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
To return to
Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return
to the main page at Tacheiru.us please click
on the link.
Chapter 40 -- "Goodnight Peter"
I do not count the days, nor do I dread them. For one thing Jonathan is here on his "break week." As it was with me, Jonathan's parents, or rather now Asher's parents (Yes, the name means happy in Hebrew) refuse to take him back. Francoise and I help outfit him since he now has a clothing stipend. Gayla comes by in the evening to share art books and sometimes to help Jimmy with the mathematics he will need to take and pass the college prep test. There is still no word on the charges against Laure or Francoise being dropped so we are family and I like that.
It will not go on forever. On Saturday, Jonathan/Asher returns to his mentor to Pierot house in Knoxville. Jimmy works nights now and is absent from our mornings. By the night I awaken just before dawn, I know it is time. I grab the shovel from the kitchen and walk out into the yard. I've buried all the disks with stamped time and date screen views of Allan's recores near the sunflowers. In the moonlight, the holes and gouges I make look grey. I cover them up and bring my treasure indoors.
I put the disks in a cardboard box that I wrap with gold paper and decorate with a red velvet ribbon and bow. I set this beside the bed where Frederick snores daintily. I lay awake in the darkness listening to his breathing; for there is no time for sleeping.
I bathe and dress in a good skirt and one of Peter's old polo shirts the next morning, gulp down a cup of tea, grab my present and walk into town. It is a long slow walk on the bridge over the freight yard. The hot August sun makes the pavement glisten in moire waves. I remember running this walk, my lungs like leather ten years ago. Now there is no need to hurry.
The secretary says the Mr. Crowe has not yet arrived. I imagine him riding his big car in from his manse in Harris County. I imagine that he will be a bit baffled that I am bringing him a "token of appreciation for the tennis rackets he donated." Benjamin Crowe of course donated no tennis rackets but I have to tell the secretary something and security something so no one will be tempted to tear open the pretty wrappings except Mr. Crowe.
Finally the somewhat flustered secretary admits me to Benjamin Crowe's inner sanctum. I thank him politely for the tennis rackets and leave the present on the desk. He in turn thanks me, and I leave. That is all.
I get home in time to see Jimmy and Francoise arguing over whether his first meal should be breakfast or an early lunch. I want more tea. I feel drained and empty. I don't remember much of how the afternoon passes.
I am writing my education guide when we have an unexpected visitor. I wonder why Francoise will not let her in since technically I have office hours. I am not confidential so I saunter from the study to thekitchen and there see Francoise confronting Bree. Breek's face is so pale it is almost grey. Her silky auburn hair hangs like straw. Her eyes are not red rimmed; for she has not yet began to cry. Allan's daughter, Miracle, is doing plenty of that. I invite them both inside. I offer them tea and cookies. Miracle helps herself to a cookie. Bree just stares into space.
"They arrested Allan," she begins. "What am I going to do?"
"That's up to you?" I say in my calm barnboss voice.
"You really don't care do you?" Breek shouts back. "You don't know and don't care."
"I do care," I respond. There's been one suicide this summer and an attempted double murder. I've nearly seen my best friend killed in jail when she was wrongly accused.
"You would have left us alone if you cared," Bree protests.
"After what happened to Ezra and Gayla...." I say the names.
"It's wrong..." Bree responds. "What they were doing...What all of MenTech is doing is wrong. This whole thing with the company and mentoring houses is wrong. Allan understood.....
"Francoise understands. I used to work with her in the summer and you should hear the stories she told about the world before the Company. Women didn't die in childbirth. Parents kept their children. People owned their own houses. If the police got a confession after beating someone the judge told them they couldn't use it in court. Francoise told me about the wars and the depressions, the big five that kind of wreacked things. The Company moved in when no one was looking.... Now it's here and it's bad.
"And the worst part of it is they lie. Do you know what their biggest lie is, Koie?"
"Yes," I answer. "The biggest lie is that you have a choice and can leave."
"Shit did they teach you that in barnboss school?"
"I learned it the same way you did...."
"Bullshit! After my dad died, we went to live in North Carolina. Mom wouldn't work for the company. She wanted to get away, to the country, to be free. Do you know what it is like to go to bed hungry, and to see your sister get sick wtih a tumor and have doctors tell you they won't treat her because you don't work for the company. My mother buried my little sister herself. We dug her grave. I won't tell you where my mother got the money for the plot. My mother used to bring cakes home when she was working and she wasn't a baker. You know... "
"When you break something it is your responsibility to put the pieces back together," I quote Francoise.
"And what if you can't?" Francoise asks back.
"I'm not broken," answers Bree. "And I'm not going to let them take or break Miracle. We're going. I just want you to know. I grew up out there and maybe I can make a go of it raising one child. You wouldn't even be able to take care of yourselves." With that Breek takes a reluctant Miracle by the hand. Francoise gives the child the rest of the package of cookies and we watch Bree and Allan's daughter disappear through the screen door.
"Back off the grid," says Francoise. I stare at the cookie crumbs on the table. I feel stunned and sad with an old ache. "We never did anything for Linda [Bree]," I stammer.
"You were six years old,"Francoise argues back when there is a rattling knock at the screen door. The white robes shimmer and dazzle in the sun. Tara says she is sorry but I have been accused of embezzling funds and have twenty-four hours to evacuate the barnboss house.
I feel no fear. I even remember my face curling into a smile. "Somebody altered my computer records," I respond.
"Can you prove it?" asks the official from Atlanta.
"Yes, but it will take some time."
"Why....It has to be now if possible."
I fetch the shovel from the pantry. My backups of my financials time and date stamped are buried near the garbage cans. I dig them out and we bring them inside. We unwrap the milar and put the first disk in the computer only to find that everything has been wiped.
"That is bizarre," says Tara's male assistant.
"I have a backup. Can you give me half an hour?" The back up is behind a loose board in the bathroom. The officials make quiet talk as I come down the stairs and begin putting essential software on my computer. I have lost four days worth of work but nothing else. Once the computer is half functional Tara and her partner can view my time stamped copies.
"Shit," says Tara. "You really are a barnboss. Congratulations."
I can keep my job. "You've had quite a day," says Francoise who is starting to fix dinner. I sit in a kitchen chair head in my hands. I don't think I've ever been so tired in all my life, not even when Peter died.
"What's for dinner?" Frederick asks. "Veal stew with peppers and onions," answers Francoise "You and Jimmy like your red meat." Frederick laughs. Then he says "Go out and fill the hole by the garbage cans." I take the shovel. I am both numb and cold.
I come inside to more bad news. Frederick's special request department within Value Added has been closed. He has been transferred to the general human resources pool as a full time trainee. "A fucking paper pusher," he complains. It is no use to tell him his shop was a money laundry. I put my arms around Frederick. He hugs me back. "At least I still have you," he says.
Tired as I am, I can't sleep that night. I lay in the darkness thinking of Peter and his books. For the first time, I wonder what could have been in those books. Ink, writing, something no one could alter the way my computer records were altered, something only fire could erase? Could Peter's books have absolved him? That makes no sense.
I think of our last conversation. "You need to do something about Treva, Koie," Peter began. "It's a messy business though...releases. You don't realize that now because you are eager. I hired you for that and that's good. Stay eager, Koie, for a while. Goodnight Koie."
"Goodnight Peter," I answered.
Out at the head of the stairwell I see a dark shape. It is a man in a bathrobe and pajamas. He has uncombed hair, probably greyish and a set to the shoulders that looks familiar. I don't care that he is nearly three months dead or that I buried him. "Peter!" I cry out. "I gave Peter her release."
"You took the whole house down," Peter half says half chuckles. "Two houses in one summer. Boy I'm not sure it was such a good idea to leave things in your hands. Of course you're a real barnboss now. You can defend yourself. Do you like it?"
I can make out Peter's shadowy face in the half light. "For six years I defended myself. A barnboss is the focus of a lot of anger, parents angry for losing their children, people angry for all that history they lost and some kind of freedom in the past, do you understand now...."
I nod. "You always have to be on the look out. It's a messy business, Koie."
"It can make a person tired and you're always alone, not like family or even a good mentor house. You haven't really been alone this summer yet, but it will happen."
Peter is right. Francoise will go to Ohio. Jimmy will leave as soon as he has the money. Jonathan is already gone. Only Frederick will remain because he has no where to go too. "Goodnight Koie," says Peter and he is gone.
"Koie, Koie," Frederick is trying to awakne me. "Quit crying in your sleep." Am I crying. My pillow is wet with tears and the bedclothes soaked in sweat. I bolt from the bed and push aside the curtains to stare at what is left of the night that shrouds the neighborhood. I was born here. Now I am a barnboss here. I tell myself I won't let myself get tired like Peter.
Peter, I think. You didn't tell me who turned you in to Atlanta. Was there nbody? I wish now I could have helped and kept you from reaching the point where you hanged yourself. Peter I'm sorry.
"Koie," calls Frederick. "What are you looking at?"
written by ZOIDRubashov
Saturday, January 24, 2004.
"Nothing," I say. Then I add softly &qout;goodnight Peter," and climb back into bed and Frederick's warm embrace.
Chapter 39 -- Groveling Does Not Become Me
"How did you find me?" asks Benjamin Crowe as he stares at me in a rectangle of yellow light. The house is on farmland in Harris County. It is after dark. I wonder if I should tell him I had the good sense to know his listed address was false but that his property tax records were probably left unaltered. Benjamin Crowe owns three parcels of property. He lived in the second parcel. "Trial and error," I tell him in answer to his question.
"Mr. Crowe," I begin. "I need your help. I think a higly placed employee in human resources is stealing from the Company." I also think he is shielding and succoring a murderer but Bree is a small fish. Allan is further up the food chain. I explain about Bree and her altered records. If one kind of record can be doctored, why not doctor financial records to skim off the top. This after all is the way that barn bosses facilitate bribery. Why couldn't something similar be happening under the company's roof. I remember Ezra Larkin's words about the neighborhod being a mosaic of competing factions. "What I need," I explain "is a way to make official downloads that are time and date stamped so that when records are altered later we have ways of comparing."
Mr. Crowe smiles. He leads me into his study and closes and locks the door. Even CEO's go confidential. He asks me if I have a portable hard drive with me and I do. We transfer the software and I am good to go. I say it will take two weeks to get the data we both need. Then it is over.
Francoise gives me tofu vegetable soup with noodles. She complains the boys went out to eat. She means Jimmy and Frederick. I wonder what the two brothers talk about. Jimmy's hack license exam is Thursday. This is Francoise' last hurrah of creative cooking. "What are you going to do when you have revenge?" she asks me. "It takes two weeks at least," I remind her. We let it drop.
Jimmy and Frederick return late. I remember Frederick crawling into bed with me. He feels warm. We make love and after he is asleep, I slip down the stairs and into the garden to dig holes. The next day I buy milar for protecting portable hard drives from the elements. The drive is a good break because now that we have the community center, I can move into phase two of my plans. This is parent education, teaching about local bans, branches, choices available without bribes. Teaching needs to start long before parents get antsy around taking time. We are in the time now to teach. I need to find adults who had branch encouragements and need to get them to speak to parents. I need parents to hear from teenagers with internal and out of state placements as well. This is a sell job but it is also liberation. Maybe in ten or fifteen years, no one will even think of bribing a local house. Myabe our local houses will have to recruit nationally.
I think of all this most of the day. Only when I make my officially time stamped screen shots does my mind return to the scorpion. I catch a screen shot of his finance pages early in the morning and then around 1pm. I watch amounts donated to various specialty shops within human resources drop to match the actual amount those shops receive. The multiplicity of slush funds is staggering. One of them is Special Requets, the branch of Value Added where my Frederick has found himself. In addition, I make an official timed screen shot of my own finances.
Late at night, I bury my findings in the yard. Friday night, Frederick notices my absence in bed and comes down to the screen door. I see his silhouette in the kitchen light. I tell him this is confidential and to go back inside. "Who are you messing with?" he asks. I forget that about some things my Frederick is very astute. I wonder if he would understand the story of the frog and scorpion.
"Please go back inside!" I yell though I don't want to feel like a barnboss any more. I watch Frederick's shadow disappear and dig another little hole in a different spot than where he saw.
Saturday night we celebrate Jimmy's passing the hack liscence exam by taking him out to his favorite rerestaurant. I order mahi-mahi and Francoise gets the scallops but the two brothers both have steak and fries. "I never expected this in all my fucking life," growls Jimmy to the rest of us. "Why shouldn't we take you out?" I ask. "My life is a fucked up mess," he answers. &qout;Yes, but you've begun to sort it out," Francoise replies. "Yeah, begun," snaps Jimmy.
"What's that?" Jimmy asks Francoise the next morning. It's a peaceful Sunday. I have had to wake up early to make a timed budget print and work on my project. I'm drinking tea as Francoise pounds a boneless flank of beef she's going to use for a brachiole. "Beef jelly roll, only made with stuffing," she tells the inquisitive Jimmy. Jimmy snorts. "Ed branch," he laughs. "Jonathan's going to love that!" he exclaims. "We're having corn on the cob too," Francoise snaps back.
Jonathan comes home today, for a "break week" before returning to Knoxville, no not returning, moving. I think of myself at fourteen, riding with Sebastien and Lacey to get my stuff from my parents and I feel my stomach turn in a knot. I need a walk. I need air. The community center is already open. Gayla and two adolescents with an interest in slot cars are holding a repair clinic. A skinny adolescent girl lounges on the library floor reading a paperback. Two boys have signed out one of three basketballs donated by executives with cash to burn. The windows of the community center have been washed clear of mirrored grit and the half stocked store is gone.
"Good morning!" Gayla calls to me. "Is Frederick coming over later?"
"He's still sleeping," I answer, and I keep walking. I'm not sure where I am really going. I
am headed down Seventeenth Street toward Cross Country Plaza on Macon Road. That is what I tell myself, but when I pass my parents' house, I stop. They are probably up. My youngest sister who is not yet in high school has soccer practice and no placement. I see the vague outline of my mother in the screen door.
I find myself crossing the lawn. We haven't said much to each other in years, and I doubt we will say much now. I dont' know what my parents paid Mara and/or Jason for the placement I fled at fourteen but they've never asked me to pay it back. My mother comes more into focus. We greet eachother. I hear her inviting me inside. I smell breakfast, not the sort I'm used to eating. My younger sister Naomi is home from prep in North Carolina again and she eyes me warily. I refuse food and sit uncomfortably at the kitchen table. My father is reading the local paper.
My mother asks me how it is going. I tell her about the community center. She smiles. She says she is surprised I make a good barn boss. She asks how I handle parents who insist on wanting a local placement. I say that I tell them if one is avaialble they can have it but I don't take bribes. My mother stares at the table and doesn't answer. My father puts down his paper and looks at me. He looks long and hard.
My father's eyes are that funny color that is sometimes green and sometimes blue. They seem blue beneath the kitchen's fluorescent light. "When you were running all over the place, no one would ever believe you'd be the barnboss yet here you are at twenty-four and still wanting to set the world on fire like a young kid. Boy I bet those rich executives and those other barnbosses are scaird of you."
I feel my throat tighten and dry. "Even the rich executives [though not the truely rich ones in their semi-secret world out in Harris County] are glad not to have to live in fear," I answer. I wish I did not have to talk like a barnboss. I put my hand on my father's stout arm with its coat of silky medium brown hair. "Dad," I answer. "I have to thank you for something."
He blinks. "I learned it when I went to the last barnboss meeting. I saw my profile. You kept all the house managers from hurting me. You stood up for me and gave me a very good childhood. I did not even know what the lash was until I started taking down houses." I let my words go to silence. My father's eyes avoid my gaze. My mother too looks away. I try not to look at Naomi who is the only one who still stares.
"I'm sorry," I tell her because I wonder if she was as lucky as I have been.
I am glad to get out of my family's house into the morning that is turning into a hot day in the middle of August. I decide to walk to Sillas and find her outside in her garden sitting under old roses with papery white blooms that contrast with the hot looking black paint of her fine abode. "Koie, what are you doing in my neck of the woods?" she calls out. I say I am taking a walk.
She motions me to come over and sit with her. I find myself crouched on the cool flagstones of the rose grotto. "So you've got that community center up and running," she sighs. "It's your turn to rule and rule you will."
"I'm sorry about the tight budgets," I answer.
"I've managed. You're idealistic and naive. That was nothing no one in this neighborhood did not know. Of course, we also know we'll be here when you are long gone."
I blink. "Everyone has to work together here," Silla tells me. "I thought you would pick that up once Atlanta gave you the reigns. I did what I could to get you on your feet. There could be worse for a house like mine. No one counted on you taking down the first house, let alone Laure's."
Silla takes a deep breath and continues. "At some point, there's going to be pay back for what you are doing, Koie. I'm not going to be the one to do it. I'm not sure I'd be the one to do it, but there are others."
"I'm clean Silla," I interrupt.
"Are you so sure?" she asks. "Tobias said he would taught you a bit about how things worked last meeting."
I smile. I think of several secret hiding places containing officially date stamped disks. Woe to any one who tries to alter my financial records and then go crying to Atlanta.
"Have you thought about going to graduate school?" Silla asks. "PhD programs have been defunded right and left," I remind her. I keep smiling.
My smile only defrosts when Jonathan returns home at 8pm. The brachiole is hot and the water is up for the corn. There's rice salad and green salad and sliced tomatoes. Even Jimmy does not complain of the food. Jonathan is still pale and thin and grey about the eyes but he is smiling and he can manage a full plate of food and stays up for several hours after we finish the sacher torte.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Tuesday, January 20, 2004.
If something happens, I tell myself that night, I will have saved one life...no not one life, several lives under Laure's roof.
Chapter 38 -- Frog and Scorpion
We walk to Gayla's apartment on Cedar Street. Jimmy and Frederick are probably using the computer for entertainment and I don't want to have to shoe them out. Francoise follows us. Neither of us chases her home though technically she has no rights to see what we are going to find out. What will we find out? I try not to think of that.
Gayla's fourth story apartment is messy but that is fine. She instructs Francoise to wait in the small kitchen and pull the bifold doors shut. Gayla powers up her computer, logs into the records network and brings up Bree Crowe's records.
"We start with the birth record. Place of birth Columbus Medical Center, Columbus Georgia. Date of birth May 1, _________ Same year as you, Kohana. Name: Linda Douglas. Kohana, are you OK?"
"I'm fine," I tell Gayla. "Let me see the parents' names."
They are right there on the birth certificate Michale and Lisa Douglas. "We need to check the taking records," I say in my best barnboss voice.
"As you wish...Here you take over..." I don't need to see the taking records. They only confirm a loop that plays in my brain every time I close my eyes. "Father killed at taking due to security violation." That is the way the record reads. Behind the words though the hot summer sun will always beat down on the large rock where Linda, a couple of other kids and I sat on that warm evening. Did Michael tell his daughter what he was planning? Did Michael crawl under the wire by accident? The record says nothing.
"Michael Douglas was a very stupid man," I hear Roxanne's voice reverberate in my head. "If a person wants to leave the company they can any time...."
I rest my face in my hands. "Let's see more," Gayla goads me on. I read the taking summary. The words Caspi House stand out. "Linda discussed her father's death and wanting to do something for him. She is mature beyond her years. Encouragement Creative Leadership awarded 5/24/________ "
I check for other takings, but there are no further takings. In fact, Linda Douglas' entire childhood record is completely blank. There are no taking records, no school records, no medical records. Something is very wrong. "Someone's been through these records. They just left out the first six years," I hear myself say.
"Cross check her mother's records," says a voice from the kitchen. "That would be a good idea," Gayla answers Francoise. Lisa's records are also missing. So too are the records for Linda's two younger siblings. I remember That is strange.
Of course I remember Linda disappearing from school and parents saying that Lisa had left the area and remarried. There was nothing in a young widow doing just that, but her records would have turned up elsewhere and the siblings records and...
The kitchen door slides open. "Do you want to know the rest of the story?" asks Francoise.
"We're confidential!" snaps Gayla before I turn off the monitor. &qot;Yes," I answer.
"Linda Douglas grew up off the grid. I worked with her several summers starting when I was eighteen. She is two years younger than I am. She's your age Kohana.
"My parents would not take me back when I finished high school. I was going away to Yale and that was beyond what was acceptible. I was running away and if I was going to do that, I could look after myself. I was too old for foster care, so I came into the neighborhood and asked to work for room and board and ended up getting a bit more than that. That was how I met Bree.
"She was Bree by then. She had returned to the grid but without family or a mentor she too was just hired help. It's amazing how much hired help there is, a whole underclass of us who do laundry and cook when catering is not enough and run errands and make deliveries and drive cabs. It's a nether world. It was only a summer here and there for me, but for Bree it was a way of life until Allan married her.
"Bree was invisible as hired help is. She worked in nearly every house in the neighborhood, including Mara's. When she could not find work, Sonnie took her in. She probably knows every house in the neighborhood that is worth knowing and many that are not, and all the gossip."
"Bree knew Ezra's personal habits," ticks off Gayla. "She knew her way around Mara's and Sonnie's. She also had a motive: revenge for the death of her father. Motive and means. We need to turn this information over to the authorities."
"No," answers Francoise "If you want me for a witness, I will tell them nothing. I'll forget whatever I told you."
"Two people almost died because of Bree!" Gayla all but screams.
I think of Francoise beaten and bruised in the county jail by guards and police trying to make her talk. I know she'll make good on her promise of silence but...."Francoise," I beg. "Was Bree almost worth dying for?"
"She may be working with others," Francoise answers.
"Like who!" I can see Gayla's face is flushed with anger.
"I don't know."
&qot;The loving husband who doctored her records as an adult."
"Shakti fired Bree you know," Gayla interjects.
"So other people fired her too and fired me...." complains Francoise.
"Yes, but this was different. Bree left the door to the nursery school, the emergency door to the outside open so a little kid could run out into the road and get killed. You know Ezra and Shakti live on Hilton Ave."
"If you kill a person's reputation it is almost as good as killing them," I say thinking of Peter. Of Peter! I remember what Tobias and Jaqui showed me about bribes to barnbosses last month. Someone with good access to computer records and a vendetta could put any barnboss out of business.
"Francoise," I ask. "Did Bree ever clean Peter's house?"
"Yes," she answers. "I'm not sure she knew of what was going on there. She hadn't met Allan yet but she cleaned for a lot of other people who had to pay off Peter. There I said it. I'm sorry if I offended any one."
"You didn't offend me," smiles Gayla. "The local scene in Sandy Creek was quite corrupt. No reason the one here should be any different."
"I wonder if vengance can ever be satisfied," I ask no one.
"I went to school with Linda [Bree] for three months after that taking. We weren't close. We never talked. It never seemed right. I had enough trouble sorting it out myself."
"Kohana," Francoise stops me. "This is not your fault."
"No, but my mentor [Peter] was driven to suicide and two of my friends were nearly killed and the wife of one of them nearly had her repuation destroyed. We have to do something."
"Those who sew the wind, inherit the whirlwind," answers Francoise.
"It nearly killed you when you were falsely accused!"
"I'm willing to die."
"I'm not. Not yet."
I head out the living room door of Gayla's apartment and down the hall. Both Gayla and Francoise come after me. "Go back!" I yell. "Where are you going?" Gayla asks. "To defend what is mine," I answer.
"Kohana, if you don't accept food from her or let her in the house, Bree is close to harmless. You know how she operates....You're clean.... No one can touch you. You have the best defense," Francoise explanation has a ring of truth but if there are others behind Bree, how soon will they be after me. If my parent education and the community center are really successful, the discontent with the takings will dry up and then there will be nothing left to fuel a rebellion, not in Weyracoba anyway. If you want to break the company you need to feed on the pain it brings.
"Do you know the story of the frog and the scorpion?" I ask Francoise and Gayla.
"What does that have to do with this?" Gayla asks.
"A scorpion needed to cross a rushing river," I begin. "So he asks a frog for a ride. They swim out into the raging waters and the scorpion stings the frog. The frog starts to feel weak and sick from the scorpion's bite. The frog asks the scorpion: 'Why did you sting me?' The scorpion answers: 'Because it is my nature.' The frog does not understand. 'Why did you sting me?' he asks again. 'Don't you know we'll both drown now.' 'I can't help it,' the scorpion answers. 'It's my nature.'
"I need to get the scorpion off my back. This frog is going to make it to the other side of the river."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Sunday, January 18, 2004.
Chapter 37 -- The Soul in the Pictures
"I don't want you to cook anything," growls Jimmy. "I want dinner from a fucking restaurant!"
"I'm cooking the celebration meal for Jonathan and you next week and that's final," Francoise snaps back. "Now I'd like some input. Jonathan probably won't be all better by then, but you're healthy and you like your food, and by the way, you had better get used to home cooking."
There are some days I'm glad that Francoise can wield her own cudgels and this is one of them. We are readying fish chowder for dinner. It just seems better than breaded catfish or tilapia or salmon steaks. Jimmy glares at us. Upstairs Jonathan still lies sleeping.
The comm phone shatters the silence. It's Sebastien. "I have good news," I begin telling my old mentor.
"Kohana," he says. "Please close the study door. I think you'll want this to be confidential."
I close the door, even though I am sure that in a minute or two I'll be whooping the good news all over the house in the hope that Jonathan will awaken and share it with me.
"I'm not going to accept Jonathan," says Sebastien.
"You're what!" I realize I could wake Jonathan only after the fact.
"Why?" I have to ask.
"He's too damaged. I saw his profile this morning. It has images from his sketch diary."
It has what? The last time I checked Jonathan's profile was a couple of weeks ago. I feel sick and angry. I wish now that I had a back up copy. I switch on the computer and search for Jonathan. I see the images near the end of the profile. They are pencil sketches. One is of hands, small graceful hands with long fingers curled inward as if in defense. The hands are bound by a strap to a ring in what I recognize as the top of the brick pillar. There is a semi-nude figure from the back. I make out all the muscles and the tender exposed flesh and even a few scars. There is a whip. There is a paddle. There is a figure from the side, tied to the whipping post. I feel sick. Who put these in....I know that he or she left no signature.
I wonder who could be after Jonathan. I scroll down through the profile and see an update. Updated 7/28/__ by Gayla Maris Civil Engineer Mentoring Technology Services. "Why?" I ask aloud. I want to race right over to Hilton Avenue and beat Gayla to a bloody pulp. I think of Jonathan sick with stress. I think of him reaching for books the first night after I took down Laure's house.
"We're on the same page now." Sebastien's voice brings me back to reality. "Maybe,&quuot; I struggle to think. "The only thing Jonathan knows is being beaten. When others do not beat him he beats himself. You see him every day. You are used to him. Gayla just put it in words others can understand. I think she did the right thing."
"That's easy for you to say. Do you know how hard Jonathan worked for that exam?" I am screaming again and I no longer care.
"Did you see how sick he made himself?" I can't win with Sebastien. I tell him I need time to collect myself before we talk more and sign off. I sit on the edge of the chair in the study with my face in my hands. I am crying, too sick with rage to even hear Jonathan moving around until his feet are padding on the stairs.
"It's confidential," I croak; for how can I face him.
Just then the comm phone rings again. I pray it's not Sebastien. It's Hamida instead. I'm too shocked to tell her I'm too angry to talk. "I want to congratulate you on Jonathan's test results. I would also like to congratulate Jonathan."
Maybe Hamida can help me. Now that Jonathan is back upstairs. "Hamida," I say. "Something terrible has happened. A very well meaning friend of mine from Men-Tech altered Jonathan's records."
"Do you mean the pictures?" asks Hamida.
"Yes," I answer.
"I saw those. They're wonderful. They'll scare some mentors away but those aren't the kind of mentors Jonathan needs. There's so much soul in those images and Laure couldn't beat it out of him. Margaux and I are going to handle your Jonathan ourselves. We'll do the initiation at the dorm house in Atlanta. Jonathan can bring whomever he likes as witness because this is technically a late initiation. He needs to see people are behind this since it won't be his first choice of house."
"You know..." I stammer.
"I guessed. Sebastien is very good for some people but not others. He tends to like initiates with a certain aggressive go-getter personality. He'll forgive a lot to get that. Jonathan does not fit the pattern."
"Jonathan took that exam!" I protest.
"Jonathan never so much as asked for a release. It took Colin [Michael] DeLaurin to come to you and only when you broke down the house did Jonathan decide he wanted in. Where was he all those other years? That's the way Sebastien thinks. He's a poor match for Jonathan. I think Margaux and I can do better."
"You may be right," I say.
"Don't forget I placed you and you were a classic problem placement."
"You had done everyting in the book to gain a local ban and yet you were adamant about wanting a local education and if that was not enough, you bolted and came down here to Atlanta demanding to be initiated.
Gerald called me after he sent you to that fast track conference in Athens Greece and said 'Hamida that girl who worships you is in big trouble.' You were my first placement. Margaux said do whatever you can and I went through the register of interior houses to find a scholarly house that would accept you.
Anything with a rating turned you down so I went through the unrated houses. I screened out the one or two with violations and then looked at the backgrounds of the house managers. Sebastien was an e-branch engineer with a stick coding background, and what are sometimes called good basic mentoring instincts. You know how he lost his job. E-branch sometimes takes in discarded alumni as mentors to fill their bellies. I remember asking Sebastien if he wanted Sui Generis to be more than a safe harbor for him and his friends. He agreed to take you. You know, he was as charmed with the Athens Greece idea as you were. He was tickled. I worried about the status drop but figured you would handle it."
I never thought of what went on behind my placement. "With luck, Jonathan won't have to deal with a status drop. He has no local preference."
"Will you be looking out of state?" I ask.
"We'll be looking everywhere. Let's set a time for the initiation."
We decide 11am Saturday morning is good and then Hamida asks me to go get Jonathan, so it is she not I who break the news about Sebastien.
Friday, Francoise and Jonathan spend the day getting the boy's things ready. A lot of what he owns is torn or permanently soiled. We go to the south mall to a military/police/security surplus outlet to buy t-shirts, underclothing and fairly generic trousers and two new sweaaters, one in a pleasing olive drab and the other in a salt and pepper tweed knit. We also go to the best shoe store in town and buy Jonathan a pair of brown padded oxfords and a new pair of sneakers. I suggest a hair cut but Jonathan says he is too tired.
Jonathan is sleeping when Frederick comes home. "He's still sick?" Frederick asks. "He's fucking sick in the head," groans Jimmy who is studying the hack liscence exam booklet at the kitchen table. "You better send out for some dinner Freddie. Francoise is making fried shit."
"It's called falafel," Francoise explains.
"Maybe I will send out," says Frederick staring at the chickpea batter in the bowl. "What's with the fish and now the..."
"It's called falafel," I remind him.
"Nostalgia," answers Francoise.
"Cordelia who taught us both to cook," I explain "used to make falafel at Aurora Borealis House every Friday for supper and sometimes we ate there and sometimes we helped make them."
Frederick sighs. "You know someone in value added got asked for this shit," Frederick points to the bowl. "One of the accounting satellites is half female employees and those bitches wanted fal-af-el. Catering had never heard of it. It's not on their list, so I finally asked who had made this dumb request though I asked it a lot nicer than I'm saying it now.
"And I got the lady on the line. God knows where she's from. Ed-branch though apparently a lot of professional female employess are ed-branch. Anyway, I ended up writing Scarlet a requisition to Inner Mall Two to buy a case of falafel mix or a big bag of it however they sell the stuff. Cook in central said he can cook anything he has a recipe or instructions for so no problem there so when the labor day party is on, there will be falafel for the actuaries and now I come home....
"I never get away from ed-branch types. You know my boss was real proud of the way I handled those female employees. He said I have the makings of a real good value added team member."
I put my arms around Frederick and let him hug me back. I feel something warm and sad break in me. "Why are you crying Koie?" my Frederick asks. I wish I could explain but I'm not sure of all of it myself.
After dinner I take Frederick, Jimmy, and Jonathan with me and we walk through the twilight of the park to Aaron and Roxanne's house. The three brothers' parents meet us and we sit in a nervous circle while I explain Hamida's phone call and late initiations and how we'd like as many of Jonathan's family and friends there as possible.
"You're taking my son away," says Roxanne.
"It's going to be an out of state placement," Aaron backs her up.
"Why?" asks Roxanne who looks surprisingly hurt.
"Laure's house," I say.
"He never gave any physical discipline," Roxanne doesn't miss a beat.
"No, but he was there for a very long time and made no move to leave. Also he tested into ed-branch under a lot of stress. He needs a house that is both art and academic as well." I am tired of acting like a barn boss but unfortunately, that has become routine.
"You have no idea what it is to be a parent," Aaron cuts in. "Absolutely none."
And considering the job you did with your three sons, I'm glad I don't, I think but I keep that to myself. "Will you come to your son's initiation?" I ask.
"He's going to be taken," Roxanne answers.
"He'll be initiated first and he wants you to be there," I protest.
"Not for some out of state house," Roxanne says and Aaron backs her up. At least they are honest. I remember how my own parents refused to take me back during my first break. I realize that as long as I am barn boss, Jonathan will not need foster care for his breaks. Frederick and I will take him in. That makes me feel a little better.
I am still hurting though when we get on the road to Atlanta early Saturday morning. We arrive fifteen minutes early and sit in the dorm hose upstairs kitchen. Hamida has bought a flower arrangement with sunflowers and red lilies and dried lotus pods. There is even sparkling grape juice to serve in lieu of champagne. Hamida can do all this not just with a straight face but with a smile and I understand the smile.
Neither Jimmy nor Frederick do. I try to see the dorm house kitchen through their eyes. It looks sad and cheap with its repainted cupboards and colorful ceramic crockery which has been set out for a snack of cake and fake wine.
&quto;You know what this reminds me of," says Jimmy. "That house on the other side of the field from my takings before I joined Harmony House. It was very simple like this but there was going to be fun stuff to do. Not Disneyworld but real fun stuff that we thought up on our own. I wonder what would have happened...."
"If no one's messed with your childhood profile, we can find out," says Hamida brightly.
"No one can tell what would have been," says Jimmy.
"No but I can tell what kind of place that house in the woods was. It might be interesting to see where you were going before...."
Jimmy shrugs. "Do you want to do this with friends or confidential?" asks Hamida.
Jimmy looks around. He does not want to do this at all but he doesn't say that. "Bring 'em all in. I don't care." he growls.
I watch Jimmy's profile come up on the screen in a small office off the kitchen. Like an arrow heading for the bullseye on the target, Hamida heads for the taking records. She reads the words that all of us see projected on the dimly lit wall: "Jimmy found Caspi House by his own initiative....Jimmy is an active leader of made up games....or games learned at school. Games are low budget physical education variants of different traditional sports. Jimmy is aware of organizing games, rules, team play. Jimmy shows great potential as a leader, teacher, and quick thinker. Encouragement Creative Leadership Awarded 12/18/___ " Hamida stops reading. "I can give you a printout of this if you would like. Creative Leadership is one of the rarest encouragements out there. I've only seen it one other time."
"It doesn't fucking matter now," says Jimmy. "Jimmy," Hamida asks him. "What are you planning to do with your life?"
I want Hamida to stop torturing Jimmy now, but Jimmy doesn't turn and tell her a few choice epithets and that the taking with so much promise was too long ago to matter. Instead Jimmy answers: "I take my hack license test on Wednesday. I'm going off the grid."
"May I give you some advice?" Hamida asks. Why she should ask I don't know when she's going to give it anyway.
"Sure," answers Jimmy. "Take the college entrance exam. You won't have the patience for prep. It's like pablum and you need real meat for your mind and your heart."
"What for?" Jimmy asks. "I mean why should I go to college."
"You'll get a student stipend and besides you may not want to stay off the grid your whole life. Why not keep your options open?"
"I'll think about that," says Jimmy who must be making a humungeous effort to be polite.
By now it is time for Jonathan's initiation and around 11:05am his mentor arrives. Her name is Annagret and she represents Pierot House of Knoxville, Tennessee. The house has a dual creative arts/academic focus and Jonathan will be attending the private Ryerly Academy along with his housemates. Hamida has pulled through on getting Jonathan a house with a good fit. I eat cake and drink sparkling juice with a clear conscience. When Jonathan and Annagret leave by stick it is a sad goobye but not as sad as many.
I drive back with Frederick airing the car out as if getting rid of a bad odor. In the back Francoise and Jimmy talk. "I think I want to go back to being tutored. I can do it part time if you cna tutor me...I don't think I can make that test by myself."
"Well we both have to stay with Koie until they drop the charges in our cases so why not..." answers Francoise. "What Hamida said about being able to come back makes sense."
By evening Francoise agrees to stay with me and tutor Jimmy until he passes his exam even if charges against her dropped before he is finished. That evening Frederick does not ask for dinner out but after dinner the two of us alone walk on the River Walk. "I've been thinking," he tells me. "I'm going to ask Carl to put me on full time. He needs someone to handle requests. That's hard stuff no one else wants to do, like that falafel. I really like Value Added."
"I know you do," I grasp Frederick's hand tight in mine. "Do you understand now about there being more than being happy and comfortable?"
"No," answers Frederick. "Having a job you like makes you happy. You ed-branch people like school. Creative Leadership whatever that is likes making up games.... I like helping people party the way they want."
I know Frederick will never read any philosophy because it is even too dense for me. We head home, though at more agreement than we've been all summer.
Sunday I go to help Bree, Francoise, and Gayla put the finishing touches on the community center. The windows still have some dirt on them which is the residue of the now long destuck silver. We spread tarps on the floor and get squeegies and rags.
"Where is Jonathan?" Bree asks as we work side by side.
"He finally got placed after he passed his exam," I answer.
"Yes, but where is he?" asks Bree as if she's pretending not to hear.
"Pierot House in Knoxville, Tennessee. It's technically a trial but I think it will work."
"You sent him away!" Bree's eyes flash with anger and her face flushes hot and red. "Why!"
"I wanted him to have the best placement he could."
"What about his mother and father!"
I push Aaron and Roxanne out of my mind. "Jonathan is fourteen. It's OK for a fourteen year old to live away from his parents."
"No it's not! No one should take children from parents!" Bree throws down her rag and her squeegie and bolts for the door.
"Oh shit," says Francoise quietly.
"What was that all about?" asks Gayla.
"I think I got Bree a little upset," I comment back.
"If that's a little, I'd sure hate to see a lot." snorts Francoise.
Gayla puts down her tools. "Come on Kohana let's go," she urges me. "Go where?" I ask. "Your house or mime. Something's not right with Bree and I want a good look at her profile. We've both got privileges."
"Bree's profile's been messed with," I reply.
"One can't obliterate a whole profile," Gayla corrects me. "Some of the original may still be intact. I was almost poisoned two months ago. If there's a looney loose in the neighborhood, I want to know."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Friday, January 09, 2004.
"You don't need a profile for that," answers Francoise.