I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: Going to Live with Grandparents

#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…?!

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# 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.”

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# “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)

Freeze-frame.

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?

Nope.

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!! 

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#PrincessHerosRedefined. COURT “CAPER” PART TWO. (“Chapter” 41)

Isabel, we need to walk faster. 

 I shift into a power walk

Then Oliver sighs.  Not THAT fast. You don’t want to get to court all sweaty and red-faced.

No sweat, I say.

Oliver doesn’t laugh.

That’s a joke, Oliver. 

Very funny. Ha Ha. You DO know that the problem with sweaty and red-faced is that you’ll look suspicious? He pulls a kerchief out of his pocket. Here, use this. 

Thanks, I pat my forehead dry, and say, Oliver, you’re like a mother to me; you think of everything. 

Yikes. I can’t believe I’ve just uttered a light-hearted comment about mothers.

Oliver stays on topic. What can I say. I plan. So, should I sit in the courthouse courtyard or go to my Ag class at the college? 

“Courthouse Courtyard” seems jokey to me also, and I really want him to wait, but it’s my inner paper bag princess who answers,  I’ll be fine, go to class.

And so he leaves me at the foot of the courthouse steps—which are opposite the Courthouse Courtyard, just for reference.

What constitutes a “princess” is different for me than it is for, say, Mimi. Her princesses depended on Prince Charmings—not that she’s not strong and independent now of course. How could she not: she grew up in the 60’s!  That had to be a great influence—women’s movement, abortion rights, integration.   I’m from the princess era of Mulan, Tiana, and Jasmine, and more recently, Raya (Raya and the Last Dragon—the twins loved it. I needed to watch it with them, even though I’m too old for princess movies. I had to be there with my lap so they could bury their heads and hide their eyes and cover their ears at the scary parts.) These new princesses are warriors, gritty and independent, seekers of trust and unity.

Unlike me at this moment when I am so not being trustworthy or seeking unity.

Next thing I know, I’m taking a big breath and climbing these high, stone steps to the courthouse. I’ve mentioned that I’m awaiting another growth spurt? So, as a result,  I’m still short, and these steps so deep and wide, it’s like climbing Mt. Washington. I would be more comfortable climbing them one at a time, like a little kid does; but I don’t want to call attention to myself.  I keep my eyes on the riser in front of me and consequently bump the butt of the person in front of me, for heavens’ sakes. So much for being carefree, nonchalant, and unsuspicious.

Finally, I’m at the courthouse doors—doors like something from King Arthur or Hogwarts. Multilayers of oak planks held together by iron studs, strengthened and stiffened with iron bands. When Oliver and I did a dry run last week, he observed, They’d be hard to breech. See how the studs are pointed to the front? It’s so the attackers will damage their weapons.

 We laughed merrily. No merry laughter now. And, of course I don’t have weapons. I come in peace. I think, They’re just doors, girl. Put your catapult away. 

I yank open the door with both hands and wait for my cone cells to adapt to the relative darkness. It’s like I’m in that Emily Dickinson poem where I must wait to “grow accustomed to the dark…the bravest grope a little, and sometimes hit a tree, directly in the forehead…but as they learn to see…either darkness alters…or something in the sight adjusts itself to midnight…and life steps almost straight.”

I don’t hit a tree, but I do step straight into a broad-chested policeman who could have been Michael in a Make Way for Ducklings movie.

Excuse me, Miss. By any chance are you Miss Isabel Scheherazade?

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#Mamas. Death. Elective Mutes. Hollow-eyed twins. The traumas just keep piling up. Good thing I’ve got a wide bench with this blended family of mine. (“Chapter” 39)

Arturo’s Mama died. That’s why he muted himself, Mimi. 

It’s after the soccer scrum and a supper of sautéed scallops and sandwiches. (And lots of s’s) The sunroom (one more s) is in hubbub: the twins maneuver front loaders, graders, pavers, and an excavator under the nook;  Pop demonstrates to Zia how to use the sharpening steel (it’s a metal rod?) to hone a knife blade; he mutters, a dull knife is an accident waiting to happen; Mimi, Oliver and I hunker down in the breakfast nook to discuss Arturo.

But, the words “Arturo’s Mom died”  turns the hubbub volume to OFF. There was a complete absence of noise like the one that descended right after I knocked the Lladro statue onto the tiled kitchen floor. The twins poke their heads out from under the benches and peer at me with hollow eyes.

Last year, adds Oliver. Cancer.

Mimi says, That is very sad.

Oliver keeps going. The teacher told us that he hasn’t cried or asked for his mother. He just stopped talking.

Tell me what actually happened during your buddy session.

Nothing happened, says Oliver. He makes a zero with his fingers. Nada.

Here’s how it went. I flip to an empty page in my notebook and sketch a desk.  We sit on either side of Arturo.. I lick the tip of my pencil and draw two stick figures on little chairs: Tall Oliver. Short me. Arturo’s underneath. I pencil in a tiny boy crouching on the floor, kneeling, with his head on the seat of his empty chair. Refusing to come out.

Pop, Zia, Mimi, Oliver, and the twins ponder my picture.

Suddenly another detail comes into focus, like a car in a rear view mirror following so closely you can make out the people inside. I erase and re-draw and smudge so that Arturo’s stick hands cup the back of his ears.

Why, Mimi leans in, He’s trying to hear you better.

Oliver sniffs.  I thought he was covering his ears!

Me too. I added hash marks and shading to the sketch. I didn’t realize what he was doing until I started sketching. The sketching made me see what we missed. 

Well, says Pop.  If he listens, then he’ll think. He leans down to pull the twins out from under the bench. If he thinks, at some point he’s just going to have to let his thoughts out. 

Right!  Oliver shrugs his book bag onto his shoulders. Right, Sam and Clyde? 

But the twins stand mute, their eyes round as saucers. More Mamas. More dying. Traumatized all over again?

Hey, little guys…Oliver slips his pack off and grabs their hands. How about one more wild and crazy Win-Dance-Repeat? The three of them binge-watch You-Tubes of the Red Sox outfielders’ post-game routines when they win. Immediately the twins and Oliver bow to each other, fist bump, kneel and roll pretend video cameras, shuffle forward three steps, kick right legs, stick out their left hips, then FREEZE and…do it all over again.

They are cutecutecute. Even Oliver.  So while he  dances a bit of happy back into the twins’ eyes,  I pull picture books out of my book bag.  Mother, Mother, I Need Another,  Where’s My Mommy, and Llama Needs a Mama. 

Mimi, one more thing? I whisper so Clyde and Sam don’t hear.  We checked these out to read to Arturo. But when his teacher saw them, she said “no books with mamas.”

I disagree, says Mimi. I think stories with mothers in them will get him to talk. She speaks softly too.

Or cry, I say.

Cupping HIS ear, Oliver looks over the twins’ heads, tuning in to Mimi.  He narrows his eyes and raises his chin.  He had disagreed with the teacher too.

Cry? Mimi looks at me. But that’s not so bad, is it?

 Isabel Scheherazade (who hasn’t cried since Mom and Dad died, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.)

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#36. I learn Oliver’s theory for why Mom and Dad emerge regularly in the Way-Back seat of my memory. (BTW: This blog is for all ages, um, maybe not 5-year olds.)

Oliver reads my blog.

Just so you know, Mimi and Pop read it too. I’m not TOTALLY unsupervised.

Caveat.*  I might decide to delay posting my write-up about an “incident” until it’s all over and done with, so to speak; that is, until it’s “public knowledge.” After making this statement, if I were Sherlock Holmes, I’d tap the side of my nose meaning we all know what I mean, wink wink. It’s our little secret. 

My “when to publish it” protocol is akin to a Mom “incident” back when she was an undergrad. She wanted to explore the personal side of Elvis Presley at Graceland Mansion, maybe even see Lisa Marie, his daughter. It was part of her thesis topic. So, with her roommates, she drove the yellow Volkswagen Bug (it was still functioning as our second car when it got wrecked by the murderer) non-stop from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine to Memphis, Tennessee, where they got the first tour, didn’t see Lisa Marie, but did get to sit in the Jungle Room and shuffle through the green shag carpets. They drove back, also non-stop, munching granola bars and swilling coke and coffee. And gushing and giggling about Elvis and his police badge collection. (I guess you need to be there to appreciate this.) Later that year, she told her Dad. That’s what I mean by “delaying.”

Now back to the “Oliver reading my blog” paragraph:  Oliver is a focuser. He concentrates and studies and researches until he gets a complete “read” on ideas. He’s like the laser beam on the new bar-code scanner at our library. (Sam, Clyde and I love it; Pop and Mimi are terrified of it.)  Here’s an example of the usefulness of his lazer-focus.

I’ll set the scene:  We’re working at opposite ends of Sir Isaac. Oliver is combing thistle from his tail and I’m patting lineament onto a sore spot where his bridle rubbed him the wrong way.

Isabel, I’ve been thinking about when you found the feather and sensed that your Dad was trying to tell you something.

(Not sure I should have shared that with him.)  What about it?

Don’t think you’re losing it when this happens.

Losing it? What are you talking about Oliver? He’s hit a sore spot with the words “losing it.” I might need some of Sir Isaac’s lineament, this comment bridles me so much.  (I adore constructing puns. Adore it. I can distract myself this way even in the midst of being sore and bridled.)

Oliver drops another thistle into his leather apron pocket and looks along Sir Isaac’s flank at me. continuing connection with the deceased loved ones is normal. (Honestly, can you believe it? He actually talks like this.) The connection gives solace.

Solace? I kiss Sir Isaac’s nose and check the underside of the new bridle for roughness.

Comfort. So when your Dad gets you to reread that quote about the tower and another time pushes you to hop into Four Square? He’s maintaining a connection to you, giving support from afar. Or maybe he’s not so far. I dunno. 

And that’s something your Wikipedia experts say is not losing it?  I’m skeptical, but listening. I have no mental files on this; no prior knowledge that would help me get a grasp; no schemata, as Mr. Grim likes to say.

Absolutely! Oliver nods sagely, or in a manner he thinks is sage.  You can move forward. You can get on with your new life. But you don’t need to let go of your Mom and Dad. It’s great that they’re sitting in the Way-Back seat of your memory waiting for you to tune in to them. Maybe it’s like you’re tuning a radio, twisting the dial back and forth.  And, PRESTO! Suddenly you get “Hugh and Miriam”instead of the local weather on WAMC. 

I ponder this while he mostly hums Long Monday, the John Prine song that inspired the way-back seat imagery.

I’m grateful to Oliver for his explanation. And, I’m sure Mimi and Pop will talk with me about it, once I “post” this entry and they read it. That’s okay. It might spread some solace on our sore hearts. Like lineament.

Isabel Scheherazade

*I love the word caveat! It comes from the Latin word for “let a person beware.” Oliver and I found out about it by way of researching the preliminary hearing challenge. Oliver wonders if we could file a “Caveat Petition.”  Caveat Petitions are precautionary measures a person can take if she thinks some case related to her is going to be filed in court. Oliver thinks it might be one way for me to insert myself into the Preliminary Hearing and alter the murderer’s pleas.

But you don’t actually know if petitioning is what I should do, Oliver? I ask him.

He shakes his head no. Sounds promising though.

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#33. Mimi and Pop’s Answer to My Question. (Don’t read this if you want to stay calm.)

Isabel. Pop points to the nook bench. Sit down. Now.

I cave.  Okay.

And Pop begins.

He uses his deep, serious lawyer voice. I never saw him during one of his trials (he took early retirement when we came to live here), but I picture him as an Atticus type, as in Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird? That Atticus? (After my school reading group did the book, Pop took me to see the Broadway play last winter.)

He places his hands palm down on the table and smoothes the surface as if flattening invisible documents.  I want to explain what a preliminary hearing is, Isabel.

I give a whatever shrug*. 

Oliver has already described it to me, The preliminary hearing is when the judge listens to the police tell what the guy is accused of doing. While we curried Sir Isaac the other day, he explained how he’d gone to the library and read all the articles about the murder. He looked up preliminary hearings on Google and Wikipedia. He even watched old Court TV shows. Of course he has extensive personal experience from the emancipation court hearings.

But come to find out, Oliver doesn’t know the half of it. I sit straighter and lean forward when Pop says,  During the preliminary hearing the person accused of a crime pleads guilty or not guilty. It’s called “entering a plea.”

A plea, Pop? It sounds like “please,” so I make some guesses. Like he’s going to beg? My voice wears a sharp edge. Like he’ll say, “Please. Please. Don’t put me in jail and throw away the key just because I murdered two people.”

Pop raises his eyebrow. He hasn’t heard me talk tough before. Well, it’s new to me, too, but I’m glad.  It gives me courage,

No, it’s not like that, Isabel. Pop says. It’s when the judge tells him what he’s been charged with, and the man has the opportunity to say whether he’s guilty or not guilty.

Hit me with a brick, why don’t you; I’m that stunned. Like there’s a question? This guy is GUILTY. I grab Pop’s hands and shake them. Mom and Dad are dead, Pop. Or did you forget? 

As soon as I say this, I wish I could hit the delete key.

Isabel Scheherazade, tough-girl in training

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*PS  This shrugging business? Mom and Dad didn’t like it. They said shrugging is a form of non-verbal violence that doesn’t contribute to the conversation in a positive way. (They talked like that. I miss it. Well, I miss it now.) Mimi and Pop haven’t said anything to me about my shrugging. Yet. We’re still too new with each other.

#34. I, Isabel Scheherazade, am sorry I talked so tough to Pop and Mimi; but, um, I don’t think they get what’s at stake here, as they say in the movies.

I’m sorry, Pop. I shouldn’t have said that.

Although, I think they DO forget; not that they’re dead, but that they were murdered.

Murdered by this guy.

Pop gets up from his side of the breakfast nook and comes over to my side. Even though I’m not wanting him to hug me, I let him. I think it makes him feel better. I wriggle away after a bit. I don’t want to get softened up.

Pop says, We’ll get through this, Isabel. Don’t worry.

Get through this? I think. I don’t want to get THROUGH this. I want–what is it I want? I know. I want to GET this guy and put him in jail. Forever. I hate him.

I probably should say this out loud to Pop, so he understands where I’m at. But something holds my tongue, and all of a sudden I feel tired. My sad heart takes over for my mad heart. Mad gives me energy. Sad makes me tired.

Uh, Pop? I’m muffled because he’s hugging me tight again. I think he’s weeping. Pop? Er, I told Oliver and Zia I’d curry the mule for them today. Got to go.

As I run by the nook window, I see Pop consoling Mimi again, neither one remembering that  Zia and Oliver had told them I needed more tutoring before I could curry Sir Isaac by myself.

Isabel Scheherazade

isabelinchair

#31. I yank the preliminary hearing from where it cowered in secrecy between notebooks and cookbooks.

Remember a while back, I spied the paper that Mimi and Pop had hidden in the bookshelves at the window end of the breakfast nook?  In that blog piece, I demonstrated to you readers how I could read and comprehend even if I saw only part of each word? Well, I decided I would wait for Mimi and Pop to bring up the preliminary hearing.

But they don’t.

So I take charge.

They’re finishing their breakfast tea—Scottish Morn: “so strong a teaspoon will stand up in it.” The half-done daily crossword is in front of them. They do it in tandem. This is one of those things I didn’t know they had the habit of doing.  I never used to be here early in the morning. You know how it is when you visit with your relatives? You don’t know every single thing they do—all their routines and that sort of stuff.

Here’s the drill:

Mimi and Pop sit next to each other on one side of the breakfast nook and fold the paper so just the crossword is showing. It’s face up in front of them.  Mostly they stare-a-while-jot-a-word-maybe-make-a-little-noise-pass-the-pencil-sip-the-tea.  Sometimes I hear something like this, “Four-letter word for swear?” “Hmmmm. Aver?Avow?” And usually, but not always, they figure out all the acrosses and downs in the one sitting. But, the puzzles get harder as you go through the week, Pop says.  That means that the weekend puzzle will have a few stumpers and they won’t be able to finish it in one sitting. They leave the paper in the breakfast nook or on the counter, and, during the day, one or the other pencils in a word.

Like I said, tandem. It’s how they do everything.

As I study Mimi and Pop, I glance over at Clyde and Sam. They’re in sight but not earshot of what I want to say. They’re setting up a drama of their own with Lightning McQueen, Cruz Ramirez, Jackson Storm, Cal Weathers, and a Cadillac Coupe DeVille I can’t remember the name of. They love little cars. They sleep with them! Since they don’t have Dad to “do cars” with them anymore, I play with them sometimes. At first they got frustrated that I didn’t do it like Dad. I understood, so  I didn’t mind. They don’t say this anymore. I hope it isn’t because they’ve forgotten how Dad “did” it.

I lean across the table and yank the hidden newspaper from between the cookbooks.

Why Isabel! Pop and Mimi startle. What’s up, sweetie?  Recipe cards for mac and cheese recipes cascade out along with the paper.

I lift the mac and cheese cards off the headline and tap it.  Are we going?

 Isabel Scheherazade, question-asker (finally!!)

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

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