I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Month: March, 2021

#52. Ramona and Her Mother: if you’re missing your Mom, says me, Isabel Scheherazade, read this Beverly Cleary book again. It’s beautiful and—can I say this in my title?—ordinary. Beautifully ordinary. Sigh.

Ramona and Her Mother: If you’re missing your mom, read this Beverly Cleary book again. It’s beautiful and ordinary. Beautifully ordinary. (I used to wonder what the country song lyrics meant when they sang about “yearning”; I get it now.) When Oliver and I were searching for more books with mothers for Arturo, I pulled Ramona and Her Mother out of the twins’ read aloud pile. Although we decided it was too long for us to tackle with Arturo, I took a few hours and reread it. I remember Mom reading it to me when I was 7. “I couldn’t get along without my Ramona” was one of Mom’s “make peace” things she’d say to me when I was miffed at her and storming around thinking I must have been adopted. We’d laugh and I’d come in for a hug. I told Oliver about Mom and me and Ramona and Her Mother. He’d never read it and asked to borrow it; he was sheepish about asking. I joked, Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone Mr Cool is reading Ramona. I think he was thinking about his mother and how she nevernevernever told him she couldn’t get along without her Ramona. Poor Oliver.

Oliver and I ended up reading tons of mother books to Arturo, but today’s read is a Richard Scary book, one of Sam and Clyde’s suggestions. It has lots of little pictures. Me, I don’t like this kind of book much, no real plot. But, Arturo creeps out a little farther from under the desk to find Goldbug, a tiny little gold cricket. He’s a tease. He’s on every page but you need to scrutinize; scrutinizing a Richard Scary cannot be done from waaaay under a first grade desk. Way to go, Goldbug!

Next, Mrs. Stanley (Arturo’s teacher) suggests we fold a few Little Books with Arturo. After the Richard Scary book, he’s retreated but cranes his neck to see what we’re doing.

You can fold one of your own if you get up here, Arturo buddy-boy. Oliver taps his chair seat. 

Guess what? He does it. 

First, he looks at Oliver and me for a whole minute. And then, hurrah! He pulls himself up onto his chair. We get a good look at him.

He’s tiny. Clyde and Sam are maybe twice as tall as he is and they’re a year younger. He has black curly hair and glasses, miniature, round glasses that stay up somehow. It must be the long curvy earpieces because his nose is the stubbiest nose I’ve ever seen. He’s got funny eyebrows. They meet in the middle. He’s a one-eyebrow kid!

Arturo watches Oliver do the first fold. Then he takes a fresh sheet of paper and does it, too. He goes step by step, waiting for him to fold or cut. He is very good at folding for a first grader. I don’t think I could have done this when I was his age.

Later on, at home, after she hears all about the out-from-under-the-desk success, Mimi says, You’re communicating.

I don’t think so, Oliver snorts. He didn’t say a word!

I’m pulling out my homework and he’s getting up from sharing brownies and milk to go home to the farm. Oliver, he had to watch us fold—think about it—and then do it. And remember when he couldn’t do the center fold cut? Remember? He held it up to you and raised his eyebrow?

That was cute: his one big eyebrow. Oliver gives this some thought.  So, hand gestures and eye-brow raising is communication? 

I give him our family’s signature one-eyebrow lift and I settle in to do my math homework. It’s a start. 

#51. Letter to the Judge First Draft: Beverly Cleary said kids haven’t changed much; they still want a father and a mother in the very same house. I have neither.

Dear Honorable Judge Welch,

Ramona, Beezus, Ralph the Mouse, and Henry Huggins were my friends when I was a kid. Now they’re stacked with other Beverly Cleary books we’re reading to Sam and Clyde. I loved this author. One time she talked at my old school. During the question time, someone asked her if kids had changed since she started writing for them. She said, “I don’t think their inner feelings have changed. They still want a mother and a father in the very same house.” I agree, but, thanks to one man, my twin brothers and I have neither.

I use my dead Dad’s jog-to-work backpack as my school backpack.  Unlike Dad, the backpack is in good shape except for the fraying fabric laces that my grandfather (“Pop”) replaced with no-tie, reflective, elastic-lock laces. (Sam and Clyde—our 5-year old twins—have new rainbow Lock Laces for their sneakers. We’ve decided to hit the pause button on teaching them how to tie; they’re stressed enough for now.) As I watched Pop lace up the backpack and sneakers I remembered that Dad also used Lock Laces to keep the twins out of the cabinets—to keep them from getting into poisons and such. I don’t know if my grandparents’ cupboards need to be protected from Sam and Clyde, but it’s been a steep learning curve for Pop and Mimi (our grandmother); I’m not sure they’d think of Lock-lacing the cabinets. I maybe should do a safety check on my own. They are trying as hard as they can to have our backs, but it’s all happened so fast.

I used to watch Dad load his backpack each school morning. He kept his thermos and lumpy objects away from the part that would lie against his spine and for that spot he used a backbone-comfort pouch that he packed with his lesson plans. He stored heavy books in the very bottom. For instance, even though he didn’t like using anthologies for his Lit classes, occasionally he assigned a story from one and carried it back and forth. PB&Js, apple, and keys he slipped in the zipper pouches on the waist straps. He tucked his mittens, hat, and scarf in the side mesh pockets. 

Monday through Friday he’d shrug it on, adjusting the straps just tight enough: snug, but not so tight that it restricted his arms. Then he hugged and kissed us kids and Mom and jogged to his high school.

Monday through Friday I follow the same routine: pack it, slip it on, and do the tighten-adjust manuvers. 

I love to wear it because I can feel his presence, like he’s watching my back, as they (I) say.

I hate to wear it because it reminds me that he’s dead.

He and my Mom are dead because one guy ran a red light; my parents were extinguished by a murdering killer. Well, I guess that’s a tautology, or some such, as Dad would say. But I wrote it that way on purpose, for emphasis.

Please impose the toughest sentence you can think of on Mr. A. Spinoza Carlotto.  I know in our country we do not do beheadings and I know Mom and Dad were against the death penalty, but I wish the worst for him, that’s for sure.

Respectfully yours,

Isabel Scheherazade

#50. Switching to third person is the memoirist’s gambit for the hard parts; not so easy in real time.

I’m not sure I can tell this next part in first person, so I may switch into third person or some omniscient narrator to give myself objectivity. Or maybe I’ll start with a nature metaphor; never mind switching “person;” I’ll switch species to gain distance:

Unless it’s mating season—when they appear to be drowning each other—Mallards seem calm on the surface, while underneath they’re paddling like crazy. That’s me during my fight with Mimi and Pop about the killer and what law he’s broken.  

Here’s the scene in play format:

Isabel: Mom and Dad are dead because this guy ran the light. They rolled down a hill! Over and over.  (Isabel has a disheveled appearance even though she is speaking with an eerie flat-line voice.)

Mimi: Mr. Smith admits he’s guilty, but not criminally guilty. (Mimi is clutching her hands, perhaps to keep them from grabbing Isabel’s chin again.)

Pop: He wasn’t speeding or drinking or doing drugs. Those are criminal actions. 

Isabel: So how come the police don’t charge him with breaking the “I-killed-people-with-my-truck-but-I’m-not-a-criminal law?”

Pop: It’s called Plea Bargaining. Mr. Smith says he’ll plead guilty to a law that says it’s unlawful to drive CARELESSLY and cause a death.

Isabel: What if the two sides can’t agree on which law he’s broken?  

Pop: Then a trial gets scheduled.

Mimi: But we don’t want a trial. And neither does Mr. Smith.

Isabel: But..but..but..I  DO!!  (Isabel sounds like a car that needs a quart of oil.)

Pop: Why, Isabel?

Isabel: ‘Cause…‘cause…I want to be a WITNESS.  I want to tell the judge how Mr Smith wrecked our lives. 

Mimi slumps.

Pop: You CAN communicate with the court. (Pop talks as if his words were eggs he’s placing on a table with no edges).

Isabel: How? 

Pop: You write a LETTER to the judge and tell him how you feel.

Isabel: And that will make a difference, Pop? M’p! I doubt it.

Pop: You’re wrong, Isabel. Anyone in our family can write to the judge, and what we say could influence the punishment.

Isabel pulls her morning glory muffin top apart while digesting this new morsel of information.

Isabel: Okay. I’ll write a letter.

The it’s-a-play-fugue ends.

Pop and Mimi look at each other and sip their juice. Mimi had gotten up and poured everyone a big glass of orange juice in the midst of our fight. (Juice is good for shock.)

I swipe at the muffin crumbs I’ve spewed around. What a crumby idea.

Is it too bizarre that I can pun even in a moment like this? Maybe I’m trying to ratchet down the tension between me and the only two adults in the world who love me.

–Isabel Scheherazade, who is no longer like a duck; she’s not calm on the surface or paddling like mad—just worn down and still. And, apparently stuck in third person…?!


# 49. I refuse to be charmed, calmed, and kumbaya-ed by the chicken project, no matter how much I love it. To the guy who murdered my parents I say, “Methinks’t thou art a general offense and every man should beat thee.”

I refuse to be charmed, calmed, and kumbaya-ed by the chicken project, no matter how much I love it. Sorry. To the man who murdered my parents I say, “Methinks’t thou art a general offense and every man should beat thee.  (Like my Dad, I quote Shakespeare to keep myself anchored. “Let grief convert to anger” comes to mind now too.)

It’s the evening of the coop-construction day. Pop and Mimi and I are spread out on the couches in the sunroom. I’m sketching the chicken run plans, Pop’s figuring out what supplies we’ll need, and Mimi’s scanning the morning paper. On our old-timey (1968 vintage) TV trays we’ve got hot spice tea and ginormous Morning Glory Muffins left over from morning, but still full of glory. Papers, drafting pencils, clipboards, laptops, and dishes carpet the couch cushions where we aren’t sitting. It’s precarious, but it works. (We can’t do this when Sam and Clyde are around, for obvious reasons.)

Mr Grim and I discussed the chicken run. He was delighted to help. Who knew that chicken runs are a classic in math! When I described what we were trying to figure out, he pulled open a drawer in his old file cabinet where he stores his ancient lessons, his recent work being on his laptop which is connected to the white board. He rummaged for a while and then pulled out a yellowed lesson plan. He read the problem aloud.  The farmer is putting a new chicken run up against a brick wall. He has 20 feet of wire to put around the run. If he makes a rectangular run, how big an area can he enclose?

He used the classic chicken run lesson with my class. First we considered how we might approach it. Then we broke up in groups and investigated the problem further. He gave each group string to model what we wanted to do. We used the formula area = length X width and applied our knowledge of parabolas. Then we started thinking about equations. We worked on reducing the number of dependent variables to one. For homework everyone was to figure out my chicken problem. 

The plan is to make it 6’ X 10’, with one end up against the coop door which the chickens will get to via one of the ladders. We don’t want to undersize it or “our girls” would fight and get sick. We’re using hardware cloth which has smaller openings than traditional “chicken wire” so as to better protect them from snakes, possums, raccoon, foxes, hawks, coyote, fisher cats, and bobcats. (Yes! We have these carnivores around here!) Maybe we’ll layer regular chicken wire with the hardware cloth. We need guidance on whether or not to lay wire over the top too. But at least we know to make the width no more than four feet. Factoid: A hawk will not land in such an narrow space even if we decide not to make a wire roof.

I’m so into this, I can’t think on anything else, if you get my meaning. Anything.

Pop clears his throat and closes his laptop.  Isabel? On another topic? Mimi folds the paper she hadn’t gotten to this morning.

I sense a pre-arranged scheme here. 

Hmmmm, Pop?  I’ve been multiplying length and widths to get an idea on how much hardware fabric we want. I’ve got figures scribbled on five sheets of chart paper.

Isabel, we have more information about the preliminary hearing.

And then while one part of my brain spots my math mistake, the other part sees my mistake in allowing myself to be chicken-lulled.  I hate that guy so much, I mutter. 

Isabel, let’s call him by his name. Mimi is stern.

What is it, anyhow?

A. Spinoza Smith. Mr. Smith.

Okay, so, what do you know about what happened in Mister Smith’s preliminary hearing?

Pop opens the laptop. The prosecutor e-mailed me a rundown on how it went.

I interrupt. Olivier said that the police would have pictures of the crime scene and measurements and test results and stuff like that.

Pop looks surprised. Yup, a report was given to the judge. What else did Oliver tell you?

The prosecutors will accuse the guy, er, they’ll accuse Mr. SMITH of breaking a specific law.  He didn’t know what law. Maybe “Murder One.”

Pop and Mimi look shocked when I say Murder One. 

Pop studies the e-mail.  Mr. Smith will be prosecuted based on the law that says he caused a death by being criminally negligent with a motor vehicle.

TWO deaths, Pop. Morning glory muffin crumbs fly out of my mouth. I’d say he’s a CRIMINAL all right.

Well, Pop sweeps the crumbs off my math figures and into his hand, athis hearing, the defendant–Mr. Smith–entered a plea. It was his opportunity to say whether HE thinks he’s guilty or innocent of breaking this particular law.

Mimi elaborates: Mr. Smith entered a plea of not guilty.

I snort. That figures.

Pop nods.  And we agree. We don’t think he’s guilty of being criminally negligent either.

What?!!!  How can you two say this! He killed Mom and Dad. They’re DEADI stomp my feet; I can’t jump up because I have How to Talk Chicken, my iPad, the spice tea mug, half a huge muffin top, and the litter of math computations on my lap.

Stop! Mimi holds my chin between her thumb and pointer finger. LISTEN TO US!

This shuts me up. Immediately.

But not because I want to listen.

It’s because the last time anyone held my chin and told me to listen was this summer.  And it was Mom.

-isabel scheherazade who’s remembering another Dad-Shakespeare quote: “Days of absence, sad and dreary, clothed in sorrow’s dark array, days of absence, I am weary; they I love are far away.”


#48. Ever hear of NFTs? Me either until one sold for 69 million! Same with chicken raising: I never heard of backyard chickens and now everyone is raising them!

NFTs stands for Non fungible Tokens—something that cannot be traded or exchanged. For example, recently “Beebles” had his digital collage auctioned by Christy’s for 69 million. The collage is a token and it’s nonfungible because it will NOT hang on someone’s wall, but instead is digitally “possessed.” But it’s NOT like how I once “possessed” Pokemon cards and traded them at recess. There was a real dust-up when some kids decided they wanted their cards back. Probably their parents had bought them expensive collector cards; perhaps a $1000 PSA 10 1st Edition CHARIZARD; I got mine at Dollar Tree. So when their kids came home with cheap old regular Pokémons instead of the oolala cards, the parents were furious. They had to come and separate the cards and the principal banned trading. When I told Mom and Dad about the dust-up they called this “hover-parenting.” So that’s an example of trading and exchanging, well, I guess, give-backing also. But with Mr Beebles’ collage it’s a one of a kind only viewable by the possessor. Since this record-breaking auction occurred I’ve read about other NFTs: NBA Top Shot auctioned a video clip of my hero LeBron James for $208,000!

But enough already with the NFTs—this is all towards my point that before starting the chicken project I never ever heard about chicken raising by regular people, just like I’d never heard of NFTs. (I do love juxtaposing. It’s in my genes.)

Chickens are everywhere: Two streets over from us the neighbors at one end share their rooster with the neighbors at the other end. The rooster struts down the street from one coop to the other. (I wonder if this cuts down on the amount of cockadoodledoo-ing?) Sam and Clyde’s Miss Honey is going to hatch chickens in their classroom. By that I mean, she’s getting fertilized eggs from a farm and placing them in an incubator until they hatch. (I hope they ALL hatch; Sam and Clyde don’t need any more death.) A lonely Israeli zoo monkey has adopted a chicken. Our public library display case this month features chicken-themed books: Chicken in Space (see companion books: Chicken in School, Chicken in Mittens, and Chicken on Vacation); The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County; Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella; Tillie Lays an Egg; Little Chick (a finger-puppet book), and Chicken Big (a twist on Chicken Little, hysterical).

Finally I’ve stumbled into the main topic of this chapter, albeit at a slant and through the transom of the back door. (Mr Grim asked us to use the word “albeit” at least once between close of school today and tomorrow.)

The Topic: Death in books.

Before Mom and Dad died I’d read many books where the protagonist’s parents have died. (It’s a natural result of just reading a lot; some books have death in them.) But before Mom and Dad were killed I was removed from the agony in these books, meaning I didn’t identify with the central issue of being an orphan. What books you say? The entire Harry Potter series, The Secret Garden, The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, just to name a few.

Coyote lives in old school bus with her dad, Rodeo. They drive around the country fleeing grief: five years ago, Coyote’s mother and two sisters were killed in a car crash. Then Coyote learns that the Washington park where she and her mom and sisters buried their memory box is going to be demolished; so, she tricks Rodeo into driving the 3600 miles back to Washington in 4 days. They accumulate a motley crew of travelers who become friends: a musician, a boy and his mom, a gay teen on the run. First time I read it I thought: classic road-trip tale. I fixed on Coyote not having to go to school and how they drove all around the country, seeing new places. I thought Cool, Coyote and Rodeo left their old names behind to help them get on with it. Good idea. Coyote and I both read read read. Her favorite book was The One and Only Ivan—mine too, well, until, the next favorite book! I loved it.

I saw Coyote on my bookshelf the other day and re-read it. I’m a different species, post Mom and Dad. I reread certain pages and chapters, as if I was taking a course on how to deal with grief: I paid much more attention to Coyote and her trick to get her dad to head home; to the dear host of travelers who join them and who turn into family; to the big-heartedness of them all; to their struggles to see other people’s perspectives; to the many kindnesses. I kept better track of each glimmer of hope. Especially I noticed that even though Coyote and Rodeo were broken-hearted, they didn’t run from one another. It was like I was watching another version of myself figure out how to push away from that steaming bowl of sadness.

The court caper, the chickens, Oliver, Mimi and Pop, Zia, Arturo, Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe, even Sir Isaac may be in the same category as Coyote’s road trip. I’ll keep track of this idea.

Isabel Scheherazade

#47. Learning how to speak chicken seems a weird pursuit when Mimi and Pop and I are just learning to speak MimiPopIsabel.

We call the author of How to Speak Chicken by her first name, “Melissa,” as if we know her. She writes so clearly, her voice rings out in the nook where we prop the book during breakfast, read it aloud, highlight words, look things up, and reread. Melissa says chickens are not birdbrains and have a lot of different vocalizations; I’m going to keep track of their coos, clucks, and squawks to see if I can figure out what they mean. Right now, we’re making pre-chicken decisions. So far: “no” to roosters, “yes” to baby chicks versus full-grown layers, “yes” to 6 chicks, and “yes” to “they’re pets and egg-layers, not meat.” Also, we found a place that will “sex” the chicks so that we don’t get a male.

“Sexing” IS important. I remember the time Mom and Dad surprised us with gerbils for Christmas.They had been assured by Stella, the gerbil guru, that they were girls. Mom hid the gerbils and their “Critter Trail 2-Level Treadmill Habitat” downstairs in the tenant’s apartment until Christmas morning. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we all peered into the cage: 12 tiny sausage-style newborns nursing from one of the gerbils while the other one careened round and round on the treadmill and critter trails. We kept having gerbil babies every few weeks, buying more Critter Trail Levels and Habitats—they all connected. We tried to give them away to make space for the newborns. Eventually everyone we knew—even strangers—had gerbils: we tacked FREE GERBILS! signs all over town, we had so many to get rid of. Then came the inevitable and fateful day when someone left the cage open. Mom-and she’s a scientist; I thought she’d be the last one to lose patience-shouted Enough! and we gave everything back to Stella. Unfortunately we could find only 12 of the 20 runaways.

So sexing the chicks will eliminate unwanted population explosions. We learned that girl chicks are born with 4000 eggs in them. They don’t need the rooster unless we want more chicks—which we don’t. Um, the male rooster fertilizes the eggs when he mates with the girl chickens; absent the guy, the girls just, well, they lay their 4000 unfertilized eggs one by one which we’ll then eat one by one, I reckon. I discovered another “you’ve got items in your cart” message on Dad’s laptop—the preliminary chick order he’d started on the website My Pet Chicken: “More people than ever want to raise chickens…reserve your order soon!” Zia tells us which type would work best for our yard. Mimi places our order. Then the two of then discover Melissa’s blog, Tilly’s Nest, and read aloud more tidbits of information.

Next we pulled the playhouse out of the storage unit from our old apartment. After a ton of back and forth hemming and hawing, we agreed on where to place it in the yard. While Mimi reads aloud from the notes we’d organized from our many YouTubes on Playhouse-to-Coop transformations, Pop, Oliver, and I get to work.

QuickQuickQuick we: tacked wire fabric—also called hardware cloth in, over, and between all of the cracks, openings, orifices, holes, and spaces a predator could squeeze through; raised it off the ground; dug down all along the edges and buried more hardware cloth in the ground to discourage predators who burrow; constructed and attached a nesting box outside one of the playhouse windows; made two little ladders that cross-crossed each other just above the flooring inside the “coop.” Ladders are handy because they can be steeper than a ramp. One of our ladders turned out to have rungs 6 inches apart—the chickens will hop from rung to rung on that one. Another has rungs that are closer—the chickens will walk up that one. One ladder goes from the roost downwards; the other ladder goes from the window opposite the roosting box to meet up with this ladder. This window will be the chicken’s doorway to their run. Both ladders repose against each other and hover over but not on the floor. To keep the ladders in position we suspended a wire from the ceiling to one of the ladders and screw-eyed it. Finally we spray painted it Robin Hood Green with faux mahogany trim.

Working all of this out was engrossing, companionable, zany, and mesmerizing. The playhouse was morphing in front of our eyes.

The reason we raised the playhouse up on a platform is so we could make a sliding poop floor to catch the droppings from under the roosts. First we tacked “runners” to a plywood base, an inspired touch—thanks Mimi. Then we cut another sturdy piece of plywood and put drawer handles on the outer side to push it in right under the roosting box side so it rested on the platform with runners. We measuremeasuremeasured. Measure once, cut twice says Zia. I really got into this detail work being excellent at visualizing and figuring on paper. The twins “helped” but mostly laughed about poop floors and pounded nails into a tree stump. Not to be too explicit, but the pullout floor is clever. The chickens poop—well, we all poop!—the “bedding” on the floor absorbs it, and then every day or week, not sure of how often yet, we ease the floor out—a two-person job—and carry it to the compost pile, dump it, scrape it with an old hoe, and then slide it back in. This means we won’t have to use tons of bedding on the bottom of the coop. It also means our compost will have more manure/fertilizer and less shavings.

All during this hubbub coop-making day, Mom and Dad stories percolated up and out of the Way-Back seats of our memories. Mom’s love of fresh eggs. How she always picked up fresh eggs on her way home from the lab. Dad’s special ingredient scrambled eggs—cottage cheese. Sexing. Chick Names. Why 6 chicks is better than 10. Egg recipes. Forest green or Robin Hood green—and what’s the difference between them anyway?

Oliver never got to meet Mom and Dad and I could tell he was loving this orgy of happy tales. Were Mimi and Pop right about this chicken thing as poison antidote? Did it switch my focus? Was I seeing the beautiful Mom and Dad who loved and lived with us up until a few weeks ago? Yes. Yes. And Yes. It was like temporarily taking the needle off the broken scratched up revenge record and bathing myself in sunlight. (I know about records; who doesn’t? We even have a turn-table so we can play Mom and Dad’s original Credence Clearwater albums they bought the year they got married.)

But! Note my use of the word temporarily.

—Isabel Scheherazade

# 46. My authority figures don’t do “we’ll talk and you’ll listen” smack downs.

(Preface: My authority figures don’t do “we’ll talk and you’ll listen” smack downs; instead they say let’s “learn to talk chicken.” Also: the lasting memories of my murdered parents shouldn’t be just the deadly fact that they were murdered.)

Mimi and Pop steamrolled me over to that round glass-top table in the back corner of Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe, and my anxiety eased as they chatted with Belle about cookies and sandwiches and lattes. But then Pop tells her, Let’s begin with drinks and maybe cookies and sandwiches-to-go later, depending…

Depending? Uh oh.

Then like ice cubes cascading all over because the twins lean too hard on the ice-maker, Pop, Mimi, and I start apologizing.

Me—well, pick your poison—I had lots to apologize for. But, I didn’t expect ANY apologies from Mimi and Pop. Here’s their list:

We should have talked through the Preliminary Hearing with you.

Secrets won’t work for our family.

Of course you were right to confront us about hiding the paper in the bookshelf!

We need to remember how old you are and give you the benefit of the doubt.

Please forgive us. We’ll improve at this, Isabel.

Simple right? Yes. Simple but not easy. They were NOT saying that I should have been allowed to go to the Preliminary Hearing: Not appropriate or necessary, Isabel. However! Pop reassures me, you CAN write Judge Welch a letter. Judges always read and take into account what the victims’ relatives have to say.

I frown as much as is possible for a person to frown; I frown like a Shar-Pei puppy. A letter? Inwardly I yell, Give me a break! You’ve got to be kidding.

Pop nods as if he’s mind-reading and says, You can work on putting your feelings into a letter. That way, IF there is a sentencing hearing, you would have a voice.

I try to switch into my ballistic mode when I hear the word If but I’m chewing a huge white chocolate chip cookie and can’t get any words past all the chips and crumbs. So, I mumble a meek, slightly chippy, Ok.

Then we have an abrupt “scene shift.” I mean, it was seismic.

Pop looks at Mimi as if to signal her to go on stage. She takes a deep, cleansing breath, puts her hands flat on the table to steady herself, and starts talking about Zia and her sisters—of all things.

Seems like a sudden non sequitur, right?


Isabel, you’ve heard some of Zia’s Sister Stories?

Ah, sure? I play along, not knowing where this is going, at all. I remember her story about pulling the clapper out of an old-fashioned, churn ice-cream maker. She and the sisters were testing the doneness of the ice cream. They used long-handled spoons. They began with just little tastes, but kept “testing” and devoured the entire gallon. It was pistachio with shaved chocolate. We laughed so much while she told the story, we forgot all five of them were dead. Zia said she could pick out each one’s different laugh in her memory; she remembered them all taking turns to reach in to the churn with their spoons; and she could still hear the crunch of the pistachios at the bottom of the mixer.

Like an IMAX movie, in fact, says Mimi with another big breath. (What IS this about!!??) Yes. This is so important, Isabel, pay close attention. Zia told me she no longer dwells on the particular “axes”—sicknesses or accidents—that cut her sisters down. She refuses to allow their essence and spirit to be defined by that last thing that happened to each of them. When she recounts a sister tale or does something one of the sisters loved to do, it’s as if the sister is right there with her, emerging from the shadows, a loving shade of sorts. This is how she grapples with the terrible loss of her whole family; it’s her way-forward. It’s why city-dweller Mary revived the family farm where she, now a Zia, and Oliver live.

Thick-witted and full of cookie, I catch a glimmer of why Mimi is telling me this.

Then, we have yet another seeming non sequitur.

Isabel, Pop takes over, you know how you helped me “break” into your Dad’s laptop? I was trying to locate their bank account numbers and tax information? Pop checks to see if I recall. I happened to see one of those“YOU’VE GOT STUFF IN YOUR CART” messages from the bookstore.

I finished the cookie and was working on my latte, so I had enough voice to say, Ah ha?

So, there was a book in the cart. “How to Speak to Chicken” by Melissa Caughey.

Oh, golly. I choke on an almost-sob. I’d forgotten. We were planning to raise chickens! Dad had just moved the old plastic playhouse to the back fence so we could add on to it for the roost. We’d measured and ordered the lumber and wire. Maybe we pre-ordered our baby chicks.

We found those orders in other “check your cart” e-mails. Mimi chuckled. So! We’re doing it! We’re going to work on a project that your Mom and Dad and you and Sam and Clyde were about to do: we’ll raise chickens!

So, dear readers, while I compose a judge letter rife with vengeance, hate and curses, our family will learn to speak chicken. Will it help us focus on something besides Mom and Dad’s last moment on Earth—like I plan to do in the letter, a letter so explicit Judge Welch will see that he must toss the guy in jail and throw away the key? I’ve got my doubts about the chicken project. But I get Mimi and Pop’s logic. They want to aim our minds and hearts at what it was like with all of us before. Before, when Mom and Dad’s beautiful selves lived and loved with us. I don’t know if it will work like it does for Zia, but come to think of it, I already get a rosy glow when I realize Mom and Dad are sitting there in the Way-Back seat of my memory. Maybe I’ll catch them roosting near the chicken house like a Princess Leia hologram in The Last Jedi.

# “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog” meets up with # “the world will lose its motion love if I prove false to thee.” Court Caper Part 5. (“Chapter” 44)


As the door clicks shut on the dying caper, instead of life flashing in front of my eyes, three visions sparkle like emeralds in the dust.

Vision One:

When the twins were into board books, a favorite was A is for Activist—an apt title for the library of unapologetic activists such as my parents. Frequently we’d all pile into the van for a women’s march or a pick-up-litter morning or a let’s-help-plant-a-trillion trees project: Environmental justice, civil rights, global warming, LGBTQ rights—my parents were involved in making the world a better place. Waving the stiff pages of A is for Activist aloft, while Sam and Clyde stomped their tiny feet and pumped their chubby arms, I’d chant and dance to stanzas like this: “A is for Activist/Advocate/Abolitionist/Ally. Actively Answering A call to Action. Y is for You. Youth/Your planet/Your rights/Your future/Your truth. Y is for Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes!”  

Pretty cool.

I read it so much, I identified AS an activist; but, truthfully? I was still a kid. Aside from those rallies and VoteForward letter campaigns and door to door efforts, on my own I hadn’t done much, certainly not like Greta Thunberg.  But tons of A is for Activist readings gifted me a soaring, mindless, boundless definition of myself as a do-er. And, it gave me enough umph to attempt the court caper.

Vision Two:

After the I-thought-I-was-an-activist image,  meringue-making seeped into my stream of consciousness.

Some things are hard to learn how to do. Like making meringue. Unless you know how, meringues flop. Wait until the egg whites have reached the soft peak stage? Don’t drip yolk in. Don’t use a wet or dirty bowl. Use the right sugar? Wrong whisk? When to add the sugar and beat? Use a electric mixer at a lower speed?  Did I beat too quickly? How did those large air bubbles get there!

I think the Court Caper was doomed from the beginning because I didn’t know what I was doing and what I would do when I got to where I didn’t know what I was doing. My activist persona tractored me up and out of school and emboldened me to lie and sneak. But, ill informed,  I flopped.

Vision Three: (From the Way-Back seat of my memory.)

When my parents got married, they had Dad’s dog, Dusty. Dusty was part beagle and part barker. At the end—he was 17–and this happened when I was four, so I remember it pretty well–at the end, he had this neck problem; his head hung. I had to lie on the floor to talk to him. I loved that dog. I used to sing him the Elvis song “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog” but I’d change the “hound” to “hang.”  Well, anyway, right now, in the courthouse with Mimi and Pop, I’m Doing the Dusty as Mom used to call it. Hanging my head.

End freeze-frame.

The sight of Mimi and Pop’s faces deflates me like one of my merengues. I’m ashamed. That’s the word for it. I am really, really ashamed. And worried. Worried that Mimi and Pop won’t trust me. Or love me.

So, what happens next, you ask. Am I grounded? Punished? Fitted for electronic ankle bracelets?  Sent to the Home for Little Wanderers?


First off: They hug me. And Pop channels his inner Ralph Stanley and hum-sings: The storms are on the ocean; the heavens may cease to be; this world may lose its motion love, if we prove false to thee.

Good thing I’m in this Mimi-Pop sandwich because I go all weightless and light-headed when I remember Dad and Mom harmonizing the first part of this song: I’m going away to leave you, love, I’m going away for a while; but I’ll return to you some time if I go 10,000 miles.

O.K. Pop clears his throat for action.  Before we get started on the scolding and such, Isabel, you need to know that we’ll always love you. He’s got his palms on my shoulders, maybe to give me ballast.

No matter, adds Mimi, as she straightens up and pats my arms. No matter what.

I believe them–Oliver’s already told me it’s called unconditional love; he feels it all the time with his Zia and Pop and Mimi. Oliver’s theory is that Mimi and Pop weren’t ready to take on the rearing of  me and Clyde and Sam, like their parenting skills had rusted. He estimated that they were in Phase One of Adjusting to Life with Kids Again. (He, of course, is an expert having watched a few films with titles like: Surrounded with Love: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and The Face of Kinship Care.)

If he’s right, then this moment is the start of Phase Two.

–Isabel Scheherazade who’s “doing the Dusty”

#End of the Road: Does this breakup song describe where I’m at with Mimi and Pop? Court Caper Part 4 (“Chapter” 43)

When I spy them sitting there, dear old things, I try a feint. Like in football? I fake a run to the right, then twirl around to the left, and attempt to jump behind the Marshall who isn’t Michael the Policeman. Dad taught me about feinting: the player with momentum is always faster than the defending player’s stop and start.

Unfortunately, my feint failed.  Not-Michael grabs me. He and Pop give each other the Man-Nod.

Man-Nods don’t come with any verbal exchange. It’s a gesture that communicates.  It’s possible that in caveman times the downward nod protected the throat from fangs, but, in modern times, the nod allows two authorities, Pop and the Marshall, to acknowledge each other with neither one needing to assert himself. The deed is done. Ok to back off.

It might even be an easy way to say “sup,” Oliver informs me later on. But I doubt that Pop has ever said “sup” to anyone in his life, so this is probably just a polite gesture and may not have anything to do with “diffusion of evolutionary tension for the alpha males.” (More Oliver-sourced information.  He apparently knows all about Man-Nodding, being a man and all.)

But, I’ve digressed.

The Marshall lets me go and backs out of the little room—really just an alcove with a half-way-up door. I hear the door click shut behind me.

For what seemed like hours but was only a few seconds, we three stand and look at each other. It seems like they’re trying to figure out how to start. Or even if we can start. I imagine they’re thinking, How can we deal with a delinquent?  We’ll have to give her back.

I answer back in my thoughts, But there’s no one to give me back to!! 

Isabel Scheherazade, failed court caperer whose future is unclearcropped-isabelcrossleg2.jpg

#The Security Footprint. I’m apprehended. Court Caper Part 3. (“Chapter” 42)

Michael the Policeman is actually a Marshall and he’s going to herd me, not Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Quack, and Pack—you know, the adorable, innocent ducklings that Mrs Mallard was trying waddle across Mount Vernon Street?  Michael crossed them to safety. Not me.

I’m at the perfect height for a terrifying look at his utility belt—called a “duty rig” in police procedurals: A mallet-flashlight that could be also a cudgel, a Taser, baton, handcuffs, pepper spray, and all sorts of other hooks, and devices to stun and stop Bad Guys.

Like me.

Despite the tight spot I’m in, I take a second to marvel that until this very moment, I’ve only seen belts like this on Batman: pouches, cylindrical cartridges, grappling hooks, bolas, cryptographic sequencer, miniature camera, recorder, and of course Batman’s supply of batarangs.  Also I wonder if this is what it means to “gird your loins?” (Anatomically imprecise, but he’s girded that’s for sure.)

On TV you know how you see the police tilt their heads and muttermutter into their collar tip? That’s exactly what my Marshall does.  He whispers, Subject is here. He listens and says, Roger.

I snap out of my fugue (a state where I’ve mentally meandered away from my hot mess of a predicament) and crank up bravado. I’m Isabel, Marshall. Is there a problem, sir?

He looks at me with pity. Pity! He doesn’t answer my question. Please come with me, Isabel.  He turns, and I follow him to a little room in the front hallway.

I don’t even get to go through the metal detectors.

How does he know the Scheherazade part of my name? He even pronounced it correctly. I keep pumping out irrelevant and immaterial thoughts. Then it’s like I hit an invisible wall; the shock is so immobilizing.

Seated in two antique oak banker-type armchairs—the kind you see in movies of old courthouses is—can you guess?


Mimi and Pop.


Isabel Scheherazade, thwarted court interloper who must regain her composure before continuing her story. (And, yes yes, I realize I’m talking elaborately right now, but fancy words keep me from wilting like a daisy in drought.)

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