I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: learning to do new things with the grandparents who take over bringing up the orphaned kids

#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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#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…?!

isabelcrosslegsmaller

# 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

# 46. My authority figures don’t do “we’ll talk and you’ll listen” smack downs.

(Preface: My authority figures don’t do “we’ll talk and you’ll listen” smack downs; instead they say let’s “learn to talk chicken.” Also: the lasting memories of my murdered parents shouldn’t be just the deadly fact that they were murdered.)

Mimi and Pop steamrolled me over to that round glass-top table in the back corner of Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe, and my anxiety eased as they chatted with Belle about cookies and sandwiches and lattes. But then Pop tells her, Let’s begin with drinks and maybe cookies and sandwiches-to-go later, depending…

Depending? Uh oh.

Then like ice cubes cascading all over because the twins lean too hard on the ice-maker, Pop, Mimi, and I start apologizing.

Me—well, pick your poison—I had lots to apologize for. But, I didn’t expect ANY apologies from Mimi and Pop. Here’s their list:

We should have talked through the Preliminary Hearing with you.

Secrets won’t work for our family.

Of course you were right to confront us about hiding the paper in the bookshelf!

We need to remember how old you are and give you the benefit of the doubt.

Please forgive us. We’ll improve at this, Isabel.

Simple right? Yes. Simple but not easy. They were NOT saying that I should have been allowed to go to the Preliminary Hearing: Not appropriate or necessary, Isabel. However! Pop reassures me, you CAN write Judge Welch a letter. Judges always read and take into account what the victims’ relatives have to say.

I frown as much as is possible for a person to frown; I frown like a Shar-Pei puppy. A letter? Inwardly I yell, Give me a break! You’ve got to be kidding.

Pop nods as if he’s mind-reading and says, You can work on putting your feelings into a letter. That way, IF there is a sentencing hearing, you would have a voice.

I try to switch into my ballistic mode when I hear the word If but I’m chewing a huge white chocolate chip cookie and can’t get any words past all the chips and crumbs. So, I mumble a meek, slightly chippy, Ok.

Then we have an abrupt “scene shift.” I mean, it was seismic.

Pop looks at Mimi as if to signal her to go on stage. She takes a deep, cleansing breath, puts her hands flat on the table to steady herself, and starts talking about Zia and her sisters—of all things.

Seems like a sudden non sequitur, right?

Wrong.

Isabel, you’ve heard some of Zia’s Sister Stories?

Ah, sure? I play along, not knowing where this is going, at all. I remember her story about pulling the clapper out of an old-fashioned, churn ice-cream maker. She and the sisters were testing the doneness of the ice cream. They used long-handled spoons. They began with just little tastes, but kept “testing” and devoured the entire gallon. It was pistachio with shaved chocolate. We laughed so much while she told the story, we forgot all five of them were dead. Zia said she could pick out each one’s different laugh in her memory; she remembered them all taking turns to reach in to the churn with their spoons; and she could still hear the crunch of the pistachios at the bottom of the mixer.

Like an IMAX movie, in fact, says Mimi with another big breath. (What IS this about!!??) Yes. This is so important, Isabel, pay close attention. Zia told me she no longer dwells on the particular “axes”—sicknesses or accidents—that cut her sisters down. She refuses to allow their essence and spirit to be defined by that last thing that happened to each of them. When she recounts a sister tale or does something one of the sisters loved to do, it’s as if the sister is right there with her, emerging from the shadows, a loving shade of sorts. This is how she grapples with the terrible loss of her whole family; it’s her way-forward. It’s why city-dweller Mary revived the family farm where she, now a Zia, and Oliver live.

Thick-witted and full of cookie, I catch a glimmer of why Mimi is telling me this.

Then, we have yet another seeming non sequitur.

Isabel, Pop takes over, you know how you helped me “break” into your Dad’s laptop? I was trying to locate their bank account numbers and tax information? Pop checks to see if I recall. I happened to see one of those“YOU’VE GOT STUFF IN YOUR CART” messages from the bookstore.

I finished the cookie and was working on my latte, so I had enough voice to say, Ah ha?

So, there was a book in the cart. “How to Speak to Chicken” by Melissa Caughey.

Oh, golly. I choke on an almost-sob. I’d forgotten. We were planning to raise chickens! Dad had just moved the old plastic playhouse to the back fence so we could add on to it for the roost. We’d measured and ordered the lumber and wire. Maybe we pre-ordered our baby chicks.

We found those orders in other “check your cart” e-mails. Mimi chuckled. So! We’re doing it! We’re going to work on a project that your Mom and Dad and you and Sam and Clyde were about to do: we’ll raise chickens!

So, dear readers, while I compose a judge letter rife with vengeance, hate and curses, our family will learn to speak chicken. Will it help us focus on something besides Mom and Dad’s last moment on Earth—like I plan to do in the letter, a letter so explicit Judge Welch will see that he must toss the guy in jail and throw away the key? I’ve got my doubts about the chicken project. But I get Mimi and Pop’s logic. They want to aim our minds and hearts at what it was like with all of us before. Before, when Mom and Dad’s beautiful selves lived and loved with us. I don’t know if it will work like it does for Zia, but come to think of it, I already get a rosy glow when I realize Mom and Dad are sitting there in the Way-Back seat of my memory. Maybe I’ll catch them roosting near the chicken house like a Princess Leia hologram in The Last Jedi.

# “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

#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

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

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

I cave.  Okay.

And Pop begins.

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

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

I give a whatever shrug*. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel Scheherazade, tough-girl in training

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

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

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

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

Murdered by this guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel Scheherazade

isabelinchair

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

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

But they don’t.

So I take charge.

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

Here’s the drill:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Isabel Scheherazade, question-asker (finally!!)

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

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