Karen closed the book, and sighed.
“Is that it?”
“That’s it,” answered Uncle Karl.
“I don’t know, it just seems… it’s not finished.”
Uncle Karl picked up the coffee pot, but Karen waved it away from her cup. She already felt anxious, which was unusual for her. A second cup of coffee might make her feel worse. Karl drained the pot into his own cup, then immediately emptied the cup into himself. Crumbs were scattered across the kitchen table, but the rightful Prince of Delfthia sat satisfied, looking into Karen’s face, trying to gauge her reaction. He was not his usual fussy self, and he let the crumbs lay where they were, undisturbed. She had a faraway look in her eyes.
“I don’t know who was meant to be good, or who was meant to be bad,” she said, after a minute.
“Well, we don’t know who is good, or who is bad, in life. Or rather, we have to decide for ourselves. In the real world, there’s no narrator to make it easy for us.”
“But I don’t read stories to learn about the real world. If I wanted to learn about the real world, I’d go out.”
Karl grinned, and then laughed. Shaking his head, he finally succumbed to temptation, brushing the crumbs with his hand, over the side of the table and on to his otherwise empty plate. He stood, and started clearing away the breakfast detritus. Karen rose as well, eager to show how helpful she was. She returned the butter and jam to the fridge. He placed the plates and cutlery in the sink, and turned the hot tap.
“You’re not stacking them in the dishwasher?” asked Karen.
“I’ll just quickly wash these few pieces. Then we can go out, and see the world, as it really is.”
Karen retrieved a tea towel, though there was ample room to allow the few items to dry on the drainer. She not only wanted to help, she wanted to be seen to help. “I didn’t like the ending,” she said, as he handed her a spoon.
“Did you like the central character?” asked Karl, deliberately changing the focus of conversation.
“I suppose she was meant to be like me,” said Karen, “so I should.”
“She’s based on you. But you can think what you like, without worrying about shoulds or should nots.”
“Yeah, I like her. She was very believable. But I didn’t find the ending believable,” she said. “It wasn’t even an ending.” Karen clunked down the cup she had dried, a little too sharply.
“What makes you say that?” asked Karl, trying not to wince at the unnecessary thought that his cup might have been broken, because it was not broken. Karl’s nose was itchy, so he rubbed it with a dry part of the back of his arm. The dishwashing done already, he dried his hands with a loose corner of the same tea towel that Karen held.
“No bad people were punished, no good things happened either, and everyone’s mostly stuck in the same place they were before.”
“That’s a lot like life, isn’t it?” Karl helped with putting the crockery away.
“Stories should be better than life,” insisted Karen.
“Life should be better than life is, but it isn’t,” chirped Uncle Karl. With everything tidied up, he shrugged his shoulders and asked: “so where are we going now?”