Things That Never Happen (& The Things That Do)
She’d been collecting books for ages. The top shelf in her bedroom was reserved for poetry, the middle and bottom shelf were full of fiction, and the bookshelf in her living room contained a mix of memoir, non-fiction, and theology. While Kate and her husband, Peter, had originally vowed to keep their books separate, they were now intermingled, along with their values, dreams, and TV preferences.
In the guest room, which the previous owners had painted in an outdated shade of Martha Stewart green, she had Peter put up a shelf. This shelf was for the books she wanted to read to her children one day. Kate had been saving them since she was in college, and her friends had started to marry and have babies. After buying her favorite children’s books as baby shower gifts, she decided to begin building a collection for her own future family.
The Runaway Bunny, Gregory the Terrible Eater, The Giving Tree, and Bread and Jam for Frances, were the first books she bought, using her birthday money. “I will read these books either way,” she said to herself, trying to justify the purchase. It felt a little like buying a wedding dress before having a boyfriend. She didn’t want to assume there would be children in her future. At the same time, she wanted to have reading material ready.
At a garage sale in Malibu, she found the entire works of Beatrix Potter pushed behind an old KitchenAid mixer. And one year for Christmas, her friend Kelsey gave her a copy of The House at Pooh Corner. Kate began adding novels to the collection, too, recognizing that babies eventually become kids, who become teenagers, etc. So she added Dandelion Wine, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and The Giver. Peter thought it was funny to sneak Stephen King novels in once and while, but she removed them swiftly, as though there was a child crying at her feet, having accidentally stumbled upon Pet Sematary.
So much of life is preparing for things that never happen. Saving old journals you’ll never read again, and stocking up on canned goods for the end of the world. “Babe, I think it’s time,” Peter said. Kate looked up from her phone, to note her husband’s expression. Was this going to be a heavy conversation? He seemed peaceful enough. “Whatchu talkin’ about, babe?” “Tonight,” he said, “I would like you to read me Bread and Jam for Frances.”
“You didn’t read that one as a kid?”
“I dunno, maybe. But I want you to read it to me all the same.”
“I like that idea,” Kate said, putting her phone down. “I’ll always remember how her school lunch included a mini salt and pepper shaker for her hard boiled egg,” she laughed, then walked into the kitchen to put on the kettle for tea. Peter sat, smiling, in his chair.
And thus the nightly ritual began. It started with kids’ books, which they took turns reading in funny voices, like you would to make a child laugh. Then they dug into series like The Chronicles of Narnia and went through a long short story phase with Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut and some of Stephen King’s short stories, which actually turned out to be pretty good. Kate saw a Facebook ad for a reading light that could be clipped onto the bed post and bought it. Peter bought some twinkle lights from Amazon and strung them up above the bed, for atmosphere. Sometimes he would play a movie soundtrack on his phone while they read. Other times, the fan was the only background noise.
You might be wondering why Kate and Peter didn’t have any children. Were they waiting? Were they infertile? And the truth is, they weren’t waiting. They just made a decision to stop preparing for things and to start actually doing the things they had always wanted to do. Which is why Peter bought a record player—the kind with an antique trumpet for a speaker—and why Kate finally cut her hair the way she’d always wanted to, and why they bought a pasta machine and a peach tree. And why they began reading children’s books to each other at night.
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