Abraham Rothberg  - Author

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New by Abraham Rothberg:
Pinocchio’s Sister
     ~ A Feminist Fable

$11.95 Printed: 159 pages, 6.0 x 9.0 in.,
$4.23 Download: PDF (435 kb)

ISBN: 1-4116-4347-X

One: Geppetto The Wood Carver

A day came when Geppetto the woodcarver grew tired of the cold. The winter was so bitter, it froze his nose, his toes and made his fingertips tingle and burn. The cold was so bad it made Geppetto limp more on his lame leg. He couldn’t walk very quickly or very far, yet because fires had burned the thick woods near their town, each day he had to walk farther and farther into the forest to find the wood he needed to carve and feed the fire to keep them warm. Each day he found less and less wood to bring back.

Since Pinocchio had changed from a marionette into a real live boy, Geppetto’s house was too small for them. It had only two rooms, one of them Geppetto’s workshop, and now that Pinocchio was flesh and blood, Geppetto couldn’t just hang him up on a peg on the wall as he used to do when the boy was still a marionette. The simple old furniture would no longer do either. Geppetto owned only a single tumbledown bed with room in it for only one person. He himself was too old to sleep nights on the floor, then do his woodcarving the next day.

He didn’t want Pinocchio to sleep on the floor, but what could he do? There was no money to buy another bed.

At first, Geppetto tried to make a bed for Pinocchio on the rickety kitchen table where they ate, but the swaying table made Pinocchio seasick. If he turned in his sleep, he rolled off the table and fell to the floor, yelling, “Help me, Father, help me!” Frightened awake, Geppetto would jump out of his tumbledown bed, rush to light the stub of candle or the lamp, when they had a little oil for it, to see what was wrong. What he was afraid of most was that Pinocchio was being turned back into a marionette. It was a nightmare that kept him awake many a night when he found Pinocchio lying on the floor, weeping and rubbing the bumps on his head.

Between them they had only one worn thin blanket so old and faded that Geppetto could no longer remember what color it had been, or how he had come by it. So threadbare was it that Geppetto thought that one day the blanket might simply blow away like dust. Barely long enough and wide enough to cover him from his neck to his ankles, the blanket was also not very warm. Though Geppetto offered it to Pinocchio, the boy wouldn’t take it. “You must keep the blanket, Father,” Pinocchio said, “or you will be too cold.”

Most often Pinocchio slept on the ground covered with straw a neighbor had given Geppetto from his barn when Geppetto had fixed the neighbor’s fence. On the coldest nights, Geppetto slipped from his bed to cover the sleeping Pinocchio, who lay shivering beneath the straw. The rest of the night, Geppetto would dance up and down in front of the dying fire, first on one leg, then on the other, slapping his arms and thighs to keep warm. When the first light leaked into the room from the window under the staircase, Geppetto would steal the blanket back from Pinocchio so that the boy would think he had kept the blanket for himself through the night. Then he would wrap himself in it and huddle before the cold coals in the fireplace until Pinocchio awoke.

Geppetto looked everywhere for work, but no one seemed to need the work of a master woodcarver, or even of an ordinary carpenter, work Geppetto was more than willing to do to earn the little money they needed for food, candles and oil for the lamp. That season the rickety table on which they ate their meals did not see much food. Sometimes they had no food at all, and they went hungry.

Every day Geppetto went into the forests to search for wood to work and burn in the fireplace to warm them a little during the nights. “Please, Father,” Pinocchio begged, “let me go with you. Let me help you.”

“You must go to school, Pinocchio, so you will not be an ignorant man like me. Then you won’t have to be a poor woodcarver and go hungry.” No matter how much Pinocchio pleaded, Geppetto wouldn’t change his mind.

On the weekends, though, Geppetto did allow Pinocchio to go to the fields and forests with him. Together, they searched for mushrooms, berries, nuts and wild grasses which Geppetto used to cook up hot, tasty soups, which not only served as food but kept them warmer. Sometimes, when Geppetto earned a little money, he would buy polenta, the corn-meal mush they liked, or flour for the flat bread they baked on the hearth over the fireplace. He would make the mushrooms into a gravy to pour over the polenta or the bread, and they would eat it with relish.

Geppetto always saw to it that Pinocchio got more than his share. “You’re a growing boy. You need more food than an old man like me.”

Still Pinocchio never ate his fill. Always hungry, his
stomach growling like a bear because it was empty, Pinocchio made up his mind that somehow he would find them more to eat, more wood to keep them warm, but how?

One weekend Pinocchio was in the forest searching for mushrooms so hard that he lost sight of Geppetto and forgot where he was. When he looked up, Pinocchio found himself in the deepest, darkest part of the forest, a place he had never been before. Everything was strange and shadowy, and he was very frightened. Every small noise made him tremble. He called out to Geppetto, but no one answered. Again and again he called, but only his own voice came echoing back, “Gep... pee… tto… ooo…”

Somehow, Pinocchio had taken a wrong turn, but which way should he turn now? First he went one way, then another. Everything was unfamiliar. He couldn’t find a path or a trail. He was lost. He was tired. He was hungry. The hollow rumble in his stomach reminded him that he had eaten nothing since the small bowl of mushroom soup and piece of stale bread Geppetto had given him for breakfast.

Evening was coming but no moon rose. Pinocchio couldn’t    find a single star in the sky. Night settled, the forest grew darker, then turned pitch-black. More and more frightened, Pinocchio sat on the frozen ground with his back against a giant oak tree. As the night got colder, he covered himself with leaves, then with green branches he broke from the fir trees. Still he couldn’t get warm. His teeth kept chattering, his shoulders shook. He thought about Geppetto’s little house and the fire in the hearth, about how much better than this even his bed of straw was. At last he thought about his guardian angel, the Lady Greensleeves. No sooner did he think of her and hear her song humming in his head:

Greensleeves was all my joy,
Greensleeves was my delight;
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but Lady Greensleeves?

Then there she was, hovering over him with a whirr of wings like a hummingbird’s. Surrounded by a great halo of golden light, her long, green-gold hair streaming behind her, her greensleeved arms outstretched, she said, “My poor Pinocchio, are you lost?”

“Of course I’m lost. You know I’m lost. Why else would I sit here by myself in the forest crying?”

As she looked down on him, the Lady Greensleeves’ heart was touched by how miserably poor Pinocchio looked, how forlorn, but she reminded him, “You must learn not to pity yourself so much, Pinocchio.”

“I’m cold and hungry.”

“Many people are cold and hungry, and they don’t go about complaining all the time.”

Pinocchio began to shiver. Great, deep sighs came from his mouth like smoke.

“Oh, my dear boy, you must not cry. You must not sigh. Haven’t I helped you before?”

“Sometimes. Not always. Remember when those assassins hanged me from that giant oak? You left me hanging up there with the noose around my neck choking me almost to death.”

“I saved you, Pinocchio, didn’t I?”

“Only at the last minute, when I was half-dead.”

“My minions told me that you were a lazy, rude, good-for- nothing rascal who deserved to be punished. They accused you of being a disobedient son who was breaking his father’s heart. Yet I saved you anyway. Aren’t you grateful for that?”

Stubbornly Pinocchio shook his head. He didn’t care about what happened before. The past was all past. He was shivering with cold now. His stomach was churning with hunger now.

“Do you remember why I saved your life, Pinocchio?”

Again Pinocchio shook his head. That was then. This was now. Why did the Lady Greensleeves have to go on about then when he was suffering now?

“I saved your life because as you were about to die, you thought of your poor old father. Aren’t you worried about Geppetto now? He’s lost in the forest just as you are, but he’s not worrying about himself. He’s only worrying about you.”

“I’m so cold and hungry I can’t think about anybody else. Besides, he’s a man and I’m only a boy.” Pinocchio began to cry piteously. “Won’t you help me now?”

“You were only a marionette then, not a real boy.”

“Don’t you think marionettes have feelings? The wind was   shrieking and moaning, blowing me around like a dandelion. The noose choked me so I couldn’t catch my breath,” Pinocchio complained. “I’m a good boy now. I obey my father. I help him chop and gather wood. I pick mushrooms, berries and nuts. I go to school. What more can I do?”

“Yes, Pinocchio, I know. Which is why I’m here to help you. If I rescued you when you were only a wooden marionette and a rascal, how could you think I wouldn’t help you when you were a good, flesh-and-blood boy? Don’t you have any faith?”

Before Pinocchio could answer, the Lady Greensleeves clapped her hands three times and Pinocchio found himself in a room with mother-of-pearl walls, marble floors and a ceiling painted with brilliant suns and pale moons, flickering stars and shimmering planets, with exploding meteors that had all the colors of the rainbow and luminous comets dragging their long tails across the sky. The room was filled with light though Pinocchio couldn’t see a single lamp or candle.

Sitting up in a great four-poster bed so soft it felt like he was floating in it, his back propped against soft pillows that smelled of jasmine and violets, Pinocchio was wrapped in a thick blanket, a down pillow warmed his toes. In his lap sat of steaming stew full of chunks of white chicken, beans and barley. Hot, freshly baked buns dotted with raisins were piled high in a silver basket. Next to it a small dish glistened with sunny butter. A sparkling crystal bowl was overflowing with all sorts of fruits Pinocchio had never seen before. He had to ask the Lady Greensleeves to tell him how to eat bananas and grapefruits, pineapples and Mandarin oranges. With all the smiling patience of a mother, she showed him how to peel the banana, how to section a grapefruit and Mandarin orange, how to slice a pineapple. She fed him until Pinocchio felt strong enough to feed himself.  Then he began to eat hungrily.

“Slow, Pinocchio,” Lady Greensleeves cautioned. “Don’t eat so fast. If you do, you’ll be sick.”

But Pinocchio didn’t listen. Famished, he ate with both hands, cramming food into his mouth. With his mouth full, he said, “Never have I eaten such food! It’s so delicious!”

“Please, Pinocchio, you mustn’t talk with your mouth full. And you mustn’t eat so much so quickly. You’re going to regret it.”

Regret it Pinocchio soon did. Before, his stomach had grumbled because it was empty; now, it grumbled because it was too full. Stuffed and sick, Pinocchio felt he couldn’t keep a morsel of all that wonderful food down. He had to give it all back.

Lady Greensleeves didn’t scold him. She didn’t say I told you so, though she was tempted to. Instead, she took him to a bathroom, all mirrors and marble. Such a room Pinocchio had never imagined. There, like a kind, calm mother, Lady Greensleeves washed him and wrapped him in a great, warm towel before putting him to bed once more. This time she fed him herself, slowly, teaspoon by teaspoon of a delicious tea which soon put his stomach at peace. As his eyes began to close, Pinocchio felt her cool fingers on his forehead. “Ah,” he murmured, half to himself, “if only I could have a mother like you.”

For a long time the Lady Greensleeves sat at Pinocchio’s bedside looking down on the boy’s face as he slept. She felt very sorry for him. A mother, is that what Pinocchio wanted? Well, she couldn’t quite manage that, but….

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