
everything. And Giles is so taken with her she'll be Mrs. Giles before we

know it, if I'm not mistaken."

"Why, what's she done?" asked Crow.

"What hasn't she?" asked Caleb. "The minute she arrives in the
morning she's bustling about the cottage picking up, dusting, sweeping
, and
, talking, talking. Always complaining about dog hair. You'd think
she'd never heard of shedding
. How can a fellow stop his shedding, I ask
you? She doesn't want me on Giles's bed or near his worktable. Doesn't
like bones lying around. She's always throwing away the nicely-aged ones.
And this morning she told Giles she thought I'd better go on a diet! The
only bearable thing about having her here was her gravy -- quite tasty -- and
now I'm not even to have that. She's only supposed to be an assistant, but
she acts more like a wife every day. Oh, Crow, how I wish she'd never come!"

Crow turned his head sideways and looked at Caleb with a black and
beady eye. "I might be able to do something about that," he said.

"It was your Come, Come that got her here," said Caleb. "I don't
suppose you've learned how to say Go, Go?"

"I'm afraid not," said Crow regretfully. "You really want her to go?"
"With all my heart," declared Caleb.

"Well," said Crow in a mysterious voice, "I have a plan. Don't ask for

details. Just promise you'll help."


"Tonight after Giles has made himself ready for bed, you must
contrive to have him leave the cottage for a short time. Do you think you
can do that?"

"Of course," said Caleb.

That night, Giles had just readied himself for bed when Caleb walked

over to the open window and sat looking up at the moon, which hung low
and full in the black night sky. His fur rippled slightly as a fall breeze
stirred the curtains. His eyes were luminous with longing. Giles looked at
Caleb, then looked at his turned
-down bed. He patted the bed invitingly.
"Bedtime, old fellow," he said. Caleb glanced at Giles, then turned his head
back towards the window. Giles looked too. How full and bright the moon
was! How soft the night air! "You're right, boy," Giles said. "It's too pretty
a night to ignore. Okay, we'll take a walk. But just a short one."

They had been gone from the cottage for hardly a minute when Crow
fluttered in through the window. He flew over to a low table by the bed and
snatched up Giles'  pocket watch. It swung from his beak, gleaming in the
moonlight, as he carried it out into the night

Shortly thereafter Caleb and Giles returned from their walk, Giles put
out the light, and sleep descended on the tailor's little cottage.

The next morning Giles was up and busy at work almost before the
sun had risen. Now that he had Anna as an assistant he found his days
busier than ever
. His fingers would fly as he sat sewing and listening to
Anna's entertaining accounts of the comings and goings of people in town.
She had proved herself to be an accomplished seamstress with an eye for
line and color that drew new customers to his doorway.

He had been sewing for a little while when it occurred to him that
Anna was late this morning. He reached for his watch and frowned when he
discovered it wasn't in his pocket. He looked at the bedside table, where he
sometimes laid it, but it wasn't there either

"Now where could I have put it?" he asked himself. He began to
search, with growing irritation, for the watch was his only legacy from his
father, and he valued it highly. By the time Anna was approaching the
cottage, Giles was in a fury.

"Anna!" he exclaimed as she came in. "Yesterday when you were
cleaning the way you do, you must have mislaid my watch. Do you know

where it is?"

"I never touched your watch!" protested Anna.

"Well, you must have, without realizing it. You're always moving and
straightening things, you know. Think what you might have done with it

Anna put her hands on her hips. Her eyes blazed. "Are you blaming
me for your own carelessness?" she asked.

"My carelessness? I always put my watch on the bedside table. If it's
not there, it's in my pocket. Now, I know you mean well, but.. .. "

"I did not touch your watch!" said Anna, spacing her words.

"And I don't like being told that I did. Do you take me for a thief?"

"Of course not," said Giles, "But you .... "

"I what?" asked Anna. Suddenly she turned toward the door. "I
won't stay here and be insulted
," she said. "You can find another assistant.
You can look for her while you're looking for your watch. I don't care if
you never find either one." She strode to the door, yanked it open, and
slammed it behind her

Misery. Misery. Misery. The days dragged by, and Giles was sunk
in gloom. He hardly attended to h
is work, just sat with his chin in his hand,
gazing out the window. At first he tried looking for his watch, but he soon
quit looking and gave the watch up for lost
. "I don't know, Caleb," he said. "I'm sure Anna's not a thief, but the watch is gone, and who besides Anna
could have mislaid it?"

During the day, Giles sighed and groaned. By night, once again, he
walked and snored. His work began to suffer
. He even neglected Caleb,
sometimes forgetting to fill the water bowl, and sometimes letting the
mastiff go for days without a brushing.

Finally he came to a decision. "After all, it's just an old watch," he
said. "And I do need an assistant
. I'll go tell Anna it was all a
misunderstanding and ask her to come back to work

As he said this, he seemed happier than he had for days. He brushed
his hair, put on a clean shirt and whistled for Caleb. "Come on, old man.
Let's go make amends," he said

When Anna answered his knock on her door, Giles was surprised to
see how unhappy she looked. Her eyes were red-rimmed, as if she had been
weeping, and her hair had lost some of its sheen. Giles was so dismayed he
said the first words which came into his mind, "There, there now, Anna.
Don't look so unhappy
. It was just an old watch. I forgive you."

"You forgive me?" She slammed the door in Giles' face.

At Giles's feet, Caleb shook his head. "Giles will be lucky if Anna
ever forgives him," he thought
. "I wonder what did happen to Giles's
watch?" Suddenly, Caleb remembered his conversation with Crow. Could
Crow know anything about the watch?

"Crow," said Caleb, later that afternoon. "Do you, by any chance,
know where Giles's pocket watch is?"

"Of course," said Crow promptly. "It's in my nest."

"Oh, Crow," said Caleb. "Don’t you know that Giles thinks Anna lost


"You wanted her to go," Crow pointed out. "I was only trying to


"I'm ashamed of myself," said Caleb. "Giles hasn't been himself since
Anna left, and she looked miserable this morning. Now that I think of it, it
wasn't so bad having her around the house. Oh dear, what can I do to
straighten things out?"

"Well, if it's any help, I'll return the watch," said Crow. "Actually,
Mrs. Crow has been complaining that it takes up too much room in the


"Yes," said Caleb. "That's where we should start, with the return of
the watch. Once Giles discovers that Anna had nothing to do with its
disappearance, he'll go apologize, and everything will be fine. I'll tell you
what. Today while Giles and I are in town burying provisions
, you return
the watch. Drop it into Giles's basket of fabric scraps. He's looked there, of
, but he'll just think he missed it among all the scraps. That's the best
I can think of."

Later that night, as Giles was sitting before the fire resting up from
the trip into town, Caleb padded across the floor and flopped down next to
the scrap basket. He began scratching his ear. Harder and harder he scratched, until the violent motion of his hind leg knocked the basket over
on its side. There was a clank as the scraps tumbled out
. "Hey, old fellow,
take it easy!" protested Giles. He began stuffing scraps back into the basket
when a gleam of metal caught his eye. "What?" Brushing aside the scraps,
he snatched up his watch. "Oh, my! I thought sure I'd checked this basket,"
he said. "Somehow the watch must have fallen in
. Anna probably had
nothing to do with it
. And look how I accused her! Unforgiveable, that's
what it was
. Unforgiveable."

While Caleb watched, Giles began pacing back and forth. What shall
I do? What shall I do?" he muttered. Finally he stopped pacing and went
over to a small table. Drawing out paper, pen and ink, he told Caleb, "I'll
write out my apology. I'll slip the letter under her door early tomorrow.
That way I won't have to face her

"And she'll read your note, and that will be that, and you'll both
continue to be miserable," thought Caleb. "How can humans make such a
mess of things?"

Soon Giles finished writing the note, sealed it carefully in its
envelope, turned out the light and crawled into bed with a weary sigh.
Caleb lay awake, unhappy and ashamed. He wasn't a bit surprised when
Giles shortly threw off the covers and headed towards the door, snoring
heavily. All night long, as he followed Giles up hill and down, Caleb
worried at the problem. How could he make amends? How could he bring
s and Anna together again?

They returned to the cottage as the sky was lightening in the east.

With aching legs, Caleb jumped up on the foot of the bed and fell asleep. It
seemed to him he had hardly slept at all when G
iles sat up in bed and
. "I have to take the letter to Anna now," he said. "Do you want to
go along, old fe

The last thing Caleb wanted was to walk some more, but he knew
where h
is duty lay. Today Giles' step was heavy, and he made no side trips
into t
he fields to pick wild flowers. As he and Caleb drew near town, sleep
lay heavily on the houses. The sky was now early-morning gray, and
no lights shone from the windows of the cottages they pas

"Sh! Quiet, now," Giles said as they approached Anna's house.
Giles tiptoed up the path to the house, but Caleb could contain
himself no more. This was just too sad! Caleb raised his head to the sky
and howled. Giles spun around, astonished, but Caleb continued. He
led out his sorrow for his selfishness, his frustration at Giles'
ss, his shame at the unhappiness he had caused Anna. His cry
rose and fell, ringing on the morning air
. "Quiet, old boy! Quiet!"

commanded Giles. Too late.

Anna's door opened. "Caleb! Caleb, what's wrong, boy?" she asked.

"Giles, what's the matter with Caleb?" She hurried down the path and knelt
at Ca
leb's side, running her hands up and down his sides, patting and
soothing him.
"Carry him into the house," she said to Giles. "We can get a
ter look at him under the light."    


"Caleb, old fellow, you're a genius!" Caleb thought to himself an hour
. He was lying in front of Anna's fireplace, a blanket tucked round him,
an empty gravy bowl on the floor beside him. Giles and Anna, having
assured themselves that Caleb was going to be all right, were having a
companionable cup of tea at Anna's kitchen table.

A silence fell. Giles reached into his pocket and brought out his
watch. He laid it on the table in front of Anna. "I found it last night," he
said simply. "In the scrap basket
. Can you forgive me, Anna?"

"Hush!" Anna said. "Instead of losing my temper, I should have
helped you look for the watch! Can you forgive me?"

Giles and Anna smiled at each other. Caleb drew a deep breath of
satisfaction. "Ah, Love!" he thought
. Anna would soon be Mrs. Giles, if he
wasn't mistaken. She would fuss about dog hair, and try to put Caleb on a
diet, but now he knew that Anna was as fond of him as she was of Giles.
Perhaps she'll let me have gravy every once in a while, thought Caleb. And
even if she doesn't, at least I won't be walking the hills each night
. I do
believe Giles's sleep walking days are over at last



Monday, April 1, 2013

   April Fool's Day

  I know why this hasn't sold, and in all probability, never will sell. At almost 1500 words, it's not a picture book, but a picture story book.  Too long "for today's young readers or lap top listeners." Too long for inclusion in a children's magazine. (Why do I keep writing this sort of story?) But somewhere there's a child who will like it, and if you think you know such a child, and share it with him or her, you will be making us both happy.  (Incidentally, if you read Stella's Elevator, you'll see that this is practically the same story as that. I changed the locale and the plot hinge because I had been told that the static location of Stella's elevator limited potential illustrations.) I actually like April Fool Bus better, but if you have a preference, I'd be glad to know which you like better.

  April Fool's Day has never been one of my favorite days of the year. I have a dim memory of a morning in my childhood when my father sent me next door to ask our neighbor, Earl Davis, if he would lend Dad a tool with a complicated (and fictitious) name. Mr. Davis told me to tell Dad that he didn't have one of those, but maybe Dad would like to borrow a different tool with a name even harder to remember. Back home, Dad said--you guessed it. I don't know how many trips I made between our house and the Davis's second floor apartment, my short legs beginning to ache, my feet shod in the hated babyish "hightops" I was forced to wear because of "weak ankles" before at long last Mrs. Davis took pity on me and carried me home. I can still the laughter of the two men--not exactly laughing at me, (my heart wants to insist) but revelling in their own inventive nomenclature.

  Dad died the day before 9/11. I have always been glad he missed it. In the later years of his life, he mellowed, and it is hard for me to acknowledge that he did have a slight streak of cruelty he had to fight--not always successfully.
  In spite of the many years of love and support he gave me, some memories still hurt.
  A writer dips into the dark well of memory and finds that the rich dipperful she brings up to present sunlight may transform itself into something new and happy.
So healing comes.

April Fool Bus

        Every day at 8:04, the cross-town bus stopped at Harper's Station. Every day the same people boarded the bus. Mrs. Bartholomew, second-grade teacher with her bag of books, got on first. Mrs. Lau and her twins, Peter and Pauline, on their daily grocery shopping trip, climbed on next. Jose Ruiz, who supervised the care of all the city’s sidewalk trees, followed the Laus. Last came Willard J. Brewster. Mr. Brewster was going to the downtown library to do Research.

        They all nodded quietly to one another and quietly got on the bus. Everything was the same every day. Just the way Mr. Brewster liked it.
        But one Monday a new driver sat in the driver's seat. "Hi there," she said.  “My name is Elsie. Welcome to the Cross-town bus."

        "Hello," answered Pauline and Peter.

        "Do you know what’s black and white and red all over?" Elsie asked.

        "A newspaper," said Pauline, who knew the old joke.

        "I was thinking of a sun-burned penguin," Elsie said, “or an embarrassed zebra.” Pauline and Peter laughed.

Mr. Brewster sniffed. He dropped in his fare without answering Elsie's cheerful hello.

        "All aboard that's going aboard," called Elsie, starting up the bus.

        Usually the ride down town was silent, but not this Monday. At every stop Elsie had a smile and a friendly greeting for everyone.

        "Got all your homework done?" she teased a group of high school students.

        "Not finished yet," answered one. "Drive slow."

        When Mrs. Lau and the twins got off at Findlay Market, Elsie called, “Save some bargains for the rest of us."

"Friendly, isn't she?" Mrs. Martin asked Jose Ruiz.

        He chuckled. "Si, muy amable."

        Mr. Brewster gave his newspaper pages a shake. "A man can't concentrate with all this chatter," he said angrily.


        Tuesday morning a big sign hung above Elsie. The sign read, "Tell me something I don't know and get a free donut,."

        "Today's our birthday," said Pauline. Peter nodded.

        "I didn't know that! Have a birthday donut," said Elsie.

          "In Mexico I ate sweet tortas. Here I eat sweet donuts. So now I grow nice and fat, gordo,” said Jose Ruiz.

            “So gordo means fat! I love learning Spanish words. Have a donut."

            Mr. Brewster walked right by the donuts. "Don't you want to say good-morning and tell me something new?" Elsie asked him.

            "No, I don't," said Mr. Brewster. "Sweets cause cavities, and eating on the bus is unhygenic."


             On Wednesday, a new sign hung above Elsie's seat. "Friday is costume day," it read. "Prizes given for funniest, scariest, most beautiful."

              “What fun!" said Mrs. Martin. "I'll come as Peter Rabbit. I can carry a basket of carrots."

              "What will you dress up like?" Jose Ruiz asked Mr. Brewster.

               "Nothing," Mr. Brewster answered shortly. "I'm not going to make a fool of myself.”


               “Oh, I like your costumes,” Elsie said on Friday when the twins hopped on.”

          “You’re a bird?” Peter asked.

              “Elsie’s a pigeon,” Mrs. Martin cried. “Someone’s let the pigeon drive the bus. Wait till I tell my class!”

           Soon the bus was full of passengers in costumes, all laughing and talking. A boy named Charlie, who was going to Clown School, blew up balloons and twisted them into animal shapes. The passengers cheered as he made dachshunds and rabbits and elephants. All but Mr. Brewster. He didn't even say thank-you for his giraffe.


        The next Monday was Share Your Breakfast Day.

Tuesday was Paperback Book Exchange Day (Mr. Brewster got 101 Hamburger Recipes, even though he hadn't brought a book to exchange)       Wednesday was Quiet Day so the high school kids could study while everyone else read their new books. Mr. Brewster didn’t mind that day at all, but Thursday was Pet Picture Day and he got tired of saying he didn’t have a picture because he didn’t have a pet.

 Friday was April Fool's Day. Elsie was ready.  When her first passenger climbed on board, Elsie told him, "Your shoestring's untied."  He started to kneel, and Elsie crowed, "April Fool!"

        As each new passenger climbed on, Elsie played an April Fool trick. Soon everyone was laughing and waiting for the next joke.

        Finally, Elsie drew up to Mr. Brewster's stop. Mrs. Martin got on, then Jose Ruiz, then Mrs. Lau and the twins. Finally Mr. Brewster climbed aboard. "Good Morning," said Elsie. Mr. Brewster grunted. He dropped his fare into the box.

        "Sorry," said Elsie. "You'll have to pay an extra nickel. Fare's been raised for men carrying newspapers."

        "What?" demanded Mr. Brewster. "That’s an Outrage. Unfair. Discriminatory.”

        "April Fool!" laughed Elsie.  All the passengers laughed too, seeing Mr. Brewster red-faced and angry. They waited for him to laugh. 

But Mr. Brewster wasn't in the mood for jokes. "It should be against the rules for bus drivers to play tricks on passengers." he stormed. "Bus riding is serious business. I'm going to complain to the city!"

        Monday a new sign hung above Elsie. "Due to passenger complaints, there will be no more fun on the bus," it read. "Bus Riding is serious business."

        At the bus stop the next morning Mr. Brewster noticed that Mrs. Martin, Jose Ruiz, and Mrs. Lau were looking at him in a decidedly unfriendly way.  As a matter of fact, Peter Lau stuck out his tongue till his mother noticed and scolded him for bad manners.

        When Mr. Brewster sat in his seat, Jose Ruiz turned his head toward the window.       

        "I don't care," Mr. Brewster thought.

        But days went by, and still no one talked to him. The other passengers exchanged greetings and chatted. He tried saying hello himself, but people only nodded. Mr. Brewster began to feel lonely

        One Friday began just like any other day. After the bus made its last stop before it entered the highway to town, all the seats were full.

        Down the ramp and onto the expressway sailed the bus.

        It sailed along until....

        a hundred brake lights flashed on the cars ahead.

        A hundred horns began honking.

        Elsie slowed the bus. The cars beside her and the cars in back slowed down also.  Then everything stopped.

        It was a huge, colossal, nerve-jangling traffic jam!

        As they sat still, hemmed in by cars in front, cars behind, and cars beside, people began to fidget.

        "I'll be late!" thought Mrs. Martin. "Who will watch my class?”

        "Who will tell my men what to do?" Jose Ruiz fretted. "Maybe we should get out and walk," he suggested.

        "Not on the highway! Too dangerous!" Elsie protested.

        "But there's nothing to do!" wailed Peter.

        The passengers sat in grumpy silence. Minutes ticked by. Mr. Brewster finished his newspaper.  He looked sideways at Jose Ruiz.

        Jose looked so miserable Mr. Brewster felt sorry for him. But after a minute, a little smile crept across Mr. Brewster's face, and he reached into his briefcase. No one noticed as he pulled out something small and bright and red. But in a minute, heads jerked up, and faces turned as Mr. Brewster put the kazoo to his lips and the cheerful strains of "I've been Working on the Railroad" buzzed through the air.

               At first he played alone, then Elsie started singing. Then Pauline and Peter. Soon everyone on the bus was singing.

        At the end of the song, Mr. Brewster strode to the front of the bus. "Splendid! Splendid!" he said happily. "Now, does anyone know 'You Are My Sunshine'?"

        Everybody did, so Mr. Brewster played and everyone sang. Then they sang,  "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain," and “Row, row, row your boat.” One song after another, till suddenly, for no reason anyone could see, traffic began moving again.

        Mr. Brewster smoothed his mustache, put away his kazoo, and took his seat once more. Everything was back to normal. But not quite normal. As people came to their stops, they paused to pat Mr. Brewster on the back.

        "So much fun!" Mrs. Martin said. "Maybe you could play for my class one day?"

        "Muchas gracias, thanks so much," said Jose Ruiz.

        "Will you play again sometime?" asked Peter.

         “Momma’s birthday is next week,” said Pauline. You could play Happy Birthday for her.”

        Finally it was Mr. Brewster's stop. He paused by Elsie on his way out. "Splendid ride!" he said.  "Oh, er, why don't you just take down that sign, the one that says no fun allowed?"

        From then on, every Friday Mr. Brewster led the Cross-town Bus passengers in singing and kazooing their way to town. And so a year passed. Till one morning the following spring, when Mr. Brewster got on the bus and dropped in his fare.

        "Wait!" said Elsie, "You gave me a nickel too much!"

        "Don't you remember?" asked Mr. Brewster. "Starting today men with newspapers have to pay a nickel extra."

        "They do?" asked Elsie in surprise.

        "April Fool!" said Mr. Brewster.