By Jenny Kalahar
I love old magazines, just like my mom did ever since I can remember. She used to buy 1920’s, ’30’s and ’40’s Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, movie star pictorials, Life, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, and so many others. She would read to me and my four older brothers on winter evenings, or when we were home sick from school.
I remember one block of days when my youngest brother, Norris (four years older than me), and I both had chicken pox. We reclined at opposite ends of the sofa through the day, our legs avoiding, nudging, or bumping each other by accident or on purpose. Our old black-and-white TV didn’t work well, and no kid in our situation would have felt like keeping up with our classwork, so Mom read to us from the tanning pages of her old treasures as we snuck itches of our red bumps and tried not to be miserable in our pink-frosting layer of calamine lotion.
One very late night recently, I’d sat up in bed, swung my legs over the edge of the bed, and then trudged downstairs to the kitchen, thinking I might be able to sleep if my stomach felt full. I rummaged around in the fridge and then stood up holding a few slices of wrapped cheese and the milk bottle. After I’d unwrapped an orangey slice and had poured some milk, I sat in the semi-dark living room on a plump chair, eating in silence. Feeling slightly more sleepy after a snack—but still not ready for bed—I switched on a floor lamp and picked up a few of the vintage magazines I’d found at a flea market the week before.
Flip flip flip. Oh, look—an ad for a baby soap that promised rosy cheeks and sunny dispositions. And on the right-hand side of the page was an article on how to properly iron your fanciest aprons. When I opened at random near the magazine’s rear, there was a full page comic about a dog named Fydo and his boy companion, Jimmy. For some reason, Fydo did most of the talking and Jimmy did most of the fetching.
“Fydo and Jimmy. That seems very familiar. But, I don’t get how this is supposed to be funny,” I sighed to the comic. I tried to close the magazine, but something just wouldn’t let me.
“What don’t you get?” asked the cartoon dog. Seriously—the cartoon dog was asking me a question!
Fydo leaped from his page and down to the shag carpeting in front of my slippered feet, looking very wavery and two-dimensional as his inky vintage-style dog eyes gazed unblinkingly up into mine.
He was made of old paper, soft and slightly glossy. He was worn at every edge, but especially at his tail, since that tail seemed always to be wagging except when he spoke or when he changed from sitting to standing, or vice versa. His longish ears flopped dangerously at their halfway point, making me worry that, if he moved too severely or too much, one or both might tear at their fold there, high up on his mostly black head. It was disconcerting, but I was partly glad that he talked to me without opening his jaws. They would have worn through since he was so talkative. I wasn’t actually sure at all if I was hearing him with my ears or if we were communicating telepathically. Or, perhaps, somehow through a shared imagination.
“What’s your name, little girl?” asked the paper dog.
“Um, Jenny. But I’m hardly a little—”
“Do you like jelly beans? Jimmy loves jelly beans.”
“I’m not little,” I tried to clarify again.
His eyes never blinked, and he didn’t seem to understand what I was getting at.
“You are a tall child, aren’t you? My! You must drink a lot of milk to have made your bones grow out so long and strong! That’s a good girl, Jenny. Good girl!”
The voice inside my head from Fydo sounded a lot like the voice of Goofy the dog from those old cartoons I used to watch as a kid.
My mind was so overwhelmed with the oddness of this encounter that it took a minute to wonder if I was hallucinating. Did I have a fever? Was there some virus going around that gave its victims visions?
“I love to chase the ice delivery man,” the dog went on excitedly. “On very hot days he gives me a piece of ice to chew. I like to chase the milk man and newsboy, too, but they never give me a thing. Don’t you just love to chew ice, little girl?” asked the dog. He then drew back his lips and showed me his pointy teeth that looked like the edges of construction paper after you’ve cut it with pinking shears.
“Fydo, why do you think I’m a little girl?” I asked, trying to be a bit rational in that irrational situation.
“Oh, and I’m learning to foxtrot. That’s a dance, don’t you know. One two three four, one two three four,” he counted, doing some unusual steps.
Just then, I felt movement on my lap. Fydo’s magazine was opening itself again!
“Fy, what are you doing in the OtherWorld? Haven’t I told you to stay in your neighborhood and not to bother the nice boys and girls who live outside?”
This admonition had come from a squeaky-voiced, black haired papery boy wearing coveralls who stood about three feet tall once he’d climbed down off of my lap to stand shaking a floppy paper finger at his dog. “Ha-ha,” he then said nervously to me, also not opening his mouth to speak. “I hope you’ll forgive Fydo, little girl, he’s been a bad—”
“Why do you and Fydo think I’m a little girl?” I interrupted, exasperated.
Dog and boy looked at each other, and then at me, their unblinking eyes wider.
“Because,” explained Jimmy with a rustling shrug, “all of our readers have always only been boys and girls. And, since you were reading about us, that means, of course, that you must be a girl.”
Fydo sat up on his hind legs and thought-whispered something to his boy. And then Jimmy took in a sharp breath, looking me over more closely than he had before.
“Fydo reminded me that once upon a long-ago time there was an OtherWorld grown-up lady who would read our stories. Right out loud like they mattered to her and her own little boys and girl,” Jimmy said softly, the squeak leaving his voice. “She really seemed to … to care about our adventures. I cared about her, too, I’ll admit. Even though I kind of wondered if she was real. If OtherWorld was real, I mean. She had long, brown hair that she piled on the top of her head in a bun, and she had round cheeks, and a crookedy smile. Remember her, Fydo?”
The dog nodded, creasing his neck a little. “She was loverly!”
“That—that must have been my mother,” I said, and then uncontrollably sobbed at the sweet vision of Mom reading to us kids as we sat on the floor in our pajamas around her feet on so many evenings.
I covered my face with my hands as memories filled me up, heart and soul, making me miss her terribly. Soon, though, I was laughing to myself, remembering her facial expressions as she’d read, and how exciting she made every story she told to us seem. I sighed deeply and opened my eyes, wiping my tears on my bathrobe’s sleeve. I was alone in the room again, and the magazines had fallen from my lap down to the carpeting.
Not picking them up, I switched off the lamp and then the kitchen lights and went back upstairs. I took off my robe and slippers and slid into bed beside Patrick and Weegee, our Terrier. I breathed slowly a few times to settle my spirit and reached out to pat Weegee goodnight. As my fingers slipped along her neck, I heard her tail thumping against the blanket. And there, in the darkness of whatever world we inhabited, I could have sworn her tail made a light, papery sound.
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. She is the author of a fantasy novel about teens stuck with the worst-ever magical power,This Peculiar Magic. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog.
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