I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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#71 I, Isabel Scheherazade, leader of the wide-awake life, who writes things down so I can catch them to think about later, Remember Something Mom Always Said to Me. Sorry for the caps, but it shows emphasis. (Hey, I’m “in charge of this blog” as Pop says to me.)


Isabel, come see! You’re going to love this! Mom was always finding something in nature that she was sure I didn’t want to miss. Most of the time she was right.

Not always.

Like the time Mr. Cardinalas Mom called him, was wooing Mrs. Cardinal with bugs and sunflower seed. I mean, it was interesting, just not so interesting that I wanted to sit still for a ton of time to see the courtship unfold.

But do you know?  I can still feel her calling out to me. Not the actual words–just the THUMP of the words.

Think about the rhythm a poem has.

If “ISABEL, come see! You’re going to LOVE THIS!” were a poem, it would have 10 or 11 syllables or parts. So what I feel–a lot–is this vibration with the first three syllables and the last two. It’s like they’re accented or whatever it’s called in poetry.

What happens when I feel these vibes?

I look around for something I might be missing.

ISABEL (I guess you’d say this was a story from the Way-Back-Seat-of-My-Memories. A mini story with a major impact.)


#70 I, Isabel Scheherazade give an update on “The Olivia Situation” for what it’s worth which I think isn’t much; what do I know. Well, I DO know about the DEATH of your parents. Hmmmm. Does that make me an expert on not having parents due to divorce? I know. I know. Parents get all huffy when someone says a kid of divorce doesn’t have parents. But you know what I mean. They’re not UNDERFOOT all the time, for, for I guess when you need them. But Olivia doesn’t have a Pop and Mimi AT HAND to be the safety net like in a circus. (Actually? Actually they’re WAY better than just a safety net.)

Olivia’s parents are splitting up immediately. They’re going to try the two-house solution. It’s called “bird-nesting”  says Robert, the counselor.

This is how it will work:

Olivia stays put, and every two weeks one parent will move in, and the other will leave. They’re even going to have the parents share an apartment on their Off Weeks. So, when her Mom is with Olivia, her Dad will be in the apartment. When Dad is with Olivia, Mom will be in the apartment.

Personally, I can’t IMAGINE that this will work out since it sounds like they’ll need to be coordinating and stuff. Like what if the Mom uses up all the milk and doesn’t buy more, and the Dad doesn’t have milk the next morning for his cereal?

Well, anyway, they do agree that they can’t ruin Olivia’s life by scaring her to death. That’s progress. I think.

But, this story isn’t over; I’m sure of that.

ISABEL (or you could call me Mr. Worsley)


#69 I, Isabel Scheherazade think this night has been unruly (another favorite Dad/Shakespeare quote), and I can see that our Olivia is going to need a navigator of the Worsley sort. Like us.

I can’t stand it there anymore, Mr. Pop.

I put my arm around her. At your house, you mean?   I know what this is about. The fighting?

She shivers and sobs. They just shout, and tonight they’re throwing things.

At each other? 

I don’t know, Mr.Pop, but I’m hearing the crashes, and Mom’s screaming, and Dad’s yelling. 

Do they know you’re here? Didn’t they see you leave the house?

They don’t even remember I’m alive, Mimi!

 Olivia gets her crafty Cam Jansen-Nancy Drew look.

You climbed out your window and then did that apple tree thing. Right? I am very impressed with this girl.

Right. For a second Olivia smiles.  Worked great. 

Pop is frowning. Olivia sees this.  Don’t make me go back. I can’t! Not tonight! 

Pop and Mimi look at each other.  Pop says, I’ll call and tell them you’re here, that you’re going to stay the night, and that you’ll go to school with Isabel tomorrow.

That’ll help, I say. But I think, Not much.

Pop picks up his iPhone and goes out of the kitchen to talk.

Olivia turns to Mimi. You’ve heard them fighting, right?  Mimi nods.

I nod. We’ve all heard it, especially since the start of school, but not for most of the summer when we first came. Were they getting along better then? 

They felt sorry for you guys. What happened to your Mom and Dad? It made them look at each other differently.   At least that’s what they said.  They started therapy. That’s when I got my own counselor, that Robert guy. 

Olivia likes Robert. At least now she knows this isn’t her fault and stuff like that.

Then they quit it.  And every night, if they’re home together, it’s like…kaboom!

Mimi hugs Olivia.

Pop comes back, gripping the phone, and says, All set, Olivia. So, best go to bed, you two. Morning’s coming.


So, there she is, over in the corner under the slanting wall. It’s funny.  My bedroom used to be an attic room, and it must have been dark and stuffy. But Pop put this dormer in when Dad was little. It juts out from the roof and lets in light and air. It’s like a nest for me. Like it must seem for Olivia now.

Her parents and their fighting have put her out on the open ocean. Like Ernest.

It could be we’re gonna have to be her Mr. Worsley.



#68 I, Isabel Scheherazade tell of Olivia’s late-night visit and how an unruly night commences and how our house becomes like Whale Island was for Shakelton and Worsley.

It’s a school night, but I can’t sleep.

Olivia’s on the inflatable bed under the sloping wall near my dormer window.  Moonlight covers her like a blanket.  She’s breathing in and out, in and out. Steady. So she must’ve stopped crying.

An hour ago my family and I were in bed when I hear taptaptap. I get Mimi and Pop, and we peer over the front stair railing to the front door.

It’s Olivia! Her face is pressed against the skinny window on the side of the door.

Pop rushes to let her in.

She’s dressed like a burglar–all in black: stocking cap pulled over her hair, braids piled into the cap so you can’t see the red, gym bag in one hand and her backpack loaded with books in the other.

She looks up at Pop and cries out, I’m lost and alone!  And then she crumples to the rug and starts sobbing.

This is one sad thing, I can tell you. Mimi and I race downstairs, and we kneel around her, patpatting and shooshing. After a while, she quiets down.

Mimi herds us away from the front door and into the sunroom. (Moon room would be a better name for tonight. It’s that bright.)

Pop mixes Ovaltine with milk. Here, drink this. (Ovaltine is our family’s crisis drink.) 

We all watch while she gulps it. She puts the mug down and looks at us.

Pop clears his throat. So. Olivia. What’s happening?


(I’ll finish this tomorrow, but Dad used to quote Shakespeare a lot and ’twas a rough night is a good last line for now.)





#67 I, Isabel Scheherazade have Robert Frost in my head even though it doesn’t fit exactly (or maybe at all) but it’s residing heart and brain-side even tho: “I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” (It’s the “made all the difference” that’s ringing a bell in me.)

 I pretend I’m lurching on the deck with my sextant. If he had been just a LITTLE bit off?  I start to fall and catch myself (and my imaginary navigating tool). They would have been hundreds of miles away in this huge sea with no one around to rescue them.

Hmmmm, Olivia frowns and taps her front tooth with her pencil. She eyes me like she’s trying to see around the corner of my mind.  This isn’t about Ernest versus Mr. Worsley, is it? It’s something else, I bet.

(Olivia talks like her family counselor sometimes; but I’m not dissing it. Having someone really listen to you? Like Olivia was for me? It helps you get a handle on stuff.)

It’s not about Ernest and Mr. Worlsey? I say. It’s about not being even a little off, you think? 

Olivia nods. Like, you know…

Like for my parents.


So, we don’t change heroes after all.  We get busy piling up the books and checking spelling, drawing pictures, and outlining them in black.

That night after Olivia leaves and we’ve done all our supper, stories, and go-to-bed stuff, I look out my window. The moon is fogged in. Just like the night of Mom and Dad’s accident. The visibility was bad that night. The police said if they’d gotten to the intersection just a second later or a second earlier they would have missed Mr. Smith’s truck.

Just a few seconds. Made all the difference.

Like for Ernest and Mr. Worlsey.

Only Ernest and Mr.Worsley survived.



#66 I, Isabel Scheherazade wish I’d invented the there’s-an-elephant-in-the-room phrase because there’s a HUGE elephant in the room at our house. It’s the Big Reveal that the Killer and Arturo’s Papa are one and the same. We’re all digesting this and Doing Other Stuff while we do. Is it a coincidence that suddenly I have trouble agreeing on who’s the hero in my hero project with Olivia?

Olivia and I sit in the breakfast nook mulling the final draft of our Hero Project.

How’s this for a header? Olivia clears her throat, “We were stuck like an almond in a chocolate bar.”

Cute, I say, but something’s tugging at my mind and heart like a fly buzzing against a screen. I put my pencil down. Olivia?  Ernest isn’t the right hero.

We started calling Mr. Ernest Shakelton “Ernest” after about the fifth book we read about him. Here’s his story:

On an expedition to the Antarctic he gets his ship, the Endurance, stuck and crushed in the ice. So, he fixes the lifeboat: Raises the sides, covers it with canvas, and fills the seams with oil paint and seal’s blood. He leaves most of the crew on Elephant Island and heads for this other island, 700 miles away. It’s a whaling station; he knows he can get help there.

Finding this place is like finding a needle in a haystack. Mr. Worsley, the navigator, uses the stars and the sun to keep the boat headed North.  Sailing in the winter means freezing gales and water that freezes at ten miles an hour.  It’s awful.

Whaddya mean, Iz? We’re almost finished here! We just need a title.

No. If you sail 700 miles in stormy seas, it’s the NAVIGATING that gets you where you want to go.  It’s the navigator who’s the hero. Mr. Worsley.

So. We give him credit too. Olivia shuffles our report and points. We’ve got something here about Mr. Worsley and how hard it was for him to find the latitude and longitude with his sextant. She clears her throat.  “Mr. Worsley needed the sun to get a reading, and most of the time it was covered with clouds.”

Part of me knows we did give Mr. Worsley credit, but I feel I need to keep talking to push my thinking out of the fog. Olivia, hear me out on this, will you? 

I take the report, skim down the page, and find the place I want. “Getting the sighting was just the first step. He had to go down below.”

Olivia. Remember?  It’s flooded and stuffed with shivering crew members. Always tilting and tipping?

I continue reading.  “He had to go below and use trigonometry and nautical tables to pinpoint JUST where they were. If he were the least little bit off, all was lost.”

Again, the fly-buzzing-brain-heart-tugging thing happens. I stare into the middle distance, and Olivia stares at me staring.

More soon. First Mimi needs me to set the nook for supper.




#65 I, Isabel Scheherazade, after a month off due to shock and school work, reveal something that puts the moment in momentous.

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpgIsabel, what’s Arturo’s last name?  Pop asks.

It’s like a phone’s ringing in an empty house. I wrack my brain: The first grade desk tags just say first names. When we put his name on the title pages we write “written and illustrated by Arturo.”

I guess I don’t know, I say. Why?

Pop holds the phone out to me. Call Olivia and see if she knows, would you?

I’m thinking “strange doings here” while I punch in Olivia’s number. She has her own iPhone–can you believe it, ten years old with her own iPhone.  She picks up on the first ring.

Hi Izzy, she says before I can tell her who I am. She’s got caller-ID, too.

I listen while she says something about the math homework being easy, and then I say, Olivia–short question–what’s Arturo’s last name?

 I wait for a tiny bit as she thinks, and then she tells me.

I say, Thanks. See you!  and hand the phone back to Pop. She says his last name is Jones or Smith. 

Mimi takes a deep breath. Pop sinks back against the cushions.

What? What is it? What’s the problem! I look back and forth at the two of them.

Pop says, It’s not a problem, really, Isabel. He shakes his head like he can’t believe something.  Isabel, Arturo’s name is Arturo Smith. His father is–

But he doesn’t have to tell me. All of a sudden, the ringing phone gets picked up.

The Papa. The wonderful, dear, kind Papa, the one who lost his beautiful wife and has two jobs and comes home covered in white dust–another one of Arturo’s books was all about his dusty Dad, the sheet-rocker.  This sweet man who reads to Arturo and hugs him and plays Legos with him…

This Papa is MR. SMITH, the guy who killed my parents.

The guy I hate.


#64 I, Isabel Scheherazade, show Arturo’s little book to Mimi and Pop and they go silent on me.

So, I take the carnival little book home, and we all read it.  Mimi and Pop get more and more quiet as they read and reread the little book. Then they sit back and do that thing where they talk to each other without using words.

(Olivia says this silent conversation trick is something that happens when you’ve been married to the same person for 40 years. She learned about it on the soaps.  I agree that it’s very magical, and just a little spooky; but Olivia’s wrong, I tell her. It doesn’t take 40 years. I used to see Mom and Dad do it all the time. Olivia actually gets a little sad when I tell her that. Well, MY Mom and Dad NEVER do it, she says.)

Hey! I look back and forth at Mimi and Pop. What’s up, you guys?

Mimi turns to the twins. Sam and Clyde are ready for bed except for their bedtime books. Sam and Clyde? Find your socks and underwear for tomorrow, and we’ll be up for stories in a few minutes. 

They want to stick around, but Pop says, Go now, boyos. Obey Mimi.

They go upstairs, and I turn to Mimi and Pop.  What’s happening? I can tell it’s serious.

So serious I can’t do it all in one blog piece.

just call me unsettled and shocked, ISABEL SCHEHERAZADE


#63 I, Isabel Scheherazade, have exciting news about Arturo’s Papa, but as I finish this blog entry (I always do the titles after I figure out what I’m going to say in the blog.) again my mind and heart are sending signals to each other that unsettle me, as Mimi likes to call it. Unsettle.


Big News! Arturo’s Papa is going to join a carnival!

I’ve never known anybody–ANYBODY–who’s been in a circus or carnival.

Here’s how he told us the news. Arturo talks while he draws.

Now, the first page is still the same–which puzzles me a little because why is Papa still doing that sit-at-the-kitchen-table-with-my-head-in-my-hands thing when he’s got a chance to be in a carnival?

I would ADORE being in a carnival.

I’m also puzzled why Arturo can’t go with him. He has to stay with Zia, whom he loves, but, I mean, she’s just learning English. Of course, Arturo can speak Italian pretty well now, but still, going with Papa would be awesome.

Back to Arturo’s book.

After the head-in-hands bit, Papa goes and sits with Arturo while he builds Legos.

This is another thing Papa is so great about. He just gets on the floor and plays with him–for hours. Far longer than even Dad or Mom would play on the floor with me, and way longer than Mimi and Pop, that’s for sure. It’s even hard for them to get DOWN on the floor.  Olivia says she doesn’t think her parents Ever sat on the floor and played with her. Poor Olivia. I think she wishes Papa could be her father.

Then Papa tells Arturo that he might be going away for a while to be in a carnival. He even drew some carnival pictures for Arturo, who brings them to school and folds and tapes them into his little book. One picture shows him putting up tents with the help of elephants. In another picture, he’s taming a lion. There’s even a picture of  Papa sleeping in a train while the carnival goes from one town to another.

Olivia asks him if the carnival will come to the fair grounds here in town. Arturo frowns and says, I asked Papa, but he said that the carnival is one that’s in another country.

Like Italy? I ask. I’m trying to figure this out.

Arturo brightens back up and says, Maybe! 

Arturo’s carnival book is one of the best ones yet. I ask him if I can bring it home with me to show Mimi and Pop.

He’s very proud for me to do this.

–ISABEL who can’t wait to show Mimi and Pop


#62 I, Isabel Scheherazade have a way-back-seat memory about beaver dams that remind me of what’s happening with our Arturo and I have a pull at my mind and heart about the way he draws his Dad. There’s something my mind is trying to tell my heart or vice versa. Oh well, stuff’s improving at my end.

When Arturo looks at me, smiles, and talks–for a split second–I get this flash of a Way Back Seat memory of when I lived with Mom and Dad back when, well, back when they lived.

We used to get these beavers.

They dammed the brook that flowed through our back lot. Then the yard floods and starts to trickle into our cellar. Not a good thing. I go with Mom or Dad to stand on the dam and pull out sticks. If we get there 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.

Well, that’s what happens with Arturo. The little book, his taking the pencil and sketching, telling a story with pictures and speaking the words to “read” the book and finally saying thanks–all that stuff broke the dam.

He Just Keeps Talking, like he had the words dammed up inside him.

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

I look at her like she’s clueless because I already know what Arturo is great at.

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

Olivia tells me later she was going to ask him why Papa was sad, but then our teacher announces, 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 awfully familiar about this. I can’t put my finger on it though.


ISABEL who feels like some good stuff is happening

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