Life's Little Instruction Booklet

by

Tabula Rasa


This story includes, with permission, several ideas from Tanthas Pryde's 'A Good Little Girl,' although it may not use them to his tastes.

In my opinion, this version underuses Liz, so if people have ideas for additional scenes (with either character) or would like to write the scenes themselves, I'm definately open to the idea.

Dan:

'So Dan, what are you doing this vacation?' 'Actually, I need to find a place to stay. Itís too expensive to fly all the way back home, and I know they shut down the dorms over Christmas vacation. I think thereís some way to apply for temporary housing from the University over the break.' 'Well, if youíre staying, my wife and I would be happy for you to stay at our place.'

'Oh, I couldnítÖ' 'Nonsense. Our kids are both going on a ski trip, and we just talking about how lonely the house was going to be. Itís no fun to be alone on Christmas.' It was certainly tempting. It would be basically free, and my advisor had always been very nice to me. 'If your sure its not an impositionÖ' 'Absolutely. The dorms close on the twenty-third, right?' 'Yeah.'

'Great. Come by my office then with your stuff and Iíll drive you to my house. Itís not far, about twenty minutes away.' 'Wow, thatís really nice of you. Thank you Mr. Smith.' He smiled. 'Iím always glad to help.'

So that was that. I would spend the break at my advisorís place. As soon as I got home I wrote an e-mail to my parents, who were thrilled that Iíd found somewhere to stay (and for free, too). The next few weeks were stressful, if uneventful. Studying, exams, and food took up most of it, and sleep was distressingly absent. My exams finished on the twenty-first, so I slept late on the twenty-second, and packed some clothing that evening. The twenty-third came, and I managed to drag my suitcase across campus to Mr. Smithís office. He was outside the building, helping a woman about my age pack a suitcase into a small car.

'Ah, Dan, I was beginning to wonder if you forgot. This, by the way,' he pointed to the woman next to him, 'is Liz, another of my advisees, who will also be staying with us.'

Liz was fairly attractive. She was tall, with long brown hair and a good body. Iíd seen her before, probably in a class or two weíd taken together. She was apparently thinking the same thing, since she said, 'Yes, I think weíve met. You took 152 with me, didnít you?' 'Yes, I think so. Last year, second semester?' 'Right.'

'We can talk in the car.' Mr. Smith interjected. 'Letís get your bag in, Dan, and then weíll get going.' Somehow we fit everything in and got in the car. 'It will be nice to have people in the house. Weíve gotten so used to having our kids in the house, and now theyíre both out for a few weeks and itís positively eerie. I hope you donít mind staying in their rooms, by the way. Obviously theyíre a little childish.'

'Itís not a problem at all,' Liz answered. 'How old are your kids?' 'Our boy is four and our daughter is seven.'

'Your four year old is going on a ski trip?' I asked.

'You learn young. Heíll be supervised, of course. Their uncle-my wifeís brother-is taking them.'

We arrived at Mr. Smithís place around two in the afternoon. It was in a nice suburban neighborhood, and looked like it could have been from a movie. It was on a quiet street, and across from their house was a good-sized park with all the traditional devices-swings, a slide, and all the others. He opened the door and directed us to our rooms. Mine was indeed childish (but of course, it was a four year oldís room). The wallpaper had cute little dinosaurs on it, and the bed had Barney sheets. An assortment of toys were carefully collected in one corner of the room. Without thinking I opened the closet to hang up my clothes, but of course it was filled with small jackets, shirts, and so on. I noticed a picture of the roomís normal resident on the dresser. He actually looked a lot like I did at that age. Since I didnít have any unpacking to do, I pulled out a book and started reading. Initially I tried to use the chair in the room, but it was far too small, so I ended up lying down on the bed.

'Dan, Liz,' Mr. Smith called, 'My wife just got in, why donít you come down and meet her?'

Liz:

I didnít like imposing on my advisor, but I couldnít go home, so I didnít have much choice. It turned out that a fellow advisee, Dan, who I vaguely remembered from a class, was also staying at Smithís for the holidays. When I saw the room I was staying in, I was disgusted. It was Barbies, almost from floor to ceiling. I am not, of course, a fan of the things; Iíd really prefer to see them banned. However Smith was doing me a favor, and I wasnít going to complain. I canít say it improved my opinion of him though. I also noticed a picture of the girl, wearing a frilly pink dress, on her desk. She had the same hair, same eyes, almost the same face as I do; if I didnít know better I would have thought it was a picture of me at that age. I was only in the room for a few minutes before Smith yelled 'Dan, Liz, my wife just got in, why donít you come down and meet her?'

I walked down to the first floor and met Mrs. Smith. She was a short woman with cropped black hair wearing a sharp business suit. 'Oh, you must be Liz. Itís so nice to meet you.' Then, looking behind me, 'And you must be Dan. Itís too bad you wonít be with your families this time of year, but I do hope youíll enjoy yourself here. Just think of us as your family. Dinner is in a few hours. Iím not normally home this early, but my break started today too, so Iíll be around until the new year. If either of you needs anything, donít hesitate to ask.' Dan and I exchanged a few pleasantries with her, and then walked back to our temporary bedrooms.

In truth, I was glad of the vacation, since I needed to sort out the budget for our Student Council, and Iíd fallen somewhat behind. I planned to take advantage of being away from distractions to get the whole thing in order for the next semester. I took out the receipts and started adding everything up carefully.

Dan:

Once I got back to my room, I started reading again. Iíve always liked reading, and I never seem to have time in college to read things on my own. Before going I had taken out a large number of books from the library, and I planned to devote the vacation to them. About a hundred pages later I noticed that there was a blue index card on the floor with 'Dan' written on it. I turned it over and read 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. You will eat like a 4 year old boy.' The words seemed to reverberate inside my head, and quickly faded from my conscious memory into my subconscious. I blinked, and put the card in my pocket. It was a strange message, but I quickly forgot about the whole thing and kept reading.

Liz:

It only seemed like a few minutes later that I looked at my watch at realized it was after four, and I hadnít made a dent. This was going to be worse than Iíd thought. I got up and stretched, since Iíd been sitting at the girlís desk for hours, when I noticed a slip of pink paper on top of her dresser. It was about the size of an index card, and it had 'Liz' written on it. Someone must have put it there while I was so intent on crunching those numbers. I turned it over and read it. 'You are becoming a 7 year old girl. Like a 7 year old girl, you love Barbie.' The words seemed to dig into me, but I immediately put the card in my pocket and forgot about it. Within seconds I had forgotten about the card. I turned to go back to the Councilís budget, but decided that Iíd done enough for one sitting and deserved a break. I looked around the room for what to do, and Malibu Dream House caught my eye. I remembered how much fun it used to be to play with Barbie. Of course, it was dangerous for a young girlís self esteem, but I was mature enough to handle it. And why shouldnít I play with them? There werenít going to any use there in the corner. I took them out and started playing with them, and it was even more fun than I remembered.

About an hour later, Smith walked by the room. Part of me felt like I should be embarrassed to be caught playing with such childish toys, but at the same time it felt perfectly natural. 'Dinner is ready Liz, come on down.' Dan was already at the dinner table when I got there, and Mrs. Smith was serving a chicken dish. She must have been preparing the dinner since she got back, since the dish looked so fancy. To top it off was a salad, squash, and I swear I saw an apple tart in the kitchen. 'This is so fancy, Mrs. Smith.' 'Well, I thought Iíd make a nice dinner to celebrate the beginning of all our vacations. What do you two want to drink?'

'Do you have orange juice?' I asked.

'Iíd like soda, please.' Dan answered.

'I have orange juice for you Liz, but I think youíd better have milk Dan.' 'Milk?' Dan answered, looking less than happy.

'Yes, milk.'

'Fine.' I looked at them after that bizarre exchange; I couldnít imagine what was going on. Dan was clearly not thrilled with the meal. He was looking around the table with a faint expression of distaste. When the squash got to him he just passed it on without taking any.

'You donít like squash, Dan?' asked Smith.

'I donít really like vegetables,' he answered.

'I suppose you wonít want salad either.'

'Yuck.'

Smith smiled.

When the chicken got to Dan, he looked at it with open disgust until Smith said, 'Would you like me to scrape off the sauce?' 'Yeah.'

I was a little surprised to see Smith take a piece of chicken, scrape all the sauce off, and then cut it into little pieces and put them on Danís plate. Dan took one piece (with his hand, not a fork) and wrinkled his nose. 'I can still taste the sauce.'

'Would you like me to just make you a hot dog, Dan?' Mrs. Smith asked. 'Yes please.'

Mrs. Smith went and microwaved a hot dog while the rest of use enjoyed the chicken. Dan ate about half of it (again, not using a fork). To my amazement, he then picked up his glass with both hands and managed to dribble a fair amount onto his shirt. Then he said, 'Iím full. Can I go?' 'Sure.'

Once he was gone I said to Mrs. Smith, 'Iím sorry he was so rude. I feel terrible that he insulted your chicken-which is delicious, by the way.' 'Oh, donít worry about it. I have two young children, I can assure you Iím used to it.'

'But, from a college student. I donít know what got into him.' 'Really Liz, donít worry about it. Some people are just picky.' After dinner I went back upstairs. I was tempted to play with the Barbies, but I decided that I needed to get some more work done.

Dan:

Dinner wasnít very good, but Mrs. Smith was nice enough to make me a hot dog, so it was okay. I read some more of the book, but was distracted around eight by a shuffle at the doorway. When I looked, no one was there, but a blue card was on the floor. I had a vague sense of dťjŗ vu, but I couldnít think what it reminded me of. I turned it over and it said, 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. You have a bedtime like a 4 year old boy.' I put it in my pocket and instantly forgot about it.

Only a few minutes later, Mrs. Smith appeared in the doorway. 'Eight oíclock, Dan. Bedtime.'

'Please can I stay up half an hour? I donít need to get up early tomorrow.' 'No Dan, you know eight oíclock is your bedtime.' 'Ten more minutes? Please?'

'Alright. Ten minutes, and no more. And Iíd better not get any trouble from you in ten minutes.'

I read for another ten minutes, and then Mrs. Smith came again. 'Now itís your bedtime.'

I didnít have much choice, so I went and brushed my teeth, then returned to my room. A blue card was on the floor. I turned it over and read it. 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. You get read stories like a 4 year old boy.' I took it and the other two cards and put them together on top of the boyís drawers. I stripped down to a t-shirt and boxers and got in the bed. It was a little small (my feet touched the board at the end), but it was bearable. Mrs. Smith came in. 'Are you ready for your bedtime story?' 'Yeah!'

She started reading 'Goodnight Moon' to me, but I fell asleep quickly.

Liz:

I worked for an hour, and finally felt like I was beginning to make some progress. I got up to go to the bathroom and found a pink index card on the dresser. The bottom read, 'You are becoming a 7 year old girl. You write like a 7 year old girl.' I slipped it into my pocket, and promptly forgot it. When I returned, however, I found that I had trouble fitting my writing into the thin lines on the page. I couldnít understand why the account book used such tiny lines, instead of the large ones I was used to. I kept going as best I could though, dotting all my 'i's with hearts and making the letters as neat as I could. A few hours later I got up to stretch and found a pink index card on the dresser. I turned it over and read it. 'You are becoming a 7 year old girl. You do math like a 7 year old girl.' I took all three cards out and put them on the dresser in order, then returned to the work. It seemed to take me five minutes to do each receipt, carefully adding the numbers like Iíd learned in school. After a few of them I noticed that I somehow had less money, even though all the ones Iíd added had been income. I realized that Iíd forgotten to carry the one repeatedly. I giggled a little at my silly mistake. I was clearly getting tired, and decided to go to sleep. I washed up and changed for bed. On a whim I looked through the girlís clothing. I saw the Barbie underwear and pajamas, and thought how nice it would be to small enough to wear Barbie clothing again. Then, I had an inspiration. I carefully braided my hair into pigtails, using the Barbie comb and other Barbie themed items from the drawer to make it look right. Looking in the mirror, I realized that I now looked a good deal more like the little girl in the picture.

I woke up at ten the next morning. I hadnít been that rested in a while, thanks to my exams, so I felt pretty good. I went and read each of the pink cards Iíd collected yesterday, as well as a new one I found next to the others. It read, 'You are becoming a 7 year old girl. You will treat your 4 year old brother Dan like a 7 year old girl would.' I put them all together in a pile. I left my room to take a shower, but the bathroom was in use. After a few minutes Mrs. Smith entered it, and a few minutes after that Dan left and walked to his room. For a moment I was shocked that he was naked, but then I remembered that he was only four, and itís alright for kids that young to walk around naked.

Dan:

The next morning I woke up feeling well rested. Even though the bed was a little small, the room felt very nice. It was a place I could imagine living in. I knew that before doing anything else, I had to read the blue cards on my dresser, so I read each one out loud slowly. I was going to go shower when I saw yet another blue card on the floor. This one read, 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. You are given baths like a 4 year old boy.' I put it with the others.

I realized that I needed Mrs. Smith to give me a bath, so I went downstairs and found her in the living room. 'Mrs. Smith, I need to take a bath, would you mind running it for me?'

'Not at all. You get ready while I turn it on.' We both went upstairs. I went into my room and undressed, then went to the bathroom where Mrs. Smith helped me into the bathtub. It seemed strange for me to be naked in front of her, but she was giving me a bath, so I didnít really have any choice.

'When our son takes baths he likes to play with these. Iíll just put them in if you do.' And with that she put two toy boats and a plastic frog in. They seemed childish, but after a few minutes I got bored just sitting in the bath, and started playing with them. I had forgotten how much fun baths were, and I was almost disappointed when Mrs. Smith came in ten minutes later and then helped me out. While she dried me off, she looked around the room, smiling. 'Honestly, Dan. Youíre splashing as much as our little one.' I hadnít noticed, but while I was playing in the bath, I had splashed water all over the room. I walked back to my room and got dressed.

I was going to get back to my book when I discovered a blue card on the floor. I had begun to notice a pattern. This one read, 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. You enjoy doing the things a 4 year old boy enjoys.' I started my book, but quickly realized how dull it ways. I wandered into what appeared to be a sort of playroom and flipped on the TV. Scanning the channels, I eventually settled for 'Blueís Clues' on Nickelodeon. Iíd never seen it before, but I knew that I liked Nick Jr., and everything else looked boring.

Liz:

After my shower I returned to my room to get dressed, and was not surprised to find another pink card. 'You are becoming a 7 year old girl. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are your parents, and you will call them 'mommy' and 'daddy'.' I added it to the pile. I started in on the budget again, but it was so boring that I decided to play with the Barbies instead. After an hour, mommy called Dan and me down for lunch.

'You both slept through breakfast, not that I blame you. I donít have anything in particular prepared for lunch, so why donít you tell me what you want.'

'Iíd like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,' I answered.

'I want CoCo Puffs,' said Dan.

'Okay. Give me just a minute.'

Dan and I sat down on opposite sides of the table. After a minute, I felt him kick me under the table, so I kicked him back. He kicked me again, harder, so I kicked him really hard. He cried out, 'Liz is kicking me!' Mommy walked back into the room. 'Did you kick your little brother, Liz?' 'The little brat kicked me first.'

'Both of you stop kicking or youíll both be in trouble.' Dan stuck out his tongue as soon as mommy left, and then hurried messily through his cereal. He kicked me one last time, got up, and announced, 'Iím done.' From the kitchen, mommy called, 'Bring your bowl in here.' I finished my sandwich in peace, brought my plate into the kitchen without being asked, and went back to my Barbies.

Dan:

After lunch I went to my room to drop off the card Iíd found in the playroom. This one read, 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. You will interact with your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and your big sister Liz, like a 4 year old boy would.' I had just gone back to the playroom to watch some more TV when daddy came in.

'Dan, you shouldnít watch TV all day. Would you like to go to the park?' 'Yeah!'

Daddy walked me across to the park and I tried to use the swings and the slide, but I was too big, so it wasnít much fun. I was really sad because I couldnít use them, so Daddy drove me to McDonalds and I got a cool car in my happy meal.

When I got back I went to my room and decided that I really ought to do some reading, regardless of what was on television. There was, of course, a blue card on the floor. 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. Like a 4 year old boy, you cannot read.' I looked at the card again, but the symbols were all fuzzy. I took out all my racing cars and started playing with them. I didnít realized before how fun it could be to just run cars into each other, so I kept doing it over and over.

Liz:

Dinner was horribly unpleasant. Dan was sulking the whole time because he said he was too big to use the swings in the park, and kicked me repeatedly under the table. Little boys are so immature. Dad finally sent him to his room after about ten minutes, but for the rest of the meal we could hear him crying upstairs. Dinner wasnít as fancy as the day before, just spaghetti, so I ate quickly and went back upstairs. After a little while Dan came in carrying a blue card.

'What does this say?' he asked.

'Go away, brat.'

'Iím not a brat! Tell me what it says.' I decided that heíd go away sooner if I read it to him. 'You are becoming a 4 year old boy. Like a 4 year old boy, you enjoy the decorations in your room.' I gave him back the card and he left. Good riddance. After he left I noticed another of the pink cards on the ground. This one said, 'You are becoming a 7 year old girl. You enjoy all the things a 7 year old girl would.' Suddenly I realized that Iíd been playing with Barbies all day and ignoring my other toys. I decided to go watch a taped episode of Pokemon, so I found dad and got him to set it up for me. When that was over mommy put me to bed. She told me to be quiet since Dan was already asleep, but after she was gone I banged once on his wall, just to bother him. Before going to bed, I looked at the Barbie pajamas in the drawer again. Since no one was around, I tried to put them on, but no matter how I tried they wouldnít fit. I wanted to be able to wear them so much, but I was too big.

Dan:

I was tired when mommy told me to go to bed, so I didnít ask for any extra time. I was playing with my HotWheels, and I wanted to leave them to play with in the morning, but mommy made me put them away. Then she helped me change for bed, brushed my teeth, and read to me. Instead of reading me a bedtime story, she took the blue cards of my dresser and read them to me, over and over until I fell asleep. As soon as I woke up the next morning, I realized that Iíd forgotten something very important the night before: it was Christmas. I raced downstairs to the tree and found mommy and daddy already there. 'Good morning sleepy head. We have a very special present for you this year.' Daddy handed me a blue card. I looked at it for a moment, but couldnít read it, so asked him to read it to me. 'It says, ĎYou are a 4 year old boyí.' Time seemed to stop for a moment. I looked at him. After all, I was twenty, not four. But then I started thinking. After all, I eat like a four year old boy. I have a bedtime like a four year old boy. I get read stories like a four year old boy. Iím given baths like a four year old boy. I enjoy doing the things a four year old boy enjoys. I interact with my family like a four year old boy. I canít read, like a four year old boy. I enjoy the decorations in my room like a four year old boy. I said it out loud, slowly, questioningly. 'I am a four year old boy.' I felt a surge of energy, as I realized how true it was. I said it again, this time with confidence. 'I am a four year old boy.' Now I knew it was true, and I yelled it. 'I AM a four year old boy!' As I shouted it, I began to feel strange, and realized that I was actually shrinking. My boxer shorts fell off as they became absurdly large, and my shirt now reached almost to the floor. My first thought was that now Iíd be able to use the swings and other stuff in the park, so I ran over and hugged daddy.

'Merry Christmas Dan!' said daddy.

Liz came down, wearing a Barbie nightgown, and once we could all see her she did a twirl to show it off. 'Thank you again mommy and daddy. This is the best Christmas ever!'

'Iím glad you like it,' said mommy. 'Let me just take Dan upstairs and get him dressed, and then you can both open the rest of your presents.' She picked me up and carried me to my room. There, she pulled off my shirt and gave me a footed Barney sleeper to wear. While she was dressing me, I saw the picture on my desk. I didnít recognize the man in it, but he looked kind of like me, but much older. Then mommy said, 'Come on Dan, letís go open your other presents,' and I completely forgot about the picture. I ran downstairs and started looking for which presents were mine.