A lively freshwater river that originated in the mountains tumbled for miles down a steep, rocky slope and flowed past old stone walls, meandered through a lush green valley then finally spilled into a fair little port and floated out over a vast green sea. While in the lush green valley, the river passed farms and grazing lands, the occasional village or hamlet and a tract of manicured land on whose ground stood a rather large cottage.
On this manicured land with its rather large cottage, four little children, three boys and a girl, sat all lined up in a row along the bank of the river. Their uncle, a rather tall, strong and otherwise impressive man, lounged on the grass behind them and watched the sun as it began to set and the faint milky half-moon as it began to glow.
The uncle said: “So, my little devils, what did you get up to today?”
The boys immediately chattered loudly about all the day’s activities; each boy talked across the others, each outdoing and adding more and more inane detail in a vain attempt to impress their uncle.
The little girl, the youngest of the four, stayed silent; a big brown and white molosser dog dozed by her side and she lovingly stroked his head. She slid down the bank and stood on the rocky edge of the flowing water. Her big dog followed her and nipped at baby river fish.
Her uncle called out to her: “And you, my sweet little fairy? What did you get up to today?”
“Nothing,” she said.
Her uncle left it at that. He didn’t cajole the girl to say more. Instead, he stroked his jet-black beard and contemplated shaving it. Perhaps it was intimidating.
The next evening the uncle arrived at the cottage for dinner in uniform. He left his suitcase in the foyer. His jet-black beard was now a trim shadow of its former self. After dinner, the uncle and his three nephews and niece sat down again near the riverbank and again the uncle asked the question:
“So, my little devils–”
The boys leapt to their feet and shouted in a cacophony of voices carried by the river into the valley about their prosaic adventures and the uncle realized he had killed men for being less annoying. The little girl stepped quietly into the river with her giant dog. She seemed so still and calm but the river danced around her.
Over the din, their uncle said to the girl: “And you, my sweet little fairy–”
Her uncle left it at that. He tugged the sleeves of his fitted regulation shirt; on deck he usually removed the sleeves. He contemplated not wearing the uniform to dinner the next night.
The next evening the uncle arrived at the cottage for dinner in a civilian shirt and pants. He looked uncomfortable; he was not a civilian. The stewards said it might help with her. His beard had grown; was it too scary for a little girl?
After dinner, by the river again, the girl and her dog slipped into the river, again. Preemptively, her uncle thought. He almost didn’t ask the boys first:
“So, my little devils–”
And the boys, again, launched into their inanity and began to argue with each other about whose day was most important, which inane details were the most inane. Their uncle ignored them and said to the girl:
“And you, my sweet little fairy–”
“My teacher spanked me,” she said.
The uncle scooted to the riverbank and stuck his boots into the water.
“What was that?” he said.
“She sent me to the headmaster and the headmaster spanked me, too.”
There was no reason in the world his niece would lie. She was very factual. He tapped one foot against the other and stared at his wet black leather regulation boots. They were water proof. She’d never lie.
The uncle became very angry. Protective. That was the right way to handle this.
“I will handle this,” he said.
The next evening the uncle arrived at the cottage early for dinner. He wore non-regulation boots but couldn’t bring him to completely shave his beard. The hair stayed.
Before the boys arrived, their uncle sat next on the river bank next to his niece and said:
“I visited your school. I spoke to your teacher. I had words with your headmaster. Very strong words. Why would you lie?”
She shrugged and said: “I’m five. Nothing really happens to me but every day you ask so I made something up to make you happy.”
“Well, lies don’t make me happy.”
“Okay,” she said.
Children were new to him, little girls especially. Boys he understood. On the lawn behind him, the three boys chased each other around in a circle, swinging sticks in the air. Someone was going to decapitate someone.
“Should I stop asking you about your day?” he said.
She reached out her hand and he helped her back up the bank. She sat next to him and they both watched the dog swim toward the center of the river to fetch a large branch spinning in an eddy.
“I like your beard like that,” she said.
He touched his chin. “And the moustache?”
She shrugged. “I like the uniform. It’s like Daddy’s.”
He smiled. “It’s a higher rank than Daddy’s.”
“Than Daddy’s… was,” she said. She was sad.
The uncle patted her shoulder. That seemed to be the right thing to do. The boys stopped running.
“We’re hungry,” said the oldest boy.
“I know,” the uncle said, “come and sit.”
They all sat together on the riverbank. The boys were quiet. The girl rested her head against their uncle’s shoulder. He felt a tug in his chest.
“Will you stay with us forever?” she said.
“I’ll stay forever,” he said.
“I believe you,” she said, “but I know it’s a lie.”
Her uncle felt guilty. Stories soothe the psyche; lies destroy the soul.
“For as long as you need me, then,” he said.
That seemed to make her happy.