By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo
My daughter has a secret. I discovered it this summer, late one night when I returned home from work to a still, quiet house.
I poured a glass of juice, had a snack, then crept to the bedroom where my husband and son were sleeping, Gabriel’s arm slung across his father’s chest. The fan hummed softly; all was peaceful. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and glanced down the hallway at my daughter’s closed door. She locks it at night to keep her brother out in the mornings; she’s always the first thing on his mind (Is Abbey up? Will Abbey play with me? Can I wake Abbey up now?).
Surely she won’t mind if I sneak in and steal a kiss or two, I thought. Her face is always angelic to me, but even more so when she’s sleeping. It’s not easy trying to balance on the narrow steps of her bunk bed, but it would be worth it to see that face.
I turned the lock with my thumbnail and slipped inside, only to see a quick rustle of bed sheets and hear a loud snap. “Abigail?” I said, alarmed. “Are you awake?”
Abbey’s head popped out from underneath the covers. The triangle of hallway light illuminated her face, and her expression was guilty. Defeated. Crazy wisps of hair wavered in a static arc above her head. “Hi, Mom.”
“What are you doing?” I hauled myself up the ladder to inspect the scene, wobbling painfully on the balls of my feet. “It’s eleven o’clock at night!”
“I know, but I just wanted to read a few more chapters. Don’t tell Alex! He said lights out at ten.” I yanked the covers back to find my battered copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. And a flashlight.
I started to giggle, and soon Abbey joined in. “Don’t tell Alex!” she repeated, in a whisper. “Promise!”
“I won’t,” I whispered back.
Now, I don’t believe in keeping secrets from my husband, but this was something I could understand. I’d done it too. I brought her a glass of milk, told her firmly, “Lights out, for real,” and made it all the way to the door before turning and saying, “Just tell me which part you’re on.” She popped back up and we had an enthusiastic discussion about how much we love to hate Dolores Umbridge.
What can I say? Abbey brings out the girl in me. Since uncovering her devious plot to steal more reading time, I’ve had some laugh-out-loud moments recalling my own sly strategies. I’ve always been a voracious reader; at Abigail’s age, eleven, I read a lot of Sweet Valley High (identifying with the level-headed twin, Elizabeth, who was a total bookworm and worked on the high school newspaper), but two years later I could usually be found with a Stephen King or Sidney Sheldon novel. I was fascinated with Stephen King’s dark, gory tales, where nothing was off limits. Children were murdered (IT), evil prevailed (Children of the Corn), and scariest of all, a string of bad luck could lead to horrific conclusions with no dark forces responsible (Cujo).
For years, I thought Sidney Sheldon was the most brilliant man alive. I was Tracy Whitney in If Tomorrow Comes, a cunning thief who steals from the greedy and plots the perfect revenge against those who’ve wronged her. I was Jennifer Parker in Rage of Angels, a beautiful, talented lawyer making a fool of the district attorney and mesmerizing the dark and dangerous mobster Michael Moretti.
In high school I was appalled at being assigned the hefty text of The Grapes of Wrath, until I started reading and lost sleep traveling to California with the Joad family, seething at how unfair life could be, seeing the skin plastered over bones in starving children I’d come to love.
And I was enchanted by a rabbit named Bigwig. I still am. He will always be my favorite, not the cunning Hazel, the genius Blackberry, or the dignified Silver. Bigwig was the heart of Watership Down.
I remember days at school, propping textbooks in my lap at the back of class, reading the paperback unfolded inside. What a good, quiet student I was. Needless to say, I am much better at Scrabble than Trivial Pursuit.
How can you fault a love for reading? Isn’t it what we try to instill in our children from day one? I kept Abigail’s secret, at least for the summer. But now that school’s in session, I make sure the lights are truly out at 9 p.m., that there’s no reading paraphernalia stashed under her pillow, and that Abigail knows her weakness and the trouble it can cause her. Chiefly, that she has a beautiful mind, but one apt to drift during long days in the classroom. This year, I’m advising her to choose seats in the front.
Elizabeth lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Alex, son Gabriel (6) and daughter Abigail (11). Links to Elizabeth’s fictions and creative nonfiction can be found on her website http://www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com/