I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: Isabel the Storyteller

#64 Muffins with secret ingredients, orange juice, science, and magic: If my story were a meal with many courses, this chapter is a palette cleanser.

On Tuesdays we don’t have cross country practice, so Oliver and I walk the twins home from school. We meander; it’s a scrum-then-scatter pace. Sam and Clyde skip ahead, yell over their shoulders about gym, race back, explain a recess game, stop to check the sidewalk cracks, explain their hot lunch choices, run ahead…repeat. But today, all of a sudden, as if we were joined at the hip, we come to a halt. Across the street, Belle the Barrister has emerged from Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe with her sandwich white board. The twins read it out loud in unison. They holler: GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE HOT: MORNING GLORY MUFFINS!  Laser-focused on the sign, we pivot, cross at the crosswalk, and give Belle hugs and kisses. While I use my cell phone to check in with Our People, we hoist ourselves up on the counter stools. I love this sort of serendipity.

A few notes on “cross country” and “cell phones:”

Cross Country: Our school has separate junior and senior cross country teams, but Mr Grim—my teacher—coaches both and we practice together. Oliver is on the senior team—he is very fast—and I’m on the junior team—I run a respectable 7 minute mile. On practice days, either Zia, Pop, or Mimi—or sometimes all three of them or combinations of them!!—pick the twins up. When there’s a meet, they come to cheer us on. (Being retired, they can center their entire lives around us; phenomenal for us at least.)

The Cell Phones: After the harassment incident, Mimi, Pop, and Zia leaped into the 21st Century with this statement: Oliver and Isabel should carry a cell phone for emergencies. And just like that we were cell-toting teens. When I showed it to my classmates, they were amazed that,number one,I hadn’t begged for it and, number two, it came with no tracking devices and parental  controls. Honestly I’ve been too preoccupied for the former and was ignorant of the latter. It’s not that I’m clueless; it’s that I’m “clued” in to other stuff.

Pop had a few rules: 1. No Pokémon GO in math class. (I think he was joking with this one.) 2. Answer when it’s Your People calling. 3. Check with them before downloading. 4. Don’t show it off. (I wasn’t flaunting it when I told my class about it; it just came out, literally: it fell out of my backpack.)  5. Do good with it, not evil. (I guess this would mean if we witness police brutality we video and broadcast it? But don’t be pulling it out and texting or taping and annoying and hurting and embarrassing? I sense that we need to mull #5 more.) 6. Our People have promised not to call or text us during the school day unless, needs must as I say.

Back to Morning Glory Muffins:

Belle doesn’t even have to heat them up. Straight out of the oven, you guys. Lots of secret ingredients today. Can you figure them out?

I pick out sunflower seeds and line them up to eat later. It looks like Belle’s tossed in some dark chocolate and cranberries (don’t like cranberries). The four of us sip orange juice and sort out the various chips and chunks in an effort to decode the recipe.

I meander down memory lane. ”Orange juice is a mixture of water, sugar, and citric acid,” is what Mom would say.

 I have the twins undivided attention. Mention Mom or Dad and they’re on you with unblinking eyes and quivering chins.

One time, before you were born, we were drinking OJ from those cartons with pictures of missing children on the side? Mom opened her notebook and wrote this: H20 + C12H22O11 + C6H807.

And I write the formula for orange juice on my placemat! The letters and numbers glow. My handwriting is unusually legible. I sense an energy—a presence—that hadn’t been here a few moments before.

Oliver, Sam, and Clyde look away from the equation and stare at me like I’m Harry Houdini.

How’d you do that, Isabel? asks Clyde as he pats my hand and hugs me. I’m his supergirl.

I pluck crumbs off his sweater. I pulled that memory out of a deep lagoon, Clydster.

 I am gobsmacked. How DID I remember this. 

Oliver is watching me carefully. Isabel Scheherazade. This is what you mean about your Mom and Dad sitting in the Way-Back Seat, isn’t it? Your Mom is, like, nearby?

I nod. I don’t want to scare the boys, but they’ve moved on to hugging. Sam is leaning over for a hug from his stool on my other side. He doesn’t like to be left out. He gestures to Oliver, You too, mister.

It’s a stretch for four people on counter stools to hug without an accident happening, so Oliver hops off his stool and gets behind all of us and squeezes. He and I are cheek to cheek and laughing. I like it. The boys squeal. Bella comes over to top off our OJs and check on how we’re doing on the ingredients. The hug lock is over, but I know my cheeks are still pink and I think Oliver is blushing. It’s hard to tell.

So far we have the following ingredients:

Brown sugar, dried raspberries (NOT sour cranberries, that’s why I liked them), coconut flakes, flax seed, cinnamon, shredded Granny Smith apple (that’s the green kind that’s sweet?), shredded carrots (you’ll never frown at a carrot again after eating these), crushed pineapple, applesauce, pecans, vanilla, and baking soda-salt-spelt flour-eggs. Oliver did a ski and bake winter break camp in Vermont before he came to be with Zia. He knows that probably all muffins have some arrangement of the hyphenated list of ingredients

He keeps staring at me like I’ve become a unicorn. Is it the up-close and personal cheek to cheek? Or the up-close and personal Mom mirage?

Bella sends us home with three whole muffins for Our People. She adds the OJ formula to the white board.

See what mean? Palette Cleanser.

Isabel Scheherazade

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#59. Wynton Marsalis plays “I’ve got a nagging feeling” in the sunroom and I think about Arturo’s breakthrough, beaver dams, and the mystery tugging at my mind and heart.

When Arturo looks at me, smiles, and talks, I picture a scene from the Way-back Seat of my memory— back when I lived with Mom and Dad back when, well, back when they lived:

Beavers have dammed the brook that flows through our back lot, causing the yard to flood and water to trickle into our cellar. Not a good thing. I go with Mom or Dad to stand on the dam and pull out sticks. Actually, I stand and teeter and they pull sticks and steady me so I don’t go into the water. Each year, If we get to the dam before the beaver makes it strong and permanent, all we need to do is pull out a few branches, and then the force of the brook disintegrates the dam. And the beaver finds another site. 

Well, that’s what happened with Arturo. The breakthrough was the little book and his determination to tell the story behind the sketches: it’s like his words were dammed up inside him.

Oliver asks him, So, what are you an expert at? Picking books? Drawing?

I look at him like he’s clueless because I already know what Arturo is great at.

Papa.  He points to the smiling Papa. I make him smile; I’m an expert at it.

Oliver tells me later he was going to ask him why Papa was sad, but then the teachers announce, Time to clean up, kids.

I look at Arturo’s first picture, the one with Papa sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. There is something vaguely familiar about this. I can’t put my finger on it though.

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ISABEL who’s got that nagging feeling and also loves Wynton Marsales.

#53. Toad for Tuesday is one of our family’s all time best read alouds: poignant, just enough tension, and a primer on friendship and how it builds. We read it to Arturo.

Arturo is signaling. His teacher says this is Very Significant.

Oliver and I are reading Toad for Tuesday to him. Warton, the toad, has been owl-snatched. He’s a captive in the nest cavity where a calendar on the wall is marked with the owl’s birthday. TUESDAY.  So the task for Warton is to be brave and use his wits before B-day. What’s happens today in the story is that Warton makes tea for himself and the owl and asks if he may call him George–the owl says no one ever calls me anything and sips his tea. So it seems like things might be improving for Warton; but after the tea? Whammo! The owl says don’t think I’m not going to eat you on Tuesday and flies off.

This was my first chapter book; Dad read it to me; I remember wishing the author, Russell Erickson, had turned it into a series. Since then, good news! He’s written more books with the characters of Wharton and his brother Morton. Mimi and Pop are reading them to the twins, and, I admit it, I do my homework nearby so I can hear. Hey, if Oliver can read Ramona and her Mother at his age, I can listen in to a master storyteller.  Toad for Tuesday is a finish-in-two-or-three sittings sort of book (65 pages) and it doesn’t reek of the Early Reader or Books for Beginners type of controlled vocabulary with questions at the end. (Those are dreadful; as a reader I wasn’t damaged by them, but for kids who were struggling? I thought they did the opposite of kindling a love of reading. Really.)

I stop for a minute because it occurs to me that Toad for Tuesday might be too scary for Arturo, even though Sam and Clyde weren’t really scared at the scary parts. They just hugged up to Pop and said keep reading, keep reading!!  

But just in case, I ask, Hey, Arturo, is this too scary?

We think he’ll just peer out at us from under his arms. Remember I said he’d emerged from beneath his desk, but maybe I didn’t include that he keeps his head BURIED in his arms–unless we’re folding books.

So when I ask him this question–wowee!–he looks UP and shakes his head NO.  We have to ask him again to make sure because he doesn’t shake vigorously like a dog who’s just come out of a lake; he just turns his head a tad to the left and a tad to the right. It’s like we’ve been having a conversation near that Civil War soldier at Coe Park, the one next to the canon, and suddenly the statue comes alive, looks down, and waves his arm.

It isn’t talking, but it sure sounds loud.

Isabel Scheherazade 

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#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!! 

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.)

#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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#38. My school (a very out-side-the-box place) has an “inter-grade service” requirement. (In fact, this school is so cool it surprises me that they even use grade-level designations.) Oliver and I team up.

Oliver walks home with the twins and me today. Fall baseball practice was canceled and the two of us need help. We’re having milk and warm brownies in the breakfast nook. Mimi is elbow-deep in the sink, scouring brownie pans.

While I break off the crusty edge pieces, I do a come-over wave to Mimi. MimiI’ll dry later.  I pat the empty space near me in the nook. Come sit. We need mature guidance.

Mature guidance? She chuckles. 

(Then I realize Mimi might be thinking “uh oh, more on explicit lyrics?” She shouldn’t be insecure about handling these grown-up issues with me.  Read her comment to  blog entry #37; it’s SO wise.)  

She fits the last pan on the drying rack and sinks down next to me. What’s up, Isabel?

I tell her about the buddy program. Oliver and I are assigned to this little boy. I look to see if Oliver wants to pitch in, but he and the twins are wolfing down their second brownies.  (They don’t “edge-munch.”) We don’t know if it’s going to work out.

While still chewing, Oliver speaks. (Brownie goo is smeared on his front incisor and canine tooth.) We  think our teachers must have matched Isabel and me deliberately with this little fellow. This sort of pairing is done like this. (Of course he’s read a Pinterest article called “Buddy Programs: Pitfalls and Procedures.”)  The guys who like race cars get little guys who like race cars. The girls who always wear frilly dresses have little girls who have frilly dresses.

Balderdash, I think.

So Isabel and I share this one kid, Arturo.  We’re the only ones who share.

Is it because they had one too many older kids to be mentors?  Mimi asks. Because Isabel registered after they figured out numbers, or something like that?

I answer Mimi. That’s what we thought until we met Arturo.

Mimi! Oliver gulps his milk, swishes it a bit, and swipes his mouth with his kerchief. (The brownie goo is gone.)  Mimi, I think it’s because the teacher knew it would take two smart, exceptional, resourceful, self-starter types.

I smirk, but Mimi nods. Oliver is serious.  Really, he shakes his head. This assignment is difficult!

Why is that? Mimi asks.

He won’t talk, Mimi, I say.

Won’t talk or can’t talk?  Mimi asks.

Won’t, says Oliver.  His teacher said he’s an “elective mute.” That means he’s decided not to talk anymore. 

So, hmmm, says Mimi. Your little buddy–Arturo, right?–something happened to him? A trauma?

ISABEL SCHEHERAZADE (buddy, sister, friend, student, grand-daughter, talker, blogger. And orphan)

PS.   To be continued.  Right now, we’re all going to the twins’ soccer game—even Oliver and Zia. We’ve knit ourselves into one family it seems. I like it: Brother Oliver. We all call Miss Mary “Zia” now too. At the game, Sam and Clyde will make us happy. They race around like swarming bees, sometimes near the ball, sometimes forgetting the object of the game completely. Dear boys. Since meeting poor Arturo, I look at Clyde and Sam with more indulgence or maybe it’s compassion; I’m glad they didn’t “elect to mute”—not that we can understand what they’re saying very well, but at least they’re trying.

While the soccer kids scrum and roll about, I catch Pop up on Arturo.  Does ANYONE have NO problems? I wail.

Pop rubs his chin and shakes his head, Now Isabel, that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

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