I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: How A Kid Copes with the Death of Her Parents

#54 Like the tiny tug freeing the 220,000 ton cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal, my “little” book could dislodge our buddy’s gigantic problem.

The container ship wedged in the Suez Canal got freed thanks to divers, tugboats, dredgers, backhoes—like the mouse who gnawed the lion free from his rope trap. Our first grade buddy’s mutism is due to a gigantic ship of a problem and I’m betting it will be one of us little players, including our buddy, who dislodge it.

Arturo’s teacher said that Expert Books might inspire him to switch from signals to speech. So, using a  little book, I demonstrate.

Arturo, I peer under the desk at him as I re-crease the folds so I can sketch more easily, I’m going to write about how I’m an expert at patting Zia’s sheep. 

Page One: First, get the sheep’s attention (not hard, if they are itchy and see you coming). The sheep will come to you. I draw a sheep and a stick figure waving.

Wide-eyed and all-ears, Arturo scrambles out from under and wriggles onto his chair.

Page Two: Put your fingers all the way in the fleece, as deep as you can. Rub your fingers back and forth vigorously I quick-sketch my stick figure with her stick hands buried in the sheep’s fleece. The sheep is grinning.

Page Three: Go from one end of the sheep to the other (it doesn’t matter which end you start with). If the sheep wants you to scratch both sides it will turn. My sheep turns around. I use arrows to show this.

Page Four:  If you do it right, the sheep will wag its tail (if it has one). I make wag marks on either side of a stubby tail.

When I’m done, Oliver asks Arturo, Did you like the book?

He nods YES! 

Want to write one, too? An Expert Book?

He nods YES! again.

Oliver says, What are you an expert at, Arturo?

He sighs. (His first noise!) Then he takes the pencil from Oliver and starts to draw.

And he is a good artist.

He sketches a little kid–curly hair, giant eyelashes, and the one eyebrow–who pulls a book from a bookshelf and carries it to his dad. The dad is at a table with his head in his hands. The little kid leads his dad by the hand to the couch where the dad reads the book, and at the end, the dad is smiling, and the kid is talking. We know he’s talking because Arturo draws a speech bubble and writes a string of random letters and little squiggles in it.

And while he draws?  He TALKS! (Funnily enough, his pictures are so good we don’t really NEED words, but, hey, who’s complaining.) He narrates his story. Out loud!

We go ballistic. We show the book around to the class. Arturo “reads” it aloud, adding more details with this second edition—like his Papa sits with his head in his hands every day. After a few minutes of celebrating, Oliver says, This is a really good book, Arturo. They fist bump.

He says, Thanks, Oliver.

I tease him and say, Hey, Arturo, I said it was great, too. Aren’t you going to say thanks to me?

Arturo looks at me with what might be the sweetest smile ever. Thanks, Isabel. We do a finger-pinky pull.

–Isabel Scheherazade,  expert at expert books cropped-isabelcrosslegsmaller2-e1358962249154.jpg

PS. This seems like such a normal topic, even though Arturo’s situation is, well, DIRE. But it feels good to worry about a little kid with a sort of little kid problem (selective mutism). Um, on second thought, his is NOT a regular, little problem, but it IS a change from Court Capers, lying, cheating, and trust issues. (Pop just read this over my shoulder and patted me on the back.)

#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.”

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

#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

# “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!! 

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?

Right.

Mimi and Pop.

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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.)

#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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#girlheros and avoidance tactics: Court “Caper” Part 1 (“Chapter” 40)

Oliver points to a curlicue-crowd of “CC”s  fancy-doodled in the margins of my assignment notebook. “CC”?  Court Caper? Isabel. Word choice?

Oliver says he’s a logophile, a word so uncommon my iPad wanted to auto-correct the spelling to “loophole.” Logophiles love words; I wager probably only logophiles KNOW the word logophile!

“Caper” is so wrong for what you’re planning to do: Capers are for picnics and wholesome activities. He taps his pencil and reconsiders.  But maybe you used it as an antiphrasis? Like if I said “Isabel’s a giant of 5 feet 1 inches?” Irony, humor, use of a word that’s the opposite of the generally accepted meaning? Just teasing.

I chose “caper” to keep my fight or flight chemicals in check, but he and I have gone over all this. So in the middle of the page, I scrawl TMSIDK.

Oliver squints at the initials. Ahh ha ha. This is his attempt at sounding like a mildly amused English aristocrat.

TMSIDK stands for “tell me something I don’t know.” (Although, admittedly,  I did NOT know this “antiphrasis” word.)  It’s text speak. For example, AFAIK is “As far as I know” and 4YEO is “For your eyes only.” Shorthand. It surprises me that older people are suspicious of text shorthand. They use abbreviations in their daily life.  For instance, Pop goes to the DIY section of our hardware store—do it yourself. Mimi first reads the FAQ sections when she’s researching a topic—Frequently asked questions.

I digress…where was I?

Maybe it’s an oxymoron. I groan. I’m about to be sneakier and more treacherous than I’ve ever been in my life, Oliver.

Like with all my emancipation stuff. He nods. But, what’s the alternative?  It’s funny: teenagers are supposed to have TROUBLE  holding contradictory ideas in their brains at the same time. Not you! Not me!

We leave off with our homework and start the late afternoon chores of rounding up the animals and tucking them in for the night. It’s easier now that Zia lent the hard-to-handle ram to another sheep farm for a while; not to be too “explicit,” but he’s “in service” as they say. Probably the ram wouldn’t have hurt me, but it’s easier not to be on the lookout for him when I’m in the pastures. I didn’t like having to watch my back for fear of him charging.

I keep distracting myself from the Caper, don’t I.

Want to go over tomorrow’s Caper plan, Isabel? He pumps the water and I ferry the buckets to each stall. I’m still of mind that you should tell Mimi and Pop. I think they’d be impressed with your honesty and passion.

I roll my eyes at this.  The Plan—for the umpteenth time: I wear a dress (no metal belts or buckles or keys that would set off the metal detector and draw attention to me); I tell Mimi the dress is because of school pictures; we meet at the fence and deliver the twins to Miss Honey; we tell her we’re leaving them early so as to meet with Arturo’s teacher; and then we’ll walk out of school without checking in. Mr. Grim will just think I’m sick…or something. 

And tomorrow I’m supposed to start the day at the community college for my farming seminar.  Neither school will miss me. Probably.

The walk from school to the old courthouse is about a mile, all sidewalks. The problem would be if Zia, Mimi, or Pop were out doing errands; but we figured maybe not that early: coffee, crosswords, other early morning chores, stores not opened.

I continue my itinerary: The hearing is at 10:00 in room 13L. Once I get by the metal detectors, I walk along the main corridor until I see an arrow pointing down to a three-step staircase which I take and then go to the right once I’m at the bottom.  There are no trials going on, but there are lots of “short calendars” which means many lawyers will be there with clients which means we’ll have a crowd cover. If I feel watched, I can say, “Hold up Auntie Bea!” This will make it seem that I’m with the group in front of me, or some such.

But, one glitch, Isabel. Oliver carries the last two buckets into the barn. Unfortunately I’ll have to leave you at the door because the judge assigned to the Preliminary Hearing is Judge Welch.  Crazy, huh? It’s the same Judge Welch who did my emancipation hearings; he’d recognize me in a nanosecond. 

When I was little I had Mom and Dad read and re-read Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett and The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch. The Princess finds the dragon, outsmarts him, and rescues the Prince, who wasn’t so charming after all. Treva outwits one troll after another. Both girls are brave, able, stalwart, and bounce back when thwarted, or so it seemed to little me. This is all to say that although my heart clenched when Oliver announces he can’t  go into the courthouse with me, I don’t need him. I’ll channel my inner brave girl book heroines.

Probably.

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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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