Cottonwood Seeds en Route: IV. Isabella Dudosa

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from April, 2020.

This is the fourth entry in Cottonwood Seeds en Route. It is a continuation of Part III: Suri Dihan.

I. Ombrogenous, n.

It is often stated as a fact that a person needs to feel some sort of pain in order to grow— we can see this literally when someone’s joints ache as their arms or legs grow longer. I am not sure how plausible this claim is though— too much stress can crush a sapling or snap a flower’s stem, for instance.

Humans are naturally social creatures— there are mountains of research and meta-research supporting this— so time during this Stay-at-Home order from Gov. Inslee is sure to cause a lot of stress on a lot of people.

That is why I decided to start skyping my friends. To help alleviate that stress from them. Their schedules are all conflicting though— Violet barely has internet, Crystal’s always watching her sister, just like Suri and their siblings, and Nadine’s always nose-deep in some Austen novel or at work— so there’s never really a time for us all to talk face-to-face.

So, I just talk to whoever I can, a different person each day on a cycle— I need time to work on my own studies, you know. And my homework too.

II. Chicken Scratch, n. and adj.

Yes, I am aware that Zoom lessons are recorded, and I can go back to them whenever, but who has the time for that? I want to get as much information written down as possible, so I can get whatever random assignment the teacher’s added to their Schoology page done.

I scribble notes down as quickly as I can, as much precise wording as I can. I become a stenographer— no, a machine recording every syllable that travels through our ethernet cable.

The feeling of accomplishment washes over me at the end of Ms. Hendrix’s lecture. That is, until I look back at my notes during the quiz she posted for review, and my notes look like a pile of pine needles on the sidewalk.

III. Daddock, n.

After wrangling Alejandro to sit at a table and practice subtraction for 30 minutes, I realize I need air. I put on my jacket, a scarf around my mouth— per CDC guidelines— and go on a walk.

The first step outside is like the first time you sip cold water after not drinking any for a long time— I don’t realize it until I feel the cold spread through my ribs.

I walk to the end of the culdesac and sit on the curb— acing social distancing the whole time, by the way. There’s a nurse log behind the fence that abruptly ends the road. I sit there. Just sit there watching the moss inch in the wind, sparkles of light from fresh rain blink in the sun, mushrooms stretch their necks like giraffes through the moss canopy.

Everything’s quiet now. I feel my ribs expand as I take a deep breath. Can’t remember the last time I did that.

IV. Ruly, adj.

“Morning, Violet!” I say, holding my phone to my ear. It feels so weird using a phone… as a phone.

“Good morning,” she responds. I can hear the exhaustion in her voice.

“You doing okay? Still no internet?”

“Not yet, no. My mom applied for that free internet offer from Comcast, but they’re booked out for over a month. It’s alright though. Nadine dropped off a couple books on our door for me to read—“ Rusting of plastic fills the pause.”Do you think she reads anything from this century?”

“I think it depends on how you define ‘century.’”

She chuckles, “Within the lifespan of a currently-living person?”

“Results are inconclusive; further research needed.”

We laugh. Hers sounds strained. “It’s just stressful, you know? At first it was like being a tree in a rainstorm, but as soon as school got closed, it’s like the sun went out. I don’t really know what’s happening. The calls from the principal help, I guess?”

“I heard pretty much every phone company is giving their customers unlimited data. Can’t you use that to get the news?”

“Maybe, but Crys is constantly texting me the latest panic-news. She’s like my personal Associated Press. Her takes seem pretty extreme though. I mean, I went on a walk yesterday, and everyone was wearing masks. Like that would help anything.”

“The CDC said everyone should wear masks, Violet. Were you not wearing a mask?”

“No. A random patch of cloth isn’t going to prevent a virus. Plus, if you’re walking far away from people, it’s unnecessary!”

“But it wouldn’t hurt! Shouldn’t people do everything possible to prevent the disease?”

“Yeah, I guess. I just don’t want stuff on my face. It feels weird. It’s weird that stuff feels normal on my arms and stuff but not my face.”

“I know. It was too warm for scarves, but I wore one yesterday anyway. Sometimes you need to make sacrifices for the greater good.”

V. Broigus, adj. and n.

Sunday morning, I wake up hearing frustrated groans from the dining room, sporadic clacking. It all builds up to my mom yelling “Isabella! Get out here!”

I sigh, roll out of bed. Everything feels half speed, like there’s rust in my joints. I drag my feet out of my bedroom, the light of hallway too bright.

“Isabella! I need your help!”

I enter the dining room, see her sitting in front of her old laptop, her glasses down to the tip of her nose. “Yes, Mom. Good morning.”

“Isabella. I can’t get this to work.”

I walk around to see her screen. “Get what to work?”

“Church. It’s online, and I can’t find it.”

“The livestream? Is that what you mean? Did you get a link for it?”

“I don’t know! They said on Facebook they were holding mass online, and I can’t find it.”

“Alright.” I lean over, scroll on the trackpad. “Most Catholics don’t go to mass every Sunday, you know. It’s okay to miss it this one time if you can’t figure it out.”

Her eyes go wide. “Isabella! What are you saying?! It’s Palm Sunday! The Dudosas do not miss mass! Especially during such a holy time!”

“Okay. Okay.” Her prideful fury— while technically a sin, but I’m not going to bring that up to her— is terrifying. “The link is right here, under the status.” I click on it, wait for the stream to load.

The priest’s voice bursts out of the laptop. Mom gasps in delight. “Thank you so much, Isabella! You’re a blessing.”

“No problem, Mom,” I say, turning back toward my room. Behind me, I hear her sip her coffee and the priest read from Matthew.

VI. Geodesy, n.

Every day, around lunch, I go to Johns Hopkins’s COVID-19 map and update a spreadsheet I’ve been maintaining for a couple weeks. Call it biased, but I track each county in Washington. I also check on the major cities in each state though, as well as some other countries.

I track the number of confirmed cases, deaths. I also check any news on what governors or national governments implement— always find an additional source to corroborate. I then go back and update graphs I’ve made. They’re not as good as the professional ones, obviously, but I’m getting better. Maybe I’ll spend spring break trying to get better with pivot tables.

It takes a while, I know, but it’s become meditative. There’s a block of time in the afternoon where I get some quiet, find patterns and logic in the waves of chaos. When things break down into numbers, and I can connect those numbers to actions of people, it gives the haze shape.

VII. Wordsworthiana, n.

On the last day before the closure, in the frantic dash through 30-minute classes, most teachers dumped packets, talked about future units or plans that could be. They talked about due dates, projects being delayed. I remember the strain in their eyes, their sclerae bold around their irises, their hair disheveled.

That is, except for Ms. Hendrix. She sat on her stool in the front of the classroom, her eyes calm, her braids neatly draped over her shoulder. She talked about uncertainty, coping with the feeling of not knowing what the next day or week would bring. I could hear old sadness in her voice.

She read us a poem before class ended. I can’t remember the name or the poet. But, I remember the feeling of comfort, of being an element in Earth’s circuit inside an intricate galaxy. There was a warmth when her voiced lilted as she said the word ‘daffodils.’

VIII. Simon Pure, n. and adj.

Every morning, my mom walks into the kitchen to start the coffeemaker. As she waits for it to brew, she says good morning to Jesus on the crucifix above the sink, hanging between the two window panes. She grabs a copy of the Bible from the shelf with the cookbooks, and thumbs through a few pages until her carafe is full.

Every afternoon, my mom reads the Bible to Alejandro, just like she did to me when I was his age. She reads in both English and Spanish to help him gain fluency in both languages, but to also really drive home Job’s hardship.

Every night, right before bed, she gathers all of us up to pray the Rosary. Alejandro doesn’t quite have each prayer memorized yet, so she says them out loud. Each prayer is punctuated by the quiet clicks of beads moving through fingers, dangling exhausted from our hands.

IX. Arbitrium, n.

Things are difficult for everyone now that, a couple days ago, Governor Inslee announced schools would be online for the rest of the school year. Likewise, everyone deals with their grief and trauma differently. It’s hard to reserve judgement, however, when I see so many people go to the park by my neighborhood.

I keep seeing the numbers of deaths rise every day. Maybe this meditation tactic is starting to wear thin. I feel a shout grow in my chest, but I swallow it, keep it down.

Don’t want to be like my mom, who never hides her judgement. She’s upfront with every person she sees, wether it’s my cousin’s quinces or the produce section of Fred Meyer. It’s mortifying.

X. Armisonous, adj.

There are several signs when my mom is overwhelmed. First, she whispers a Hail Mary under her breath after she steps away from everyone else, the crucifix on her necklace gripped in her fist.

If it gets worse, I hear her Bible’s spine forcefully land on the dining room table, followed by its covers flapping open and the frantic turning of pages as she looks for the right passage. She reads for a couple minutes. Sometimes, she reads it out loud (that’s when we know things are REALLY bad).

She then closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths, then gets back to the tasks she thinks need to get done.

Religion is a common coping mechanism when someone feels chaos and tragedy gnawing on their ankles. It’s possible God is the generator that kicks in during a power outage. It’s also possible that the act of stopping to breathe is sufficient on its own. But, if God helps get her there, what’s the difference?

XI. Sumi-E, n.

While waiting for my bread to toast this morning, the last Saturday of spring break (according to the Star Wars calendar in the kitchen my dad marks to keep track of time), I look into the hallway, see the section of wall filled with family portraits. My mom insists on subjecting every child to a photoshoot at JC Penny on their fifth birthday.

My eyes stop on Alejandro’s portrait, taken back in September, a few weeks after he started kindergarten. My brother’s hair is neat, the crease straight above his right ear. There’s a teal button-up under a white sweater vest, a red bowtie in front of the top button, fastened tight. He’s smiling.

That picture isn’t really Alejandro though. He can’t sit still for longer than ten seconds. His hair is always tossed, his face covered with candy and souvenirs from that day’s adventure. The picture is an imitation that simply doesn’t capture him— it tells a story that’s easier to understand.

XII. Locuplete, adj.

On Sunday, my mom wakes all of us up early. Despite sleepy protests, she insists we dress up for Easter Mass. Dresses, ties, all of it, to gather around her laptop.

“Don’t you think this is a bit much?” I ask as she watches me brush my hair.

She folder her arms, leans on the doorframe. “It’s Easter, Isabella. We must be our best.”

“I don’t think Jesus would mind if we wore our pajamas to sit in our living room.”

“You can’t go to Mass in your pajamas. Especially on Easter! It’s the most holy day of the year!” She puts her hands on her hips.

I sigh, put in my toothbrush to hopefully end the conversation. She shakes her head, walks away.

When I get out to the living room, her laptop is on the coffee table, the stream ready (proud of her), tall candles lit on either side. There’s even a wine glass filled with juice and a bowl full of Triscuits. She’s so extra.

XIII. Sumpter, n.

Crys answers my call, waves, holds up a finger, walks offscreen. No sound. On her wall is a Harry Styles poster surrounded with pinned ticket stubs and playbills.

She returns with a small plate. “Hi, good morning, sorry, I had to get my bagel and close the door.” She takes a bite, covers her mouth with her wrist. “How are you?”

“I’m alright. My mom went all out for Easter. She even got Triscuits for communion. It was absurd. You guys do anything?”

Crys covers her laugh with a cloth napkin, nods. “My dad thought we should do something, right, but neither he or my mom really know how to conduct service, you know? So, my mom read some passages to tell the story of the Resurrection. My dad then decided to illustrate it afterward with The Passion of the Christ.”

“That gory mess of a movie?!”

“Yes! Lexi was horrified.”

“Wow! What a dad move!”

“It really is!” She continues eating.

“How are you though?”

She nods. “I’m okay. Been really tired for not going anywhere, but we have food and aren’t sick, so I can’t really complain.”

“You’re allowed to complain, Crys. It’s a pandemic.”

“See, you get it. Violet doesn’t get it AT ALL. She still doesn’t have internet— probably won’t get it until after stimulus checks get here, and who knows when that will even happen— so I try to keep her up on the news. Not all of it, obviously, not every press conference is important, but the ones that would affect us somehow, right?”

“Yeah. I talked to her last week about having unlimited data. She hasn’t taken advantage of that?”

“No. She doesn’t like reading on her phone that much. Or being on it in general, I guess?” She shakes her head. “I think it’s a hang-up from never having a big data plan ever.”

“Probably some screen-time paranoia from her mom, too.”

“Oh, absolutely. It’s not like I mind. I’m looking at it anyway, and I talk to her about whatever I’m doing and feeling and whatever. It just feels like an added responsibility. She thinks everyone’s overreacting, and I want to show her they’re not.”

“Right. That sounds stressful.”

“Yeah.” She pauses, looks into the light from her window. “I just miss her. I miss being in the same room as her, you know?”

I nod.

XIV. Summulist, n.

There is no denying that corruption exists within most organized religions. There’s a preponderance of evidence within the Catholic Church alone, but you can find it everywhere. I’m just more familiar with Catholicism, because it’s what I’ve been raised in.

My rift has been growing for a long time. It started with small fissures— inconsistencies between what I was told in school and what I was told in church. I rationalized, tried to find middle ground that could bridge the gaps. But the rhetoric. The narrow-mindedness. The lack of willingness to listen or admit they might be wrong.

It wasn’t any of those things that made me break away. It was when my mom argued with Alejandro’s doctor. They said he should be evaluated for ADHD. She flatly denied. She said her experience was just as good as the established research the doctor gave her. She didn’t even read the pamphlet they gave her. She threw it away.

When she said God would never allow such a thing. When she went on about the overreaction to COVID-19. When we knew people were dying. When we knew children were dying. The idea that a benevolent God would kill children— would give children cancer. I couldn’t take it; it didn’t make any sense. Benevolence would never allow children to suffer— to exist just to snuff them out like candles.

I haven’t told her. I don’t know how to. It’s easy enough to say nothing. Easy enough to go along with the rituals and traditions quietly.

XV. Vel Sim., phr.

I don’t think you can really know whether or not there’s a God. I mean, if you follow the scientific method to its logical conclusion, you can’t really know anything— you just have strong correlations.

Correlations aren’t causations, of course. There could always be some sort of variable that you missed, which is why experiments need to be in controlled settings and must be replicated forever.

But, being “pretty sure” about something feels like “knowing” something, for all intents and purposes, so it’s tedious to split hairs about the difference in most everyday things— like whether the floor will collapse as you walk down the hallway, or whether gravity will suddenly switch directions.

God is a different conversation though. There’s no concrete evidence or experiment to ground either side— it’s all abstract propositions and reasoning. So, it just makes sense to doubt, not devote yourself to a possible void that does not and cannot care about you.

XVI. Henriad, n.

I think it was a year or two ago when Nadine and Crys went through their Shakespeare phase— wait. Ninth grade, after we read Romeo & Juliet. Right. They started reading as many plays as they could and started shoving ‘art’ and ‘thou’ into their sentences.

Crys would not shut up about the historical plays, the ones based on kings. Feudalism this, Renaissance that. Nadine was always more about the characters— she even named her cat Falstaff. There were days at lunch where they’d talk about the themes— on their own, not assigned by a teacher, mind you— of the change, social and political movements shifting through recurring waves of violence.

I think about that a lot now. I’m afraid of the violence that may be coming. It happened back then with kings, now with civil rights. Each social movement met with pain. Change is inevitable, but the violence from climate change may be perpetual. It’s not a change in who wears a crown; it’s a change in how much food and water we have, whose homes get washed away, where those refugees can build new futures.

XVII. Brightshine, n.

It’s easy to get sucked into a dour spiral now. I had to step away from tracking COVID-19 data this week, because it no longer ironed the wrinkles out of my mental bedsheet— it started making caverns. It took me away from the work my teachers started posting, which came like a river after a dam breaks. So, I need to find something else to balance myself.

“Have you tried gardening?” Nadine asked yesterday. I had her on speaker as I made Alejandro’s lunch.

“Gardening? Really?”

“Yeah,” her voice was accompanied by Target’s speakers playing an upbeat pop song that was familiar in the vague cultural-osmosis way. “Taking care of a plant is calming to a bunch of people. My mom used to do it all the time… There’s science that backs it up.”

She gets me.

“Am I just supposed to dig in the yard and throw seeds in?”

“Good. Lord. You know better than that. You have a pot somewhere? You know what, I’ll take care of it after my shift.”

When I woke up this morning, my mom told me there was a bag left by the front door with my name on it, a Target bag. Inside, there was a small pot, some dirt in a Ziplock bag, a small sprout of something (so cute), and an “It’s a Girl!” greeting card. Inside the card, she wrote a list of steps to “take care of your newborn.”

After breakfast, I carefully place the sprout and its dirt clump in the pot with the other dirt, set it on the windowsill by my desk, water it with an old measuring cup I found in the back of a kitchen cabinet. I wonder what she’ll be when she grows up, what her major will be. She probably needs a name.

XVIII. Ben-Feaker, n.

“Isabella, will you say Grace? It’s your turn.”

“Really, Mom? It’s just Five Guys.”

She puts both hands on the table. “Yes. It is food, and we must be thankful. Not everyone has food to eat or money to spend on food! You are lucky to not know the toll of poverty.”

“I know. I’m aware. You don’t have to tell me about what it was like in Colombia before you came here again. I’m sorry.”

She tilts her head, smiling. “Good, so now you say Grace.”

I put my hands together, fidgeting with my fingers, watch everyone else close their eyes and bow their heads. I clear my throat, “Heavenly Father…”

I’m not really conscious of what I’m saying. My mouth goes on cruise control, saying whatever comes to it. I snap back in after I say, “So say we all.” I cringe before concluding, “Amen,” then quickly unwrapping my burger to make as much interfering noise as possible.

“Thank you, Isabella. That was beautiful,” Mom says, gently unfolding the foil from her lettuce-bunned burger.

My dad chews on some fries, furrowing his brow. “Was that from Battlestar Galactica?”

I freeze.

“Excuse me?” My mom asks.

“I think Izzy added a line from a that sci-fi show she always watches into Grace.”

“Isabella. Did you taint Grace with this… science show?”

I gulp. “Well, yes. I didn’t realize it was happening, but I did, and I think it works well with the whole thankfulness thing, becau—“

“Grace should from your heart! Not some awful television show.”

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA IS A MASTERPIECE! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!”

I place my hand over my mouth, exhale through my nose. “Sorry, Mama.” 

She nods at me. “Well, is John Leguizamo in it?”

I squint. “Uh… no?”

“Then I stand by what I said.”

My dad laughs so hard, he has to cough into his napkin. “That’s your barometer?”

“HE IS A TRIPLE THREAT! WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT?!”

XIX. Ember Months, n.

“So, they’re trekking across a glacier that has ancient runes etched into its face like giant crop circles, right—“

“Wouldn’t the etching make the glacier more vulnerable to melting or breaking apart? Like, icebergs and st—“

“It’s. Magic. It’s always magic. Ma. Gic.”

“True. True. Alright, so there are runes that are huge, but Kordra totally knows what they are, sure. Go ahead.”

“Ye of little faith. They were told by mages who flew by the icescape and read it. Nice try.” Suri sips her tea. “But then, get this, as they approach the ruins of a temple abandoned millennia ago— preserved by the frozen tundra, don’t even try me— they see a dim glow deep within one of the caverns.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. They carefully step toward it, right, only to brush against some loose shards along the wall. The icicles clang on cavern floor and echo into the dark. They freeze. Then a loud PACHOO and a bolt of light shoots over their shoulder.”

“Whoa. Wait—”

“Yes! The ruins were being excavated… by Martians!”

I erupt into excited cheering. Suri laughs at me. Listening to them tell Korda’s adventures is always fun, but this is the first time one of my ideas happened.

They used to tell me about what happened every week in their campaign at Glacier View’s D&D club, where some teacher there is their dungeon master. Since the closure, they haven’t been able to meet. It turns out, this week, their group met over Zoom.

“That was AMAZING!” I yell.

“I know! I didn’t think he’d actually go with the idea at all after I messaged him, but he did!”

It almost feels like before. The gradual return to what used to be. It’s different, but there’s a semblance of normalcy returning, new schemas and routines taking hold.

It’s like the transformation of a cottonwood between seasons— blooming in spring and summer only to wither to bare branches in the fall and winter. They have to strip away all the excess, find what’s necessary, then build on that to grow into their new selves.

XX. Yark, n.

Whenever things start to feel normal, a pang comes to remind me it isn’t. There’s a pain that brings me back to the reality that this is a burden hanging over our shoulders.

It comes when I hear Alejandro in his room at a Zoom meeting talking to his classmates. When he tells his friend Jaxson he should come over to play. When I have to tell him that it isn’t possible. When I have to explain social distancing to him again, knowing it’s incredibly hard for him to understand and remember.

It comes when I see the playground at the park by our house wrapped up in caution tape like a crime scene. Its fields empty and silent. Like the park itself died.

XXI. Bagel, v.

Alejandro’s teacher included a time slot for creativity in this week’s plans. One of the options she listed was “putting together a jigsaw puzzle.” Since Alejandro had depleted all of his crayons drawing pictures of Minecraft characters in his notebook yesterday, I thought a puzzle would be a nice change of pace.

“So what’s this supposed to be?” he asks while turning over pieces we dumped on the coffee table.

“It’s the mask of Tutankhamun,” I say, moving remotes and coasters to a side table.

He stops flipping pieces and stares at me. “Mask of what-are-you-talking-about?”

“King Tut! He was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt.”

“The pyramids!”

“Yes. That’s where the pyramids are. He took the throne when he was only eight years old.”

“What?!” He dramatically flopped his arms over his head.

“I know! Can you imagine ruling over a society at your age?”

“Yes! I would give everyone ice cream all the time.”

“Even the people who are lactose intolerant?”

“You use a lot of big words that don’t make sense.”

“You’re right.”

As soon as all the pieces are face up, Alejandro says, “I’m going to win the puzzle.”

“What? I don’t think that’s how—“

“These two are together! I get two points!” He holds up his proof.

“You found them like that!”

“Doesn’t matter! I’m winning!”

XXII. Stupor Mundi, n.

There’s something therapeutic about assembling a picture piece by piece, having to look at how each shape interacts with the others, how they all fit together. I’m lost in the process until my phone buzzes, and I see that it’s been an hour.

In that hour, Alejandro and I talked about a lot of things: how he was frustrated with his schoolwork, what he wanted to build in Minecraft, the new Pokémon cards Jaxson had showed in their last Zoom meeting (their teacher tried to have a virtual playdate where each student showed off a toy or game).

He managed to stay focused for the entire hour. He usually loses interest or changes gears in maybe ten minutes on any given activity— Easter mass required “wiggle breaks.”

He even asked me questions about ancient Egypt when he’d put together parts of the mask (after announcing how many points he was up to, of course). I told him as much as I could remember from when we learned about Egypt in 6th grade. I’m telling him about pharaohs when my phone buzzes.

“So they were like kings?” he asks, jamming two pieces together that don’t fit.

“Yeah, kinda,” I nod, seeing the time. I put my phone face down on the arm of our couch. “But they were also seen as gods. That’s what the pryram—”

“False gods,” my mom says as she walks through the living room into the kitchen. She does not pause or slow her gait. The clack of her Bible on counter punctuates the lesson.

XXIII. Philobiblist, n.

“So, have you given her a name yet?” Nadine asks, sitting on the floor of her room, leaning against the blue comforter of her bed. Over her shoulder, I can see a stack of paperbacks with Goodwill pricetags on her nightstand.

“Who?”

“Wow.” She shakes her head. “You are such a terrible mother. You forgot about your child?! Wow.”

“Oh! you mean the plant! I didn’t forget about her! She’s right here!” I reach behind my laptop, pick up the small pot from its place on the windowsill above my desk. “I’ve been feeding her every day. Don’t worry. She’s even growing! Look!” I hold the plant up to the camera.

“Yes she has! How are you sleeping? Is she a crier? Colicky?”

“Uh… No?”

“Phew. That’s good. I mean, you’d love her no matter what, I get it, but you must be thankful to have such a low-maintenance baby. Mine on the other hand—” she reaches over her shoulder to the nightstand. She lowers her arm to reveal a small pot just like mine, with a similar sprout. “She’s hit that adventurous age where you have to childproof the house.”

“Aww! She’s so cute!”

“I know! Elinor is going to be a senator one day. She’s gonna give all the other wildflowers free healthcare.” She boops Elinor, then puts her back on the nightstand.

“How did you get the name Elinor?”

Sense & Sensibility, Isabella. Read a book— a not-science book. So, have you given your daughter a name or not?”

“I haven’t. It’s hard naming things!”

“First of all, people aren’t things; don’t be rude. Second of all, you just need to give her whatever name comes to you when you look at her.”

I look down at the little sprout in my hands. “You said her sister is a wildflower?”

“Yeah.”

Tilting the pot back and forth, the sprout waves her head back and forth like she’s dancing. “Lupine. I think her name is Lupine.”

“Lupine?”

“It’s a wildflower indigenous to the Mt. Rainier—“

“Oh. Gotcha. That makes way more sense. I thought you were talking about wolves for a second.”

XXIV. Mauvais Ton, adj.

Friday afternoon, Alejandro and I continue on the Tutankhamun puzzle after he finishes math work. The puzzle’s been a good motivator for him completing his schoolwork.

“I finished the edge! That’s another 50 points! Let’s goooo!” He jumps up, runs in a circle, cycles through several Fortnite dances he’s seen.

He asks about pharaohs being gods, so I tell him about their beliefs and the pyramids. I’m talking about how the tombs had things they liked while they lived when Mom tells him it’s his bath time.

He sighs, looks at me. “Don’t put any in until I’m back!”  He gets up, Naruto runs down the hallway.

As soon as the bathroom door closes, Mom turns to me, arms crossed. “I wish you wouldn’t talk to him about that Egyptian gods stuff. He’s too young for that.”

“It’s history, Mom. Learning about culture is instrumental in a growing child.”

“He’s too young. He needs to learn math and spelling. Leave religion,” she places her hand on her crucifix, “to me.”

“I’m not trying to convert him. I’m just telling him about another culture.”

Her hands move to her hips. “You spend an awful lot of time talking about gods and the afterlife for talking about ‘culture,’” she air quotes.

“It’s a big part of their culture. You can’t talk about Colombian culture without talking about Catholicism. It’s the same thing.”

“No, it’s not! That’s OUR culture, OUR religion. It’s different.”

“He can learn about the stuff he is, but not the stuff he isn’t? The only god he can hear about is the one in this house? He can’t learn about anything else?”

“I feel like you’re trying to trap me, and I won’t allow it. I am your mother. I say you can’t talk to him about this, so you will not. That is final.”

A swarm caught in my chest— I feel them push against my ribs.

“You shouldn’t put such sinful ideas in his head.”

My arms go limp. “It’s not a sin to learn about other people.” I stand up, grip my elbows in my cold hands. “Ignorance perpetuates hatred, bigotry, racism. He needs to learn that there are different people with different beliefs, and that it’s okay.”

Before she says anything, I walk by her, down the hallway, into my room.

XXV. Puntabout, n.

I resist the urge to slam the door. Lupine peaks over the edge of her pot to check on me.

“I don’t know what to do, Lupe.” I sit in my desk chair, close my laptop.

She tilts her head empathetically.

“She just—“ my hands cover my face. Deep breath in and out.

“She’s just so… narrow-minded. The world is too big, there’s too much to learn, to put age-restrictions on so much information.”

I flop my hands down, palms up. “It’s not like he’s going to start worshipping Ra just because he hears about him. It’s just so weird for someone so devout to be so insecure about those beliefs.

“Yes, I know I don’t believe in the whole Catholic thing anymore, but I wasn’t trying to push Alejandro away from it! It’s his journey to have. He enjoys the time Mom spends reading the Bible to him. It’s not my place to disrupt any of that.”

I rub my right temple. The fading sunlight casts an orange glow on Lupine’s face.

“She’s just trying her best, Lupe. It’s all she knows.” I gently caress her head with my index finger. “I can’t let her hold his education hostage though.”

I grab the measuring cup I keep on my desk for Lupine and water her.

XXVI. Saturnine, adj. and n.

Saturday morning, a rainstorm rolls over Puyallup. Grey light comes through the window in my room. i rub my eyes, then scold myself for touching my eyes, as the rain pours silent. No thunder, not even the subtle tapping of rain hitting the driveway.

i stay in my room for as long as i can. my room is mine. It’s my space. i don’t feel welcome outside of it right now, like i’ve become the antagonist in some religious crusade. Maybe i am. Maybe i am corrupting Alejandro.

But, should asking questions be frowned upon? It shouldn’t make me feel isolated. i don’t think i should have to accept everything blindly— skepticism is healthy. Why can’t she see that?

XXVII. Mimesis, n.

Monday morning, I get Alejandro set up at the dining room table for his weekly Zoom meeting with his class. I sit on the couch in the living room, my feet on the edge of the coffee table now decorated with Tutankhamun’s complete mask, to work on calculus. The couch faces away form the dining room, but I can still hear him— seems like a good-enough illusion of privacy for him while still keeping him supervised.

“Okay, Alejandro. It’s your turn. What did you do this weekend?” Ms. Davis asks.

“It was GREAT! Me and my sister finished a puzzle of King Tutankhamun. He was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt and ruled when he was a teenager. I won the puzzle one billion points to 245!”

“That’s a lot!” Ms. Davis says, her voice uncertain. “When did you start wearing glasses?”

I stop writing, look over the back of the couch.

“Um,” Alejandro looks over his shoulder at me, then quickly turns back to the laptop and takes them off. “They’re not mine.” He places them on the table. “They’re my sister’s. She’s super smart. She knows everything about Egypt like she told me—“

I turn back to my calculus work, nudge the rim my glasses with the knuckle of my thumb as I wipe the corner of my eye (stop touching your eyes, Isabella).

“I would be buried with my Mega-Charizard-EX!” Jaxson yells.

I stifle a laugh. I especially have to as Alejandro tries to explain how cards would deteriorate over the millennia.

XXVIII. Sub Voce, adv.

For dinner, Mom made tamales— a recipe she got from her mom who got it from her mom, and so on. She tells Alejandro to set the table as they finish steaming on the stove.

He gives the silverware and napkins sound effects as he places them. Many crashes and explosions litter the table surface. He then turns on his heels to the living room to announce, “Dinner tiiiiiime!”

We all sit at the table as my mom puts a serving dish in the middle. She sits, places her napkin in her lap, says, without looking up, “Isabella, please say Grace.”

I tense up, bite the inside of my cheek. “I, um, would rather not.”

Mom freezes like a video that needs to buffer. She looks at me. “What do you mean?”

“I, uh, mean,” I stammer, adjusting my glasses, “that I don’t wanna say Grace.”

“Why not? Are you not well?”

I speak slow, trying to analyze every word I say. “No— no, that’s not it. I’m alright. I’m just not… sure.”

“What?”

“About the whole… prayer thing. It just doesn’t feel… right… right now.”

She freezes again, blinks a couple times slowly. My dad and Alejandro are silent, still.

“Are you saying you’re… you don’t believe… in God?” I can hear the heartbreak in her voice.

I look down. “I’m not sure that’s the right wording for it, Mama. I just don’t know what… is.”

A tense silence. I can’t look up from my plate.

“Mama, I’ll say it,” Alejandro says quickly. “I’ll say it so great.”

She nods.

He stumbles through a prayer that feels like ten prayers mashed together. I don’t hear a lot of it over my own mortification. I can’t believe I would be so foolish as to bring all of that up now of all times in such a stupid, clumsy way.

He clears his throat, then concludes, “So say we all. Amen.”

XXIX. Awesomesauce, adj.

I sit at my desk, forehead on the ball of my right hand.

“It’s going to be okay,” Suri says. “She’ll calm down at some point, and you’ll be able to talk to her. You spoke your truth, dude. That’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but it’s better to get it out there rather than bottle it up forever.”

I quickly breathe in and out through my nose, look up at my laptop screen and see their face, pale and tired in the morning light from their window. “Thanks. Does Ramadan make you more wise?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m always this wise. I’m just more hungry and tired now.”

“That’s all you get? That doesn’t seem like a good deal.”

“It’s a spiritual thing, Isabella. There’s sacrifice, yeah, but you get clarity and become closer to Allah and your community.”

“Huh. That’s pretty neat.”

“It’s nice for you to say so— as a nonbeliever, I mean.”

“Oh, no problem. Fasting isn’t that strange of a tradition, really. Some Catholics believe the eucharist LITERALLY turns into the flesh of Jesus as it goes down their esophagus.”

“Dude. What.”

“I. Know. So, not that strange. All cultures have those kinds of things. I like learning about ‘em, you know? People are weird; the human condition is weird. We’re all just trying out best, right?”

“Yeah,” they nod pensively. “The wafer turns into actual skin and stuff though? Wild. That’s a Death Spells song if I’ve ever heard one.”

XXX. Puppify, v.

She’s my mom. It’s her house. I can live with her practicing her religion and raising her family in the way she wants. I’m not going to actively argue or ridicule her beliefs. I’ll even go along with the prayers. There’s nothing wrong with being thankful or reflective. I can participate in her rituals until I go to college.

Soon, I’ll be able to be outside of this bedroom without feeling her coldness. Maybe it’s more of a shock thing. Maybe it’s like grieving. She just needs time.

Lying on my bed, I look over at Lupe sitting in her little pot on the windowsill. I know my mom still loves me. I’d love Lupe no matter what. She’s my daughter. Even if she told me she wanted to major in business or start going to church. I mean, I’d certainly worry if sh—

“Don’t become a Scientologist, Lupe! Promise me!”

She nods.

Thank goodness. I’m not worried about her. She has a good bulb on her shoulders. She’s going to be alright.

Continued in Part V: Nadine Sauer.

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