I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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#9. 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 cease grieving does that mean we lose 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.



#8. 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.


One reason is I’m shocked to be at Pop and Mimi’s still. Of course the twins and I have stayed overnight lots of times. It was always a special treat. We loved it. Now it’s like a Big Mistake.  This place we loved to visit is now instead of the place we loved to live in. With the two people we loved most in the world. The universe. 

So I’m shocked, like I-stuck-a-finger-in-an-outlet-shocked.

I think it’s partly because I’m not in my regular-when-life-was-good bedroom: Rainbows on the walls–painted by Dad. Constellations on the ceiling–painted by Mom. In our second floor, crowded apartment. 

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. I found a basketball inflator needle in it, leftover from Dad’s b-ball days as a hotshot three-point champ.

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. 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 her list, 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 Dad 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.



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

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