This piece is dedicated to Stephanie Mullen-Sin (@mullen_sin), an artist in search of a muse, who became a muse of my own. I hope you enjoy it!
Freedom is a funny thing, thought Stephanie, staring down at the type-filled pages in her daughter’s hands. She remembered when those rows of black figures looked to her like prison bars, thick and impenetrable, keeping her separate from all of her friends.
She was eight before she finally mastered the art of reading. Motivation had not been the issue; she’d been desperate to read, hungry to read, starving to decode the secret messages in books which seemed to speak so clearly to her classmates.
Stephanie’s eyes flickered shut, the small, warm life nestled against her making her feel sleepy and content, like a well-fed cat laying in a sun spot. It was all so long ago, but she could remember him clearly; the gawky youth at the public library who had sat with her for many long hours, well after his volunteer shift had ended, coaxing her through the codex that at times seemed insurmountable. His low, gentle voice had dried her frustrated tears time and time again, and she would watch in awe as his rough, bumbling hands flipped through the pages of the book like a magician performing his signature trick.
With his help, the veil lifted from her eyes. Incomprehensible squiggles became names like “Milo”, “Alec”, “Tock”, and “Chroma”. The Kingdom of Wisdom unfurled before her like a jeweled curtain. Literacy opened up a whole dazzling world of thoughts and feelings, and gave her power over her own story at last.
Now her daughter, a precocious girl of five, sat beside her on the bed, reading aloud their nightly chapter of The Phantom Tollbooth, a book that Stephanie knew almost as well as it knew her. Stephanie kissed the top of her daughter’s head, holding her closer, the words of the tale washing over her like the therapeutic waters of a hot spring. Freedom is a funny thing, she thought; nothing feels as good as giving it to someone else.
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