Georg read from my book of Struwwelpeter stories:
“So she was burnt with all her clothes,
“And arms and hands, and eyes and nose;
“Till she had nothing more to lose
“Except her little scarlet shoes;
“And nothing else but these was found
“Among her ashes on the ground.” (1)
“Paulinchin!” I crowed and bounced in my seat. “Papa reads that story to me in German!”
Carsten, Georg’s little brother, pressed close to the older boy’s side. “She burned up,” he said softly. His thumb inched into his mouth.
“She did!” I bounced again. “She played with matches and danced around the fire and burned up!” I bounced out of my chair and twirled until I fell on the floor in a dizzy heap. When the room stopped spinning, I looked up at Georg, “How do you know what those black marks on the page mean?”
“I can read,” he told me.
“How?” my voice was a long, breathless sigh.
“I learned to read in school,” he said definitively.
“When can I go to school?” I asked Marmar.
She started back a bit, creases came into her forehead, “When you’re five. I suppose…” I nodded and swaggered off to play with my wooden train.
“And how old are you?” the strange man asked me. I backed myself against Papa’s leg, my eyes opened wide.
“How old are you. Lysse?” Papa prompted.
“Five,” I held up three fingers.
“She’s three,” Papa corrected me.
I looked up at Papa’s face, “I’m five.”
Papa and the strange man exchanged glances. “She’s three,” Papa told him.
“I’m five!” I ran through the hall singing. “I’m five!”
Marmar called me into the sitting room. “Lysse, you know you’re three.”
“I’m five,” I insisted nodding my head.
“Why do you keep saying you’re five? You know you’re three,” Marmar voice was serious.
“Because,” I began. “You said I could go to school when I’m five.”
Marmar blinked, “Why do you want to go to school?”
“I want to learn to read,” I told her.
“Read?” she asked, her forehead crinkling.
“Georg learned to read at school. I want to know what those black marks in books are.”
Marmar pressed her lips together for a moment. Finally she said, “I’ll talk to your Papa. Go play now.” She sent me off with a pat on my bum.
“Lysse, this is Siobhan,” a young woman with curly red hair reached for my hand. She was taller than Marmar; red freckles covered her face. I kept my hands behind my back. Marmar lifted me from the floor. She spoke gently, “Siobhan has come to teach you to read.” I looked at the curly, red haired woman. Her brilliant blue eyes crinkled as she smiled. My eyes widened; the corners of my mouth lifted into a little smile.
(1) Heinrich Hoffman, Slovenly Peter or Cheerful Stories and Funny Pictures for Good Little Folks (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, n.d. (1900?), (http://germanstories.vcu.edu/struwwel/pauline_e.html)