I read a couple of Madonna's picture books yesterday, and you know what? I'm not a giant fan, to put it mildly. I find them sentimental, and, worse still, they even leave out crucial plot points here and there. Drives me batty.
The way I figure it, I can write a better story than Madonna, no problem. Here goes my first-ever attempt, which came to me as I was drifting asleep yesterday—let me know what you think:
Once Upon a Time, by Astrid Phillips
Once upon a time, there was a Once upon a Time. Once looked like an orange crow, but he couldn't fly very well; Time looked like a lavender rhinoceros with gold lightning bolts on her sides, and she could fly marvelously. Once sat comfortably upon Time as they traveled, because it would have been ridiculously uncomfortable the other way around. Time's job was simply to keep moving, or else humanity would freeze in place and nothing would ever get done. Once's job was to make Time pause every so often to savor a rare moment of human greatness. They were very good friends, always moving magically and invisibly throughout the world so quickly by human standards that, if we could see them, it would have looked like they were everywhere at the same time, which of course they weren't; time doesn't move the same way for Time and Once the way it seems to move for us.
No one paid them to do their jobs—Once and Time just really enjoyed doing what they did, drinking in the view and helping the world go 'round. They'd had these jobs for as long as they could remember, and neither one could ever imagine doing anything else. This all worked out more or less okay, but after a while Once had to lodge a complaint with Time.
"Hey," Once asked as Time crawled through an accountancy class in Nebraska, "why do you always rush through the good stuff, and dawdle through the boring stuff? Here we are, crawling through an accountancy class in Nebraska, when we could be tearing like the wind through this, and dawdling instead through an exciting birthday party on a yacht off the shores of Costa Rica, with dancing girls and fireworks and pineapple upside-down cake and everything. What's the big idea?"
Time sighed quietly; she didn't want to wake up the accounting students who were napping in the back. "Oh, Once," she said, "you're always about The Big Moment, the pivot of someone's life, the extravaganza which will never be repeated. What's wrong with savoring the dull moments which fill up the the rest of people's lives, making them more human with every second? I don't know about you, but I get tired of being magical, sometimes; it's the ordinary which fascinates me, since I will never be ordinary myself."
Once sighed back. "I'm so bored, I could stab my eyes out with a fork, if only I had opposable thumbs. I don't even know why I bothered coming here with you."
Time giggled. "It's my girlish charm," she said. "That, and I promised you a root beer float later." Which was true; they paused humanity every so often to enjoy root beer floats at their magical neighborhood diner, which was owned and run by magical triplets named Past, Present and Future. Past remembered the best recipes, Present was a speedy cook who had things ready just as you showed up, and Future always knew when you'd show up and warned Present accordingly. Future was also supposed to be in charge of cleaning up the kitchen, which was actually a terrible idea, since Future was always saying he'd do it later. This made Present a little crabby, since he'd end up cleaning the kitchen himself while Future made millions in the human stock market from his laptop. Past was always too distracted with reminiscing about recipes to pay attention to any of this.
Time and Once breezed into the diner after their class and sat at the best booth, which was in the back, in a shaft of golden sunlight no matter what time of day or night it happened to be. Before their bottoms even hit the benches, Present set their root beer floats down on the table. Once's had a sparkler in it.
"Future said you'd want a little cheering up," Present explained. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, it's just Time. She always lingers with the boring stuff, and rushes me through my once-in-a-lifetime events, so I never really get to enjoy my work," Once groused, taking a spoonful of ice cream from his float. "Hey, this really hits the spot. Thanks for the sparkler."
"Sure thing," said Present. "So, Time, why not cut Once some slack and dawdle at more parties? Hang out longer at amazing concerts. Maybe linger more around people when they're falling in love, give them more time together. Live in the now, y'know?"
Time sipped her root beer delicately through her straw, then paused to answer. "As I told Once, being magical gets predictable after a while, while ordinariness fascinates me since I'll never be ordinary. And besides, it's the long, draggy parts of life which make everyone appreciate the magical moments more when they happen. It's all about contrast, right?" She went back to sipping.
"What a bunch of baloney!" Once retorted.
"Ooh, I like baloney," said Past, sitting behind the counter with a notepad and a pen, looking dreamy. "Grandma made the best casserole with it, back when we were kids—"
"Never mind," said Time. "Look, Once and I could swap places for a day and Learn A Lesson. Or maybe Once could get his day in the sun, so to speak, and I could become more indulgent forevermore. Hey, maybe we could take over the diner, and send Past, Present and Future out to do our former jobs to Reveal Something Deep about the Universe. Point is, all of these things have happened, are happening, and will happen, only in other dimensions. So why bother our heads about the version of the story we're living right now? Our current system seems to work, and carries with it some poetic aspects."
Once gaped at Time.
"Whoa," he said. "Now my brain hurts. How do you know about this other stuff?"
"I accidentally received a letter in the mail for the wrong Time," Time shrugged. "Very odd. I hadn't realized our postal service also serves other dimensions, but so it goes."
"Gosh," said Once, plumping up his feathers and looking pleased. "I didn't know there were other versions of me running around, having crazy adventures. Well, crazier than mine. If only I could meet my other me versions sometime."
Future poked his head out of the kitchen. "Maybe someday all of our dimensional versions will figure out how to get our paths to cross at a big ol' picnic. Wouldn't that be great?"
Past looked up from his notepad, confused. "Don't you already know whether it'll happen or not?"
"I hate ruining surprises," Future winked.
Present perked up. "Hey, let's have a picnic right now!"
And so they all went to a gorgeous park and picnicked, with Once and Time taking the rest of their root beer floats to go. Afterwards, when Past, Present, and Future went home, Time and Once went on the swings—gently, to go easy on their full stomachs—and watched the sun set. Just to be nice, Time lingered.
"Thanks, Time," Once sighed. "You're really the best pal anyone could have."
"Nobody else has ever told me that," Time answered sadly. She looked at Once and smiled. "Thanks."
"Anytime," said Once. "Except I guess not just any Time. Aw, you know what I mean."
Time knew exactly what Once meant. It was moments like this that Once made truly memorable.
The sunset was spectacular.