The librarian of the Duskville School for the Supremely Gifted smiled and called on Clarissa, a girl in the back row who wore a Stephen Hawking shirt.
“Okay,” she said, “So when John Brindle and Jane Brundle agree that the family name should be Brindle Brundle, are you saying that the sexes should share power in the political arena?”
Bruce Modesky, author of The Brindle Brundle Children series of books, sighed.
“I guess,” he said. “Look, I really don’t know.”
He had already answered questions from this first grade class about the symbolism of the polka dotted car that Mrs. Brundle drove to work, and the thematic ramifications of the children’s rampant indecisiveness.
The girl sat down, a disappointed look on her face.
“Last but not least,” said the librarian, “Vincent here in the front.”
Vincent, who wore a white shirt and a tie that he had tied himself, cleared his throat.
“Yes,” he said, “when you had Jane Brundle read ‘The Tale of Goldilocks,’ was that designed to give the narrative a meta feel or…”
“Oh, God,” cried Modesky.
The children sat bolt upright, stunned.
“The Brindle Brundle Children,” Modesky wailed. “My claim to fame is a book series called The Brindle Brundle Children. I am cloaked in mediocrity. Cloaked.”
He steadied himself on one of the book carts.
“I translated The Illiad,” he sobbed. “and all anyone talks about is how great Robert Fitzgerald’s translation is. I wish Robert Fitzgerald had never lived, do you hear me?”
He sank to the ground, hugging himself and rocking back and forth.
“You don’t know the real Bruce Modesky,” he moaned.
“Bruce,” whispered the librarian, crouching down and rubbing the back of Modesky’s neck. “Easy, man. C’mon. Breathe.”
“There, there, Mr. Modesky,” said Vincent, who had walked to the front of the room and was now gently patting Modesky on the back. “You’re way too hard on yourself.”
“Yeah,” said Clarissa. “We think your translation crushes Fitzgerald’s like a grape. Richard Lattimore’s, too.”
The other students nodded in agreement.
Modesky looked up, his eyes streaked with tears.
“You do?” he said.
“Of course we do,” she said. “And the Brindle Brundle Children series of books is a zenlike respite from the intensity of, say, a close reading of Finnegan’s Wake. Your prose calls to mind the minimalist sculpture of Donald Judd.”
“You’re just saying that,” Modesky muttered, sniffling.
“C’mon, Mr. Modesky,” said Orrin, a student who wore a bow tie that was not a clip on. “We want to journey to your idealistic yet sublime world.”
The librarian put a hand on Modesky’s shoulder.
“They’re still children, Bruce,” he said.
Wiping away his tears and blowing his nose, Bruce Modesky began to read The Brindle Brundle Children Go to the Zoo. His voice trembled at first, but smoothed out as he saw the dreamy looks on the faces of children, all of them caught in the tale’s web.