Bed Time Story
By Sumedh Jadhav
The yellow school bus bobbed over a pothole. Leah felt a jolt down her spine and dropped her book. She carefully lifted it leaning down in her seat. Rusty red ponytail hanging low down her face hindered her vision. She stroked it behind to its initial position and revealed her grey eyes to an empty school bus. She was holding a book called The Little Prince. She stopped reading and shuffled through pages, trying to find something.
It was raining outside, and arrows of raindrops were trying to penetrate the bus windows from all four sides. Leah rummaged through the entire row but found nothing. She crawled through the aisle swaying her neck from side to side, searching for what she dropped. All her efforts were futile, and the bobbing bus was making matters worse. She gave up and sat on the aisle, defeated. Leah was about to break out in tears. Her white cheeks turned bright red. Leah sat without concern about the white t-shirt layered with denim dungarees getting mucked. Leah finally accepted her defeat and went back to her seat, and sat down with a grumpy face. And took her backpack, placed it on her lap, and hugged it tightly. She found what she had been looking for; it was right beside her all the time, hidden under her backpack. A white rectangle playing card-sized sheet of paper. Leah was resurrected back to life. She lifted it with both her hands and held it against her chest. The rain stopped at a certain point, and the bus also stopped at an intersection.
"Leah, time to go home. Your dad is waiting for you," announces Mr. Roach, the bus driver
Leah could barely make out her dad from the burly window. Even for Mr. Nick Cooper, his daughter was hardly visible from the other side. Leah rushed towards the doors and jumped out of the bus on a cobblestone pavement and hugged her dad, and he lifted her, and she waved goodbye to Mr. Roach, and he waved back to his last passenger.
They walked between two blocks, and Leah shared her day with his dad. The street was lingering with a sweet whiff of petrichor. Nick was a tall man with similar pale skin to Leah and tarnish brownish-red hairs, apparently in his mid-thirties. He had a black windcheater and a hood dangling on his nape and carried a suitcase in the other hand and Leah's backpack on his other shoulder.
The walls on the houses of the blocks were greener thanks to the rain and algae. Nick loathed such conditions, but little Leah was delighted. The street had undesirable undergrowth on every corner. The sewers looked busy, gulping the water out of the streets. The road had a reflective shine, and an erratic chilly breeze flowed in all directions.
"Dad, I found something in Grandpa's book you might wanna take a look at," said Leah
"And What is that, Leah?" Nick exclaimed.
"After dinner, I'll show you,"
"I can't wait till dinner Leah," Nick was intrigued.
"No," With a finger on her lips
"Come on, Leah, your killing me, "
"After Dinner," said Leah keeping Nick anticipating.
"Ah, Okay, but let me guess, it's my dad's old book. It must be something from his past. Is it a… stamp?"
Before taking another guess, it began to pour again. Nick tried to curse the weather, but his audacity failed in Leah's presence. They started taking long strides, and fortunately, they were a few yards away from their boxwood-fenced double-story house. Nick quickly unlocks the front gate, and Leah grabs her backpack and the briefcase from her dad and runs under the porch for shelter. Nick locked the front gate and followed Leah.
"Hope it doesn't continue to rain like this, or else I have to pick your mother up from her office," said Nick taking his windcheater off and looking at the gray sky.
Nick fished for keys in his pocket, then unlocked the front door. Leah quickly sneaked in. Nick sat near the foyer, took his shoes off, and helped Leah with hers. Both entered the living room; it was not that huge, but it was gloomy because of the weather and seemed well-maintained. A TV set was mounted high on the wall and underneath the TV set, and a vintage-style travertine fireplace was carved into the wall. Creamy white walls adorned with many paintings.
Nick went near the window and drew the curtains. The floor felt like a slab of ice to his naked feet. It was getting colder with every passing minute, thanks to the rain.
"This ain't gonna stop for a while," he thought, looking at the sky.
He ignited the fireplace and began to push the wood with a fire rod. The expanding heat morphed the ambiance of the living room into something pleasant.
Nick called Leah. There was no response, but eventually, Leah showed herself with a cup of pudding and an oversized spoon.
"How many times have I told you to take a smaller spoon, Leah," said Nick
"But look, dad, it's so shiny, I can see myself in it," said Leah excitedly.
"Okay, Leah, I'll be in my office. Please don't disturb me. Let me work hard for your princess costume and Disney land trip. Alright?".
Leah nodded assertively
"It's already five-thirty. Mom's gonna be here anytime soon, alright?" said Nick
"But where is Grandpa?" Leah questioned
"You checked your room, dear?"
"No," Leah nodded
"He must be there reading some book. Now go... go" Nick grabbed her shoulder and steered her to the staircase.
And then Nick changed his clothes to something more comfortable, basketball shorts and a t-shirt. Later, he took a laptop from his briefcase and headed to the office room parallel to the living room.
Leah's room door was slightly ajar. Inside it was dark, but a bed lamp kept the room resplendent. She opened the door slowly and found his grandpa on a rocking chair beside the bed with a book in his hand. Grandpa Rick didn't notice her, and he was busy with his book. He was always loud and liked to gesticulate every sentence he read. Grey hair on his head hides under a flat blue cap, brown flannel shirt paired with black trousers, and vintage leather suspenders. Rick's eyes remained hidden under his rectangle spectacles. By his looks, he must be in his mid-seventies. Rick was lost entirely in his realm, and suddenly he heard a chuckle. He heard something, and now Leah was caught. She ran and embraced her grandpa passionately, and the rocking chair rocked back and forth wildly.
"You were spying on me, huh, kid," said Rick
"Yeah, I was. I thought you were rehearsing for a drama," laughed Leah in his arms.
"Certainly I was sunshine but not a drama but for tonight's bedtime story,"
"I think it's going to be a funny one,"
"You bet," He laughed, exposing his dentures.
"Let's go into the living room. It's cold here," Leah demanded as she tried to drag him out of his chair.
"Wait to hold on. Let me finish this chapter, and we'll go downstairs,"
"No," she kept tugging him off his chair
"Alright, Alright… you won, lee," he counted to three, exerted all his force on his feet, and got up.
An ebony wood book was on a shelf above the bed with two compartments packed with books. Rick stood on his knees and carefully slid his book onto the rack, slanting just every book on the shelf; it looked as if every book was relying on each for support.
Leah was quick to reach the living room. Leah turned the television on and dashed onto the couch. Rick settled down beside her.
"You are right. It's much better than our room Lee," Rick coughed.
"What do you like to watch, Grandpa," asked Leah.
"I… I... I don't know," squinting his eyes at the TV
" You like Grifin and sonny,"
"Grifin and Sonny? I heard about Sonny. "Sonny Corleone" from The Godfather,"
"No Sonny from Grifin and Sonny," Leah looking baffled
"No, I don't know about that, Sonny. Is he good with guns?" Rick was very expressive
"Sonny is a cat, grandpa,"
"I don't know anything about a cat named Sonny,"
"So you have television sets back in your time?"
"Yes, we had. Televisions were black and white with two antennas like bees," pointing his two index fingers above his head, "like this, and sometimes it used to make a buzzing sound,"
"Are you sure it was television, not a huge bee?"
Yes, yes, it was a television," laughed Rick.
"What do you use to watch?" Leah questioned and anxiously waiting for an answer.
"Mostly baseball and lots of commercials, I remember," said Rick contemplating his thoughts
"When was the last time you watched baseball on television?"
"Oh, the last time I watched baseball… I don't…I since… since I don't remember my child. But every time I watched it, My eyes kept watering, and they had a burning sensation that lasted for days. Since…" Rick is still trying to grasp that memory but fails every time, and then he quits.
Leah clicks a few buttons on the remote controller and then switches to a sports channel where a baseball match is live.
"Do you remember anything?" said Leah with a grin.
"Oh yeah," Rick burst out laughing. His laugh was infectious. "But the players a looked lot skinner nowadays,"
They both shared the pudding. Leah never saw her grandpa so elated. It was a blissful moment for both of them.
Mrs. Lin Chang unlocks the front gate and escorts Mrs. Jenny Cooper under her umbrella to their front porch. Leah heard footsteps and rushed out to see what was going on. Rick was unperturbed. She found her Mom and Mrs. Lin having a conversation. Mrs. Lin, their Chinese neighbor, greeted Leah, dressed in a long-line white shirt and black pants with a brownish bun blooming over her head.
"Hello, Little Gōngzhǔ " she had an oriental accent
What?" Leah was confused
"Ah, Little Princess Leah," said Lin
"Oh, thanks, Mrs. Lin" Leah blushed and grabbed her Mom by her waist.
"Did you like the Dumplings I gave you?" asked Lin
"Yes," Leah nodded
"Yes, they were very delicious," Jenny acknowledged. "And thanks for escorting me from the subway."
"Ah, No problem," said Lin. "I have to leave now, take care. "And Lin left for her house.
They addressed her and got inside the house. Jenny took her olive green parka jacket and hung it onto a coat hanger. Jenny had raven black hairs parted from the middle, resting on her shoulders, and the same goes for her eyes; they were black, and she had a slim and bosom physique. Jenny and Nick shared the same age.
"Where's a dad? I tried calling him, but he didn't answer my single call. Where is he?" Said Jenny exhausted
"Office room, He told me not to disturb him until dinner." Said, Leah
"Where is Grandpa?" asked Jenny
"His watching Baseball on the television," said Leah excitedly
"On Television? Leah!" Jenny was oozing anger and dashed herself to the living room
Leah stayed frozen like her feet sprouted roots, but she managed to follow her Mom.
"Look, Leah, a Homerun," Rick yelled with his hands above his head like the ones on the first rollercoaster carriage.
Jenny rushed towards the remote controller and shut down the television with a snap.
"Dad, remember the last time you watched television? What happened?"
"I'm fine dear, I'm fine," said Rick, much surprised, stunned on the couch.
"Dad, please go to your room. I want to have a word with Leah."
"I guess I'm better in my room than here. I'm sorry," said Rick and left for his room.
For Leah, it felt like the sky is falling on her little shoulders. She swallowed hard and was ready for her Mom to make a potent move. Jenny held Leah by her wrist and started rapping on the office door. Nick clicked open the door.
"I told you not before din…" said Nick
Jenny dragged Leah into the room and banged it shut, and the bombardment of words began to nuke Leah. It was a war between two nations for a small piece of land. Leah couldn't focus on one person. If she tries, the other one launches a blow. All Leah could do was stare at her feet. The time in that small room was passing very slowly for Leah, for she could only take it as a symphony. Symphony of Doom, you can say. But it lasted only for a few minutes. She left the office room and returned to the couch, all grumpy, narrow, dreading eyes. She said nothing and was left alone and was reading her book. Jenny begins to prepare dinner.
The rain finally stopped, the night sky was unblemished, and coldness vanished away from the air and regained its mildness. The dinner was ready. Jenny asked Leah to call grandpa for dinner. Leah acted like she wasn't there, but she obeyed and went upstairs without saying a word to bring Grandpa Rick. She again found Grandpa reading on that rocking chair,
"Grandpa, Dinner's ready," said Leah and sat on the bed beside the chair.
"I'm not hungry today, dear, you go have your supper, or you'll stop growing," laughed Rick.
"Please," Leah persuaded.
"Not today. I had that pudding that was very tasty and filling."
Rick felt like he had a tug-of-war between Leah and his heart.
"I'm sorry dear, not today. Go quickly. I have to tell you a story; remember you have only "looking at wristwatch "twenty minutes left for your bedtime story. "
"Okay, be ready with something good. I'll be back in no time," said Leah and left the room.
The dinner started. Leah sat on her spot and avoided stares from her parents. It was spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.
"Grandpa is not hungry," Leah said like a robot.
The couple looked at each other in dismay and started their dinner. Silence engulfed the room, and only a clattering of spoons and forks was audible.
No one was trying to break a conversation. But at last, Nick spewed out.
"Hey Leah, You were about to show us something at dinner. What is it? "The Surprise"
Leah said nothing and continued to gnaw.
"Leah, your birthday is next month. What do you want as a gift? Have you decided yet or not?" asked Jenny trying to break the ice.
But no reply whatsoever, the couple stare at each other faces.
Leah was first to finish her dinner, not usually, but today she was. And went straight to the bathroom to brush her teeth and changed her attire to a white with pink polka dot onesie.
"And shouted, I want a heater for my birthday. My room is freezing," and ran upstairs and returned and said, "And dollhouse."
Both couples shared a laugh and continued their meals.
Leah bolted to her room and saw grandpa looking a little nervous and seemed like his anxiously waiting for Leah. Leah entered her room. The nervousness on Rick's face faded away. He checked his wristwatch.
"Just right on time, nine o clock," said Rick
"I'm never late," said Leah with a grin
Leah set two pillows tangent to the headboard, lifted the duvet off the white and blue Tattersall bed sheets, and laid anxiously for her story. Rick turned off the leading lights, and there was only one illuminating orb of lamplight beside the bed. Rick placed his chair closer to Leah. That orange in his white beard looked more like sunset clouds.
"So, are you ready?" said Rick narrowing her eyes. "So let's begin. "
Leah was clenching her teeth in excitement, pulling the duvet over her body except for her head.
"So...Once…" said Rick's voice was cut by Leah's shrill cry
"Oh, how could I forget," said Leah as she stood up on the bed
"What happened," said Rick baffled.
She turned on the lights, took her backpack from her study table, placed it on her bed, and started rummaging for something.
"What is it, Leah?"
"I got a surprise for you," Leah, still busy.
"For me?" Rick shifted from the chair to the bed, curiously looking at Leah
"There we go" She looked at her grandpa, but her hands were still in her backpack, but within a flash, she took them off and folded them behind her back, revealing nothing and keeping grandpa on the heat.
"Tell me, what is it?"
"No, first close your eyes."
"Come on, Girl"
"Please," she requested him.
"Alright" Finally, Rick obeyed
"And now raise your hands forward."
Rick raised his hands like a blind man trying to catch the air. Leah held rick's left hand and placed the little parchment on his hand.
"Now, open your eyes."
He took the parchment near his eyes and concentrated on it.
"Good Lord Leah," Rick was in seventh heaven,
Leah showed her excitement but compared to Rick, it was a bit shallow. It was the Late Mrs. Martha Cooper, Leah's granny and Rick's beloved wife. The photograph was in a beaten-up condition; it was faded and had a few minor cuts from the sides, but it won't degrade Martha's portrait. Her curled hair rose above her ears, and she wore a sweet smile and had a little perky nose.
Rick kept contemplating that photograph, but Leah sat still and didn't say anything but adored her grandpa's excitement.
"She is lovely," said Leah
"Yeah, very," replied Rick, with tears dangling over his eye slashes. "Just like you," he added.
"You told me she was a journalist?" asked Leah
"Yes, she was," Not taking his eyes off Martha.
"Where you met for the first time?" curiously asked Leah digging her elbows into the bed.
"Ah, I still remember that day in the late 60s. We met at a coffee shop, where I waited tables while attending university. On one cold morning, Martha showed up. Her maroon shirt tucked under her black skirt and crimson sweater enhanced her beauty. She sat on the last table near the window, watching the falling snow on the streets. She pointed the finger at me. And I rushed at her with a kettle of coffee. As I went near her, I could smell a sweet fragrance emitted by Martha, and get stronger with every step I took close to her. And filled her empty cup and asked her for anything else. She refused anything with a smile and left her table. Gladly, the coffee shop was empty that day, with few customers. I wanted to approach her so badly I can't tell you, Leah, but my mind froze like the weather outside. Later, she took a book out of her bag and started turning the pages to find a bookmark where she had previously left. But I paid attention to my work, wiping other tables off but shooting her with frequent glances, which didn't seem awkward, not that much, but it did look somewhat. I had to approach her to break this tension, but ultimately she called me for a refill. I have to make a move or forget about her. I refilled her cup. And with all my might, I asked her what she was reading and sat opposite her. She looked surprised, but she didn't mind, she didn't say anything, just showed the back cover of the book it was "Franny and Zooey By JD Salinger" I knew nothing about it. And honestly, I never liked reading.
"What, you hate to read books?" interrupted Leah.
"Yeah, back in time, I thought it was boring to read such fat books. I tried reading once and ending up sleeping with a book as a pillow", said Rick
"What?" Leah awed. "Then why do you have so many books" looking at the bookshelves above her head.
"Most of them belong to your Granny," said Rick
"Oh, and then what happens?" said Leah
"I lied to her about how badly I wanted to read that book she had, and I'm a huge fan of Salinger's work, but frankly, I knew nothing about Salinger, just heard about his works. To my surprise, she handed me the book, and I told her that it was her third time reading this book. And told me that I could borrow it. There is no chance of refusing, and even if I hated reading. I took the book, and she left the coffee shop and tipped me with a copy of Franny and Zooey. I never read it, but after a few days, she came back for a coffee and asked me, "How was the book?" did you like it? I had no answer, but I lied, saying, "so far, so good," I said. She often visited the coffee shop and asked me the same question, "How is it?". I had no chance, but I had to read it. And one fine day, I returned the book. And we spent hours discussing the characters and stuff about books almost every day and started meeting outside the coffee shop. And we began to date, and eventually, I fell in love with books and Martha.
Seven-year-old Leah missed her granny, the granny she never saw. She could only imagine herself by the tale told by her grandpa and visualize Mrs. Martha Cooper's complexion in her juvenile mind.
"Your love story was adorable, Grandpa," said Leah
"Yeah, it was adorable indeed," replied Rick
"What was Grandma's favorite book?"
"Her favorite "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain" she adored it."
"Can you read that to me tonight" requested Leah
"Oh, I think I lost it somewhere, but I'll find it for tomorrow and read it for you."
"Can I ask you one more question?"
"Yes, sure, go ahead."
"How Granny passed away?" said Leah timidly, not expecting an answer
"Oh yeah, every sweet tale has a bitter ending. Do you really wanna know what happened?"
"She got quadriplegia," said Rick
"What is that?" trying to pronounce it
"It's like paralysis. You can't move your hands and legs. Only you can remain laid on your bed."
"Oh, so sad it must have been."
"Yeah, I couldn't see her like that, but all I could do was talk to her, sit beside her, and read her books. And somehow, it soothes her pain and somewhat my pain as well.
"Like you read for me?"
"Yeah, exactly. Martha liked to listen to stories at nine, just like you, and sharp at nine. She was very punctual about time. And one night, she passed away in her sleep and never woke up. This used to be our room, but when Martha left, you were born, and since we share this room".
Rick wept but hid it well from Leah, laid beside her without saying a word, and switched off the lamp. Leah noticed that she knew it was the wrong time to demand a story, and she slept, pulling over her duvet.
The morning was early for Leah as her dad for school woke her up; it was seven in the morning. She saw Grandpa sleeping beside her but didn't feel like waking him up. She left her room and carried on her routine for school. She was all dressed and went to her room to address her grandpa. Leah didn't find Rick sleeping on the bed; he was standing, examining the bookshelves.
"What are you looking for?" Leah's question looking above
"Hello, Good morning, Leah" In a Santa clause-like tone, "I'm looking for Tom Sawyer that I promised you tonight."
"Okay, I'm getting late. I'm leaving for school and see you in the evening" Leah grabbed her backpack from the study table and went downstairs to find Nick waiting for her, and they both left the house. Nick went to the office when the school bus arrived at their home. Jenny had a different time for the office and did all the chores before leaving.
Leah was attending the school, she was learning origami today with all the students, and it must have been only an hour before school. Leah saw Mrs. Lin at the door. She called her teacher Mrs. Smith and went outside. Leah was surprised to see Mrs. Lin at school and a few moments later. Mrs. Smith asked Leah to come out with all her stuff and go with Lin, Mrs. Smith looked worried, and Lin grabbed her by the wrist and hurried Leah to her car parked outside the school. Leah settled on the shotgun seat, and Lin drove. Leah thought is she getting kidnap? Mrs. Lin and Mrs. Smith are involved, but she trusts Mrs. Lin and her teacher to do anything this silly. Lin never took her foot off the gas.
"Where are we going?"
"Nothing to worry, Little Leah, everything is fine," trying to fake a smile.
Leah knew something was wrong. She could sense it through Lin's driving.
After a few minutes, they reached their destination, "A Hospital" Leah hated to visit one. She loathed hospital trips and mostly tried to avoid them. Lin parked her car and entered the Hospital, and took an elevator that ceased on the fourth floor. Lin walked Leah to a long corridor that looked pale white from flooring to walls. At the horizon, he could see her Mom sitting on a bench and her dad walking back and forth in the corridor, looking much tensed. Leah left Lin's hand and hugged her dad.
"What happened? Why are we here, and where is a grandpa?" asked Leah
Nick was about to answer Leah, but he was interrupted by the doctor that exited the operating room.
"We are trying everything we can, but I think we could lose him. That heart attack was fatal," said the doctor to Nick.
Leah was baffled, "what is going on here?"
She snatched a chance and dashed to the operating room. She was her Grandpa Rick lying motionless with an oxygen mask on and his chest elevating erratically. Leah rushed near him, avoiding other operating doctors and stood by his bed, and began to weep her heart out and held her grandpa's hand tightly in hers. Leah saw her grandpa saying something that she couldn't decipher. Weepily, she leaned her head towards the mask.
"Read… every day for… me," said Grandpa
And all the machines started beeping at once. Leah was forcefully dragged out by the doctors and then shut the doors. Leah sat weeping by her Mom, and finally, a Doctor came from the operating room and declared Rick Cooper dead.
Everyone was devastated by Rick's loss, but Leah lost her grandpa and best friend after the funeral. Leah was all alone. She didn't talk to anyone much and remained within herself. One night after dinner, Leah went into her room to sleep but didn't find her grandpa ready with a story. She was lonely like never before, and it was nine already her storytime as grandpa told her to read, but she was not in the mood to read. Leah turned off the lights and shut her eyes, but the lamp beside her flickered, and she started getting chills around her body. The window swung open and rattled, and even the leading lights began blinking. Leah was scared to death and remained frozen on the bed. She had never experienced such activity in her room. And the bookshelves above her started throwing books in all directions, and it was complete chaos. She screams and hides under the duvet for protection. After a few moments, she felt a pat on her head, but the supernatural activity didn't stop. She popped her head out of the duvet. The missing and granny's favorite book was beside her, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." She opened it, unbothered by the tantrum in her room, and started reading. Within a few lines, the chaos came to an end. It began with the window and ended with the lights. Her reading healed every corner of the room, and the coldness around her morphed into embracing the warmth.
By Sumedh Jadhav