part of my application for the MFA program at UBC (University of British Columbia) involved sending the start of a children's story. yesterday i received notice that i am on the "reserve" list. so i'd like to share chapter 1 of TINSY WINSY--in the hopes that some of you might read and be inclined to knock on wood, say your prayers, and cross your fingers for me. this is a highly competative program that would warrant me a seat in the lime light of Canadian literature. that i should be so lucky. . .
the main character is my childhood red sock monkey, pictured here with Cheeko (part of my life since junior high) and a teddy bear i've had since i was three. the story is siimply called TINSY WINSY, the chapter is We Are Born.
Tinsy Winsy opened her eyes. Where am I? she wondered, blinking two times and looking around curiously. “What an interesting room, it isn’t finished!”
She was right of course about the room. The walls were up all right, but they weren’t painted. The windows were in, but they had no glass. The floor was there, but it had no carpet. And in the middle of the floor, goodness, stood two rickety old saw horses with a long skinny tree lying down on them! Yessireebob, a tree! With all its branches sawn off, and most of its bark, too. Now what is a tree doing in a house, Tinsy Winsy wondered, more curious than ever.
Her nose started to itch. It itched some more. The whole room was filled with sawdust! Sawdust on the floor. Sawdust on the window sills. Sawdust on the hearth. Was she going to sneeze? “Ah, ah—” She covered her nose. “Achoo!”
“God bless you.”
Tinsy Winsy whirled around sideways. “Who are you?” she asked a monkey tucked into a sock hanging off the fireplace beside her.
“I’m Bingo.” Bingo had the same shiny black shoe-button eyes that Tinsy Winsy did, but she had freckles all over her nose. “Who are you?” Bingo asked back at her.
“I’m Tinsy Winsy.”
“You’re a monkey.”
Tinsy Winsy looked down at herself. Sure enough, she was a monkey. What was she doing in this sock? Things were getting curiouser and curiouser.
“We were born in the middle of the night,” said someone new and Tinsy Winsy turned all the way around the other way.
“Hello. I’m Suzanne,” said another monkey in another sock.
“Are there more of us?” wondered Tinsy Winsy out loud, looking about.
“No,” said Suzanne. Unlike Tinsy Winsy and Bingo, she wore a smocked dress. Tinsy Winsy and Bingo only had sweaters, but they were very nice sweaters, hand knit and with pockets.
Tinsy Winsy wiggled and wriggled. “Do you know why we’re in socks? Hanging off a fireplace?” she asked Suzanne.
“Because it’s Christmas.”
“You don’t know what Christmas is?” asked Suzanne in such a way that suggested Tinsy Winsy might be quite stupid.
“No, I do not know what Christmas is.”
Suzanne laughed. “I think you must have sponge between your ears! I have polyester batting,” she said very importantly.
“I do not have sponge between my ears!”
“She has cotton fluff!” shrieked Bingo, and she giggled so much she very nearly fell out of her sock.
“If you’re so smart,” said Tinsy Winsy to her, “you tell me what Christmas is.”
Bingo stopped laughing. She didn’t know what Christmas was either.
“Christmas,” said Suzanne, “is when Christ was born. Christ-mas. Get it? And on Christmas Eve, the night before Christmas, mothers and fathers everywhere hang up their socks for Santa to fill with candy and children, and in the morning they find us. And they eat turkey and pumpkin pie and they go to church. But sometimes,” she added, “they go to church on Christmas Eve instead.”
“Oh,” said Tinsy Winsy and Bingo.
“Are we in socks because we’re waiting for our mother and father to find us?” Tinsy Winsy asked Suzanne because she seemed to know such things.
Suzanne’s eyes were not made out of shoe-buttons at all, like Bingo and Tinsy Winsy’s. Her eyes were made out of wee green buttons sewn on top of larger white ones, and she rolled her fancy green eyes at Tinsy Winsy. “We’re in socks because our mother and father prayed to the Christ-child for children. And the Christ-child told Santa to put us here.”
“Did we get born?” Bingo asked.
“Yes,” said Suzanne. “But I’m seven, and I’m the biggest.”
So that’s why she knew everything.
Bingo said, “Who says you get to be the biggest?”
“I just am.”
“How old am I?” asked Tinsy Winsy.
“Me?” asked Bingo.
“You are only four. But you’ll turn five next month.”
“I’m only four?” asked Bingo. “I want my mother!” And she started to cry.
But Suzanne yawned and stretched. She stretched her two arms up over her head and yawned again. She stretched her toes. “Hey, there’s something at the bottom of our socks!”
Bingo stopped crying.
“You better not look,” said Tinsy Winsy.
“Why not?” asked Suzanne.
“What if we get in trouble?”
“I never heard anyone say we couldn’t open our stockings!” Before Tinsy Winsy could say “Curious George,” Suzanne climbed out of her sock and turned it upside down. “Look!” She held up a peppermint.
Tinsy Winsy and Bingo climbed out in a hurry! Out came an orange from Tinsy Winsy’s sock. Then a peppermint just like Suzanne’s. And a pair of brand new roller skates! “I always wanted a pair of roller skates!” she said, and right away she started strapping them onto her feet. “What did you get?” she asked Bingo.
Bingo held up a stick, with two bumps on the end. “I don’t know.”
Suzanne was trying to pull a bicycle out of her sock, but she stopped and went over and looked at Bingo’s stick. “That’s a pogo stick. It works like this.” She stood on the bumps, but quick as a wink over she toppled—boom, into the sawdust all over the floor.
“I know, I know how to do it now!” cried Bingo, and away she went, binging and bonging all over the great big room.
Tinsy Winsy didn’t care about the pogo stick! She didn’t care about Suzanne’s shiny pink bike! She had roller skates! Around and around she whizzed, around the saw horses with the tree lying down, around another tree standing up in the corner, around and around and all through the sawdust. Wheeee! She was flying! Once she nearly bumped into Bingo bouncing. Once she nearly whammed into Suzanne wobbling on her bike. Suzanne didn’t know how to ride very well yet. Wheeee! What fun!
Tinsy Winsy looked up. High in the air, way overhead, hanging onto a rafter for dear life by her tail, was Bingo. What Tinsy Winsy noticed, though, was the rafter. It looked just like the tree lying on the sawhorses. So that’s where the long skinny tree with its branches and bark all sawn off is supposed to go, she thought. It belongs way up there.
“Help, help! I’m going to fall!”
“What are you doing up there?” Tinsy Winsy asked Bingo.
“I bounced. Help me, I really am going to fall!”
Tinsy Winsy hardly had time to duck. First Bingo came crashing down. Then came her tail.
“My tail! I want my mother!” wailed Bingo.
“My, my, what have we here?” someone said.
“I think we have our little Christmas girls.”
The three little monkeys saw two grown up monkeys talking to each other at the end of the room. One had a yellow bow on her head. The other had a black and white polka-dot bow tie.
Bingo stopped crying. “Mother?”
“Oh dear,” said Mother with the yellow bow on her head. “The little one has already lost her tail.”
“She didn’t lose it,” said Suzanne. She got off her bike and went over to pick up the tail. “See, here it is.”
“My tail came off!” whimpered Bingo.
“Don’t you worry, little girl,” said Father with the black and white polka-dot bow tie. He came over and picked up Bingo. “Mother is a good surgeon. She’ll sew it back on.”
“Will it hurt her?” Tinsy Winsy asked, not sure at all this was a good idea.
Mother smiled. “Tonight when she goes to sleep, I will do the operation. She’ll never feel a thing.”
“Oh,” said Tinsy Winsy.
“Are you ready for breakfast?” Mother asked.
They all said, “Yes!”
“Come to the table then.”
What table? Tinsy Winsy didn’t see any table.
“In here,” said Father, shifting Bingo to one arm and reaching down to take Tinsy Winsy’s hand.
This is much better, thought Tinsy Winsy when Father led her into the kitchen. Here the walls had fresh yellow paint, the windows had shiny clean glass, the floor had little tiny checkered tiles, and the table had breakfast! Yum! Pancakes with cheese and hot syrup! Yum, yum, yum!
Father put Bingo in a high yellow chair and pushed her up to the table. He put Tinsy Winsy in another high yellow chair and pushed her up to the table. He put Suzanne in a high yellow chair and pushed her up to the table.
Suzanne said, “I am not going to wear a bib!”
“Only Bingo has to wear a bib,” said Mother, and she snapped a bright red plastic bib under Bingo’s chin.
“I don’t want to wear a bib,” said Bingo.
“When you turn five next month,” Mother said, “you won’t have to wear it anymore. That’s the rule.”
“Oh,” said Bingo, and they all sang, “For health and strength and daily bread, we thank you Lord, amen!”
“Dig in and eat,” said Father.
All day was a wonder to Tinsy Winsy. Mother helped them clear their dishes. Father helped them put on snowsuits. They went to church and sang Christmas carols. They came home and ate turkey and pumpkin pie and opened presents of books and dollies and paper and crayons. Then they had more turkey and pumpkin pie and Father got them ready for bed and tucked them into sleeping bags in their brand new bedroom. It wasn’t much of a room yet, and quite a mess. There were no windows at all, and no ceiling. And part of the floor was still gravel. “I haven’t finished building our house,” said Father.
“That’s okay,” said Tinsy Winsy. “I like our house. I can see the stars through all the holes.”
Father laughed and read them a story. He helped them say their prayers. “When your bedroom is done,” he said, “I will teach how to say your prayers properly.”
“How do you say your prayers properly?” asked Tinsy Winsy.
“You kneel, silly,” said Suzanne from her sleeping bag.
“Is that right, Father?” asked Bingo.
“That’s right,” said Father. “Now you go to sleep, Bingo. Because in the morning you’ll have your tail back.”
He kissed them each goodnight. Mother kissed them each goodnight.
“It won’t hurt?” Bingo asked Mother. “Suzanne said it would hurt.”
“It won’t hurt.”
When Mother and Father blew out the candles and tiptoed from the room, Tinsy Winsy lay still and looked all around. Stars twinkled through the big holes everywhere. She could see the shadowy lumps that were Suzanne and Bingo, going to sleep on their army cots. “Suzanne?” she whispered. “How did a bike, a pogo stick, and a pair of skates all fit into our socks?”
“That’s just the way Christmas is,” whispered Suzanne with a sleepy sigh.
Tinsy Winsy wanted to ask more questions but remembered Suzanne thought she had sponge between her ears. She said instead, “I like Christmas. I’m glad we got born. Yessireebob, I’m glad we got born,” and she snuggled down into her bag and stuck her thumb in her mouth.
“Me, too,” said Bingo with a sleepy yawn.
“Me, three,” said Suzanne.
Outside their bedroom door stood Mother with her yellow bow on her head and Father with his black and white polka-dot bow tie. They liked Christmas, too. The Christ-child had answered their prayers and Santa had brought them not one, not two, but three little Christmas girls.