I Am Isabel the Storyteller

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# 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

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

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

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

Like me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right.

Mimi and Pop.

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Isabel Scheherazade, thwarted court interloper who must regain her composure before continuing her story. (And, yes yes, I realize I’m talking elaborately right now, but fancy words keep me from wilting like a daisy in drought.)

#PrincessHerosRedefined. COURT “CAPER” PART TWO. (“Chapter” 41)

Isabel, we need to walk faster. 

 I shift into a power walk

Then Oliver sighs.  Not THAT fast. You don’t want to get to court all sweaty and red-faced.

No sweat, I say.

Oliver doesn’t laugh.

That’s a joke, Oliver. 

Very funny. Ha Ha. You DO know that the problem with sweaty and red-faced is that you’ll look suspicious? He pulls a kerchief out of his pocket. Here, use this. 

Thanks, I pat my forehead dry, and say, Oliver, you’re like a mother to me; you think of everything. 

Yikes. I can’t believe I’ve just uttered a light-hearted comment about mothers.

Oliver stays on topic. What can I say. I plan. So, should I sit in the courthouse courtyard or go to my Ag class at the college? 

“Courthouse Courtyard” seems jokey to me also, and I really want him to wait, but it’s my inner paper bag princess who answers,  I’ll be fine, go to class.

And so he leaves me at the foot of the courthouse steps—which are opposite the Courthouse Courtyard, just for reference.

What constitutes a “princess” is different for me than it is for, say, Mimi. Her princesses depended on Prince Charmings—not that she’s not strong and independent now of course. How could she not: she grew up in the 60’s!  That had to be a great influence—women’s movement, abortion rights, integration.   I’m from the princess era of Mulan, Tiana, and Jasmine, and more recently, Raya (Raya and the Last Dragon—the twins loved it. I needed to watch it with them, even though I’m too old for princess movies. I had to be there with my lap so they could bury their heads and hide their eyes and cover their ears at the scary parts.) These new princesses are warriors, gritty and independent, seekers of trust and unity.

Unlike me at this moment when I am so not being trustworthy or seeking unity.

Next thing I know, I’m taking a big breath and climbing these high, stone steps to the courthouse. I’ve mentioned that I’m awaiting another growth spurt? So, as a result,  I’m still short, and these steps so deep and wide, it’s like climbing Mt. Washington. I would be more comfortable climbing them one at a time, like a little kid does; but I don’t want to call attention to myself.  I keep my eyes on the riser in front of me and consequently bump the butt of the person in front of me, for heavens’ sakes. So much for being carefree, nonchalant, and unsuspicious.

Finally, I’m at the courthouse doors—doors like something from King Arthur or Hogwarts. Multilayers of oak planks held together by iron studs, strengthened and stiffened with iron bands. When Oliver and I did a dry run last week, he observed, They’d be hard to breech. See how the studs are pointed to the front? It’s so the attackers will damage their weapons.

 We laughed merrily. No merry laughter now. And, of course I don’t have weapons. I come in peace. I think, They’re just doors, girl. Put your catapult away. 

I yank open the door with both hands and wait for my cone cells to adapt to the relative darkness. It’s like I’m in that Emily Dickinson poem where I must wait to “grow accustomed to the dark…the bravest grope a little, and sometimes hit a tree, directly in the forehead…but as they learn to see…either darkness alters…or something in the sight adjusts itself to midnight…and life steps almost straight.”

I don’t hit a tree, but I do step straight into a broad-chested policeman who could have been Michael in a Make Way for Ducklings movie.

Excuse me, Miss. By any chance are you Miss Isabel Scheherazade?

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#girlheros and avoidance tactics: Court “Caper” Part 1 (“Chapter” 40)

Oliver points to a curlicue-crowd of “CC”s  fancy-doodled in the margins of my assignment notebook. “CC”?  Court Caper? Isabel. Word choice?

Oliver says he’s a logophile, a word so uncommon my iPad wanted to auto-correct the spelling to “loophole.” Logophiles love words; I wager probably only logophiles KNOW the word logophile!

“Caper” is so wrong for what you’re planning to do: Capers are for picnics and wholesome activities. He taps his pencil and reconsiders.  But maybe you used it as an antiphrasis? Like if I said “Isabel’s a giant of 5 feet 1 inches?” Irony, humor, use of a word that’s the opposite of the generally accepted meaning? Just teasing.

I chose “caper” to keep my fight or flight chemicals in check, but he and I have gone over all this. So in the middle of the page, I scrawl TMSIDK.

Oliver squints at the initials. Ahh ha ha. This is his attempt at sounding like a mildly amused English aristocrat.

TMSIDK stands for “tell me something I don’t know.” (Although, admittedly,  I did NOT know this “antiphrasis” word.)  It’s text speak. For example, AFAIK is “As far as I know” and 4YEO is “For your eyes only.” Shorthand. It surprises me that older people are suspicious of text shorthand. They use abbreviations in their daily life.  For instance, Pop goes to the DIY section of our hardware store—do it yourself. Mimi first reads the FAQ sections when she’s researching a topic—Frequently asked questions.

I digress…where was I?

Maybe it’s an oxymoron. I groan. I’m about to be sneakier and more treacherous than I’ve ever been in my life, Oliver.

Like with all my emancipation stuff. He nods. But, what’s the alternative?  It’s funny: teenagers are supposed to have TROUBLE  holding contradictory ideas in their brains at the same time. Not you! Not me!

We leave off with our homework and start the late afternoon chores of rounding up the animals and tucking them in for the night. It’s easier now that Zia lent the hard-to-handle ram to another sheep farm for a while; not to be too “explicit,” but he’s “in service” as they say. Probably the ram wouldn’t have hurt me, but it’s easier not to be on the lookout for him when I’m in the pastures. I didn’t like having to watch my back for fear of him charging.

I keep distracting myself from the Caper, don’t I.

Want to go over tomorrow’s Caper plan, Isabel? He pumps the water and I ferry the buckets to each stall. I’m still of mind that you should tell Mimi and Pop. I think they’d be impressed with your honesty and passion.

I roll my eyes at this.  The Plan—for the umpteenth time: I wear a dress (no metal belts or buckles or keys that would set off the metal detector and draw attention to me); I tell Mimi the dress is because of school pictures; we meet at the fence and deliver the twins to Miss Honey; we tell her we’re leaving them early so as to meet with Arturo’s teacher; and then we’ll walk out of school without checking in. Mr. Grim will just think I’m sick…or something. 

And tomorrow I’m supposed to start the day at the community college for my farming seminar.  Neither school will miss me. Probably.

The walk from school to the old courthouse is about a mile, all sidewalks. The problem would be if Zia, Mimi, or Pop were out doing errands; but we figured maybe not that early: coffee, crosswords, other early morning chores, stores not opened.

I continue my itinerary: The hearing is at 10:00 in room 13L. Once I get by the metal detectors, I walk along the main corridor until I see an arrow pointing down to a three-step staircase which I take and then go to the right once I’m at the bottom.  There are no trials going on, but there are lots of “short calendars” which means many lawyers will be there with clients which means we’ll have a crowd cover. If I feel watched, I can say, “Hold up Auntie Bea!” This will make it seem that I’m with the group in front of me, or some such.

But, one glitch, Isabel. Oliver carries the last two buckets into the barn. Unfortunately I’ll have to leave you at the door because the judge assigned to the Preliminary Hearing is Judge Welch.  Crazy, huh? It’s the same Judge Welch who did my emancipation hearings; he’d recognize me in a nanosecond. 

When I was little I had Mom and Dad read and re-read Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett and The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch. The Princess finds the dragon, outsmarts him, and rescues the Prince, who wasn’t so charming after all. Treva outwits one troll after another. Both girls are brave, able, stalwart, and bounce back when thwarted, or so it seemed to little me. This is all to say that although my heart clenched when Oliver announces he can’t  go into the courthouse with me, I don’t need him. I’ll channel my inner brave girl book heroines.

Probably.

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#Mamas. Death. Elective Mutes. Hollow-eyed twins. The traumas just keep piling up. Good thing I’ve got a wide bench with this blended family of mine. (“Chapter” 39)

Arturo’s Mama died. That’s why he muted himself, Mimi. 

It’s after the soccer scrum and a supper of sautéed scallops and sandwiches. (And lots of s’s) The sunroom (one more s) is in hubbub: the twins maneuver front loaders, graders, pavers, and an excavator under the nook;  Pop demonstrates to Zia how to use the sharpening steel (it’s a metal rod?) to hone a knife blade; he mutters, a dull knife is an accident waiting to happen; Mimi, Oliver and I hunker down in the breakfast nook to discuss Arturo.

But, the words “Arturo’s Mom died”  turns the hubbub volume to OFF. There was a complete absence of noise like the one that descended right after I knocked the Lladro statue onto the tiled kitchen floor. The twins poke their heads out from under the benches and peer at me with hollow eyes.

Last year, adds Oliver. Cancer.

Mimi says, That is very sad.

Oliver keeps going. The teacher told us that he hasn’t cried or asked for his mother. He just stopped talking.

Tell me what actually happened during your buddy session.

Nothing happened, says Oliver. He makes a zero with his fingers. Nada.

Here’s how it went. I flip to an empty page in my notebook and sketch a desk.  We sit on either side of Arturo.. I lick the tip of my pencil and draw two stick figures on little chairs: Tall Oliver. Short me. Arturo’s underneath. I pencil in a tiny boy crouching on the floor, kneeling, with his head on the seat of his empty chair. Refusing to come out.

Pop, Zia, Mimi, Oliver, and the twins ponder my picture.

Suddenly another detail comes into focus, like a car in a rear view mirror following so closely you can make out the people inside. I erase and re-draw and smudge so that Arturo’s stick hands cup the back of his ears.

Why, Mimi leans in, He’s trying to hear you better.

Oliver sniffs.  I thought he was covering his ears!

Me too. I added hash marks and shading to the sketch. I didn’t realize what he was doing until I started sketching. The sketching made me see what we missed. 

Well, says Pop.  If he listens, then he’ll think. He leans down to pull the twins out from under the bench. If he thinks, at some point he’s just going to have to let his thoughts out. 

Right!  Oliver shrugs his book bag onto his shoulders. Right, Sam and Clyde? 

But the twins stand mute, their eyes round as saucers. More Mamas. More dying. Traumatized all over again?

Hey, little guys…Oliver slips his pack off and grabs their hands. How about one more wild and crazy Win-Dance-Repeat? The three of them binge-watch You-Tubes of the Red Sox outfielders’ post-game routines when they win. Immediately the twins and Oliver bow to each other, fist bump, kneel and roll pretend video cameras, shuffle forward three steps, kick right legs, stick out their left hips, then FREEZE and…do it all over again.

They are cutecutecute. Even Oliver.  So while he  dances a bit of happy back into the twins’ eyes,  I pull picture books out of my book bag.  Mother, Mother, I Need Another,  Where’s My Mommy, and Llama Needs a Mama. 

Mimi, one more thing? I whisper so Clyde and Sam don’t hear.  We checked these out to read to Arturo. But when his teacher saw them, she said “no books with mamas.”

I disagree, says Mimi. I think stories with mothers in them will get him to talk. She speaks softly too.

Or cry, I say.

Cupping HIS ear, Oliver looks over the twins’ heads, tuning in to Mimi.  He narrows his eyes and raises his chin.  He had disagreed with the teacher too.

Cry? Mimi looks at me. But that’s not so bad, is it?

 Isabel Scheherazade (who hasn’t cried since Mom and Dad died, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.)

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

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

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

Mature guidance? She chuckles. 

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

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

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

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

Balderdash, I think.

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

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

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

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

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

Why is that? Mimi asks.

He won’t talk, Mimi, I say.

Won’t talk or can’t talk?  Mimi asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabelcurlyheadfrombackonchair

#37. I’m not a Bald Eagle but I know all about their courtship and mating rituals: lock talons, flip, spin, and twirl through the air; and hopefully unlock before hitting the ground. Thus, it’s possible to know the “facts of life” of a species and not have had first hand knowledge of them.

You and me, sitting in the back of my memory like a honey bee….humhumhum...Oliver’s learning the words to Long Monday. That why all the “humhumhums.”

Or not: Perhaps he thinks the lyrics are too “explicit” for me. Does that make sense, though? I was the one who introduced him to the song, well, “the back of my memory” part of the song. As I recollect, I didn’t actually sing it to him top to bottom. Dad learned “Long Monday” to honor Mr. Prine when he died of cancer last year. Oliver surely would be aware that I, of all people, know the “facts of life” hinted at in the song! (Or, maybe a tad more than hinted at: “We made love in every way love can be made and we made time look like time could never fade…soul to soul, heart to heart and cheek to cheek.” I understand: Oliver is shy of me.

He needn’t be. When Mom and Dad told me we were going to have new babies, after all these years of just me and them, they decided to spell it all out.

Of course (!) years before this, I’d already had the First Period Talk, both in school and with Mom. At school, while the girls met with the health teacher and got ALL the details and diagrams, the boys met with the gym teacher. We got the facts, they played basketball. Go figure. I had a booklet from Girlology (excellent) and another called “You Got IT.” At home, Mom drew pictures and talked. It was the menstruation version of the long division saga, but this time we didn’t have oases and dromedaries. “Your body changes so you can have a baby when you grow up. Getting a place ready for a baby to grow is part of this. This place is called the uterus. Every month the uterus wall gears up. If there’s no baby, this wall comes off and bleeds a little, coming out of your vagina.”

When Mom and Dad got pregnant with Clyde and Sam, they explained all over again.

But scientist Mom and word-master Dad were tongue-tied, this time it being them and not me that was prompting the talktalktalking. Our twins being the end result of all that uterus-wall-gearing-up protocol. Seeing them struggle for how to begin, I reassured them. Don’t be bashful about explaining sexual intercourse, I know all about it already.  

I can do a sidebar here because my poor parents were gobsmacked and speechless. An interlude is fitting.

I’m a reader. My old school’s librarian was a liberal humanist in her 70’s with “carte blanche” as she told me to buy any books she thought kids should“have access to.” I’m eclectic. Take a look at what I have stacked on my bedside table: Forever by Judy Blume (very explicit and filled with the wonder of “the first time.”) ; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (fantasy: girl meets dragon); Sign of the Beaver (Historical fiction); Openly Straight (Rafe is gay but wants to be defined as not only the gay guy. It got the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor…and I love Sid); Charlotte’s Web (Pop read it aloud—of course I’d read it tons before—hoping it would be one of the ties that bind). George by Alex Gino (ironically, I listened to the audio of this while Pop was reading Charlotte’s Web!) In George, George/Melissa is trans and proves this to “their” parent by switching with her best friend to play the role of Charlotte in the class play. Miseducation of Cameron Post (Cameron is sent to conversion camp after coming out as gay.); You Against Me (a complicated plot about love. Unflinching is a good word for how I tried to be as I read it.) The One and Only Ivan (gorilla and elephant hatch plans to escape captivity. Love it. Has a sequel!) These Truths: A History of the United States (The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers need to read Jill LaPore’s history books.)

Fantasy, history, classic kids’ fiction, novels dealing with gender and sex. Some really good. Some mediocre. I thought maybe the sex, vodka, and pot in Lock and Key ended up being a little too intense for even mature me, but it was on the shelf in the library. I laughed and worried my way through Lost It. Also, as a writer myself, I emulate E.B White in his descriptive paragraphs—so I keep rereading Charlotte’s Web. I can still smell the leather harnesses hanging in that barn. As for the gender and sex novels,  I am sure, since I don’t have any first hand experience, I don’t fathom it all; I admit to being hazy on how it all works.

But the haze got blown away by my thorough parents and the book pile with titles like this: Born or Hatched?  Mummy Laid an Egg! Where Did I Come From? (Cartoon drawings worked for Mom and Dad and me). If the Stork Didn’t Bring Me, Where Did I Come From? Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex (Mom and Dad read this to gather courage; I found it in their bedside book stack!!) I remember studying the pictures in the Joe Kaufman book How We are Born, How We Grow, How Our Bodies Work, and How We Learn. There was like a center-fold spread of the actual act. Even though I thought I knew exactly how “IT”was done, I had to position the two-pager sideways and upside down, and slant it this way and that. (Very elementary, but it had great drawings of humans having fun with all that borning, growing, working, and learning.)

However, that was five years ago; I was way younger then. Young and innocent.

So, I smolder and hold back with Sir Isaac as Oliver grips the ram’s halter to pull him into a reinforced three-sided stall. He’s feisty today.  Then Sir Isaac helps me gather the ewe, lambs, calves, and cows and herd them into other enclosures.  

Honestly, If I’m old enough to know about rams and ewes—and where Sam and Clyde came from—you can stop censoring parts of Long Monday, Mr. I’m-so-much-more-grown-up-than-you Oliver.

Isabel Scheherazade

#36. I learn Oliver’s theory for why Mom and Dad emerge regularly in the Way-Back seat of my memory. (BTW: This blog is for all ages, um, maybe not 5-year olds.)

Oliver reads my blog.

Just so you know, Mimi and Pop read it too. I’m not TOTALLY unsupervised.

Caveat.*  I might decide to delay posting my write-up about an “incident” until it’s all over and done with, so to speak; that is, until it’s “public knowledge.” After making this statement, if I were Sherlock Holmes, I’d tap the side of my nose meaning we all know what I mean, wink wink. It’s our little secret. 

My “when to publish it” protocol is akin to a Mom “incident” back when she was an undergrad. She wanted to explore the personal side of Elvis Presley at Graceland Mansion, maybe even see Lisa Marie, his daughter. It was part of her thesis topic. So, with her roommates, she drove the yellow Volkswagen Bug (it was still functioning as our second car when it got wrecked by the murderer) non-stop from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine to Memphis, Tennessee, where they got the first tour, didn’t see Lisa Marie, but did get to sit in the Jungle Room and shuffle through the green shag carpets. They drove back, also non-stop, munching granola bars and swilling coke and coffee. And gushing and giggling about Elvis and his police badge collection. (I guess you need to be there to appreciate this.) Later that year, she told her Dad. That’s what I mean by “delaying.”

Now back to the “Oliver reading my blog” paragraph:  Oliver is a focuser. He concentrates and studies and researches until he gets a complete “read” on ideas. He’s like the laser beam on the new bar-code scanner at our library. (Sam, Clyde and I love it; Pop and Mimi are terrified of it.)  Here’s an example of the usefulness of his lazer-focus.

I’ll set the scene:  We’re working at opposite ends of Sir Isaac. Oliver is combing thistle from his tail and I’m patting lineament onto a sore spot where his bridle rubbed him the wrong way.

Isabel, I’ve been thinking about when you found the feather and sensed that your Dad was trying to tell you something.

(Not sure I should have shared that with him.)  What about it?

Don’t think you’re losing it when this happens.

Losing it? What are you talking about Oliver? He’s hit a sore spot with the words “losing it.” I might need some of Sir Isaac’s lineament, this comment bridles me so much.  (I adore constructing puns. Adore it. I can distract myself this way even in the midst of being sore and bridled.)

Oliver drops another thistle into his leather apron pocket and looks along Sir Isaac’s flank at me. continuing connection with the deceased loved ones is normal. (Honestly, can you believe it? He actually talks like this.) The connection gives solace.

Solace? I kiss Sir Isaac’s nose and check the underside of the new bridle for roughness.

Comfort. So when your Dad gets you to reread that quote about the tower and another time pushes you to hop into Four Square? He’s maintaining a connection to you, giving support from afar. Or maybe he’s not so far. I dunno. 

And that’s something your Wikipedia experts say is not losing it?  I’m skeptical, but listening. I have no mental files on this; no prior knowledge that would help me get a grasp; no schemata, as Mr. Grim likes to say.

Absolutely! Oliver nods sagely, or in a manner he thinks is sage.  You can move forward. You can get on with your new life. But you don’t need to let go of your Mom and Dad. It’s great that they’re sitting in the Way-Back seat of your memory waiting for you to tune in to them. Maybe it’s like you’re tuning a radio, twisting the dial back and forth.  And, PRESTO! Suddenly you get “Hugh and Miriam”instead of the local weather on WAMC. 

I ponder this while he mostly hums Long Monday, the John Prine song that inspired the way-back seat imagery.

I’m grateful to Oliver for his explanation. And, I’m sure Mimi and Pop will talk with me about it, once I “post” this entry and they read it. That’s okay. It might spread some solace on our sore hearts. Like lineament.

Isabel Scheherazade

*I love the word caveat! It comes from the Latin word for “let a person beware.” Oliver and I found out about it by way of researching the preliminary hearing challenge. Oliver wonders if we could file a “Caveat Petition.”  Caveat Petitions are precautionary measures a person can take if she thinks some case related to her is going to be filed in court. Oliver thinks it might be one way for me to insert myself into the Preliminary Hearing and alter the murderer’s pleas.

But you don’t actually know if petitioning is what I should do, Oliver? I ask him.

He shakes his head no. Sounds promising though.

isabelwithlegupwriting.jpg

 

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