Another excerpt from the memoirs of Dave Cook: My Father, My Friend—a not yet published novel. Presented just because it was fun to write.
For several days in a row he claimed that his eyelids were transparent from the inside, and that he could read through them. It took me a while to discover that he was only closing the eye that I could see from where I lay. When I countered that by lying on my back so I could watch his eyes, he opened them only the tiniest of slits. Since I didn’t know such a thing was possible, and could only slit my eyes by scrunching them up, it took me a while to catch on.
He once tried to tell me it was necessary for him to dry his tongue, and that as a result, he had to read the story with his tongue limply extended. After I found I wasn’t strong enough to force his teeth closed on his tongue, I countered that one by bringing a wet sponge to bed, telling him I would wet his tongue to keep it healthy.
After a while, bored with switching things around and drying his tongue, dad began to freewheel with the stories. He might begin a chapter with a made-up conversation between characters who belonged in another book, or those from the book in progress, placed in some other situation. Usually, I took steps to force him to read properly, but then I took to allowing him to go on, enjoying the wild situations he put the characters into; daring him to get himself out of it.
Trapped into continuing the nonsense stories, he took another tack. One night he began, “Princess Ozma walked toward the building, but before she could enter, a man came through the big doors. He was a large man, tall and handsome, with beautiful brown hair. Ozma gazed with awe on this handsome man, honored to have met him. ‘Oh, you must be the famous Ted Cook,’ she said. ‘I’m thrilled to finally meet you— ‘Oof!’ ”
The oof was the result of my leaping on his back.
For nearly a week I put up with variations on that theme. There was always someone who was honored beyond words to meet my father—who was always good, and wise, and beautiful. That week my father took a lot of abuse, and the bed got a good workout. It was a great week.
Finally, on Thursday, I made my mistake. I complained that I was not in any of his stories.
The next night’s story began as usual, with a beautiful woman meeting and being awed by my father. Added to that was a new theme, however, as he began to describe the horrid, ugly, and repulsive little boy with him: me. Of course that meant war, and I did my best to kill him with my bare hands. I surprised myself with how many nasty things I could call him without using any of the forbidden words. It was also the best wrestling match we had in a long time, and we never did get to reading the story that night.
After a week of insults, with me beating away on him, I finally said, “Daddy, please don’t make me ugly all the time, it’s not fair. I want to be handsome, too.”
He promised to correct the situation, but I forgot who I was talking to.
At first, it went well. The next night’s story began in the usual way. Then, he got to talking about me. I was pleased to find that the princess he’d invented was properly impressed with my beauty, exclaiming that I was so handsome she couldn’t believe it.
I was still grinning when my father added, “But he smells so bad I can’t stand to be near him.” He got as far as having all the townspeople run from the way I smelled before I covered his mouth with my hand.
“But you promised,” I said, angry now. “You said I wouldn’t be ugly and repulsive.”
“But you weren’t,” my father protested, leaning back on the pillow and bouncing me on his stomach. “You were handsome, exactly the way you wanted to be.”
“But I smelled bad,” I pointed out, while I tried to honk him on the nose. “You made me smell terrible.”
He nodded, slowly, as though he was worried. “I wondered about that. You probably should have taken a bath.”
“Daddy! I don’t want to smell bad, and I don’t want to be ugly.”
The next night he obliged. He made me handsome. He made me smell okay. He also made me incredibly stupid.
The night after that, at my request, he made me smart, handsome, and pleasant smelling. He also made me a troll. It seemed that while I was as handsome as could be to another troll, normal people ran screaming in horror when they saw me.
After nearly a week of arguing and adding restrictions I presented him with a list of all the things I wanted to be, plus another containing all the things I could not be. I spent a long time going over those lists, making sure he couldn’t slip something past me, like having me a handsome human among a gathering of trolls. I handed him the sheet when he came home from work. It was my first research paper, and I was proud of it, even if most things were spelled fairly creatively.
He read it carefully, nodding as he did, stopping several times to allow me to translate some of my worst attempts at phonetic spelling. When he finished, he said, “Very well, Davy, I’ll be sure to pay careful attention to the list.” Then he hugged me, tousled my hair, and went off to show the list to my mom.
That night I waited, breathlessly, as he listed all my attributes, not missing one, or adding anything that offset them. I nodded happily with the recitation of each one, pleased that I had finally pinned my father down so well that he could not wiggle free. Then, after a hesitation, he mentioned that it was a shame that we were both encased in spacesuits that covered us so well that those watching couldn’t tell what we looked like.
It seemed that my father was a very tricky man.
I don’t know exactly how the subject of Super-Heroes entered the nightly stories. After the night of the list, my father cut back on the part about me being repulsive. I guess he had called it a draw. I had forced him to make me everything I wanted to be, even if he made me impossible to see, in the end. He settled for placing us in impossible situations, which we usually got out of by dumb luck. I think I was the one who decided that I should have super powers, in order to rescue us from whatever he had imagined was threatening us that night. Whatever the reason, one night he prefaced the reading of the actual story with a tale of me as Super-Davy.
“Well,” said, my father, gazing intently at the book, as though the words he spoke actually came from the printed page. “One day the radar stations all over the Earth picked up a very strange signal. Something was coming toward the Earth from outer space. It was coming from very far away, and moving at mind-boggling speed.
“When the scientists turned the Earth’s telescopes in that direction, they were astounded to see the figure of a small boy, streaking through space. He was an especially handsome little boy, and he was wearing a costume with a big red D on the chest.
“ ‘My goodness,’ said all the scientists. ‘It must be some sort of Superboy.’ ”
That got a big grin on my face, and I wondered what my dad was up to.
“Before they could make up their minds,” he continued, “the boy reached the Earth, landing on the lawn of the White House, where the president lives.
“The president was amazed, and rushed out to stare at this stranger. Finally, he held out his hand and said, ‘Welcome to the Earth, Super-Person.’ ”
By this time I was grinning so widely my face hurt. But then my father went on and my grin turned to a frown, as he said, “The handsome boy, who looked a great deal like you, Davy, just said, ‘Blupot smurpnet kormles.’ ”
“ ‘What?’ said the president.”
At this point I interrupted to complain that I would never say such a thing.
“But Davy,” dad said, as though surprised I even mentioned it. “If you come from another world, you speak another language, right? Of course they don’t understand you.”
While I gritted my teeth and prepared to do battle with this monster who called himself my father, he went on to explain that since the super person had arrived without a passport he was an illegal alien, and since he had no money, couldn’t speak the language, and had no means to pay for anything he needed, they locked him in jail.
When I complained that I could bash my way out of the jail, so locking me up wouldn’t do any good, he countered with the fact that doing that would be illegal, too. He also pointed out that without money there was no way to buy food, or even clothing and a place to stay. “Do you want to be a criminal?”
The next night I was let out of jail, since I learned the Earth’s languages—every one of them—in only a single day, due to my enormous intelligence. That pleased me a little, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find a job (or so my father claimed). Since I needed money for food and a place to stay, I took a big lump of coal and squeezed it so hard it became a diamond. That was a good idea, I thought, but according to my father no one believed I made that diamond. Instead, they locked me up again, on suspicion of having stolen it.
“I don’t like this, Daddy,” I complained. “I want to have super-powers, but I want to rescue people, and fight crime.”
“Okay,” he said. “Tomorrow, if you like, you can tell me how you do that.”
“Out of jail at last, Super-Davy leaps into the sky, cape flapping in the wind. As he flies over the city he sees men with guns below him.” Dad looked at me for help, asking, “What does he do, Davy.”
“He flies down and takes the guns away, then beats them up,” I said, instantly. This was more like it.
My father smiled. “Okay kid. If that’s what you want to do, you’ve got it!” He patted my head and continued.
“With a shouted battle cry, Super-Davy dove, striking terror into the hearts of the men below him. In a flash, he had torn the guns from the hands of the men, sending them fleeing. But that was not to be. Escape from Super-Davy was impossible. With another burst of speed, the heroic boy was among them once more, dealing out justice with his iron-hard fists.
“ ‘Wait,’ they begged. ‘Oof,’ they cried as they flew through the air. ‘Cut,’ cried the director… who was very angry.”
“Director?” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. “Director? What kind of director?”
“Why the movie director, of course.” You mistook a movie being made for the real thing.”
“But that’s not fair,” I protested, crossing my arms and glaring at the man. “You never told me it was a movie. You only said it was a bunch of men with guns. That’s not fair!”
My dad gave me the grin he always saved for when he tricked me into doing something stupid, then said, “I guess it’s important to be sure you’re doing the right thing before you bop somebody, huh? Anyway, you’ll probably be out of jail, again, by tomorrow.”
He would have said more, but I was busy bopping him, something I never had to think about. Of course I was using my pillow, but that made it even more fun.
Over the next few weeks the battle raged. At my request, I attempted to rescue a ship stuck on a reef. But when I tried to lift it free from underneath I made a hole in the bottom of the ship, and it sank, drowning dozens. He claimed that you can’t lift a ship out of the water with only hands. The ship’s hull isn’t strong enough for that, unless you use magic, and my father refused to allow me to use magic. In fact, since I had to get my super powers from somewhere, and the somewhere was the food I ate, he claimed that when lifting heavy loads I would have to be eating constantly. He also informed me that, as a result, I would be making trips to the bathroom every few minutes. In fact, he claimed that if I flew very far I would not only have to carry food along, I would be more of a hazard to those below me than birds are to walkers, if you know what I mean. Somehow, it took some of the glamour out of the Super-hero business. Luckily, he didn’t insist on that being part of the stories.
When I demanded super-speed he gave it to me, but the wind of my passage blew people around, and resulted in “hurricane” damage all over town.
Then, when I thought I finally had everything under control, and could be a proper Super-Hero, he ran in the Super-villain, with powers exactly equal to mine. In fact, he once sent in ten of them. That’s when I surrendered.
My father continued to read to me until he found me reading one of the books from his library. We talked it over, and agreed that I could do my own reading. I was sad over the ending of the stories, but by then there were many other things we did together to make up for it. I still miss our nightly battles, though.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
When my own children were young, the things presented in this and other sections of this story were part of the family’s daily life, though I was not nearly so benevolent and wise as Davy’s dad—nor did the events occur in as conveniently dramatic a way. Still, it was great fun, and if, you’ve children of your own, some of what’s presented here might be fun to try.
I suppose it also explains why my children tend to laugh demoniacally now and then for no discernible reason.
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