I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Month: February, 2014

#12 I, Isabel Scheherazade find a bookmark on a special page of one of my favorite books and I THINK I’m getting a message from Dad. Can this be possible?

One morning while I’m gathering steam, my eyes land on one of my old storybooks–Beauty and the Beast.  I love all the versions of that story, this one especially. When Dad read it to me, he said, This is one plucky girl. Like you, Isabel.

I think about this and mutter, USED to be, Dad; I USED to be a plucky girl.

I’m not feeling plucky these days, that’s for sure.

I spy a feather bookmark sticking out of the book. Dad put feather markers on important pages in his books and mine.

I get out of bed, pull the book off the shelf, and open it to the page with the feather.  I stroke it smooth. It’s brick red on its topside and pink below.

I remember when Dad stops at this page and places the feather in the crease. He has a very serious look on his face.

Isabel, listen up; this is important. He taps the words. Keep track of it, okay? He always tells me to keep track of this or that. It makes me feel very grown up and important.

This is the sentence: “Nothing cures homesickness quicker than an Unexplored Tower.”

See what it’s saying? Dad asks me. Then he reads it again.

I trace the sentence with my fingertip like Dad did when he read it one last time.  I even hear his voice. “Nothing cures homesickness quicker than an Unexplored Tower.”

To tell you the truth, I don’t get what is So Big about this sentence. I’m more interested in the feather and finishing the story before I fall asleep.

But, now, here in Mimi and Pop’s house, my eyes prickle and a kind of warm feeling fills my head while I stare at the words. It’s sort of like Dad is reaching out to me from the Way-Back Seat of my memory.

 In a whisper-voice I ask, Why’s this so important, Dad?

ISABEL

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#11 I, Isabel Scheherazade, Actually SAY Something to the Killer. It’s bad, this scene, it’s bad.

The guy takes his head out of his hands and looks at me, blinking. A lot. He picks up his coffee. Yes? he asks. Can I help you?

I take a big breath. You killed my Mom and Dad.

It’s like I punched him, but with words, not fists. His hands shake.

I  wonder if the sloshing coffee scalds his fingers. I hope it does, but then I worry that it must hurt. Go figure.

His eyes dart back and forth like he’s hunting for an escape route.

And see those kids there? I point back at my table without looking. Those are my brothers. You killed their Mom and Dad, too.

 I stop. I don’t know what else to say.

We stare at each other. His face collapses, tears spill over his bleary eyes and into his whiskers. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, he says in a whisper. Sorry. Then he gets up so fast from the table that his chair tips over. He rushes out the door. And leaves his coffee.

I watch the door slam shut after him. I’m in shock or something. I didn’t know I had this in me. Like a robot, I pick up his chair, push it back to the table, wipe up the coffee spills with his napkin, throw the coffee in the trash bin, and walk back to my table.

Mimi watches me over the heads of the twins. She’s horrified.

Not me. I’m hate-i-fied.

ISABEL

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(sketches by Ryan Grimaldi Pickard)

#10 Build-Up to a Gigantic Drama at Ye Old Coffee Shoppe Involving “the Killer” and Me, Isabel Scheherazade, 10-year old blogger and story-catcher who’s trying to figure it out. Please read and make a comment; that’ll help me with the figuring.

Here’s the scene.

We’re at the coffee shop for our weekly treat. We set ourselves up at one of the little wire tables with a glass top. It’s off in a corner away from the counter so we can linger and the boys can be–well, so the boys can be boys, as Mimi likes to say when she’s not quite sure about how strict to be with them. (I have a feeling she and Pop will figure it out though, sooner than later, as I like to say. 🙂 )

Mimi tells Sam maybe it’s not a good idea to teeter on his chair. (“Maybe?” Really, Mimi?) Clyde moves his chair around on the flagstones so it WILL teeter like Sam’s. I’m taking a break from scooping froth because it’s still too hot.

I look up when the door swings open, and what I see makes it feel like the air is sucked out of  Ye Old Coffee Shoppe.

It’s him. The guy. The one who ran the red light. I know it’s him for sure because I saw his picture in the paper the day after he killed my parents. Black curly hair, one big eyebrow, whiskers, a faded jean jacket, work pants, and boots.

I watch him order coffee. Belle asks him to repeat what he said. Figures he would be a mumbler.

I see that he’s dusty. Looks like drywall dust, I think.  How the heck do I know about DRYWALL DUST? I ask myself, and a scene from the Way-Back Seat of my memory emerges like magic.

This guy looks like DAD looked that time he fixed the wall in my bedroom–before he painted the rainbows and Mom did the constellations.  I play the memory out in my head while I stare at him dumping sugar. He takes a long time ripping sugar packets. Four of them. That’s a lot of sugar, Mister, I think. While he’s ripping, the rest of him doesn’t move. My image of Dad and the drywall dust comes clearer, like a fog’s blown away from it.

At the end of the bedroom project, Dad is covered head to toe with white. He looks like someone with ghost make-up.

Mom and I laugh at him. (It’s just the three of us at this point in our lives; the twins haven’t been born yet.)  Dad chases us around and makes hooohooo noises. Dad was so fun.

This guy must be on a coffee break. I’d read that he has two jobs–a shelf-stocker in a grocery store at night and a builder during the day. Maybe this is why he looks exhausted. Today he must have been putting up walls.

I watch him carry the coffee to a table. He pulls out the chair and sits down. He cradles the cardboard cup. He doesn’t sip. He stares.  Suddenly, he puts the cup down in the middle of the table and puts his head in his hands.

I glance at Mimi to see if she’s noticing either the guy or me, but she’s busy supervising teetering.

I push my chair back, stand up, and go over to his table.

Can’t finish this right now. Heart’s pounding too much.

ISABEL

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(sketches by Ryan Grimaldi Pickard)

#9 Afterword to #8. I, Isabel Scheherazade, story-catcher, have another thought while in Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe

Come to think of it, I have a small stack of things now that I never did with Mom and Dad.

The stack sits in sun and shade. When we do something new with Mimi or Pop, it reminds me that I never did this with Mom and Dad, and that reminds me that they’re gone. Sort of like a chain reaction.

I explain this to Mimi, while I stir my cinnamon-sweet, warm-milk latte froth. I watch her face.

She sips her hazelnut coffee. Isabel, she takes a breath, after a while? Well, after a while, I hope that when we do new things it won’t always come with the sad thought…She hesitates.

I finish her sentence, With the sad thought that Mom and Dad are dead, you mean?

Mimi nods.

I think, THAT will never happen. But I don’t say this to Mimi.  Instead, I take a sip. The froth gives me a milk mustache, and that makes the twins laugh just as I’m about to say, Mimi, we’re not there yet, but then I just can’t help it; I start laughing, too when the twins give themselves chocolate mustaches, and Belle, who was drinking a Blueberry Smoothie, comes over with a blue mustache.

Like I said: sun and shade.

ISABEL

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#8 Belle the Barrister is Helping My Family Craft Something New, and I’m Thinking This Isn’t Just About the Drinks, Is it? But, WOW, the drinks are fab. Another Isabel Scheherazade Blog Entry

Every week now Mimi, the twins, and I go to a construction site: Ye Old Coffee Shoppe.

We sit at the counter and watch Belle. Her name tag says she’s Belle the Barista, but I call her Belle the Builder.

Belle starts with Mimi’s Hazelnut Coffee: She weighs and grinds the beans and then saturates them with water for a sloooooow drip through a special metal filter into a glass carafe. Once the drip’s set, Belle quickquickquick stirs whole milk, cinnamon, cinnamon coffee syrup, and sugar in a deep metal cup, positions the steam wand from the expresso machine into the mixture, where it whirs away while she starts the twins’ hot chocolate. She melts chocolate chips in a small, heavy pan and whisks in hot, whole milk, and a shake of chili-cinnamon. She sets the full mugs in front of the twins and swirls whipped cream on top until they shout WHEN!  Belle names the hot chocolate the Clyde and Sam. Mine is Isabel’s Special Latte.  We watch Belle write our drink names in neon magic marker in her fancy writing up on the white board drink menu under “Specials.” It makes us feel part of the community when someone comes into Ye Old Coffee Shoppe and orders a Clyde ‘n Sam  or an Isabel’s Special Latte.

I “construct” this idea while I sip and sigh:

This every-week treat is sweet in more ways than one.

Belle crafts new, just-for-us drinks.

WE’RE crafting new, just-for-us lives. 

ISABEL

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#7 An Example of a Funny Story (About Underwear) from the blog of me, Isabel Scheherazade, Story-Catcher (I’m trying this handle out too) and Story-Teller.

Every morning Pop says to the twins, Did you put on new underwear, boyos?  (He doesn’t call them dudes like Dad did.  That’s good. It would be confusing.)

The twins salute and say, Yes siree, Pop. Yes siree, Pop.

But you know how little boys can be smelly? Well, Clyde and Sam REALLY smell on this one morning, so Pop brings them into the bathroom, thinking maybe that they didn’t wipe. Or something like that.

Mimi? he calls out. Come here a minute, would you, Dearie?  Mimi and I do question marks at each other. I give her the I dunno shrug. (I am not the expert on smelly 4-year olds. Dad was.)

She goes down the hall to the bathroom. I hear lots of  Pop-Mimi-Murmur-Murmuring and Little-Boy-TalkTalkTalking. Mimi goes upstairs and comes down with two pairs of Elmo underpants.

After a while they march back to the kitchen.

Pop says, Now remember, Sam and Clyde. “New underpants” means that you take OFF the old ones. You don’t just add a new pair.

And we start to giggle.

Giggle! Gushing Giggles. Like that water that whooshed out of the well after we primed it. And we get active: The twins show me their new Elmos, Mimi stuffs smelly underpants in the trash. (Guess she’s not going to try to recycle ’em which is very unusual for Mimi.) Pop gets back to his paper with a grin on his face.

I mean it’s like the time I opened a Coke (back in the day when Mom used to let me drink Coke…) that I’d just before dropped on the floor.

It takes giant, big minutes (which are loooooong if you’re counting, BTW) for all the chuckles and activity to bubble down again.

Neato. Or sort of neato anyway.

ISABEL

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair-sketch by my friend Ryan Grimaldi Pickard

#6 A story from the Way-Back Seat of my memory about Dad and a pump and, well, I’ve got a new understanding of what people mean when they say they’re pumped up, because, um, I’m not.

Pop and Mimi’s neighbor, Miss Mary–well, now she’s MY neighbor–has a water pump in front of her barn. It’s just like the one in Little House on the Prairie. (In fact, it looks JUST like that water pump LAMP next to my bed–the one Dad made in shop class.  I wish I could ask  Dad if he got the idea for the lamp from Miss Mary’s real pump. Too late.)

BEFORE everything changed, my family would “come over” to Pop and Mimi’s for brunch or picnics, stuff like that. And every time we come, Dad brings us to the farm to see the animals and, this is the important part, to Work. the. Pump.

Dad wants us to understand how the pump works, and I’m finally getting it. Here’s what happens the very last time we visit BEFORE. (Which, BTW, is only two weeks ago. Seems more like a decade.)

After cranking the pump handle a few times while the twins and I watch, Dad raises his eyebrow and says, Who can tell me why there’s no water coming out of the pump today?

ME:  Air.

DAD: Right, air’s gotten in, so there’s no water pressure. No water pressure, no water.

(You might notice that the twins aren’t saying anything. That’s ’cause they’re four. They ARE looking back and forth between Dad and me like it’s a tennis match.) 

DAD: So what do we do?

TWINS: Knock on Miss Mary’s door! Knock on Miss Mary’s door!  (The twins say everything twice, maybe because they’re twins?)

DAD: Looking a little perplexed, Er, why would we do that dudes?

TWINS: Miss Mary has water in her sink!

DAD: He ruffles their heads and fist-bumps with them, and then he says, What ELSE could we do?

ME: Get rid of the air that’s wrecked the water pressure.

DAD: How do we do that?

ME: Like this. And I run back to Mimi and Pop’s, turn on their hose, pour water from the hose into a bucket, and run back up the hill to Miss Mary’s. (The twins watch me like I’ve never done this before and, trust me, if I’ve done it once, I’ve done it a zillion times. Or at least three times when they were around.)

DAD: Now what?

ME: I pour the water into the top here.  (I have to stand tippy-toed to lift the bucket and pour it into this pipe that’s right next to the pump.) Then I pump the handle. 

I pump the handle updownupdown a few times and then, with a great gurgle and splash, water spurts out and into the trough below. The trough’s for the animals to drink from. In fact, one of Miss Mary’s lambs (Pretty funny, huh? “Miss Mary’s Lambs,” like in the nursery rhyme?) scurries around the corner of the barn and starts lapping it up.

So here’s how this pump figures into my life right now, AFTER:

I’m surprised sometimes that me and the twins and Pop and Mimi aren’t sad Every Single Minute. But Silly Stuff seems to happen that gives us like a break from sad; stuff  that acts like that splash of cold water I poured into the well. It brings up a few laughs. For a little while.

I read somewhere that you can eat a certain amount of dirt in your life so long as you don’t eat too much all at once. I think it’s the same with being sadsadsad. You can bear it if you aren’t sad every single second. Or something like that.

I don’t know if we can manage if we’re sad all the time.

I just remembered that first time something happened that got us pumped up. I’ll write about it tomorrow.

ISABEL

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair-sketch by my friend Ryan Grimaldi Pickard

#5 I, Isabel Scheherazade, have more words to say about blog entry #4, and I’m wondering if I should call this type of entry an AFTERWORD? Get it? Like afterward, but with the “a” changed to an “o”?

One time Dad and I stand next to this huge steam engine that pulls the commuter train between our town and the next one.  I see the engineer and another guy shovel coal into a furnace. Dad says, The coal heats the water, and the steam from the water moves the train. 

I  hear all this huffing and puffing, like the engine is revving itself up for pulling all the cars.

Dad looks down at me and says, It’s called “gathering steam,” Isabel.

I think of Dad and the engine yesterday morning when Mimi comes up to see if I’m okay.

She sits on the edge of my bed and tells me that since Mom and Dad died it’s been hard for her to get up too. I feel bad ’cause I haven’t been thinking about how hard it must be for them.

It’s okay for you to feel the way you do, Mimi says.  It’s because we’re sad. This is what it means to grieve.

I’m about to ask her whether we’ll ever STOP grieving, but don’t think I want to hear the answer. If we stop grieving does that mean we forget Mom and Dad?

Mimi gets up to go back downstairs, but turns back and says, Take your time, Isabel. You’re gathering steam.

If words can warm, then Mimi’s heat my heart.

ISABEL

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#4 Why I Can’t Hop Out of Bed.

Every morning since coming to live with Pop and Mimi, after I wake up? After my eyes open? I.  Just. Lie Here. It’s like I don’t have a habit of what to do next in this place. I haven’t jumped out of bed once. Yet.

One reason is I’m shocked to be waking up here. Shocked, like I stuck-my-finger-in-the-outlet-shocked.

I think it’s partly because I’m not in my bedroom. Well, I guess this IS my bedroom for the rest of forever, but, you know, my regular-when-life-was-good bedroom: Rainbows on the walls–painted by Dad. Constellations on the ceiling–painted by Mom.

Where I am now is Dad’s old bedroom. The one he had when he was a kid like me. Dormer window facing the morning sun. Bed with carved pineapple bedposts. Tiny bedside table with one drawer. Water pump lamp. (Dad made it in woodworking class when he was in fourth grade. The handle of the pump has a chain on it. When you pump the handle the light goes on and off. There’s a pretend spout and a water trough for pretend water to flow into. Pretty cute if you like that sort of thing. Oh, and did I mention this? The lamp shade has horses on it, like hole-punched horse shapes, so when it’s dark and the light is on you see horses all over the walls.)

Back to why I can’t budge out of bed in the mornings:

I feel like I have to check on my mind and muscle powers. You know, to see if I’ve got any.

It’s like I’m Mr. Frank, the grocery man at Frank’s Grocery and Food Mart. I help Mimi with our weekly shopping there. She holds onto the cart, and I fetch stuff for her. (That’s a Mimi word–fetch.)  I always bump into Mr. Frank in his white apron.  He checks the shelves and makes notes. Just doing inventory, Isabel, he says to me and pats my head. Need to see what’s what. 

That’s how it is with me. I’m doing inventory, checking to see what I have left on my shelves.

It’s not that I don’t want to go downstairs and see Mimi and Pop, Clyde and Sam. I can hear them from here. They’re up and at ‘em, as Mom used to say.

Listen to this, Dearie, Pop says as he reads the sports page.

Do you want oatmeal or Cherrios, Clyde? Mimi doesn’t know exactly what the guys like for breakfast, and she’s trying to Get It Right.

And I hear VaroomVaroom noises that tell me the Tonkas are on the table next to the cereal bowls. Pop and Mimi don’t know that Mom didn’t allow toys at the table, because of all the spills.

Or maybe they do know and don’t want to say NO yet.

ISABEL

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(sketches by Ryan Grimaldi Pickard, Isabel’s dear friend)

#3 I WATCH THE PARTYING MOURNERS FROM BEHIND A BUNCH OF ORANGE FLOWERS

It’s over. The funeral. One funeral for Mom and Dad. That makes sense, I guess.

But I’ve got TWO giant holes in me.

My brain couldn’t compute what anyone was saying. It sounded like the mwa-mwa-mwa grown-up talk in the Charlie Brown cartoons. My Mom could imitate that sound, BTW. She’d touch her tongue to the top of her mouth, close it, block the back of her throat and then say something. Dad and I always laughed. The twins didn’t get it; they were too little to “get” funny then. (They’ve missed their chance now, maybe.)

So the funeral was Bad. Totally bad. In the front row of benches, Pop and Mimi sat very straight and held onto us very tight.  Like we’d all come apart if they didn’t.

Now, a whole bunch of people are in the backyard here at Mimi and Pop’s.  If you didn’t know, you’d think this was a picnic or something. Pop calls the crowd the partying mourners. Some party, Pop.

Me and the twins are hiding out on a glider behind a sort-of-wall of orange flowers. The flowers are called trumpet vines. They climb this tall, zigzagging wooden trellis that separates us from the rest of the yard.  Mimi says it’s okay if we want to stay away.

The people talk to Mimi or Pop then look up at the trumpet trellis.

Sam and Clyde roll their little trucks back and forth on the seat slats.  It’s weird though. They’re silent. It’s like their volume control knob is turned all the way to OFF.  If Mom were here, she’d be holding their foreheads in the palm of her hand to see if they were sick.

But they’re not.

And she isn’t.

And there’s this KILLER, not even in jail, even though he’s the one who ran the red light. Even though he’s the one who made Mom and Dad go off the road and roll down a hill.

And die.

I’m so mad I have to hold onto the back of this bench to keep from screaming.

ISABEL

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