To Make the Circle Whole

This is a piece of fiction I have always wanted to write. I have written bits of it as plots in other stories and bits of interactive fiction. I want the whole story from beginning to end (???) in one place. That is why I am setting up this blog. This blog now has an archives. It is here, but please use the navigation table. Blogs aren't all that well suited for fiction. Live and learn.

Then get ready to for a wild ride. The place is Columbus, Georgia on the border of Alabama and along the banks of the Chattahoochee. The time is approximately a hundred years in the future, but it is possible to lose your way through history, and history after all is just stories told in a way to help the teller of the tale make whole the circle of what is happeing to them. So it is with this tale. Scroll down and read on....

Eileen H. Kramer

Navigating the Circle

The story starts here. Chapters 1 through 8 Chapters 9 through 14
Chapters 15 and 16 Chapters 17 through 20 Please email the author.
Chapters 21 and 24 Chapters 25 through 29 Chapters 30 through 35
Chapters 36 through ??

To return to Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return to the main page at please click on the link.

Chapter 14 -- The Green House and the Killer of Dreams

I begin before the sun rises. The moon hangs low in a lightening sky outside. Already I have the big wooden door open and moonlight dapples the derelict kitchen floor. I check the programs for my designs and begin uploading them to the main server in Atlanta. I cable the stick and check the connection. The stick is warm in my hands. It is several times as wide as a broom stick and a flattened four or five inches in diameter in the center. It whirrs quietly showing a replica of the indoor computer sccreen which is a touch screen. I carry the stick into the yard and from there into the street trailing cable because sticking a whole house takes power.

I aim the stick, check the uploads and begin to activate the process. I am sticking the house from the inside out so at first there are no visible changes, but the lights come on anyway. A big sticking awakens sensitive sleepers. Reality is being torn up and sewn in new patterns. When I stick the outside of the house and the yard and garden there are no bright lights or loud noises but I hear the porch doors open and the footsteps behind me. There are about twenty people in the street by the time I am done and from the other side of the park rises a pink blush of cold sun that will warm itself as the day progresses.

In the yard, cacti grow in raised beds. There is a barrel cactus on the door that almost wants to be patted, the cactus that is. There are zinnias and sunflowers in the garden. There is no more ugly fence. The house which was beige with chocolate brown trim is now a handsome shade of rich jade green with white trim. The kitchen floor is faux pale green marble tile and there is a big blonde table with extensions and leaves. In the pantry, a small butt end of rope hangs. The study has rainbow striped duck cloth furniture and cheery yellow walls. The unused parlor is now part of the study and there is a big table in there.

The neighbors poke their way into the newly sticked home taking it in. Several want to go upstairs and I let them. I'll be sleeping in Peter's old room now. There is a flowered bed spread in dark green, and purple and gold on the queen sized bed and light green wicker furniture that harmonizes with the sea green walls. "It's pretty," someone says. Neighbors thump down the stairs.

Frederick lets himself into the kitchen in the midst of this visiting. "Green house," he says. "Big green house. I always wanted to live in a green house."

"It beats a beige house," I counter. "Want some help in getting these bums out of here?&qot; he asks in a whisper. I nod. Frederick does the shoeing and I put on tea. I have put away the stick already so I set the morning's print project to go. Frederick watches the card stock spew from the printer while the kettle heats. He folds his arms. "Labels," he says. "Two sided labels. Printer jammers," I answer.

"What are they for?"

"The taking in ten days. I have to hold two parents' meetings and two children's meetings. I'm working."

"I'll be working in two weeks," Frederick reminds me. I pour the tea and go to flip over the papers. The printer jams and I have to print off two extra sheets to get enough. I'm glad when the job is over. Frederick looks bored in the kitchen. I close the door between the kitchen and the study. "Excuse me," says Frederick pulling it open again. "This is confidential," I inform Frederick closing the door again.

This time the door stays closed. I put regular paper into the printer and realize I should turn the air conditioning on. I feel sweaty and scaird as I begin to go over house budgets. Laure's Silver Circle is on budget. Key and White Star, the neighborhood's two most prestigious houses are just slightly over. Taffie has a small problem. Sccilla is an excellent manager. Gloria to her credit is also within budget, but Mara. I swallow. I had not excpected her to be this deeply in the hole. I feel an odd sickening sensation. I print off the report, fold it, and carry it up to the bedroom where I hide it in a dresser drawer.

I open the door between the kitchen and the study and tell Frederick, I am going upstairs to dress. I put on a dark blue skirt and a pale yellow sport shirt that used to be Peter's. I don't care if I look good. The skirt has a pocket and I hide Mara's report in there.

"I have to run an errand and it's confidential," I tell Frederick who has been waiting for me patiently as I've gone about my morning business. "Can I come with you?" he asks.

I glance at him. "This is one heck of a way to spend your vacation isn't it?" I ask.

"You shouldn't be alone," Frederick answers.

"There's things you're simply not going to see," I say. Frederick does not answer. If Roxanne has sent him to spy and I'm beginning to suspect that, he is one of the kindest and most tolerable spies around.

That is what I think as Frederick and I walk up toward Mara's house. People's House is its official name, a name with no imagination. At least the place has a name, I think. Frederick and I say nothing. Light conversation feels futile.

Frederick does not have to wait for me but insists on sitting on the curb stone as I go inside Mara's. I see Frederick's back and think of him as a little boy comparing toys from takings.

I knock on Mara's door. Mara greets me cordially. Her fat round face smiles. She has the gift of prophesy fulfilled. I wish I knew what else she knew but I am in no position to learn it. I ask if she has an office. I can smell the remains of breakfast and the place is crawling with kids with local placements and too much time on their hands. This place is exactly as I remenber it and that is the scarey part.

Mara has a small office off the kitchen. I use her cluttered desk to spread out her confidential budget report. I see her pasty smile wither. "Peter and I had an understanding," she begins.

"Peter died," I answer.

"Yes, but there are parents."

"I don't care."

"You wouldn't. Kohana, can't you put that behind you."

"No. Mara, your house is on austerity as of right now. You will not be taking in any new members. You may keep all but one of those you have. You will terminate your contract with Community Pantry."

"Kohana, nobody cooks from scratch...."

"I will get you a steward to help in the kitchen. You'll pay him or her in room and board and swap one of your members on a one for one basis so you can have a steward."

"You mean you'll send one of my kids inside?"

I nod. "No more special treatment, Mara."

"For such a bright girl, you're a little fool," Mara snarls back at me.

"No you're the fool if you bit the hand that fed you. You knew who was second in command."

"And what makes you think it was me...."

"You're the only one six months to three years in default. I ran repayment trajectories. If you're inside you can lose a house for that."

"I'm not inside. I help parents."

"And what about the kids...."

"I help them too."

"You kill their dreams. You're the last stop, the dead end, the point where parents give up and parents give up long before their children do."

"And what do you know about parents?"

"I have two of them," I answer and there it stays. I feel light headed as I emerge into the sunshine of a hot high summer day in western Georgia. Frederick is still waiting for me. My discussions with Mara were confidential and confidential they stay. "I have an interesting afternoon planned. Ever been inside and met councilors?" I ask Frederick. "I never had Leadership Training" he answers. "Well you'll get a little bit from me," I quip.

I am thinking of Mara though. She is right. Unless she had some sort of dispute with Peter that I knew nothing about, she could not have been the one. She had too much to lose and knew it. Mara is not stupid, just complacent and....I bite back tears. I'm still not all there and that is a very bad thing.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Monday, July 28, 2003.

Chapter 13 -- Angel

Frederick offers to drive his big rig as he jokingly calls it to the charity center with the boxes of Peter's clothes, the ones I will not be wearing. I sit perched on the high passenger seat. Frederick says nothing. Iris went home after breakfast. She needs to help Lacie in the kitchen at Sui Generis since Kabira really hasn't learned to cook yet, and Frederick seems more than willing to help. He says he has several weeks until Orientation in human resources starts. His degree is in human resources and that is where he will be working. He is proud of fitting in though he doesn't always sound that way. A job becomes routine after a time and Frederick knows that. My new job has yet to feel routine even tough I've been an intern and an assistant for several years.

I think about this as we head toward North Columbus. The charity center is a huge corrigated iron building that is cooled by great fans or an ancient air conditioning unit. At the counter, ready to accept our donation is Bree. Yes, she has the oddest way of turning up. She looks me over from head to toe and then gives me a subdued but friendly greeting. I ask what she is doing here.

"I like to help the less fortunate," she tells me. That's an odd turn of phrase. I am not sure if I am more or less fortunately. I think about this as I grab a box of clothes. I've inventoried all of Peter's stuff carefully. I want to hand it over properly. Am I more or less fortunate. I have a good education. I am a barn boss. I can barely speak to my parents. I have lost a mentor who was almost family to me. I have lost the man who let me back into the neighborhood.

I think of all these things as we drive away from the charity center. Frederick is uneasy about where we are going next. The place in Rose Hill sells terra cotta and concrete statuary. I want a real statue, not a sticked one and I want a male angel. It takes me a while to find what I want and Frederick and I both have to lift angel Peter into the car and lay him on the old vinyl table cloth I asked Frederick to get from his mother Monday.
Angel Peter balances between his back and one wing. His center of gravity is too heavy to let him roll around.

The fancy garden nursery supplies me with golden sage and slightly scraggly blood red zinnias. We set the flower flats next to angel Peter and ride in silence to the cemetary. I don't care about the silence. It feels good.
We set the angel on Peter's grave. He has a head stone with his dates of birth and death but no angel. We break the grassy ground with spades and cultivate it with trowels. Frederick follows me in the hard hand work. He offers to draw me water though he throws one of the buckets on himself. I just soak in sweat. He asks if I am alright. I tell him I'm fine as we place the flowers carefully about angel Peter's feet and water them so they'll have a good start in life.

"What do you do now," Frederick asks "Talk to Peter....."

I kneel in the grass and stare up at the stone face. "Yes," I say softly. I ask Peter if he is sorry. I ask if he is sorry about Melinda. I tell him that I dissolved my first house last night. I ask if somewhere along the line it just gets too hard. I tell him that I need his advice now more than ever. I can tell him all these things without crying though they make a hard sad place hurt behind my eyes. I tell him that other people can't understand how much I miss him and why. I tell him that he did a good job mentoring me. I tell him I want to thank him. I rise and touch the stone angel on its smooth concrete shoulders.
"I love you," I say and then I do cry, a few hot squirty tears.

"Let's walk to the river," I tell Frederick. We cross the busy road and pass the softball stadium and head down the stairs to the real river walk. We stare at the Chattahoochee and start walking south this time, away from River Academy and downtown Columbus. Frederick is hot. I am hot but I don't care.

"Shit!" he suddenly says aloud. "Koie, I couldn't even take you out if I wanted to. What kind of things do you do for fun?"

I think about this. The weird thing is I hardly do anything for fun. There I said it. "I used to cross country ski."

Frederick laughs. "I like to read, plant flowers, cook...." I learned to cook around the time I was initiated. "I like doing design work for stick. I'm an amateur stick artist though not a gothic or a sweeter, and no pro...."

"Yeah, but if we were to go out...." Frederick is more musing than asking.

"Am I your type?"

"It's just hypothetical," Frederick smiles.

I remember dances in college and parties during Leadership Training. I remember the smell of vomit on the stairs from too much drinking. "Anything that's not too ugly," I tell him.

" expensive dinner by candle light."

"Not that fancy...I know some good chinese and the Family Buffet on Manchester Expressway is fine....There are some very good food courts inside....and I do like to go dancing. Of course none of this feels like the time now...."

"No I guess it's not.....You really loved Peter."

"He is more a father to me than my own fahter."

He brought me back into the neighborhood. How important this is. How can I explain to someone who has lived in or close to the neighborhood all his life.

"Sebastien thought it a good idea for me to go to college in some other part of the country and I agreed. I wanted to go where ther was snow in the winter and I was a bit afraid of big cities. My grades were good, and not many people from the south go to Dartmouth.

"The thing is, I really didn't have family here any more and no one to give me an in with the company locally. I had spent most of my breaks during high school with the VanEllans. My parents had a hard time with me being in an interior house...." Frederick ought to know the story.

"Anyway, I would have had a company job in New England somewhere, but Peter offered me an assistantship if I took the training so I came back here. It's home. It's the only home I've had except for Sui Generis." I stare out over the rivers silver ripples on its brown surface. Does Frederick understand?

He nods and makes soothing noises. He slips his big hand and strong arm over my shoulder. He smells of deoderant soap and a bit of sweat but no aftershave. I like his clean smell. I like his faun colored hair and gentle eyes which are his mother's eyes. He has a good heart for helping me out now that the big "to do" over Peter's funeral is over.

"I think we should be getting back," he tells me. We walk back silently though he holds my hand part of the time.

I make one last stop by the stone angel in the cemetary. I wonder what Peter thought of Frederick. I know what he thought: Company boy, local house boy, mamma's boy. Never had experience elsewhere. Sebastien would find that a fault. I'm glad Frederick is around at the moment.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Friday, July 18, 2003.

Chapter 12 -- Wire Brush

The sign on the screen door says emphatially: "YES WE ARE OPEN FOR BUSINESS!" Another sign lists my hours,
and a third piece of computer printed cardboard lists whether I am in or out. This last gives me some spontinaity and doesn't tie me to the old house like a prisoner.

It is Tuesday. Frederick, Iris, and I have been sorting and sorting, packing, and putting away Peter's stuff. His sister in Grand Island, Nebraska wanted none of it though I got her to take his cufflinks and some family photos and school pictures. These I packed and sent yesterday. I will be keeping all Peter's jewelry, the rest of his pictures, and his sport shirts, a few of his dress shirts, the ones that weren't plain white, and all his pajama tops, and T-shirts. Frederick asks what I want with those. I point to the floppy thing tucked into my shorts. Frederick shakes his head. He asks how long I will wear my dead mentor's clothes. I say probably until they wear out or I get sick of them. Right now I like wearing Peter's clothes.

A loud buzz breaks our industry. I bought the door bell and installed it yesterday with Frederick's help. "I'll get it," says Iris who wants me to continue with the boxing and packing. Actually I'm am focused. In the evenigns I work on writing the programs and doing the schematics for sticking the house. I want to enlarge the study to have it absorb the unused front parlor. Oona had it that way.

"Kohana we need you!" Iris calls. I barrel down the stairs and see, Allen. My brain does a flip as I remember Allen was absent from Saturday's funeral for Peter. Well, Allen can be excused. Allen was Melinda's husband. I feel my throat go dry. I feel my mouth go dry. Allen's blue eyes try not to take in the unstuck kitchen with its borrowed table. I offer Allen tea. Allen refuses. I offer Allen cake. We still have some left because Iris made brownies from scratch last night. Allen folds his arms.

"Why all this do?" he asks. His wife had no funeral. Allen had the money or could have gotten chit from the barn boss to pay, but many bury their dead without ceremony. I think on principle this is a mistake. I think it was a mistake especially for Allen. I glance toward the pantry. I know Peter is not there but I want to tell him who is here with me.

The first week of my internship, Allen's wife, Melinda, died in childbirth. She did not die of an infection which is what sometimes kills women in childbirth, but of high blood pressure that got way out of hand and sent her into convulsions. I try not to think of this any more. Allen was a newly married executive. Allen came home from work to find his pregnant wife curled up like a shrimp on the floor and unresponsive. Allen called an ambulance. They found a fetal heartbeat. They cut open the dead or nearly dead Melinda and extracted a healthy baby girl who bears the name, Miracle. I was just twenty. Miracle is four years old now.

I did not see Melinda's death or Miracle's birth but.... I let out a hard painful lungful of air. I know something about female reproductive biology or I would not be a mother. I remember standing in my room packing my bags, my face flushed with anger. "Why!" I asked Peter. "Why what?" he asked. "Why did you let her get so sick?"

"Pregnant women sometimes get sick," Peter answered.

"That's not true! If she had seen a doctor regularly they would have given her medicine for the
blood pressure. That's called pre-eclampsia. She'd be alive now! Just because she wasn't the wife of a CEO!"

"Stop talking like Sebastien."

"I'm talking like a woman." I sit on the bed and hug the contraceptive patch on my shoulder. I go to Atlanta and get it renewed once a month. At Dartmouth where many students are sons and daughters of top management, one can get these things taken care of easily. There are even a few pregnant students, mainly grad students or their wives who come to the doctor's to be checked upon regularly.

I stare at poor grey faced, tired Allen. Actually his face is rosey and pink. His hair is blond, his eyes are blue and small and sharp. "What can I do for you?" I pull myself together. I really am open for business.

"The Christians next door to me are torturing their children," he tells me matter of factly.

I ask how he knows and he tells me that he hears screaming at night. I swallow. I take Allen into the study. I want him to watch me at work. Peter kept a file for such cases. I get the doctor. He's an old doctor, older than Aaron or Roxanne. He says he'll be right over. I say we are going to move yesterday.

I don't bother changing clothes. I do get the bright crook neck lamp that can run on batteries and the digital camera unit. Being a female barn boss will make this easier. The doctor smells of tobacco. Allen rides with us to his house four blocks away. It has been stuck white with light blue trim. There are red roses growing incongruously against the porch. The porch needs climbers or ramblers I think. A bit of research gets much nicer living things like plants.

The Christians, next door live in a cream house trimmed with brown. They have a myrtle tree on their lawn and a live oak with a tire swing hanging from it. There is a Biblical quotation on their front lawn. The mentor here is named Lucy. Her house is one of the smaller Christian houses. Her kids are all local placements. Christians generally never let their kids get taken at the park or the mall. Of course if parents become Christian or are not that religious, this is an exception. Then there are kids who become Christian and almost place themselves. Christians like gothics, sweeters, and even academics are complicated sorts.

Lucy herself answers the door. She has lovely brown hair and a long straight face and a big smile with big white teeth. The old doctor explains that there has been a rubella outbreak and that he needs to examine each child. Lucy buys this story and we gain entrance. I get out the light and we line the children up. Boys go first and then girls. Christians when they do administer beatings usually do it across the back, hips, and buttocks. What we search for on each back are welts and bruises. We find none. I wonder if someone could be using a rubber hose or other device that causes pain but does not leave a mark. The doctor checks arms and legs of each child but finds no pin pricks or cigarette burns.

"We need to look for a rash on the buttocks," the doctor announces. The children blink. Lucy is ready to throw us all out. I glare at her. "You know why we're here," I tell her. "If you refuse to cooperate with the investigation, I can bring in law enforcement. Would you prefer that?"

"You wouldn't....." she says.

"Want to bet. Now nothing will happen to any of you. I pull a high backed chair out by where we have the light. "We need each of you to lean into the chair and pull down the back part of your drawers. " Our third child provides pay dirt. She's a blond adolescent, probably a post initiate. I see the fresh red welts some of them scabbed and scratchy. The girl says she fell down stairs. I ask how her butt could get so scraped.

A little boy dressed in only his briefs pulls at my arm. I lean down to hear him whisper "wire brush" I ask him softly if he has been beaten. He says nothing. I have the doctor examine him next. He too has a bloody and scratched up rear end complete with welts. We keep working on th evidence and end up with twenty shots of scratched and bloody rears. Now all I want is the weapon.

I tell Lucy she can either produce it herself or we can find it. Lucy says nothing so Allen and I turn her kitchen utility drawer upside down. We find no wire brush. The basement is our next stop, but if kids were beaten in the basement, I doubt Allen would have heard it. I know where the beatings happened. I remember my own mother chewing me out when she did not want my brothers in sisters to hear, only to fear that they might be taken into the inner sanctum and then.....

I race up the stairs. The wire brush is not on the dresser but I check the underwear and night gown drawer and....It is right on top. It even is stained with something brown, perhaps fresh skin. I hold it with my finger tips. The old doctor supplies a specimen bag for this piece of evidence.

I warn Lucy not to touch her children. We will be back. "That's a sensitive one," says the old doctor. "That's not long for this world," I answer. I call State's emergency line. I also send the electronic pictures and a snap shot of the offending weapon to them. My paper order shoots out of the FAX zap within the hour.

While I'm waiting for it, I call George. I demand his presence now. Frederick and Iris watch as George pulls up and glances disoriented around the kitchen. He asks why I haven't stuck this place. I told him that I am still going through Peter's things. George asks what I want.

"I'm going to dissolve Little Angels House," I say.

&qout;You're what?"

"You heard me. Lucy Warren has been beating young children with a wire brush. A neighbor heard the screams. The park is due to erupt in ten days. All preinitiates will be freed for placement. [Sometimes it's good to speak beaurocratese]. I know your community doesn't want that so I want you to help with private or temporary placements for Lucy's kids."

"What do you want in return for this?" asks George.

I'm not prepared for this question. "Some time in the future, if there is a kid who does not believe or who has a calling for a secular house I want you to let that child go."

"Then we're talking a future favor."

"We're not talking anything! I just don't want a lot of angry Christian parents who don't hve to be angry!"

George nods. This time I take Frederick and George with me to hear the order read. Allen and the old doctor come along too. I hand Lucy a copy of the order. Several of the children ask where they will go. George says back to their parents. The older children will go into George's house and several other large houses. I find myself at the church that evening watching the Christian distribution placement. I am impressed with how quietly it goes. I know I need to thank Allen.

Allen of course is back in his own house. I drive alone back from the church on Hilton Road, back across the silent park. It is too early for it to get ready for the eruption and taking. Lights are on in the kitchen. Iris is lecturing Frederick on how to make salad. Dinner, a late dinner for all of us is nearly ready. I take half the brownies and begin to wrap them.

"What are you doing?" asks Iris.

"These are for Allen. I owe him." I answer. Allen does not answer the door when I go to drop off his gift. His light is on upstairs. They must go to bed early, I think. I place the brownies in their plastic box between the outer and inner door of Allen's unimaginative blue and white house. Then I walk back down the walkway and that is how I see two cars in the driveway. It is strange for a man who lives alone to have a second car. I try to remember if and when Allen remarried. I think of Melinda curled like a shrimp dying alone in convulsions, frying her brain while Miracle hung on for life. Miracle is too young for the next taking. I am glad of that but am not sure why.

I am glad to make it back to our house. "So when do we finally stick this place?" Frederick asked.

"The end of the week," Iris supplies an answer. I explain Allen was already asleep.

"More's the pity," states Iris who is a bit of a nightowl. Frederick laughs. "Older people forget about all nighters," he adds. " God, this house reminds me of a college dorm."

"Well we're academics," laughs Iris. I can't get images of bruised and scratched up kid butts out of my head. I'm a barn boss for real tonight. I turn toward the pantry.

"Stop that!" says Frederick.

"No," I tell him.

"What were you telling Peter," asks Iris.

"All kinds of stuff," I answer.

written by ZOIDRubashov on

Chapter 11 -- Stick Sick

I snap awake some time before dawn. I don't remember what I was dreaming but I know there is someone in the room with Iris and me. Iris is still snoring away on her pallet on the floor. The prowler crouches over her. I reach for the bedside lamp and find it's gone!

I get up. The prowler remains imobile. I reach step over the still sleeping Iris and turn on the bedroom light but can't find the switch. Something in me suggests I grab the pull chain which hangs as a thin spidery rope and.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?" she asks. I check my watch. It is 4:30am but what are my clothes doing all over the floor. My room has shrunk. I can make out big smeary bits of old faded wallpaper on the walls. The furniture sits at odd angles. There's a wall where my closet used to be so all the clothes in the closet form a huge pile which was what I mistook for the prowler.

I sink to the bed. I feel dizzy and sore and I hurt emotionally. I don't want to cry big screamy tears like last night. I'm too tired for that. I push myself up. I want to see the rest of the damage. For my own good, Iris follows me into the hall. The white grass cloth wall covering has vanished. In its place is dull primer paint. There is an extra door, three or even four bedrooms where there once were two. All of Peter's pictures are gone.

I open the door to Peter's room. Where his bed once stood, is a box spring and mattress and no bedding. Peter's clothes are also in big piles on the floor. An old blond dresser that I remembered as being mahogany before it was altered with a stick stands on two legs an its bottom. All the little boxes and the tray where Peter put odds and ends have fallen in a pile on the floor, having crept silently while I slept. Where Peter's mirror hung, is a blank spot showing exposed brown plaster or maybe discolored wall covering. I want to throw myself on the bed and cry, but I know there is more.

"Come on,&qot; Iris tries to soothe me. "We'll take care of this in the morning."

"The funeral is in the morning." I make for the hallway and then the stairs before Iris can stop me. I've lived in this house on and off since I was nineteen. I remember the interview I had in the study with Peter during my first break from Dartmouth. Sebastien brought me for the interview. He sat in the kitchen and waited while Peter closed the door between the kitchen and the study. I remembered the fancy rosewood shelving and computer desk and the black overstuffed leather upholstered furniture. Sure it was all stick maintained but I liked the substantial feel of it. Jason's furniture had been all green and nubbly, and Oona had had a big table in the study because she liked the idea of meeting around a table.

Peter asked me about my courses and then he asked me how I would feel about taking leadership courses, strictly as electives. He liked the old fashioned idea of majors in college.

I said Dartmouth offered no such courses. He replied that I could take leadership seminar in Washington, DC. Dartmouth would give me credit. Dartmouth never gave me credit but I took the seminar at my next break. I remember living in a dorm with students who had never been taken and who had no experience with interior houses and who spent a lot of their undergrad time partying. They admired where I went to school and had a hard time believing I worked my tail off up there in New Hampshire. The courses at Leadership Seminar were mainly rote except for discussion. I often ended up correcting the teacher because I had actually been taken and was the product of an interior house, at least from my initiation. I remember doing a big sociology type paper as my final project and then being asked why I wanted to be a barn boss. The teacher who asked me said I wans't cut out for that. I was too academic. I said I was sponsored and I wanted to be able to go home eventually. As an interior house member, working for mentoring services was a way back into a neighborhood I cared about.

What I didn't say was that I never wanted another kid to have to run off to get to a house that was right for them because their parents were playing games. I never told Peter that either. I just said I wanted to work for him and I wanted to be near my brothers and sisters and that was enough. Also with the D-Plan which has been in effect for generations, I was often off from school when no other college students were. I needed a break job that would be there when I was. Peter was offering me an ideal job.

When I had my leadership credential, I could work for Peter as an intern in my summers or other breaks off. I straightened out his computer files, something he considered beneath himself. I listened to his stories. I learned how to negotiate and how to entertain parents and who was who in the neighborhood and who carried influence and who deserved favor. I think of Peter drinking brandy and smoking a cigar.

Through all of this, I never really learned where Peter came from. Ohio, maybe though he had a sister in Nebraska....just one sister. Families used to be smaller. I reach for the study lightswitch. Damn!

"Easy," counsels Iris. She finds the light and we stare at the stained wall paper. The computer is on a grey plastic cart and there is a plastic kitchen chair in the ugliest shade of orange I have ever seen. Where the bookshelves stood, is a pile of debris.

"My shell!" I cry. We race toward the shelves and start sorting photo albums, a few unread Harvard classics, what must have been very old law books, my coffee table books form a tent and in the tent is my unharmed nautilus shell and sand dollar. I hug them to my breast and Iris rescues my books.

"I'm sorry," she says rather distractedly.

We take the rescued stuff upstairs and sit looking at the coffee table book about the Galapagos together. I pretend I am seven years old. Slowly it gets light oustide.

Around seven am, the first car arrives. No, it's two cars. Yes, it's too early. Iris barrels down the stairs. She yells up that it's my mother and Roxanne. I walk through the hall. I feel tired and dislocated. My mother and Roxanne are arguing about whether they should take me home. It's seven o'clock in the morning and I'm not dressed! I tell them both that this is where I live. It's not going to fall down. It's just unstuck.

All of Peter's stick work has died with him. It's that simple. "We're going to need a table and chairs then," says Roxanne matter of factly. The kitchen furniture is missing the floor is batterd, dusty, dirty linoleum. I test the water in the sink. It still runs though the sink now has separate hot and cold faucets. The pantry is still there. Peter must have never stuck it's shelves. From a pipe hangs the butt end of string. I set it swinging. I'm not sure why this pleases me. It's Peter's string. Maybe that's why.

Most of the dishes are gone though. What's left is mismatched and some of it has permanent brown spots. I never heard of any one sticking dishes before and ours were just generic and white except for a few that were white and light blue. The company dishes are somewhat more intact. I see the tea set and the saucers, plain white restaurant ware, nothing "ostentatious." That was Peter's word. I check the refrigerator to make sure it still is working. We have power and water, I proclaim.

I want to sit down somewhere but there is nowhere to sit. Even the bedroom is a wreack upstairs. Roxanne takes off to get a table from her garage and my mother goes to buy paper plates. I realize I have to do something about my clothes. Mainly Iris and I fold them into piles and get some of them on to hangers and into the hall closet. I find my black blouse and skirt. The blouse is wrinkled so I get out my iron and sitting on the floor, iron the thing on a towel.

That is what I'm doing when my mother and Roxanne return. My mother comes back first and makes bewildered noises in the kitchen and finally comes upstairs to ask what I'm doing. "Ironing my shirt for the funeral," I tell her. She shakes her head. She asks what I'm going to do next. "Go to the funeral," I say and then clean the place up. What else is there to do.

By then Roxanne is here with the table. She and her eldest son, Frederick, set it up. I can hear them talking. Roxanne explains about the feast to be held here later this afternoon. I realize someone should take an inventory of the pots and pans. I finish ironing the shirt and lay it on my bed.

I bounce downstairs again. Frederick stares at me. He is a big man, nearly six feet tall. I come up to his chest. He has a dove fawn brown crew cut and a nose that has a cute hook to it. His eyes are borwn like my own but a darker shade. His skin is pale. He has big hands. He can't stop staring. "Excuse me," I finally tell this piece of uselessness. I open the cupboard doors and squat down. We've lost a few pots and pans and some of the serving utensils have regrown permanent stains. I set the bad ones aside.

"Big occasion," Frederick comments. I don't say anything. The phone still works and I call Sebastien and get Lacie and Kabira who has a good head for chits and everything else. I tell her to bring extra serving dishes, spoons, a good plastic table cloth etc... "The house has come unstuck and there's not a lot here." Lacie thanks me and I head upstairs.

There's still time for a bath, though the first water comes through the pipes all rusty. I let it run. I do not hear Lacie, Franklin, Frederick, my mother, Roxanne, and by now two of Silla's and Taffie's assistants all arguing with one another in the kitchen.

I sink into the hot water while Iris sits guard on the toilet seat cover. No one is going to leave me alone. I guess someone thinks there's room for a second rope on that pipe in the pantry. In the water I feel light, almost weightless.

"Your tea kettle is still there," comments Iris. "So," "I'm going to ask someone to put up some water and get you some tea. They should remember you're up here." I close my eyes. I hear Iris start down the stairs. I start washing. I'm washing when Iris returns and tells me that the tea is up. Lacie brings me a mug of hot tea on a tray. I sit nude on the toilet seat while Iris takes her turn in the bath. I drink the hot tea and Lacie watches me, mother hen style.

Lacie tells me that my mother Naomi, and Karla, my youngest sister are sweeping and mopping the kitchen for the funeral feast so no one can unload any food or start cooking. Some people are just not organized. Tomorriw, I think, all of you are going to be gone. The thought pleases me.

For the funeral, I am dressed head to toe in black. I even have black pantyhose and black shoes. Only my necklace of seed pearls is white. At 10am, Scilla who is wearing an empire waisted black silk numer complete with a black Spanish lace veil, takes me to the mortuary where Peter is laid out in a fine grey suit, burgundy cravate and white shirt. He would prefer something more subdued but I think the colors do him good. The mortician has bathed him and put make up on his face to hide the puffy blackness he got from hanging himself Thursday morning. Silla tells me she likes the flowers. She asks me quietly if I am still wearing Peter's ring. I tell her I am. I only took it off to bathe this morning.

The mortician asks me how I like the job he did and I tell him that Peter looks much improved from when I found him. I'm glad about that. "That's no stick job. That's all real," the mortician says. I think about the house. I think about the way I found it this morning. Silla explains I'm a trifle stick sick. The mortiican nods and offers me coffee with sugar and milk. I refuse it. The tea is jumping in my stomach.

Roxanne and Frederick are the first to arrive. Frederick takes nervous looks at the corpse. Then he comes to sit with Silla and me. Roxanne says she is here for me. Sebastien is the next to arrive. He doesn't have to say anything. Iris, Franklin, and Lacie show up next. They say they are sick of trying to work around my mother in the kitchen. they also say they have to go home early to get the funeral feast ready. Iris hugs me. Lacie approves of the flowers. Sebastien asks me if I am going to say anything. I say I think I can talk about Peter. I'm not sure though. My head is swimming.

That is when George shows up. George is head of one of the larger Christian houses. Christians, not just those who say they believe in Jesus or go to church but those who make it a major part of their identity and have their own mentors, houses, and schools, like gothics and sweeters (Taffie is a sweeter) are a faction, but they are one of the more obnoxious factions one deals with. I remember Peter lecturing me about them. I feel a lump in my throat at the thought.

George consoles me gently and then asks if he can say something at the funeral. I feel the blood rush to my face. "You do realize that Peter's soul is way beyond saving now," I tell him.
George blinks. "I don't think Peter accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and he also killed himself. By your estimate, he is going to Hell."

"I'm sorry," says George. Like hell he is.

"If you can't say good things about Peter," I tell George "and good true things, just sit in the audience and pay your respects." George says he is sorry again. He asks if I want to pray. I say I've done plenty of that already but I'll be happy to do it. I just don't want my soul saved. Now is not the time.

"Then when is the time?" George asks. He stares right into my eyes.

"Get away from her you creep!" snarls Frederick, Roxamne's son.

"Lay off!" I snarl back at Frederick. "This is a funeral not a frat house."

"I don't belong to any fraternities."

"Yeah, well we don't need any brawls here. George, if you don't ask me to change my relgious views, you are welcome to pray with me and Frederick, you can pray with George too...."

Frederick stares at me again. George is too off balance to start the praying session right away and before he can take my hands to form a tiny prayer circle or two with the soon to be exbarn boss assistant, up comes a gushy woman with lovely auburn hair and bangs and bright blue eyes. Have those eyes been stuck, I wonder.
"Oh I'm so sorry!" she blurts out.

"Do you want to pray?" I ask her. She is taken aback. I smile. I suggest George start his praying or we'll never get it over with. Stuck in the middle, the auburn haired woman, Frederick, George and I pray for healing from grief and for Peter's family though none of us know who or where they are. Then it's over. George backs away. Frederick shakes his head and the auburn haired woman just stays put.

She asks who did the flowers. "They're my idea," I explai. "The whole thing was my idea. I like the idea of decent burials. I know it will feel good to always know where Peter is." Auburn hair drops her head. "Are you going to stay or go?" she inquires. I tell her I plan to leave on Monday. It will probably be Monday given the condition of the house and the fact that I don't want to leave Peter's things a mess. Besides, I don't think State will let me stay on, not that any of this is auburn hair's business.

"What will you do next?" auburn hair asks me.

I shrug. I don't know. I don't even know auburn hair's name. I want to find my mother, Sebastien, Roxanne, Silla, Iris, anybody. I find Sebastien and Iris who is with Kabira and several younger kids who are explaining to kids from Laure's house and from Gloria's house proper funeral etiquette. "They should pay us for baby sitting," comments Iris. "I hope there's enough food for them at the feast afterwards," I add.

Iris says there is and she and Sebastien smile then Sebastien notices auburn hair who has stuck to me like glue. He asks her name saying he doesn't recognize her. "I'm Bree," she says. "It's short for Brianna. I just moved back into the neighborhood from South Carolina. Sometimes terrible things just happen."

"Terrible things" happen for a reason, I think as we settle down for the service. I have a rabbi who will read Psalms and then I get up and talk about how Peter was like a second father to me, since my father is in the audience and he is very much a first father. What is a father supposed to be anyway. I feel orphaned. I almost choke up and cry. Bree has tears streaming down her face. I can see them as I take my seat again. George speaks next. He asks for the Lord's guidance to heal our community and set it on the right path. Oddly enough I do like his prayer.

Then it is Aaron's turn. Yes, Aaron is still head of the Parents' Society. He talks about how Peter was a friend to nearly every parent and how he wanted to help nearly every child. "For a price," I think sadly. My throat feels dry. One of Laure's girls goes next. She has a lovely voice and she sings one of those awful 19th century Christian hymns. Then she leads us in Adon Olam which I asked her to sing and which she says she knows. We have one or two more Pslams, and then the mortician closes the coffin.

Silla sits with me in the herse as we ride to the cemetary. "There was something for everybody," she says of the funeral. It was a political funeral and Peter would have liked that, I realize. The sky is grey, perhaps in honor of the sad occasion. I am glad there is no glaring sun. This part of the cemetary feels nude with so much sun.

The mortician reads the standard ashes to ashes line and I read the kaddish translated into English since I don't know Hebrew. Sebastien wants to read the 23rd psalm and then they lower Peter's body into the earth for safe keeping. I feel like telling Peter that this is much better than getting burnt to ashes or rotting in the pantry. I have to keep thoughts like that to myself but they make me want to laugh rather than cry. I lay against Silla's shoulder as the hearse takes us home.

There are too many guests at the funeral feast for the kitchen. The table from Aaron and Roxanne's garage has become a buffet with all manner of dishes on it. There is herring in dill sauce, potato salad, carrot pudding, sweet and sour cabbage, some kind of sweet potato and prune dish, and about twenty other offerings. There is Hawaiian red punch and lemonade and both sweet and unsweet tea.

Grief does not give me an appetite or if it does, crowds dispel it. "We're going to eat in the yard," Sebastien tells me. "Iris picked us out a nice place under a big oak tree that wasn't stuck."

I fill up a plate of food and head out into the yard which is all now flat dirt atop an ancient stone embankment. The ugly brown wooden privacy fence is down. The tree looks scraggly, dying, and half starved. There is a lawn chair saved for me and from somewhere, someone has given us a bridge table. I have a feeling I'm going to be doing more holding court than eating. I notice that George and several other Christians are at the feast. Well, Christians have to eat too.

For some reason, I look around for Frederick, Aaron and Roxanne's son, but I don't see him. Instead I see Bree. She is eating string bean salad, ham, and vanilla cake with white cocanut icing. She is in a chair fairly close to the house sitting with Virginia who has brought Treva. The feast is safer than the funeral. Seeing a dead body laid out and then put in the ground unnerves a lot of people.
I am thinking about going up to George and thanking him for his tasteful and truely excellent prayer. I push aside my food. I say I'll be right back.

Sebastien looks at me quizzically. "I'll only be a minute," I reassure him. I walk across the yard. George and half a dozen other Christians are squatting on the grass in their own circle. They have big plates of food and cups of cold drinks. "George," I begin. "I don't know how to thank you for your prayer at the service this morning. It was very touching and wonderful. It was just what needed to be said."

"Maybe the Lord's guidance is working already," George comments. Just then there is a loud bang and a crash and the sky rips open in flashes of lightening. I hear a few people cursing. It's not supposed to thunder in the middle of the day. "Did you stick the sky?" a teenager asks me as a joke.

"The unit in the house doesn't have enough power," I answer and that's true. There are more rips and bangs and then the rain begins, a few fat drops followed by a deluge that sends the feasters scattering in several directions. Since there is just not enough room in the house, most decide it is time to go home. Cars all over the street start as if their engines are answering one another. In the kitchen it is crowded with the determined mourners who are guarding their food as they eat standing up.

I edge through the crowd into what is left of the study where I find more feasters and mourners. At least I don't find Bree but I do find Frederick who tells me he suspected rain all day long. I don't answer. I've left my food outside and the rain is probably washing it away by now. I also remember the bridge table but I only make it as far as the kitchen in time to see Sebastien and Iris bringing it in followed by a grinning Kabira who announces that the world is coming to an end.

I decide that a second, as in fresh and dry, plate of food is in order. I begin edging through the crowd to the well grazed buffet. I get a plate and start filling it.

I look up from the food just in time to see too somewhat drenched white robed figures have slipped into the kitchen. Suddenly all the weird funeral talk, jokes, pretend business as usual grinds to a halt. Everyone makes way for the officials from State. I grin from ear to ear. I contemplate throwing food at them or dumping it on their heads. I decide that there is enough drama and pass up the idea.

All in all I am very pleased with the way this is ending. I invite the representatives from State to help themselves to the buffet. They take up plates and join me. Then they ask if there is somewhere private we can talk. I suggest my bedroom. We take our plates of food upstairs and settle down in the empty space. One employee from State closes the door. The other hands me a piece of paper.

"Do you remember me?" she asks.

I shrug. "I'm Tara. I was here that terrible morning two days ago. I did not expect such a to do. Peter was not all that popular you know."

"I insisted on a funeral," I say. I stare at my food which I will not get to eat in peace.

"This," Tara explains, "is a fairly standard entry level contract. This since will be your first assignment as representative [the official title for barn boss, and a word only employees of state and teachers at Leadership Training use.] the pay won't be all that high but you are serving a noble cause."

I take the contract in my damp fingers. I see the State seal and the gothic lettering at the top and the words State Mentoring Services Contract. "I the undersigned KOHANA PASCAL hereby agree to become mentoring services' representative for the Warycoba neighborhood of Muscogee County/Columbus Georgia....." I think about Mara who was sure this would happen. I think of Jason. I think of Oona. I think of Peter. I glance over the contract.

"I'm not signing anything until you give me the name of Peter's next of kin," I tell Tara.

"Why?" asks her assistant.

"Peter's things are still here and I want them to go to his family. There are jewelry, photographs, things they may want."

"We can find that," says Tara pulling out a mobile unit and punching into a database. She hands me a printout with a name, address, and phone number in Grand Island, Nebraska. I take Tara's pen and sign my contract. Tara's assistant throws open the bedroom door. He heads out into the hall. I hear only part of his announcement that the Warycoba district has a new Barn Boss. Even he calls it that. What I hear back is a resounding cheer that rises like an engulfing wave. I stare down at the mattress.

From the kitchen and the study comes a chant: "Koie -- CLAP -- CLAP -- Koie -- CLAP -- CLAP" Tara says I need to go downstairs. I find myself almost pushed out into the hall. I edge down the stairs. The chanting is all around me. The auburn headed woman, Bree walks toward me holding out the stick. It really looks like a stick. It is used to manipulate the physical environment according to programs and graphics and choices in databases. The stick is my power. The stick will restore this house.

"Well," says Bree whose blue eyes meet my brown ones.

"Put that down!" I order. The chanting stops. "We still have to clean up upstairs. "I'll help!" offers Bree and several others. I turn down the help. I say I want to eat and rest. I already have all the help I need. The chanting stops. I can even hear the rain. I set the stick back in the closet and inspect it for vandalism. Then I go and get my plate of food that has again grown cold.

Roxanne finds me a chair. Frederick has a chair too. We sit in the center of the kitchen that is still full of a crowd that has nowhere to go. What do they want, I think. Sebastien squats down at my feet. He suggests that since most of the food has been demolished including the desserts that we start clearing the house around three pm. That is twenty minutes from now and feels like an eternity. It feels like one even though Frederick and Sebastien talk school and have nothing in common. It is not bad conversation. Periodically I pull out Peter's ring and finger it in my hand. My food sticks in my stomach and I give up after half a plate full.

I am glad when three o'clock comes. By the time the house is clear the sky is thundering and lightening again. "This wouldn't be good weather to stick a house, anyway" I tell Iris who is back on her pallet. I am supposed to be taking a nap. I stare up at the peeling plaster ceiling.

"If you don't stick this house soon, it may collapse," she offers as a way of advice.

"I think I've got a few days." I listen to the rain and oddly enough I actually do sleep. I dream of riots and screaming and of a terrible stabbling knife fight. I awaken to more thunder. Iris is gone.

I edge out into the hall that feels like a strange house. I am nauseous and dizzy now. I wish I weren't so stick sick. I amble down the stairs. Someone has done a good job of cleaning up the study. In one corner there are even flattened cardboard boxes. I wonder who brought those. In the kitchen Iris, Sebastien, Roxanne, and Frederick sit at the cleared table. They have renewed cake and coffee. The smell reminds me of Peter and I feel a lump in my throat. I open the pantry door.

"Stop that!" orders Frederick.

"Leave me the fuck alone!"

"It's her way of dealing with it," Roxanne explains. I reach up to give the butt end of the rope a swing and realize that someone has cut it off. I stare out of the pantry.

"Iris is going to make you some creamed spinach. She says that's your favorite." Roxanne's voice is gentle. "Koie," she continues. " What Lori VanEllan told you yesterday about Jason was a lie. Jason was a drunk. He had one too many before he hit the road. He died going home from a road house in Harris County. Understand... You have a pure heart and good ethics and good habits. You are going to be good at this job."

I stare at the floor. "It only gets better," Frederick tells me.

"It will be good to have somebody from the inside," explains Sebastien.

I let my face rest in the cool of my palms. It doesn't take much to make me cry in answer to the rain outside the kitchen door.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Sunday, July 13, 2003.

Chapter 10 -- Oona, Jason, and More

They start arriving almost before Virginia and Treva leave. Tonight it's Sebastien, Taffie, two of Scilla's assistants. Roxanne is already present, and there are is also Mrs. VanEllan. The VanEllan's bring back fond memories, just fond ones.

Mrs. VanEllan is built like a small tank. When she loses weight, she gets smaller but still retains her squarish bulk. She has blond hair now gone white, sometimes grown out and cute, sometimes cut short and attempting to be serious. Her eyes are grey. She has brought as if by agreement, ginger cake with raisins, my old favorite. Taffie has made deviled eggs because she likes those. Kabira, the new chit monkey from Sui Generis along with Iris open cans of fish and some sweet and sour red cabbage. There is more carrot pudding and of course frozen vegetables. "I'm being fattened up for slaughter" is all I can think as the bustle erupts in the kitchen.

Suddenly I remember I need to take down the com-camm rig. I dive into the study glad for an excuse to make my exit. Then I see that Mrs. VanEllan followed me. "Are you alright?" the litany begins. I finger Peter's class ring that he so thoughtfully left me. "I've got work to do."

"Can't it wait until after dinner?" I shake my head. I keep working on the comm-cam rig. I am thinking of the first time I met Mrs. VanEllan. I had been in Sui Generis, Sebastien's house, for three months, all of a summer. It was August break, the week before the week before school started. I got sent home to my parents and found myself meeting Jason, instead.

Jason was our new barn boss after the unfortunate Oona. Jason had a sandy crew cut and brown eyes. I think he was rather young. Jason explained to me in a brusque business like manner that my parents would rather I not come home so he had arranged a foster family for my breaks. I think all I did was ask why I was not allowed to come home. Jason explained that my mother and father feared I would have an unfortnate effect on my younger siblings. In other words, I was a bad influence.

The VanEllans live in a grey house or it was grey in those days with a ramshackle porch. They live near the neighborhood's western border which is 10th Avenue. Mrs. VanEllan had nine children of her own and two or three foster children. Several of her children had been taken and one who was destined for a very spooky Gothic house had been found a somewhat less spooky alternative but was in a Gothic house all the same.

I was a bit of an unusual bird because I studied a lot. Mrs. VanEllan let me study. I was the first T-Acc student she had ever had under her roof. She gave me money to buy the foods I liked and she talked to me about Sebastien or let me talk about him to her. I needed that. Mrs. VanEllan did not and still does not understand all the ins and outs of the academic rat race but she was willing to listen and even appreciate a little bit. That was more than enough.

Mrs. VanEllan does not ask me my plans for the future. They only extend into next week any way. I imagine I might like to go back to schol since I am going to need to work for someone other than mentoring services. I'm too young at twenty-four to retire.

"Dinner is served!" Taffie yells into the study. Mrs. VanEllan and I edge back into the kitchen. Roxanne starts off the table conversation "You should see what a good job Koie did with Treva and her mom. I was really impressed with that big test she gave. You made that child feel proud of herself and gave her something to be proud of.&uqot;

I stare at my plate. "We need more of that around here," comments Taffie.

"We'd have more of that if parents let kids go where they fit instead of trying to squeeze them into what they consider a name brand house," adds Sebastien.

"It's not a question of that!" explains Roxanne. "Parents want the best for their children!"

"Then they need to act like it," Sebastien continues to argue.

"And what makes you think they don't?" asks Mrs. VanEllan.

"All this crap with the bribes," says Sebastien.

"What bribes?" asks Taffie.

"The ones parents gave to my predecessor to get their kids a good placement," I say. Let's get the air all clear. I'm going to suffer due to this. I'm losing my job due to this.....

"What an absolute load of garbage!" Taffie answers.

"Just because you didn't take a cut, doesn't mean there weren't others who did," quips Scilla.

"And who took bribes?" asks Roxanne.

"Peter," I answer. "Why else did State take all his personal papers. They came for the papers before they knew he was dead. That was the evidence."

"Why don't you think about what you're saying?" snaps Taffie. "What you've just said is not only did poor Peter take bribes but someone, someone who got something for those bribes, the only people who could have known, talked to State in Atlanta. Now who would be stupid enough to get rid of a barn boss who did them favors?"

"Someone who was dissatisfied," counters Sebastien.

Taffie snorts. Roxanne shakes her head and the conversation drifts on to another topic. I look around the table. The rest of the story is one that house manager, Taffie, and Scilla, don't want to tell, but when Peter received payment, be it money, favors, jewlry, (I'm not sure what he received) he had to give a cut of it to the house manager to take the child. Other wise why would it be in the house manager's interest? If Peter did not make good on his end of the deal, a house manager could have threatened to turn him over.

Then there are disgruntled parents. I think of my own parents. I think of Virginia and Treva. I think of my own parents. All the information about who might have snitched is in the personal papers that are in Atlanta and that I'll never see again.

In a few days this house will be a rather fond memory. I decide it will be a rather fond memory.

After dinner, Mrs. VanEllan, Iris, Kabira, and two of Scilla's assistants sit in the study. I'm glad I got this place put back for adult company. Mrs. VanEllan begins by telling a tale of Oona.

"She really did like teenage boys, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, high school seniors and college prep and college too.... She never would have slept with any one who was only twelve years old. That's not where her tastes ran."

"How do you know?" asks Iris.

"My oldest had an affair with her around the time he graduated from high school," answers Mrs. VanEllan. "I'd see him going off to the barn boss house whenver he came home on break. As long as he could keep working I didn't care. He was almost eighteen. Funny, I never thought of asking anything in return for it. It didn't seem that unnatural."

"Yes, but the riot...." That is all I can remember.

"Don't you know bullshit when you hear it. You mentioned a whistle blower. Well in this case, a Wilson, a boy who had bee promised to White Star House, did not get in. He wanted to be there. The manager, Toni, turned him down. She said it was for reefer and maybe it was. Maybe not enough money changed hands. Wilson had an older brother who was in a different neighborhood house..... Well it's not so hard to get a kid to lie."

I let my head hang down. Normally such a story would tickle my curiosity but not tonight. I squeeze Peter's ring in the palm of my left hand. "What you go there?" Mrs. VanEllan asks. I take the ring from my neck on its chain. "That was his," she says slowly catching on. I put the ring back around my neck.

"Now Jason....." Mrs. VanEllan continues recounting history. "Barn boss Jason was a queer duck. I'm not sure what he did, but he was murdered."

"Bullshit!" I respond.

"Let her tell," pleads chit wizard, Kabira whose twelve year old eyes glisten with the delight of secret tales.

I think of retreating to the kitchen or saying I'm tired and need to sleep. I am not at all tired and I don't want this stuff going on down in the study while I'm upstairs so I curl my hand around Peter's ring, study the floor, and try to hear without listening to Mrs. VanEllan's words.

"Todd Mackie was a CEO down by the River. There's a few of them here in Columbus, though most often they live up in Harris County or Lee County across the river in Alabama. Todd had twins and he and his wife wanted the girls kept together. One of them got taken. Jason let it happen. I don't know if Jason just made promises or took money. Todd had friends who fixed cars. They also fixed Jason's car. They fixed it alright.

"Being a barn boss is dangerous work, Koie. Koie, are you alright." I make a dash to the kitchen to wash my hot red blotchy face with cold water. Instead, I dash into the pantry. No one has taken down the butt end of the rope. I set it swinging. "Come on, I think Koie needs to go to bed."

I close the bedroom door so it's just me and Iris. I check the closet. My suitcases are still there. My trunk is in the attic but I can come back for that or else get it down. I think I'll have time. "I'm going to pack my shit and get out of here after the funeral tomorrow," I tell Iris.

"Why?" asks Iris.

"You heard it downstairs."

"That was just tales old ladies tell to amuse themsleves."

"I don't want to be here after I bury Peter," I insist.

"Then give it until Sunday. Lacie and I can get Franklin's truck. We'll get all your shit out Sunday afternoon."

"Thanks," I tell Iris and I give her a big hug. Suddenly, I am crying, not just sobbing but loud screamy tears. I throw myself on the bed, surprised at the emotional abyss that has opened up under me.

When the tears stop, I'm cold all over. I lie in bed curled in a fetal position, teeth chattering, eyes screwed closed. My throat hurts too. I tell myself that I'll be walking away from something very ugly and very wrong. I'll find another line of work and ten years from now I'll be grateful that I gave myself my freedom.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Sunday, July 06, 2003.

Chapter 9 -- I can't say I didn't Try

"Boy you ate that whole big spinach thing," comments Silla. "Grief must give you an appetite." It's not grief. It's being half starved. Somewhere in my skin is an aching hungry child or adolescent.

We ride back to the barn boss house in silence. I get out the rig for the comm-cam. Education Branch in Atlanta wants to monitor the spiffy full academic battery I'll be giving Treva when she gets here. I set up the child's desk in the study and lay out the test and plenty of sharpened pencils and have all in place before the doorbell rings and it's....

It's Roxanne. She wants to see how I'm doing. I tell her I'm working. She comes inside anyway. She asks if any one has served the cake Gloria donated. I think it got served last night but there's plenty left. Roxanne makes me put it out and helps herself to a piece. Iris has some too.

Silla smiles and watches the driveway as Virginia's car pulls up. I've seen plenty of nervous parents and their offspring. Treva and Virginia are no different. I explain to Treva what we are going to do. She has on a clean pink checked dress and her hair is done in cute ponytails that leave her hearing aids showing. Treva has lovely long blond eye lashes. Maybe the clothes will make her more confident. Silla is the proctor of record, so Silla takes a favorite novel and heads into the study. I make Virginia a cup of tea. She prefers coffee so she toys with the unwelcome brew.

We, all of us, have run out of things to say. "What happens next?" Virginia finally asks. "Not much," I speak the truth. "I give you the profile and a copy becomes official and you get a second copy to show to prospective mentors. Treva has a good shot at a placement." I am serious.

Virginia has no answer. Roxanne makes reassuring sounds. I pour myself some tea and stare out into the half shaded garden. I wonder what the backyard would look like with the fence down. I won't be here to see it. It's over and I want to laugh.

The marching orders on Monday or Tuesday will be a relief. I tried. I can't say I didn't do that. I tried in my own way and on my own terms, but I tried. I wish I could explain that to my mother. Maybe once I'm no longer working as a barn boss assistant I will be able to tell her. That will be the first thing I'll do. Of course I told her before.

I did not want to be placed in Mara's house. It was that simple. Mara confirmed all my worst expectations. Mara was not abusive. I just deserved better. I delayed in signing the initiation papers. I delayed in signing myself into her house. I sat on my consent even though I was already fourteen and due to go to high school in the fall and could not go until I was initiated.

Two weeks after the riot that chased Oona from the barn boss house the park exploded. There was a big general taking. Since I was in trial residence with all but the papers signed, Mara did not send me to the park. In fact most of her house went to the theater at the mall. I said I had a headache and an upset stomach. I lay on my bed in the room I shared with a plump reticent girl until 4pm.

Then I made a run for it. This time a great ferris wheel was the taking ride. I thought about being taken in the sky and felt scaird. It had been a long time since I had been taken with just the clothes on my back. I ran through the crowds in the park. I hoped and prayed I wouldn't find my parents, but there was a good chance they were not there. Kevin, my borther, was in Aaron's house and a local sports house that specialized in baseball and softball had my brother Steven. Naomi was eight though and had no placement yet.

I moved stealthily. I edged up to the ride which was spinning empty and I felt my heart sink. I had cut it too close. I was too late. The taking had happened and now there was no second chance.

The Hell there wasn't! I ran now, heedless of who or what saw me. I ran to the end of the park and down 13th Street. I ran past the small shopping centers and the classy cafes. I ran over the bridge over the railroad yard. I ran to all the way, to one block short of the river and finding a cash/ATM machine stuck in my card. I had money left from my River Academy Student Stipend and I stuffed the cash into my pocket and ran back up to Fourth Street/Veterans Parkway and turned left.

Greyhound left for Atlanta at 5pm. I bought a ticket. I wondered if Mara was looking for me. I wonder if she had contacted my parents. I imagined I had a little time, an hour, maybe two. It would take two hours to reach Atlanta. I boarded the bus and sat huddled in the air conditioning. I stared out the window at the montony of I-85.

When I got off the bus in Atlanta I climbed the stairs to the MARTA platform. I bought a token and hopped on board. I had made this trip so many times in reverse I could make it now the other way.

The dorm house stood as it always had. It took several bell rings to get any one to answer and it was not Hamida. My heart sank. A small man with sandy hair and spectacles let me in. I was not sure I could explain myself to a stranger, but I did not want to go back to Mara's.

I explained that I had missed the taking. I did not want to live in my neighborhood's house of last resort. Yes, I was from Columbus. No, I was not initiated. Yes, I knew Hamida was out with a new group of little ones. I envied them their first taking. "I want to go to T-Ac in the fall." I said. That was what mattered.

"OK," said the small man who led me into the dorm house kitchen. He asked if I had had supper. I told him no. He fixed me a sandwich, cheese on wheat bread and a glass of juice that was for the little kids snacks. I sat and ate and said nothing.

"You'll be initiated during your taking and meet your mentor at the taking's end. Do you have a name chosen?" the small man asked and explained. I nodded. I understood.

I put the dishes in the sink. "Now," said the small man with great ceremony. &quuot;I have a question for you: Where do you want to go?" I knew he meant not where I wanted to live after my initiation, not what kind of mentor I wanted. He asked me to name a place.

I thought for a minute and smiled. "Athens, Greece&qot; I said. The official reached up his hands and clapped them together. For a moment I wasn't fourteen any more but six and standing outside the control house watching Michael, Lisa's father, duck under the electric fence on a mission to shoot those who would take his children. Then the bright flash of light faded and I wasn't dead.

I stood in the lobby of what must have been a hotel. It was not much of a lobby, more a small living room. A woman with long auburn hair and a sun tanned almost pock marked face poked her face down the hall and after addressing me in German, Spanish, French, and finally thickly accented English she showed me to a room. It was midnight in Athens, Greece.

There were nine of us, two from China, one from France, another from Turkey, one from Canada, and two from Germany. I was the only one from the United States. I remember explaining that my father worked in human resources. Most of these kids had parents in government offices or Regional, State, or National administrations. I was outranked but not really. I tried hard to enjoy where I was. I tried not to be homesick. The food was good. I had a wild enough stomach to appreciate it. The beach was dirty but in the filth, I found a sand dollar, a perfect one. I decided that was an omen.

The taking lasted three days. The initiation was at the Parthenon. Our mentors waited for us. The kids from China seemed to know theirs. Other kids talked about their mentors' credentials. One of the mentors was only as tall as I was with iron grey hair to his shoulders and a silky iron grey mustache and beard. His eyes were big and brown and his skin pink from the sun. He wore a red shirt that said "Cornell" on it. I knew whom he was for. He made me a bit uneasy yet part of me liked him.

Our chaperone had a hand held unit. We wrote down our names and she typed them in and then we said them. A battery powered printing unit printed out our certificates. They had writing on them in both English and Greek. I still have a copy of mine. On it I saw my new name in two alphabets.

Kohana Pascal. That is who I am. I have a first name and a last name. My mentor's name was Sebastien. He had a house in stick space or internal space. It was not a fancy house but he tried to run it as best he could. He said a T-Ac student would make him proud. I had a lot to give and sometimes it was important to give it back. We ate a celebratory dinner at a hotel restaurant and then with a stick zap we were back in the United States, or as much the United States as inside can be.

Sebastien's house was a disappointment. It looked like a cement prefab hotel, a series of one and two story structures set in a circle. The house was only part of the circle. Other houses formed the rest. The inside of the circle was a dusty courtyard that grew mostly sand a few blades of grass. Though it was May it was very hot. The rooms in the house were spartan and though Sebastien was every bit as gentle and though I would be returning to River Academy for the summer and T-Ac in the fall, I had come down in a way I never thought I would.

Sebastien would not allow me to be disappointed. He did the one thing that was unimaginable. He gave me a stick and a wall and told me to stick it. This was my first chance with a full powered stick so I put a mural on the wall. I could not bring myself to disguise our ugly buildings. I had brought this on myself. In the mural, a young girl rises naked out of a sea of fire holding in her hands a nautilus shell. Yes, I was feeling sorry for myself, but the mural stared me back in the face and told me that promises would again be kept.

And yes, Sebastien and Lacie, who acted as cook/steward/assistant went to help me get my things from Mara's. No Mara had not trashed my things. We also went to meet my parents. They were horrified, though that is an understatement. They talked about houses in Atlanta and Athens. They talked of undoing what I had done. I told them that I liked the present arrangement. Do you think they listened?

By July we had a new barn boss. His name was Jason. My parents took their case to Jason and Sebastien and I took our case to Jason as well. I did not want to move out of Sebastien's or Sui Generis as his house was officially known. "But she'll be going to T-Ac from an Inside House," my father protested. I sometimes thought of his words when I wore my Sui Generis shirt to school. Our house symbol was the cockle shell. Our house name was in script. I was the only member of my small house at T-Ac. I had no status and could fall no further.

"Kohana!" Silla sticks her head through the study door. "Treva's all done with her exam."

I enter the study to show Silla how to give the next part of the test. Treva looks tired. Her mother suggests she have a break, something to eat or drink. I say I don't think that is allowed. I head back into the kitchen. I remember going on food buying expeditions with Lacie, bags of frozen fancy mixed vegetables and sardine sandwiches, or coldcut sandwiches, or cheese on bread. Sebastien taught me how to cook by apprenticing me to a college graduate who had cooked in her co-op house. That meant I sometimes worked for Lacie and I taught Iris cooking too. I am glad Sebastien will be here tomorrow for the funeral.

When Treva's test is over. I zap-fax it to Atlanta and fifteen minutes later it comes back graded. Treva, despite her lack of schooling, is definitely above grade level across the board. "I'm not sure I want her to be a scholar," Virginia says to me. "Look where it got you." I think: I can't say I didn't try.

written by ZOIDRubashov on Tuesday, July 01, 2003.


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