(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.