kingdom of discarded words

Kingdom of Discarded Words

A father sat scribbling away in his office. His desk light beat down upon the page and silhouetted his hunched form. Meanwhile, the rest of the room grew dim with retreating sunlight. 

The door creaked open, and a small head poked in. A girl’s bright eyes studied the man’s back as she slipped into the room. She opened her mouth to make her presence known, but a grunt and a crumpling of paper interrupted her. A moment later, the wad of white was carelessly tossed over the man’s shoulder, soaring across the office and landing with a crinkle and a cling in a metal wastebasket. 

The girl blinked, and her eyes widened; all thoughts of speaking vanished. Her bare feet padded across the wood, and little hands landed on a cold rim. She glanced at her father and then peered into the bin, carefully pulling out and examining the discarded page. After smoothing out all the creases and reading the mess of words hidden between scratched-out splotches, she looked back at the basket. Wrinkled white spheres covered the bottom. She reached back in.

A moment later, soft footsteps travelled across the room, and the crack of light from the doorway disappeared, leaving the man alone with his thoughts once more. 

***

Twenty minutes and six tossed pages later, the writer’s daughter returned in a similar manner, carefully opening the door and silently floating into the office. This time, she merely glanced at the desk, and then the sprite headed straight to the basket, her eyes sparkling. 

With an arm-load of pages, she left to the sound of sighs and scratching pen. 

The third time she entered, the basket was almost full. The girl picked up the balls one by one, tucking them gently into the crook of her elbow. She was so involved in her work, she didn’t notice the sound of paper being torn from its notebook and crunched in irritation. Just as the daughter stood up and turned to leave, the paper ball flew toward her, bouncing off her nose and startling her. She fell backwards with a soft thud, papers spilling from her arms. 

Pulling herself up quickly, she chased after the scattered treasures. As she leaned over to retrieve her fallen friends, she dropped more. For every page picked up, two more slipped from her grasp. With a huff, she decided on a new tactic. She dropped all the papers and glanced around the room, spotting what she needed. 

In the corner sat a plush chair with a small blanket resting on its arm. The girl quickly swiped the cloth off the seat and brought it to her pile of papers. Picking up her treasures, she arranged them on the well-worn square and pulled the corners together, very slowly, not wanting to disturb the pile of white in the middle. Now, with her pages safely confined, she tossed the blanket bag over her shoulder with pride. She slipped once more out the door, the metal waste-bin clanging behind her as another thought was thrown away. 

***

Hours passed, and the writer’s eyes grew red, his hair mussed by frustrated hands. He leaned back from his writing and rubbed his temples. A glance at the clock made him sigh, as he realized the lateness of the hour. Picking up his page, he read over what he’d written. 

“Still not right,” he muttered, and he crushed the paper in his fist. The father pushed back from his desk and walked over to the trash. He lifted his hand slightly to drop in his last failed attempt of the night but stopped in surprise. The basket was empty. His eyes narrowed as he looked around the room. 

Not a single page was in sight. 

Confused, he walked out into the hall, the paper still in his fingers. He heard a faint rustling coming from the living room and turned that direction. His jaw dropped as he stepped into the room.

The floor between the couches had been transformed into a delicate world of white.

Folded flowers were scattered about, and a scrunched hot air balloon raised with paper clips rested on the edge of the coffee table with several airplanes lying at its side. Paper had been rolled up to build the walls of a house, no, a castle which leaned precariously—elegantly—against the leg of the table. Swans and butterflies surrounded the palace, the only subjects in sight. 

And there in the center of the paper creations sat his daughter, cross-legged on the floor, elbows out, head down in concentration. She was working on shaping a floppy-eared dragon to sit atop her tower. When she finished, she held the creature in the air, turning it side to side. Satisfied, she placed him gently on his perch, then turned her head, noticing her father. With a laugh, she jumped up and hugged him. He continued to shift his gaze from her to her creations with amazement, as she spotted the paper he held. 

Gently, she plucked the ball from his grasp, patting his now-empty hand. The artist plopped herself onto the floor to decide what else to make. 

Her father slowly sat down beside her, a soft grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. The girl smiled at him and pulled another sphere from the pile next to her, inviting him to join her.

He took the page and carefully smoothed it out. Then, he began folding, helping her complete her kingdom of discarded words.

 

 

***

(This story was originally published in Voices, volume 54 of The Mountain Laurel. For more short stories, visit our Fiction Archives.)

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