Why Peter Owns a Child's Pop-Up Book and Reads It
Eight-year-old Peter was watching through the window morosely as the rain came down. Head resting in his hands, he shifted slightly in his seat, seeing the grey and silver splatters on the glass. He wasn't wishing it would stop — if it did he'd have to go outside and play. That was no great joy, now that Ricky was back from his summer camp and had resumed terrorizing the younger kids on the block. But that didn't make it fun being inside, either. Mom was at work, and he was old enough now to keep out of trouble without staying all day at Mrs. Kroenig's place downstairs. Keeping out of trouble was even less fun, but Peter knew how much it meant to his mother to not have to pay the older lady each week to baby-sit.
Peter watched as the rain began to fall harder, and sighed again. It wasn't going to stop, and watching it rain was getting kinda boring. He'd already done all his chores — cleaning the apartment so mom wouldn't have to, he'd even cleaned the kitchen and living room for her even though it wasn't his job. He looked over at his bed — unmade, his one concession from mom's list of things he had to do — and saw the tattered book still lying among the covers. Grandpa had left him his books when he died two years ago and while most of them were hardbacks and incomprehensible, there had been a dozen or so paperback westerns which he'd immediately fallen in love with. He was halfway through Glint, one of his favorite Dewey LaMort books, for the fourth time.
With nothing else to do, Peter went over to his bed and lay down, feet on his pillow and face dangling off the side, and began to read. Glint was holed away in the hidden cave, recovering from what the doctor had told him was cancer and had only turned out to be an ulcer. Peter wasn't sure what cancer, or ulcers were, but from the descriptions they both sounded painful. The part he liked best, though, was when Glint tamed the stallion and rode him into town. If his dad came home this summer, Peter planned ask him to take him out West, to ride the stallions there. Peter knew they were there, and knew his father had seen them — he had a postcard from Nevada with the horses on it, to prove it.
Twenty years later, as a present to himself, Peter went out to Arizona. He'd made a reservation for a week at one of the dude ranches, after saving up his money for two years. He'd planned for his first defense to be over the day before his bus left, and as soon as he handed in all the signed paperwork to prove he'd passed, grabbed his already packed bags and headed for the station. His two best friends had teased him about the timing, but Peter just laughed with them.
Two days later, Dr. Peter Venkman stepped out into the hot, dry southwestern sun.
The horses weren't wild, nor were they stallions. But riding through the desert in his new cowboy hat and boots, Peter could close his eyes and imagine he was a hundred years in the past. The smell of leather, of dust and sweat, the sound of the horse's hooves striking sand, gravel, and the bones of fallen saguaros, all transported him to the times gone by. The books he'd read and reread all his life filled in the picture — he was traveling to a new town, the unknown stranger who met with injustice and defeated it with his pistol and his wits. He'd win the affections of the beautiful girl and save her from the clutches of the villains.
By the time he arrived home, ready to begin work on his second dissertation, he was relaxed, happy, and full of the dreams of his childhood. He'd visited his mother and told her all about it, knowing she would be as pleased as he — mentioning only as he left, laying the flowers by her gravestone, that he'd won his degree. Seven months later he saw his father, and didn't mention either. He'd been too busy getting his dad out of trouble again, talking an irate victim out of a lawsuit and encouraging his dad to get out of sight until the coast was clearer. Life was, as far as he could tell, as normal and satisfying as he could expect.
A few years later, when he looked up at the polished red and white sign for the first time, he realized that life was not, perhaps, going to be normal anymore.
"So, Pete, you think we need two more bookcases, or three?"
Peter studied the boxes scattered throughout the TV room, considering Winston's question. "I'd say three, you know how bookcases are — no matter how many you have, they always fill up. I think we've got enough for two right here."
"Yeah, and Ray's bringing up more books from his Aunt's place."
"That's right... maybe it's time to turn another guest room into a library."
Winston laughed. "Man, I don't know why we bother having guest rooms at all. Two libraries already, if you count this room. You'd think we'd be a fire hazard by now."
Peter grinned. "Good thing we're in a firehouse, then, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Winston lightly kicked one of the boxes near him, and coughed at the rise of dust.
"What kinda books are in these things, anyway?" Peter knew the other man was wondering whether they'd be something he could read — and enjoy. The Ghostbusters' reading tastes rarely overlapped.
"Ray just said it was his books — I know they aren't his comics because he already has all of those upstairs. Maybe they're more textbooks." Peter didn't try to open any of the boxes to find out, unwilling to disturb any more dust until the boxes' owner was around to clean it up.
"And I thought Egon had a lot of textbooks." Winston apparently agreed with Peter, leaving the boxes unopened.
"Hey, don't be speaking ill of the Spengler Memorial Library," Peter referred to their first library, which they'd declared in honor of the man who'd filled it with the most books. Egon had decided it was nicer having a library named after you before you died, because afterwards you couldn't really enjoy it. Peter had pointed out that ghosts could probably get library cards the same as anyone.
Before Winston could reply, they heard Ecto pull into the garage. "They're back," he observed unnecessarily.
Peter grinned. "With more boxes." Winston groaned, but followed Peter downstairs. "I hope they beat the dust off them first, this time."
They had no such luck — Peter marveled at the two scientists' ability to move the boxes without dislodging any dust. As they carried the boxes upstairs, Winston and he left clouds in their wake, coughing and sneezing as they went. Soon they had all the boxes in the TV room, ready for the construction of more bookcases. Peter and Winston resumed their debate about the number and placement of the cases, leaving Egon and Ray to begin organizing the books. Peter was measuring a space against the wall when he heard Ray exclaim, "Look! My Clifford books!" Peter looked over, curious at the sheer delight he heard in his friend's voice. He and Winston went over to where Ray was sitting beside an open box. Egon looked up from his sorting; they all saw Ray holding a stack of thin, worn books.
"Kids' books?" Peter said, incredulously. Ray turned the stack towards him, and he saw a picture of a large red dog on the cover of the top book. He read the title, "Clifford the Big Red Dog?"
"Yeah! I used to read these all the time! My favorite was the Halloween book — all those ghosts and goblins! Clifford wore a big white sheet, and went trick-or—"
"OK, we get it — you were a Ghostbuster even then, we know." Peter leaned over and took the books from Ray. There were half a dozen Clifford books, then a few others -- Berenstein Bears and Babar the Elephant. "What are you going to do with them?"
"What do you mean? Don't we have enough room for bookcases?"
"You're keeping them? You're putting them out?" Peter didn't believe it — then he thought about to whom he was talking and realized, yes, he did. "How many of these boxes are kids' books, anyway?" He peered around at the few opened boxes. He saw the stacks Egon had been creating — oversized, cartoon covers in one stack, smaller gold-edged books in another.
"All of them!" Ray gave him a look of sheer joy. Winston chuckled, and Egon began to explain the required dimensions of the new bookcases.
"The shelves will have to be calculated to allow for the larger books, yet enable us to store as many on a single case as possible. Additionally, the paperbacks will have to be stored—"
Peter held up his hand. "OK, Spengs, OK. I believe you — why don't you and Winston figure it out, and we'll build it. You don't have to give us the preview."
"Hey, look! My Muppets coloring books! Hey, this one still has clean pages!" Ray began looking around; Peter realized he was searching for crayons. He shook his head, and then remembered that Slimer had a box of crayons in Janine's desk. He went and got them, handing them over to Ray without comment.
Egon and Winston had begun sketching out designs for the bookcases, Ray was quickly becoming engrossed in his books. Peter stood among the boxes, counting their number and looking again at their size. He did a little calculating himself, then nudged Ray. "All these boxes are full of kids' books?"
"Sure! My parents were always buying me books. Every year I'd have to box up some to make room for more — usually right before Christmas. When they died, my Aunt took over — she bought me the whole set of Hardy Boys books, and the Narnia books, and the Collected Works of Lewis Carroll..."
Peter recognized the last — his grandfather had had a hardback edition of that book. Peter'd had a tough time reading through it, even as he got older and was able to make more sense of the logic in "Bruno and Sylvia". "Yeah, I always liked Hunting of a Snark myself," he said absently. He keep looking at the boxes, realizing there must be over four hundred books in them.
Four hundred books.
"Peter?" Ray had stood up next to him. "What's wrong?" His voice was quiet, the excitement of rediscovering his books faded.
Peter shrugged. "Nothing." He started to pass it off with a quick line about the work involved in storing the books away, when he saw Egon and Winston looking over. They wouldn't let him get away with it, not if Ray had noticed something wrong. His friends knew Ray was never mistaken when it came to Peter's moods. He sighed, and looked away, down at the books covering the entire floor. "It just seems like a lot of books."
Ray stepped over a pile of coloring books, and stood next to Peter. "You had lots of books growing up, Peter. You told me your grandfather left you a bunch of them when you were six."
"Yeah," Peter decided that now — years later and safely an adult who didn't need them anymore — it would be okay to tell. "They weren't kids' books, Ray. I started reading the westerns when I was seven, but even then they were a little over my head. Most of his books I didn't get into until high school. I didn't get any real kids' books. You know how it was — my mom had to support us both, we never had much money for stuff like that."
Ray had placed his hand on Peter's arm, and when he asked his next question his voice sounded like it might break — as if he hurt more for the memory, than Peter had at the reality. "Didn't you have any kids' books? At all?"
Peter wanted to wave him off, show him it was not that big of a deal. Instead he shook his head. "Of course I had some — three or four, actually. Mom taught me to read and then, well, I wanted baseball gloves and stuff like that. She let me pick out something every birthday and Christmas, a toy or whatever I wanted. I didn't figure I needed to waste my choice on books." Peter looked at the book resting next to his foot. Medieval Knights and Dragons, a pop-up book for ages 2 and up.
He remembered looking through the books when he got to go to the toy store — digging through everything, playing with each display toy at least once before making his selection of one affordable item. His mom had taken him to the store a lot, even when they weren't getting anything — later on he realized it had been to let him play. He tried to wrench his thoughts away, depressing himself when it really wasn't worth it. But Ray suddenly engulfed him in a strong embrace, comforting him and preventing him from forgetting.
"I'm sorry, Peter. I know you didn't have a lot, growing up. I guess I sometimes don't realize what that meant."
Peter let him stay where he was for a moment, before trying to extract himself. He loved the way it felt, being held by his friend, but he didn't want to make his friends feel sorry for him. Peter was a little uncomfortable getting sympathy from a man who'd lost his parents at a fairly young age — it made not having toys seem an extremely minor issue.
Winston had walked over, stopping only with a box between him and Peter. Peter saw understanding in his eyes, and knew his pride needn't fear what his friend would say. "My brothers and I didn't have a whole lot when we were kids — we shared all the toys we had, and played with each other when we'd broken them. But mom and dad always found a way to get us new ones; I remember my brother Marvin giving me all his books when he'd outgrown them. He was seven, and I was only four. He kept handing down his stuff until he was eighteen and left home for the Marine Corp."
Egon said nothing, they all knew he had grown up with more than enough and none of them had ever held it against him. Peter knew Egon would feel no compulsion to apologize, or feel guilty — they'd worked through all that years before. Once Egon had understood that Peter preferred to buy for himself or do without, despite the resources of his friends who were willing to pay, they'd never had another argument. Peter knew that his friend was no doubt considering some sort of scheme — buying him a bookstore full of picture books and first readers — but knew as well that he wouldn't. Peter glanced over, to make sure — sometimes the man went and did things anyway, despite one's protests. Egon met his gaze calmly, having already heard a great deal of Peter's stories and knowing there was nothing he could do to change them.
Peter did not want to tell those stories again, nor did he want to think about the parts he hadn't told even Egon. There were parts Egon had already heard, like the birthdays and Christmases which had given him only one or two things — mostly he received much-needed clothing, or dinner at a restaurant. Parts where his father would promise huge piles of presents this year to make him forget all the previous disappointments, only to find no huge piles and no father either, come Christmas morning. Egon knew how hard Peter's mother had worked, leaving her little time and little money to give Peter anything like special trips to Coney Island or movies.
Peter hadn't told his friend the details — how Peter had used his monthly allowance to buy himself a hot dog and soda, or saved it for an entire year to buy himself a ticket to see the Dodgers. He hadn't explained how he'd learned to read authors like Mark Twain and Fitzgerald by the time he was ten, because he loved reading and had only his grandfather's books. He most definitely had not said how he stayed home summer mornings, keeping the apartment clean and learning to cook his own lunches, then ran down to the streets to play stickball whenever Ricky was safely away at Juvenile Hall. Egon would have felt badly for him, thinking Peter had missed out on his childhood. Peter felt he had no great regrets — he'd helped his mother when she'd needed it most, and now that he could provide for himself, he played. He didn't mind so much that he'd missed out on things, most of which he gave himself now, like movies and vacations and stereo equipment. But once in a while, like now, seeing all those books and knowing his friend could still delight in them the way a child would, made him wistful for not having those chances.
Ray was still hanging onto him. Peter tried to nudge him to let go, saying, "Hey, Tex, I'm all right now. I promise."
"I know, Peter." Ray didn't look up, and didn't let go. "Sometimes I think about all I've lost in my life — my parents, my home, and all. Then I remember the things you never even had. I never wanted for anything while my mom and dad were living. I wish... I wish you could have had parents like them, Peter. Some things a kid just needs. Those things are fun."
Touched, and unable to respond in kind without embarrassing himself, Peter joked, "They're just books, Ray. It's not like I never got my Mickey Mantle baseball bat. Well, a genuine balsa wood replica." He winked at Ray, who was in serious danger of sniffling loudly.
"That thing I used to start the fire last week?"
Peter looked over at Winston, a grin on his face, grateful at the man's acceptance of his humor. "I was going to ask you about that..."
"Sorry, m'man, but sometimes heat is more important."
"I thought you were building a fire for you and Delia to sit in front of." Egon had joined them, standing just behind Ray. He, too, had a knowing look in his eye that said the emotional confidences needed to come to an end. For now, at least — Peter suspected that should the topic ever arise again he would find himself being comforted and encouraged to give more details. He also suspected that eventually one of his friends would manage to bring up the topic again.
"Like I said, man, sometimes heat is more important." Winston gave them a satisfied smile, and they all laughed.
Peter shook his head. "As long as it died for a good cause. And I've met Delia — she's a good cause."
"I'll tell her you said so," Winston nodded. "Now why don't we get back to work. Those bookcases aren't going to build themselves, you know."
Peter was glad when Ray let go; he stepped over to the box Egon had been sorting through to take up where he'd left off. Winston and Egon drifted back to their sketches and measurements, Ray stood for a moment longer before returning to his work. He gathered up his open coloring books, put away Slimer's crayons, and began carefully stacking books according to size.
Three days later Winston and Peter finished the final touches of the new bookcase. They'd decided on one huge case spanning nearly the length of the wall, constructed in the TV room to avoid hauling it through too-small doorways. That morning they'd sanded it down and coated it with varnish, giving it a dark brown tone to match the other furniture. Ray had all his books stacked and waiting, the boxes and dust long since cleaned away. He'd been constantly changing his mind as to which books to place on which shelf, unsure which he wanted in easy reach and which could be stored on the top and bottom shelves. He'd already stored his coloring books under his bed with a new box of 96 crayons. Slimer had been given permission to color in one, the Bugs Bunny Halloween Adventures book. He still had trouble staying in the lines — and in the book itself. Ray said it was because he kept dematerializing the crayon as he colored.
Winston gave the bookcase one final rubdown with a dry rag, checking for any sticky spots, before stepping back. "OK, Ray, it's all yours." He and Peter traded proud smiles as Ray jumped up eagerly, exclaiming over the new case. They quickly began helping Ray, who directed them as to where to set the books — finally deciding on each even as Winston or Peter was holding the stack of books. It didn't take them long to load the case with all the books; the three stepped back and viewed the full-to-nearly-overflowing shelves.
"It looks fantastic!" Ray was fairly bouncing.
"Thanks, Ray. I'm just glad we managed to save the guest rooms." Winston replied.
Peter laughed. "You're just saying that because your cousins are coming to town for Christmas and you want an excuse to keep them out of your parents' place."
"Oh, man," Winston nodded. "If Beatrice and my mom stay under the same roof for more than one day, all hell will break loose. They'll have a dozen schemes to get every unmarried Zeddemore betrothed before you can say 'Who you gonna call?'"
"And you don't want them talking about you and Delia," Ray added.
"You got that right. Wonderful as she is, I am not ready to settle down."
Peter gave Ray a thoughtful look. "You know, Ray, I've been thinking. We really need more storage space. All that extra lab equipment cluttering Egon's lab could go—"
"Oh no you don't," Winston wasn't falling for it. "You do, and I'll tell mom you haven't been to the dentist in two years."
With a genuine feeling of horror, Peter protested, "But I have! Last year, you remember!"
"I know that. Dr. Stephanie Grason, young, beautiful, and, for a few weeks, enamored with one Dr. Peter Venkman." Winston nodded. "But that doesn't mean my mother knows."
"Winston, you'd lie to your own mother?" Peter gave his friend one of his better 'truly shocked' expressions.
"If it means keeping you in line, you better believe it."
Peter tried to think of a suitable response — one that wouldn't lead to Winston carrying out his threat. Before he could voice it, Ray tugged on his arm. He looked over, and saw Ray looking a bit nervous, holding one hand behind his back. "Yeah, Tex?"
"Peter, I wanted..." He took a deep breath, then, "I wanted to give you this. I know you'll think you don't need it, but I want you to have it." He brought his hand around and held out a book. It was the pop-up book Peter had seen earlier — Medieval Knights and Dragons.
"Ray, you—" Peter was utterly taken aback.
"Yes, I did. It's yours, now." Ray said it with a note of decisiveness that Peter knew well. There would be no arguing with him — not without sincerely hurting the man's feelings. There was no way Peter would do that, especially not over a child's book.
He accepted it. "Thanks, Ray." He eyed the bookcase full of similar books, an idea occurring. "Why don't I—"
Again, Ray knew what he was going to say and forestalled him. "On your bookshelf, Peter."
Peter knew when to accept defeat gracefully. He nodded, and walked over to the other side of the TV room, where he had several shelves of his own books. His grandfather's collection was there, as well as his own expanded collection of westerns and all of his textbooks, both sets gathered during college. He slipped the pop-up between For Whom The Bells Tolls and Pynchon's V, which he had yet to finish. The book looked odd, its bright and shiny spine nestled among the more sedate covers of his other books. He felt a sudden urge to hide the book in back, and promptly squashed it. It was just a book; no harm could come from having it.
When he turned back to his friends, he found himself smiling. Ray and Winston were watching him, Ray with a proud expression on his face. Peter knew it was he Ray was proud of, for accepting the book with a minimum of fuss. It should have felt embarrassing, such a production simply over the gift of book. But Peter only felt happy — like he did every time he received a present, whether as a child or now, when he could count on his friends' generosity to give him the huge piles of brightly wrapped boxes he'd never had before. Suddenly he had to let Ray know; he ran across the room and gave Ray a fierce hug.
Ray returned it enthusiastically. After a moment, he said, "You're welcome, Peter."
The next day, Peter was alone at the firehouse. They had no appointments, so they'd given Janine the day off. Ray and Egon had headed out to haunt the library — er, figuratively, mind you — and Winston was over at his Aunt's house, helping her decorate for the upcoming holidays. She was an older lady who refused to slow down, even when it came to climbing ladders to hang strings of lights. Winston's older brother Marvin was in town also giving them a hand, so Peter had been free to stay home.
He started the day by sleeping in. When he finally woke up, everyone had already left. He took a long, hot shower and made himself a huge breakfast, then wandered in to the TV room to begin lazing about in earnest. Settling his plates on the coffee table, he went over to select a book. As he considered the titles, his eye kept going back to one — the pop-up book.
For a moment, when he realized what he was thinking, he felt silly. That was pointless, no one was home and no one would know. No one would care, Peter told himself, Ray does it all the time. Last night he'd read something about a Pokey Puppy to Slimer, before bed. Finally Peter reached up and took the book from the shelf. He'd read pop-ups before, in the toy stores, just as had a hundred other kids — the tabs had been broken often as not, and the pages bent so that they no longer 'popped'. He suspected that Ray's book would not be in such condition.
He stared at the book a few moments longer. Making his decision, Peter went back to the couch, and sat down. Feet propped up on the table in-between breakfast dishes, careful not to knock over his milk, he leaned back into the cushions until he was comfortable.