Don’t Turn the Page

I have to tell the cyclops story again.

The cyclops story. Right. So, remember school reading groups, where you’d sit on the floor and you’d read to each other, and if you got to a hard word the teacher would make you sound it out, like paaaaaaa-roxxxx-sissim? Well, this one time, I’d brought The Arabian Nights, and my turn came, and—

No, wait a minute. I should mention I was four, and a young four, badly-socialised. I didn’t fit in at school. I rarely understood what was expected of me, and when I did, I didn’t care. I drew on things. I stood on chairs. I treated the classroom as my own private social club (the teacher’s words, not mine). I was a rotten little chatterbox, but I did like to read.

So, that day, I took my place in the circle and I started to read, and that was good. Sinbad was lost on the high seas, and that was better, till an awful realisation crept up on me. See, I’d read The Arabian Nights before. I knew what was coming, and what was coming was this:

Beuhhh. Even now, I can hardly look at it, those great, mangled ears, that round, pustulent eye. And its guts, Jesus Christ, all stuffed full of people. Just look at it! How could anyone draw that? How could they even think it? Dreadful thing!

So I slowed to a crawl, willed the bell to ring. Willed my turn to end. I ran out of words and stopped reading, and Mrs. Grant was all why’ve you stopped? I was all ehhhhh, dunno? She told me keep going. I told her no. She asked me why not, and I was almost as afraid of her as I was of the cyclops, so I gave her the truth—there’s a horrible thing on the next page, and I don’t want to see it—and Mrs. Grant grabbed my book. She turned the page, laughed out loud, and she rubbed the cyclops in my face. She did it quite roughly, so it flew at me, this toothy, elephantine assault, and I nearly wet my pants.

That’s not the end of the cyclops story, though. I usually stop it there, because that’s the end of the interesting part, but something else happened later. Mother came to walk me home, and we were strolling past the park, and I said “I got in trouble today.” I was going to tell her the cyclops story, but she stopped walking and fixed me with such a disappointed look I changed my mind. I said I was kidding and she let me ride the swings, and then we went home, and Mother doesn’t know the cyclops story.

I suppose it’s just as well she doesn’t. She bought me that book. She bought me a lot of books, most of them illustrated, and she went to great pains to pick the best ones. I had just about everything Michael Hague ever illustrated. I had Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and Strega Nona. I had hundreds of books, and I had The Arabian Nights, and it had that cyclops.

René Bull drew that cyclops, by the way. René Bull. He’s responsible. René Bull.

There were two other horrible pictures in my book collection, one being Michael Hague’s rendition of the Hammerheads from The Wizard of Oz, and the other being the giant from The Selfish Giant. I’m not sure who drew that, but it wasn’t a patch on the cyclops, and neither were the Hammerheads. The cyclops was in a class of its own, entirely unsuitable for children, and I hated it. I’d have torn it out, but I might’ve got caught, and who knows what my punishment would’ve been?

Anyway, sorry for showing you the cyclops, whoever’s reading. It’s just, some things you have to see to understand.

…you do understand, right? It can’t just be me. That thing’s full-on ghastly.

Here’s a bird.

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