Sunday, September 22, 2013
At 1:30 or so I found myself in a library-like corner with a gathering of children on a braided rug. I had been asked to read Dr. Radway as part of a benefit gathering, but there was no one older than eight in the crowd. Can you read us "Peter Pan?" they asked. Will you read us "Little Mermaid"?
But all I had in hand was Dr. Radway, and so I began telling stories about our city now and then. I talked about boys who rescued lost animals for a living, about river races, about Eastern State Penitentiary. I turned to the illustrations in Dr. Radway—pictures, I thought! I'll talk about pictures—and realized very quickly that I was in a stew of trouble.
But why is William's brother gone? an incredibly adorable five-year-old pixie named Maisy had to know.
Because he was murdered, I didn't feel I could say.
But why is the father in prison?
Oh dear, I thought. I can't answer this. There are accidents and alcohol involved.
But who is that pretty woman in that picture?
That's Pearl, I said, but then couldn't say, Pearl, the goodhearted prostitute.
And then I shared a picture of William's best friend Career—a good kid, an ambitious kid, a hero himself. I can talk about Career, I thought. I can say something actual here. I've got material! At last! For the children!
But then Maisy piped up with, I don't like the looks of Career at all.
Why's that? I asked.
Because he's smoking a pipe, she said. Do you know how to read Little Mermaid? she said.
It took me all these years and a girl named Maisy for me to come face to face with this fact: I am not nearly as innocuous as I had always thought I am.
To the Chestnut Hill Book Festival now. To talk memoir. I think I might be better at that.