[ToC]

 

THE SLEEPING QUEEN

Josh Russell

 

 

Our wives are to blame, for the babies, first and foremost, because once upon a time there were no babies in our quiet, orderly, clean houses, but then our wives were delivered of our babies, therefore our wives are also to blame for the minivans and the comparative poverty and the disorder and the noise, because our babies are to blame for the minivans and the comparative poverty and the disorder and the noise, and our wives are to blame for our babies. Our babies are to blame for making us worry about school districts, the rising cost of college tuition, climate change, teenage pregnancy, binge drinking—thanks a lot, babies—and our wives are to blame for our babies. Our fathers-in-law are to blame for calling to the sides of their deathbeds our wives, then younger, and before we met them, to offer bits of paternalistic and for the most part useless advice, before theatrically breathing their lasts, convincing our wives most men are clowns and therefore making them irresistible to us when we met them in the colleges the likes of which we are now unable to afford to send our babies without second mortgages and the aforementioned comparative poverty. There's nothing to be gained in discussing what our mothers-in-law are to blame for—nothing at all to be gained, trust us—and even less to be gained in claiming our mothers blameless. Our wives are to blame for our passable table manners, which have helped us advance in our careers (software engineers, tenured poets, orthopedic surgeons), and thus insured we'll never again spend a sunny Wednesday morning reading for fun a book outside a coffeehouse next to a Laundromat where all of our clothes save those we're wearing are in one 75¢ dryer, wondering if our not-yet-wives will tonight finally succumb to our clumsy seductions, then marry us, then teach us to eat with our mouths closed and our napkins across our laps. Our wives are to blame for magic: onto our fingers they slipped golden rings inscribed with their names, names so lovely they sound like synonyms for sunshine, kindness, beauty, then they gave us our babies, each baby wild and mysterious as a talking fox. Spring is here, the trees full of fragrant flowers. Our wives are to blame.

 

 

 

 

 

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For the past few months, my daughter and I have been reading Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales every night before she goes to sleep, and I've written several stories that sample Calvino: I borrow one line from a Calvino tale, usually something that strikes me as especially odd when I read it aloud to my kid (sometimes these lines make us both laugh), never a line central to the original folktale's plot, and around that line I build my own folktale. "Our wives are to blame" was the line I took from "The Sleeping Queen."