Thursday, January 08, 2009

Further Adventures in Bedtime Stories

My daughter — six, almost seven — still expects bedtime stories.  Sometimes I read, sometimes I recollect, other times I make things up.   Like many children, she likes to have some stories repeated, and as certain passages are immutably stuck in her memory, she immediately picks up on the smallest variations from one rendition to the nest.   Luckily, I have a small supply of texts in memory.  One of my favorites, a little story from Finnegans Wake, I've mentioned here before.   Ogdon Nash's The Strange Case of the Irksome Prude is a current favorite.  Thurber's Unicorn in the Garden, of course, with ample opportunity to repeat the mantra "the unicorn is a mythical beast."  But the one Emma likes the most is the stone-sucking episode from Beckett's Molloy.  As I teen-ager, I once watched Jose Ferrer act this out, and I immediately had to learn to do it myself.  This obsessive little combinatorial exercise, compositionally perfect and a perfect entertainment, given the right moment and the right company, begins so:

I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a store of sucking-stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. Yes, on this occasion I laid in a considerable store. I distributed them equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn about. This raised a problem which I first solved in the following way. I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my greatcoat. Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I  replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had finished sucking it. Thus there were still four stones in each of my four pockets, but not quite the same stones. And when the desire to suck took hold of me again, I drew again on the right pocket of my greatcoat, certain of not taking the same stone as the last time.  And while I sucked it I rearranged the other stones in the way I have just described. And so on. But this solution did not satisfy me fully. For it did not escape me that, by an extraordinary hazard, the four stones circulating thus might always be the same four. In which case, far from sucking the sixteen stones turn and turn about, I was really only sucking four, always the same, turn and turn about. But I shuffled them well in my pockets, before I began to suck, and again, while I sucked, before transferring them, in the hope of obtaining a more general circulation of the stones from pocket to pocket. But this was only a makeshift that could not long content a man like me. So I began to look for something else ...

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