Reads: 219

“Pick one that doesn’t use the Network, honey,” she said. No need to rack up nonessential bills.

“I did,” he smiled.


He tapped start on the screen that sat like a flower on the folding steel rod mechanically extended from beneath the sofa. A bright picture of a pink anthropomorphized fish popped up and a mechanical woman’s voice read, “ ‘Everybody’s Special.’ Story by Anedelphe Tryss. Pictures by Iesle Tryss. Recording by Audiotech Innovation.” The simulated page turned. “Once upon a time, there was a little fish named Thoösa.” A high-pitched imitation of a girl’s voice yelped, “Hi there! I’m Thoösa.” A pink fish made to look like a young girl waved at her audience. The narrator said, “Thoösa lived in a fish tank in the Goodmun Aquarium.”

“Hey, I’ve been there!” Eryx yelled excitedly.

“Yes dear,” Aerope murmured. “Now quiet, or you’ll miss the story.”

The narrator continued: “One day a Scientist at the Aquarium decided to put Thoösa in a new environment.” A lifeless man’s voice mumbled, “I want to see how this fish reacts to fish she’s never met before.” The narrator: “Up went Thoösa!” The imitation girl: “Whoaa!” [In time with splashing sounds.] Narrator: “Down went Thoösa, plop!” [--another splash sound--] “into the new tank.” Thoösa: “Wow, what a ride!” Eryx clapped his hands in delight.

Aerope closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing deeply.

Narrator: “Thoösa looked around.” Thoösa: “Golly, what a joint! I’ve never been here before. I wonder who lives here.” [A sudden cue of ominous synth and electric bass-drum booming.]

Such riveting drama, Aerope thought dryly.

Narrator: “Suddenly a strange fish popped up from behind a pink castle.” A high, whiny boy’s voice screamed, “Hi there! My name’s Kennn!” [as a blue fish that vaguely resembled a boy obeyed the narration.] Thoösa: “Aaaaaa!” [And the pink fish fled from the blue fish.] “Wait! Come back!” cried the boy’s voice. [The blue fish gestured, frantic.]

Are exclamation marks the new period? Aerope wondered acridly.

Narrator: “The strange fish chased Thoösa.” The boy: “Wait! Don’t run away! I’m a friend!” Narrator: “Thoösa, being a very Reasonable fish, had to correct this statement, and stopped running. She turned to the strange fish.”

Half the text isn’t even on the screen, Aerope noticed. How the hell does this teach kids to read if 50% of the text isn’t written out?

Thoösa the Reasonable said to the blue boy-fish, “I’m not your friend. I’ve never met you before.” He answered, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your intellect. Here, when we say ‘I’m a friend,’ it just means that we’re friendly and mean no harm.”

Thoösa: “Then why don’t you just say that?”

The other fish: “Because it sounds nicer. Besides, I’d like to be your friend. Will you be mine?”

The narrator said, “Thoösa thought about it for a minute. Then she said: [Thoösa:] ‘Ok!’ The other fish clapped his fins.”

Said fish: “Yay! My name is Kennn, by the way. What’s yours?”

“Thoösa,” said Thoösa.

Kennn the blue boy-fish: “Would you like to come meet my friends?”

Thoösa: “Sure!”

“How much longer is this going to take?” Aerope asked.

Eryx shrugged as the screen’s image shifted in following the two fish through the tank’s various plastic accessories. Narrator: “Thoösa looked around. Suddenly Kennn yelled, [Kennn:] ‘Hey everybody! Come meet my new friend Thoösa!’ And O, the fish that came out!”

Oh indeed. Even Aerope was surprised. About ten fish slowly made their way onscreen. One of them looked morbidly overweight. Another was completely androgynous. Two yellow fish held fins and swam closely--Aerope realized that they were supposed to be both female. She felt her stomach clench. Three fish had their dorsal fins styled in imitation of punk haircuts, and they seemed to have piercings to boot. The last three were, respectively, a Disabled, a Questioner, and an Unmodified. Eryx saw the Unmodified and began to whimper, but Aerope was still staring at the couple. It was just...well, how the hell did that make it into a kid’s book? I should start screening what we download, she thought. (She knew she would do nothing of the sort.)

[The fish circled Thoösa and Kennn.] Narrator: “The other fish looked strangely at Thoösa. ‘Why are they staring at me?’ she thought. She was afraid. The other fish looked mean. Suddenly one of the yellow fish swam up to her.” A painfully dykish automation intoned, “Hey, she’s got a funny color. [The others clamored agreement.] I don’t like her. I think she’s ugly.” Narrator: “Thoösa’s eyes welled up full of tears. [How do fish cry UNDER water?]” Thoösa: “It’s not my fault! I was just born that way!” Narrator: “And Thoösa broke down crying.” [The blue boy-fish leapt heroically into the foreground.] Kennn yelled at the other fish, “Leave her alone! She’s beautiful in her own way. We all are, aren’t we?” Narrator: “The other fish realized Kennn was right. They all repented of their ways”-- “Sorry, Thoösa!”-- “and welcomed Thoösa to their tank. And that is how Thoösa learned that, while some fish are bad, there are good ones out there too, and they are always there at the right time to remind us that EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL.”

The screen exploded into a seizure of light and color and dancing, anthropomorphized fish. Then the e-book closed itself and the device returned to the home screen. A frenzied Eryx clapped frantically.

“Yay,” he cried, “more! More!”

Aerope stood. “No more,” she said curtly. “I have yogabend and cardioresistance and I need to go get set up.” Eryx’s bright eyes dimmed with disappointment. Aerope looked down. She kissed him on the head. “You can watch another story if you want.”

He flung himself flat out the couch, making a muffled thump, and kicked his feet. “I wanna watch with you!” he wailed.

“Stop messing up the sofa,” she said.

He didn’t.

“If you don’t stop, I won’t give you snacks for three days,” she said.

He continued.

At last Aerope hollered, “Eryx Twinntyne, you had better stop or I’m calling your father and showing him what you’re doing to my sofa!”

Silence immediately. Eryx lifted a red and fearful face.

“Please don’t, mommy,” he whimpered. “I’ll be a good boy, don’t call daddy.”

“Are you going to be quiet?”


“You going to be a good boy and learn while I exercise?”

“Yes. Please don’t call daddy.” Sounded like “pwease.”

“I won’t if you’re a good boy.”

“I’m always a good boy.”

“Mhmm.” She leaned over and stroked his crumpled hair, then straightened up again. “Now you stay here and entertain yourself, and when I come out we’ll do something together.”

His eyes brightened again and he smiled as if his heart held all the world’s joy. “Ok mommy!”

She gave a weak smile back. “Good boy.” As she turned away, she heard him start the story again. The mechanical woman read, “ ‘Everybody’s Special.’ Story by Anedelphe Tryss. Pictures by Iesle Tryss. Recording by Audiotech Innovation...”

Good grief.

Submitted: January 29, 2013

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