I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: Write to Capture What’s Happening

#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.

#58. Buddy the Beefalo gave the twins the idea to skip town: Foiled runaway plan is juxtaposed with feverish man hatching eggs. I love slapping two ideas together—3 if you include dear Buddy.

Mimi’s hanging out the clothes. I watch her from the dormer window seat in my bedroom where I’m painting my toenails  black. I read in an old Reader’s Digest that the color black represents authority and assertiveness and black nails announce I mean business! I don’t think I’d be mistaken for a Goth  or a Morticia Addams wannabe; but would that be so bad, I wonder? 

But back to my story: what’s the opposite of black nail polish? The sun-bright memories I have of “helping” Mom at the clothesline: I was the socks expert. She taught me how to stretch and drape each sock over the wooden rods of a little drying rack I thought she’d bought just for me. Suddenly I hear the twins calling to Mimi from behind the Trumpet Vine trellis. I lean out the window to see what that’s about.

‘Bye, Mimi! We’re running away now.  They have backpacks full of comics. I can see this because they haven’t secured the openings. Mimi has two clothespins in her mouth and is arranging their favorite “blankies” on the line. Holding the blankies in place, she takes the clothespins out of her mouth, giving the twins her full attention. 

Running away?

Like Buddy the Beefalo?

Of course! Buddy the Beefalo! Mimi chuckles, waiting for them to reveal more.

Many months ago, Buddy—a cattle/bison hybrid raised for his meat—had been brought to a small, organic meat processing business to be slaughtered. But he escaped and went on the lam all around us, with an occasional, tantalizing sighting at the end of pastures or in meadows in the midst of forest. People left food for him, feeding him throughout the winter, and tried to lure him with an especially pretty cow, that sort of thing. When he began wandering out of the woods onto a major thoroughfare, efforts to capture him increased. I don’t think Sam and Clyde know he’s been captured.

Okay, Sam and Clyde, but first do a little job for me, would you? More clothespins? Under the sink in the mudroom?

They slip their packs off their shoulders and trudge into the mudroom. Mimi probably can see them bend over and drag the clothespin bag out from under the utility sink. They go out onto the side stoop where the clothesline starts and hand the bag to Mimi. The blankies catch their attention. Are they dry?  Sam asks. Clyde looks like he’s checking to see if he has room for blankies in his backpack.

Mimi shakes her head no and then says, Boys? One more little job?  She shakes one of their socks. Could you get me the little wooden drying rack? She smiles down at them from over the clothesline. Her face looks like a full moon peeking over a hill.

The twins drop their packs again and march back inside. They know where to find the little rack.

I wonder where they think they’re running away to. Maybe they’ll walk to the end of our road and go to Ye Old Coffee Shoppe. (They wouldn’t hit much traffic if they did that.) They might sit on the stools and spin around, maybe get their favorite sundaes:  ice cream with no cherry and no hot fudge. Silly kids.

Clyde sets the rack up in the sun next to Mimi.

How will Mimi nix this plan?

Just as they’re about to leave, she says, One more little job? They slip their thumbs through the backpack straps, just to let her know this better be the last job. Could you hang the socks before you go? 

They shrug and say, Okay, Mimi.

First, they pull the sock right side out; then, shake it so the wrinkles smooth; lastly, they drape the sock over the wooden bar so it hangs evenly.  I’m shocked; Mom taught them the little rack, sock-hanging moves too. While they work, Mimi tells them stories, but I can tell they feel tired and hungry. In fact, Sam yawns as Clyde curves the last sock over the rod.

Mimi says, I know! How about this?  Why don’t we go inside and have a little reading time? With a snack maybe?

Hmmmm, Sam says, but after a little reading time and snack it might be too late.

Too late to run away, explains Clyde, just in case Mimi has forgotten.

Mimi puts the empty basket down. Better yet, she says, taking their hands, let’s go to the coffee shop. We can sit at the counter and get sundaes. Your favorite? No cherry? No hot fudge? 

They perk up like puppets on the same string. And maybe you could read some of these?  Clyde pulls an Unca’ Scrooge out of the backpack.

Mimi catches my eye as I lean out from the dormer; we give each other a wink. I hear her telling them how they actually caught Buddy, did you know, and he lives in a sanctuary in Florida. And we live here, says Sam, our sanctuary!

Mimi is a genius. It reminds me of a story Zia told Oliver and me the other day. She likes to watch us from her little back porch while we “work the cattle” at the end of the day. Here’s the story:

Back in 1949 (do the math, Zia is no Spring chicken) Zia was reading a Scientific American article about chickens and eggs. I forget where the hens were, but this farmer’s wife had 50 eggs that needed to be incubated. Her husband was sick with a fever and lay listless in bed. She wrapped each egg and placed them one by one along his entire body. (I also forget how she ensured he wouldn’t roll on them, but needs must, I have a deadline and can’t go over to the farm for this detail!) After a few days, 49 of them hatched and they were able to go to where she’d prepared bedding and a few willing hens to chicksit them.

Zia came down the porch steps and took Sir Isaac from me at the end of her strange story. Mimi, Pop, and I are like that feverish old man: we’re the warmth and security you kids need to get you where you need to go. Needs must! (Zia and I lovelovelove Agatha Christie’s mysteries, where Miss Marple is always and forever saying this phrase.)

So to pound this point home? Mimi’s ruse with the twins was an action example of brooding the eggs with the feverish man…

Cross that out; my readers aren’t numbskulls.

ISABEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nods YES! 

Want to write one, too? An Expert Book?

He nods YES! again.

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

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

And he is a good artist.

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

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

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

He says, Thanks, Oliver.

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

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

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

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

#50. Switching to third person is the memoirist’s gambit for the hard parts; not so easy in real time.

I’m not sure I can tell this next part in first person, so I may switch into third person or some omniscient narrator to give myself objectivity. Or maybe I’ll start with a nature metaphor; never mind switching “person;” I’ll switch species to gain distance:

Unless it’s mating season—when they appear to be drowning each other—Mallards seem calm on the surface, while underneath they’re paddling like crazy. That’s me during my fight with Mimi and Pop about the killer and what law he’s broken.  

Here’s the scene in play format:

Isabel: Mom and Dad are dead because this guy ran the light. They rolled down a hill! Over and over.  (Isabel has a disheveled appearance even though she is speaking with an eerie flat-line voice.)

Mimi: Mr. Smith admits he’s guilty, but not criminally guilty. (Mimi is clutching her hands, perhaps to keep them from grabbing Isabel’s chin again.)

Pop: He wasn’t speeding or drinking or doing drugs. Those are criminal actions. 

Isabel: So how come the police don’t charge him with breaking the “I-killed-people-with-my-truck-but-I’m-not-a-criminal law?”

Pop: It’s called Plea Bargaining. Mr. Smith says he’ll plead guilty to a law that says it’s unlawful to drive CARELESSLY and cause a death.

Isabel: What if the two sides can’t agree on which law he’s broken?  

Pop: Then a trial gets scheduled.

Mimi: But we don’t want a trial. And neither does Mr. Smith.

Isabel: But..but..but..I  DO!!  (Isabel sounds like a car that needs a quart of oil.)

Pop: Why, Isabel?

Isabel: ‘Cause…‘cause…I want to be a WITNESS.  I want to tell the judge how Mr Smith wrecked our lives. 

Mimi slumps.

Pop: You CAN communicate with the court. (Pop talks as if his words were eggs he’s placing on a table with no edges).

Isabel: How? 

Pop: You write a LETTER to the judge and tell him how you feel.

Isabel: And that will make a difference, Pop? M’p! I doubt it.

Pop: You’re wrong, Isabel. Anyone in our family can write to the judge, and what we say could influence the punishment.

Isabel pulls her morning glory muffin top apart while digesting this new morsel of information.

Isabel: Okay. I’ll write a letter.

The it’s-a-play-fugue ends.

Pop and Mimi look at each other and sip their juice. Mimi had gotten up and poured everyone a big glass of orange juice in the midst of our fight. (Juice is good for shock.)

I swipe at the muffin crumbs I’ve spewed around. What a crumby idea.

Is it too bizarre that I can pun even in a moment like this? Maybe I’m trying to ratchet down the tension between me and the only two adults in the world who love me.

–Isabel Scheherazade, who is no longer like a duck; she’s not calm on the surface or paddling like mad—just worn down and still. And, apparently stuck in third person…?!

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# 49. I refuse to be charmed, calmed, and kumbaya-ed by the chicken project, no matter how much I love it. To the guy who murdered my parents I say, “Methinks’t thou art a general offense and every man should beat thee.”

I refuse to be charmed, calmed, and kumbaya-ed by the chicken project, no matter how much I love it. Sorry. To the man who murdered my parents I say, “Methinks’t thou art a general offense and every man should beat thee.  (Like my Dad, I quote Shakespeare to keep myself anchored. “Let grief convert to anger” comes to mind now too.)

It’s the evening of the coop-construction day. Pop and Mimi and I are spread out on the couches in the sunroom. I’m sketching the chicken run plans, Pop’s figuring out what supplies we’ll need, and Mimi’s scanning the morning paper. On our old-timey (1968 vintage) TV trays we’ve got hot spice tea and ginormous Morning Glory Muffins left over from morning, but still full of glory. Papers, drafting pencils, clipboards, laptops, and dishes carpet the couch cushions where we aren’t sitting. It’s precarious, but it works. (We can’t do this when Sam and Clyde are around, for obvious reasons.)

Mr Grim and I discussed the chicken run. He was delighted to help. Who knew that chicken runs are a classic in math! When I described what we were trying to figure out, he pulled open a drawer in his old file cabinet where he stores his ancient lessons, his recent work being on his laptop which is connected to the white board. He rummaged for a while and then pulled out a yellowed lesson plan. He read the problem aloud.  The farmer is putting a new chicken run up against a brick wall. He has 20 feet of wire to put around the run. If he makes a rectangular run, how big an area can he enclose?

He used the classic chicken run lesson with my class. First we considered how we might approach it. Then we broke up in groups and investigated the problem further. He gave each group string to model what we wanted to do. We used the formula area = length X width and applied our knowledge of parabolas. Then we started thinking about equations. We worked on reducing the number of dependent variables to one. For homework everyone was to figure out my chicken problem. 

The plan is to make it 6’ X 10’, with one end up against the coop door which the chickens will get to via one of the ladders. We don’t want to undersize it or “our girls” would fight and get sick. We’re using hardware cloth which has smaller openings than traditional “chicken wire” so as to better protect them from snakes, possums, raccoon, foxes, hawks, coyote, fisher cats, and bobcats. (Yes! We have these carnivores around here!) Maybe we’ll layer regular chicken wire with the hardware cloth. We need guidance on whether or not to lay wire over the top too. But at least we know to make the width no more than four feet. Factoid: A hawk will not land in such an narrow space even if we decide not to make a wire roof.

I’m so into this, I can’t think on anything else, if you get my meaning. Anything.

Pop clears his throat and closes his laptop.  Isabel? On another topic? Mimi folds the paper she hadn’t gotten to this morning.

I sense a pre-arranged scheme here. 

Hmmmm, Pop?  I’ve been multiplying length and widths to get an idea on how much hardware fabric we want. I’ve got figures scribbled on five sheets of chart paper.

Isabel, we have more information about the preliminary hearing.

And then while one part of my brain spots my math mistake, the other part sees my mistake in allowing myself to be chicken-lulled.  I hate that guy so much, I mutter. 

Isabel, let’s call him by his name. Mimi is stern.

What is it, anyhow?

A. Spinoza Smith. Mr. Smith.

Okay, so, what do you know about what happened in Mister Smith’s preliminary hearing?

Pop opens the laptop. The prosecutor e-mailed me a rundown on how it went.

I interrupt. Olivier said that the police would have pictures of the crime scene and measurements and test results and stuff like that.

Pop looks surprised. Yup, a report was given to the judge. What else did Oliver tell you?

The prosecutors will accuse the guy, er, they’ll accuse Mr. SMITH of breaking a specific law.  He didn’t know what law. Maybe “Murder One.”

Pop and Mimi look shocked when I say Murder One. 

Pop studies the e-mail.  Mr. Smith will be prosecuted based on the law that says he caused a death by being criminally negligent with a motor vehicle.

TWO deaths, Pop. Morning glory muffin crumbs fly out of my mouth. I’d say he’s a CRIMINAL all right.

Well, Pop sweeps the crumbs off my math figures and into his hand, athis hearing, the defendant–Mr. Smith–entered a plea. It was his opportunity to say whether HE thinks he’s guilty or innocent of breaking this particular law.

Mimi elaborates: Mr. Smith entered a plea of not guilty.

I snort. That figures.

Pop nods.  And we agree. We don’t think he’s guilty of being criminally negligent either.

What?!!!  How can you two say this! He killed Mom and Dad. They’re DEADI stomp my feet; I can’t jump up because I have How to Talk Chicken, my iPad, the spice tea mug, half a huge muffin top, and the litter of math computations on my lap.

Stop! Mimi holds my chin between her thumb and pointer finger. LISTEN TO US!

This shuts me up. Immediately.

But not because I want to listen.

It’s because the last time anyone held my chin and told me to listen was this summer.  And it was Mom.

-isabel scheherazade who’s remembering another Dad-Shakespeare quote: “Days of absence, sad and dreary, clothed in sorrow’s dark array, days of absence, I am weary; they I love are far away.”

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

# “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog” meets up with # “the world will lose its motion love if I prove false to thee.” Court Caper Part 5. (“Chapter” 44)

Freeze-frame.

As the door clicks shut on the dying caper, instead of life flashing in front of my eyes, three visions sparkle like emeralds in the dust.

Vision One:

When the twins were into board books, a favorite was A is for Activist—an apt title for the library of unapologetic activists such as my parents. Frequently we’d all pile into the van for a women’s march or a pick-up-litter morning or a let’s-help-plant-a-trillion trees project: Environmental justice, civil rights, global warming, LGBTQ rights—my parents were involved in making the world a better place. Waving the stiff pages of A is for Activist aloft, while Sam and Clyde stomped their tiny feet and pumped their chubby arms, I’d chant and dance to stanzas like this: “A is for Activist/Advocate/Abolitionist/Ally. Actively Answering A call to Action. Y is for You. Youth/Your planet/Your rights/Your future/Your truth. Y is for Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes!”  

Pretty cool.

I read it so much, I identified AS an activist; but, truthfully? I was still a kid. Aside from those rallies and VoteForward letter campaigns and door to door efforts, on my own I hadn’t done much, certainly not like Greta Thunberg.  But tons of A is for Activist readings gifted me a soaring, mindless, boundless definition of myself as a do-er. And, it gave me enough umph to attempt the court caper.

Vision Two:

After the I-thought-I-was-an-activist image,  meringue-making seeped into my stream of consciousness.

Some things are hard to learn how to do. Like making meringue. Unless you know how, meringues flop. Wait until the egg whites have reached the soft peak stage? Don’t drip yolk in. Don’t use a wet or dirty bowl. Use the right sugar? Wrong whisk? When to add the sugar and beat? Use a electric mixer at a lower speed?  Did I beat too quickly? How did those large air bubbles get there!

I think the Court Caper was doomed from the beginning because I didn’t know what I was doing and what I would do when I got to where I didn’t know what I was doing. My activist persona tractored me up and out of school and emboldened me to lie and sneak. But, ill informed,  I flopped.

Vision Three: (From the Way-Back seat of my memory.)

When my parents got married, they had Dad’s dog, Dusty. Dusty was part beagle and part barker. At the end—he was 17–and this happened when I was four, so I remember it pretty well–at the end, he had this neck problem; his head hung. I had to lie on the floor to talk to him. I loved that dog. I used to sing him the Elvis song “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog” but I’d change the “hound” to “hang.”  Well, anyway, right now, in the courthouse with Mimi and Pop, I’m Doing the Dusty as Mom used to call it. Hanging my head.

End freeze-frame.

The sight of Mimi and Pop’s faces deflates me like one of my merengues. I’m ashamed. That’s the word for it. I am really, really ashamed. And worried. Worried that Mimi and Pop won’t trust me. Or love me.

So, what happens next, you ask. Am I grounded? Punished? Fitted for electronic ankle bracelets?  Sent to the Home for Little Wanderers?

Nope.

First off: They hug me. And Pop channels his inner Ralph Stanley and hum-sings: The storms are on the ocean; the heavens may cease to be; this world may lose its motion love, if we prove false to thee.

Good thing I’m in this Mimi-Pop sandwich because I go all weightless and light-headed when I remember Dad and Mom harmonizing the first part of this song: I’m going away to leave you, love, I’m going away for a while; but I’ll return to you some time if I go 10,000 miles.

O.K. Pop clears his throat for action.  Before we get started on the scolding and such, Isabel, you need to know that we’ll always love you. He’s got his palms on my shoulders, maybe to give me ballast.

No matter, adds Mimi, as she straightens up and pats my arms. No matter what.

I believe them–Oliver’s already told me it’s called unconditional love; he feels it all the time with his Zia and Pop and Mimi. Oliver’s theory is that Mimi and Pop weren’t ready to take on the rearing of  me and Clyde and Sam, like their parenting skills had rusted. He estimated that they were in Phase One of Adjusting to Life with Kids Again. (He, of course, is an expert having watched a few films with titles like: Surrounded with Love: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and The Face of Kinship Care.)

If he’s right, then this moment is the start of Phase Two.

–Isabel Scheherazade who’s “doing the Dusty”

#End of the Road: Does this breakup song describe where I’m at with Mimi and Pop? Court Caper Part 4 (“Chapter” 43)

When I spy them sitting there, dear old things, I try a feint. Like in football? I fake a run to the right, then twirl around to the left, and attempt to jump behind the Marshall who isn’t Michael the Policeman. Dad taught me about feinting: the player with momentum is always faster than the defending player’s stop and start.

Unfortunately, my feint failed.  Not-Michael grabs me. He and Pop give each other the Man-Nod.

Man-Nods don’t come with any verbal exchange. It’s a gesture that communicates.  It’s possible that in caveman times the downward nod protected the throat from fangs, but, in modern times, the nod allows two authorities, Pop and the Marshall, to acknowledge each other with neither one needing to assert himself. The deed is done. Ok to back off.

It might even be an easy way to say “sup,” Oliver informs me later on. But I doubt that Pop has ever said “sup” to anyone in his life, so this is probably just a polite gesture and may not have anything to do with “diffusion of evolutionary tension for the alpha males.” (More Oliver-sourced information.  He apparently knows all about Man-Nodding, being a man and all.)

But, I’ve digressed.

The Marshall lets me go and backs out of the little room—really just an alcove with a half-way-up door. I hear the door click shut behind me.

For what seemed like hours but was only a few seconds, we three stand and look at each other. It seems like they’re trying to figure out how to start. Or even if we can start. I imagine they’re thinking, How can we deal with a delinquent?  We’ll have to give her back.

I answer back in my thoughts, But there’s no one to give me back to!! 

Isabel Scheherazade, failed court caperer whose future is unclearcropped-isabelcrossleg2.jpg

#The Security Footprint. I’m apprehended. Court Caper Part 3. (“Chapter” 42)

Michael the Policeman is actually a Marshall and he’s going to herd me, not Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Quack, and Pack—you know, the adorable, innocent ducklings that Mrs Mallard was trying waddle across Mount Vernon Street?  Michael crossed them to safety. Not me.

I’m at the perfect height for a terrifying look at his utility belt—called a “duty rig” in police procedurals: A mallet-flashlight that could be also a cudgel, a Taser, baton, handcuffs, pepper spray, and all sorts of other hooks, and devices to stun and stop Bad Guys.

Like me.

Despite the tight spot I’m in, I take a second to marvel that until this very moment, I’ve only seen belts like this on Batman: pouches, cylindrical cartridges, grappling hooks, bolas, cryptographic sequencer, miniature camera, recorder, and of course Batman’s supply of batarangs.  Also I wonder if this is what it means to “gird your loins?” (Anatomically imprecise, but he’s girded that’s for sure.)

On TV you know how you see the police tilt their heads and muttermutter into their collar tip? That’s exactly what my Marshall does.  He whispers, Subject is here. He listens and says, Roger.

I snap out of my fugue (a state where I’ve mentally meandered away from my hot mess of a predicament) and crank up bravado. I’m Isabel, Marshall. Is there a problem, sir?

He looks at me with pity. Pity! He doesn’t answer my question. Please come with me, Isabel.  He turns, and I follow him to a little room in the front hallway.

I don’t even get to go through the metal detectors.

How does he know the Scheherazade part of my name? He even pronounced it correctly. I keep pumping out irrelevant and immaterial thoughts. Then it’s like I hit an invisible wall; the shock is so immobilizing.

Seated in two antique oak banker-type armchairs—the kind you see in movies of old courthouses is—can you guess?

Right.

Mimi and Pop.

cropped-isabelcrosslegsmaller2-e1358962249154.jpg

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.)

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