I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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Category: young narrator for all ages blog

#7. Belle the Barrister crafts special drinks that help me swallow what’s happened. (I keep trying for metaphor…)

Our apartment is already rented to another family. The twins and I now live full-time and forever with Mimi and Pop. It’s like all of a sudden my closet is full of different clothes and I have no idea what fits and where I’d wear them anyhow. As a stop-gap filler activity until we figure out how we’ll fill the rest of life,  we go to Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe every day. I think of it as Ye Olde Construction Shoppe.

Sometimes I sit at the counter and watch our Barista.  Her name tag says she’s Belle the Barista, but I call her Belle the Builder. I love her.

Belle starts with Mimi’s Hazelnut Coffee: She weighs and grinds the beans and then saturates them with water for a sloooooow drip through a special metal filter into a glass carafe. Once the drip’s set, Belle quickquickquick stirs whole milk, cinnamon, cinnamon coffee syrup, and sugar in a deep metal cup, positions the steam wand from the expresso machine into the mixture, where it whirs away while she starts the twins’ hot chocolate.

She melts chocolate chips in a small, heavy pan and whisks in hot, whole milk, and a shake of chili-cinnamon. She sets the full mugs in front of the twins and swirls whipped cream on top until they shout WHEN!  Belle names the hot chocolate the Clyde and Sam.

Mine is Isabel’s Special Latte.  On our first visit here, Mimi thought age 13 was too young for Lattes. Then I told her Mom and I shared one once a week when I walked over to her lab after practice. Belle listened to me explain its strong pumpkin taste. Hmmmm. Your Mom was substituting pumpkin punch for caffeine kick. I can do that. And like a magician, she steams milk, scoops pumpkin purée, mixes “pumpkin” spices, and finishes it off with a mountain of very thick, from-scratch, whipped cream. It was as if Mom was at her shoulder giving her tips. With every swallow, I’m back in the lab watching Mom put away her slides and notebooks while we sip and chat. 

With fancy neon markers, Belle adds our drinks to the drink white board. In between “White Mellow Mocha” and “Plain Ol’ Coffee with a Kick” is “Clyde ‘N Sam” and “Isabel’s Special Pumpkin Latte.” It makes us feel part of the community when I hear, I’ll have a Clyde ‘ Sam, Bella.

Spooning the whipped cream first, I “construct” this idea: This coffee shop habit is sweet in more ways than one. Belle crafts new, just-for-us drinks. At the same time, we’re crafting new, just-for-us lives. 

ISABEL

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#5. Wherein I explain who the narrator of my own life is…

I, Isabel Scheherazade, am 13-years old. Still a kid, technically; but what I’m writing is not-just-for-kids. Parts of my story is “for mature audiences” as they say. In fact, the movie rating for this memoir of mine wouldn’t be “G” or even “PG.” The reviewers would say it’s “edgy” and maybe give it one of those “parental warnings” for violence and death.

(My old school once tried to ban “A Day No Pigs Will Die.” We protested to the school board; that’s how I know about this stuff.)

My dad was writing a memoir with his high school Freshmen. (He’ll never finish it, BTW.) I asked him, “How do you decide which stories?”

“I write the stories that will still ring a bell in my heart when I’m 99,” he says.

How’s that for a not-really-an-answer answer? But now that I’ll never see him again I get it. My mind and heart throb with my stories. They’re seared into me and making a sound in my heart and mind every minute.

This is what happened. I’m going to write it quick and then throw up.

Mom and Dad were killed.

A guy in a truck ran a stop light; my parents swerved to avoid him and rolled over and over down this steep hill.

They wouldn’t let us see Mom and Dad after the accident. This means that the last time I saw them was about 5 PM. Mimi and Pop (my grandparents) had come over to babysit for date night. I was on our front porch in my PJ’s, electric- tooth brushing while telling Dad that Pop and I were going to play Settlers of Catan.

So, I didn’t even give them a good night kiss.

Since that night, me, Clyde, Sam (they’re twins) and Mimi and Pop sip and gulp from this Huge Cup of Sorrow.

I notice, though, even on the worst days I see OVER the lip of the cup a tiny bit. It’s because I’m trying to write to understand what’s happening. I’m trying to hold myself together by grabbing at words.

Stories jump up and down to get my attention.

I’m like this lady Pop told me about. She thinks someone is trying to poison her, so pretty soon, since she expects it, all her food begins to taste funny. Because I’m on the look-out for stories that will shed light, I find them.  All around me.  Just waiting for me to pick them up.

My memories are organized like our minivan (the one that rolled down the embankment.) Before it got squashed, it had three rows of seats, but, we used this van differently from other families.

I’ve got stories about what’s happening Right This Minute: The front seat memories. They’re full of our life With Mimi and Pop, school, neighbors, every day kinds of stuff. Some big. Some little.

I’ve got stories of Mom and Dad’s car crash: That’s the middle row o seats. But most times it’s like that row is turned down for storage.  In our family we used that middle section for storage because the twins’ huge double stroller didn’t fit in the usual back door storage area.  So all  three of us kids sat in the third row of seats, me in between two car seats full of noisy boys. Tight and gooey.

Back to the middle row. You know how you can press a lever to fold and turn the seat cushions so they’re out of sight? That’s how it is with the crash day memories. Out of sight. Usually.

Then there’s our whole life with Mom and Dad.  Before. It’s like they’re just sitting in the way back seat of my memory, waiting for me to notice them.

So, here goes.  This is the story of our first few months–After.  You’ll see how memories and stories jump out of the way back and into the front.

And sometimes plunk right into the middle.

 

#1. Preface to a murder memoir by Isabel Scheherazade, story catcher and orphan.

A week before he was murdered, Dad was learning Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” on his guitar. First he listened to the song a lot. Then he learned the guitar part. Then he played it while he deliberately talked to me or Mom. Then he listened again.  Then he copied the lyrics and read them over and over while he brushed his teeth. Then he sang along with Bob Dylan on his iPod figuring out which words and syllables had chord changes. Then he sang and strummed and finally said, Listen up, Izzy.

One of the lyrics went like this:

“…something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…”

That is exactly what it’s like for me now. Something is happening, and I don’t know what it is.

And, Dad? Are you  nearby, somehow? How else to explain why I’m hearing “Thin Man” in my mind’s ear? And Listen up, Izzy? in your exact tone of voice?

Is there magic going on?

—Isabel Scheherazade (who’s trying to keep it all together by writing it down in this blog)

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