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Old King Cole, by William Wallace Denslow

Old King Cole, by William Wallace Denslow

“Okay,” Sagacia said. “Wikipedia says it’s a truce term.” She rolled her mouse around the desktop, leaning in to follow the little cursor arrow across the screen.

“What is?” asked Simplia, taking off her shoes.

“King’s X,” Sagacia replied, clicking on her mouse. “Remember? You said it when we were racing home from the post office and you had to stop and tie your shoelaces? I was just thinking about it and wondered where it came from and what it meant.”

“Oh, well, that’s just what we used to say when we played chase or hide-and-seek outside and needed some time out for some reason. ‘Time out;’ that’s all it means,” Simplia explained, pulling off her socks.

“Or it can mean you’re telling a lie, but it doesn’t count against you because you have your fingers crossed,” Sagacia read aloud from the screen, then clicked her mouse on another search result.

“Well, I wasn’t!” Simplia insisted. “I just needed to tie my shoelace, and that shouldn’t count against a person who finds herself unexpectedly in a race. I mean, if I had known, I would have double-knotted them.”

“Of course,” Sagacia agreed, still circling with the mouse and clicking. “But why the ‘King’? And why the ‘X’?”

“A male? A monarch?” Simplia thought aloud, tucking a rolled up sock into each shoe. “Well, I guess a king would get some special privileges from time to time just for being the most powerful, and maybe some sympathy for being breathless.”

Sagacia clicked and swirled, skimming through Web pages impatiently.

“Or for having his shoelaces untied,” Simplia added, hooking a couple of fingers into her shoes and backing them under the coffee table.

Just then Sagacia’s computer dinged to announce an arriving email. She clicked into her mailbox and spotted the new message.

“Look at this! I just got an email called ‘King’s X!’” she said, clicking it open.

“Or, that is, Vasilisa did,” she added.

Simplia walked over to the desk, leaned over her friend’s shoulder and read:

Dear Vasilisa the Wise:

Am I missing something here? It seems to me that the whole Fairy-Tale-Loving world is suddenly focusing on stories of girls who are brave and bold, females who overcome through wisdom or trickery, women who persevere and regain something that was lost to them. What happened to the brave and bold and wise and tricky and persevering princes and kings and tradesmen and shepherds? More importantly, what will happen to the little boys who miss hearing their stories? What stories shall fathers, like me, who want their sons to hear stories of hope and heart, stories about manhood and becoming a whole and healthy man tell our sons? I need a time-out from all the girl stories. A King’s X, for us kings!

I’m not asking this to challenge you as a woman, Vasilisa, but because I think you truly are wise. I don’t want women to have fewer stories; I just want men to have more.

And I don’t mean role model stories, here; I mean stories that offer hope, the kind of hope that fairy tales give their hearers and readers, a vicarious experience that reassures boys that the troubles in their lives can be overcome or will be outlived, and there will be some kind of happiness or relief around the bend, when the task is completed. Stories that affirm boyhood, manhood, elderhood for the xy chromosome. The male version of the metaphor seems to be in short supply these days.

What do you think are the best stories for men to hear? Boys, young men, middle-aged men, old men–all of us! And maybe they’re also the best stories for girls and women to hear about men, too; ya think?

Thanks so much for considering my request.

Yours truly,
Beleaguered in Bellingham

“I’d say we’d better get this over to the Fairy Tale Lobby right away!” Sagacia said when they’d finished mumbling their way through the message. “Someone there will know some great stories for B in B and probably have good reasons for picking them, too.”

“Wait just a minute!” said Simplia. “While I put my shoes back on!”

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