I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: how to deal with the person who killed your parents

#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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#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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#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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#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.

#32. Mimi and Pop and I have a confrontation. A confrontation with a long fuse, that’s for sure.

Their reaction to my question is Immediate and Dramatic. A tear leaks out of Mimi’s eye.  Pop pats her back and grits his teeth.

I cross my arms and swallow down the lump in my throat. I’m not a crier. That is, I’m not a crier NOW.  I used to cry upon occasion. Like, when I was a baby. Babies cry. Or when I’d fall and scrape my knees. Or if something sad happened in a book or to the twins. Or if Mom scolded me and put me in time out. Regular crying that you do in regular times.  No more.  Sometimes I FEEL like crying. My heart gets tight and empty. I can hardly bear it.  I wrestle with the lumps in my throat. But no tears.  I’m like one of those coals in Pop’s grill. One of the coals that gets pushed to the side and isn’t part of the big clump that’s really cooking the chickens. It just glows over there, unnoticed.

I don’t want to cry. I want to get even.

This all goes through my head while I watch Pop and Mimi calm each other down.

I remember something Oliver told me about them. Having kids around after all these years is something Mimi and Pop aren’t used to yet.  I have no idea how he knows these things, but he’s right. Oliver also said that it’s the same with Zia, but different. She knew him well as his nanny up to age 7.  She’s had to get used to my being a grown-up now, he says. Hmph! For sure she needs to get used to his living at the farm, but not because he’s a grown up!

I’d say it’s different for you, Oliver. My parents are dead. Forever.

Right, and mine are dead to me, even though they’re alive. 

Back to the Preliminary Hearing question that’s making Mimi cry and Pop grit his teeth.

Sorry, Isabel. Pop tugs tissues out of a box and splits them between himself and Mimi. More time passes. (A few seconds, but they’re heavy seconds.)

Mimi says, Isabel, what happened to your Mom and Dad is terrible. Then she seems to notice how I’m standing with my arms crossed.  She pats the space between herself and Pop and starts to get up, Sit down, why don’t you? 

I shake my head. Just tell me. ARE. WE. GOING?

 ISABEL

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#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

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#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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