Chapter 11: Carmel? Caramel? Who’s to say?
She holds up a dingy paperback. “Sorry, yoh is Yiddish for yes,” Mrs. Danison responds. She closes her desk drawer. “I get excited, pay me no mind, sweetie. It’s a book!”
“I see that. But what’s it for?” I ask reluctantly, crossing my arms. It’s probably some self-help bullshit from a no name author. I swear if–
“–Read it over the break and tell me!” Mrs. Danison exclaims, derailing my train of thought. She twirls her brown hair while smiling at me. God, she’s so bubbly… annoying… but… so… undeniably hot.
“365 ½ days: From Death to Determination. By Mark Fi—… Really?” I blurt out staring at the cover. “Another book on how to cope?” I ask, sighing. “Of all people, this guy? He writes shit-tion! You’re like a bookie.”
“You know… shit, fiction… a book groupie,” I answer reluctantly. Why am I starting this? I like Mark’s work; I just don’t want to have something else to do over vacation.
“Emery! Really? Be more eloquent,” Mrs. Danison responds. She sighs. “Actually, if you’re going to make up words, don’t attach new meanings to pre-existing ones. It’s lame and, actually, girls will think you’re a loser. There’s no shame in being original, creative, and intelligent.”
I know this already. She’s gonna’ keep me here forever if I don’t walk out now.
“Mr. Figueroa cannot write shit-tion if he doesn’t write literature.”
Here we go… sigh. “What does he write?”
“He actually writes art for the mind and soul. I like the way he thinks, and his work has enabled me to improve my life, so I support him. Besides, he’s a mensch.”
“Uh. Right… don’t know what a mensch is… But, he’s Dominican… Well, whatever, thanks, Mrs. D.” Thanks for nothing. Crappy ass book. I should wipe my buns with the pages. Straight trash. His characters have no depth.
“Sarcasm is always appreciated, Emery. We read Mr. Figueroa’s work in here all the time, you know. He even writes scripts for those cartoons you like so much. The book is actually pretty good,” Mrs. Danison says, adjusting herself on her red-cushioned, wooden chair. She grabs a large mug filled with muddy water. “Shliiip. Slurp. Ahhhhhhhh.”
Damn she’s obnoxious. Mrs. Danison is one of those people that loves kids, loves her job and just radiates optimism. She goes to church, or synagogue, all the time. She has an answer for everyone’s problems and she tries to help whenever, whoever, she can. If she wasn’t young and pretty, she could easily be someone’s grandma; she definitely acts and dresses like one.
I’m waiting for the appropriate time to leave… probably when she says “actually” again.
“When my daughter died, I actually went on a coping binge. I cou-”
“Coping binge?” crap, she’s sucking me in. Nooooo!
“It’s binging, Emery, with actual coping methods,” she says sternly, waving her hands emphatically. She’s definitely from Jersey. “I went to support groups, I tried different religions. I actually tried becoming a vegan to see if that would actually make me feel better. I prayed every night for some relief. I was in a little bookstore in Midtown, minding my business. It was a beautiful summer day…”
I get the point of your story, lady. My brother’s already—
“Psst! Em!” Aiven whispers loudly.
— “Dead?” I ask, shouting.
“Well, that’s where it ends,” Mrs. Danison says, absent-minded. She adjusts her librarian-like, black and orange glasses, then reclines in her chair. “But…”
“Jesus, Em. Talk telepathically,” Aiven inserts, pulling me from the pointless conversation. “I don’t have a lot of time.”
He has to be in here! I can’t keep looking around while Mrs. Danison’s talking. She’s going to know something is up, if she doesn’t already think I’m weird. Quick—I gotta’ think!
“Death comes,” Mrs. Danison says, sipping her drink. “We can’t blame ourselves or the dead. When it happens it’s no one person’s fault. Even if it is a suicide.”
Nope. She just struck a nerve. “What do you know? Aiven killed himself because he felt like he couldn’t talk to anyone. His problem, not mine. It’s much different when a person dies naturally than when they commit suicide and force their loved ones to clean the mess. I watched my mom break down over his corpse and I helped her clean the blood from his room. Don’t tell me all deaths are equal. They’re not!” I slam my hands on her desk and fix my eyes on her. The darkness begins breathing over me. A gentle nudge encourages me to shout more, to ignore more, and to get angrier. “You don’t know what it’s like!”
Mrs. Danison pauses and lets out a defeated sigh.
“I’m not dead you idiot!” Aiven shouts angrily. “You’re too much of an idiot to understand what she means! Wrap it up and go home!”
“Shut up!” I shout blankly from outside of myself. I shouldn’t be yelling at her like this, but I can’t control myself.
“Kanti, do it,” Aiven says solemnly.
The enormous black dog appears. Its cerulean eyes quell my rage. “What just happened?” I ask casually, observing Mrs. Danison frozen in time: her right index finger is partially raised and her mouth is slightly open.
“I’ll explain later,” Aiven says. “You have a do-over with her. Hurry up, end the conversation and let’s go, Em’.”
“Read it over the break and tell me!” Mrs. Danison says.
I’d be confused if I wasn’t so calm. But, whatever. What good would asking her anything do? For that matter, I still haven’t wrapped my head around what happened this morning. Where the hell was I? What did Aiven and the dog do? I look around Mrs. Danison’s desk.
“Its 365 ½ da—”
“365 ½ days: From Death to Determination. I’ll read it,” I interrupt.
Mrs. Danison, just like before, guides the conversation to how and why she obtained the book. “When my daughter died, I actually went on a coping binge. I could…” Her hands wave as she giggles to herself after each sentence spoken to the air.
I let her ramble and skim over the papers scattered on her desk; some are inked with a few red lines, some red A’s and sloppy words scribbled beside underlined text.
“… then we…” she babbles on. “And, that’s when I said, well, sweetheart, that’s why I’m your mother! So, if you…”
I nod, squinting at the bleeding paper. The section I can see reads:
Back in the 1730s America was not a country. In 1730, America, was not yet formed. America was not an actual, real nation because it wasn’t a real country in 1730: America was not yet the United States. America was colonies in 1730. In 1730, a lot of little colonies made up America before it was America the country.
What the hell did I just read? Crap, I’m gonna’ laugh. I clear my throat and cough awkwardly. How can I end this without being weird or abrupt?
“Just walk away, Em!” Aiven shouts.
“And, actually, that’s when I decided… I should read the book. If not for myself, then for daughter’s own peace. She was only four years old when she passed. I’d stopped grieving over my husband’s death, but if I couldn’t cope with my daughter’s, then I would have regressed. And I have, like, waaaay too many things to do, to let grief keep me from doing anything. Ya’ know?” She takes another sip of her horchata-looking drink. “You should probably catch your other teachers before they leave. It would be unfortunate if they all mark you absent, Emery.”
“Sure thing.” I don’t have time for that. I get good grades and learn so I can give myself these skip days. I’ll be fine. “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Mrs. Danison.”
“We aren’t all Christians, Emery.” She giggles warmly. “Get your tuckus out of my class.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Excuse me. If that’s how you feel about it, then wish me a fucking Happy Hanukkah and that’s that. Does it really matter how I address someone if I’m respectful and courteous?
I walk through the halls looking for Aiven. Aiven? Where’d you go? I ask in my mind.
“Are you dense? Go home, Emery,” Aiven whispers faintly. His voice comes from everywhere and nowhere, drifting in the still, chill air of the silent school.
I scurry to my school’s entrance, greeting the janitor, Mr. Rosenberg; he pauses the hissing floor waxer and nods jubilantly. “Merry Christmas, Emery. Stay warm,” he says, tipping his blue hat. Mr. Rosenberg’s mustache curves with his smile.
“Thanks, you too,” I respond, waving. My sneakers squeak on the pristine marble. A corner and entire hallway later, the large, glass, double-doors stare at me.Aiven’s apparition appears beside my reflection when I get closer.
He’s pale. Dark circles engulf his dull eyes. Seeing Aiven like this reaffirms he’s dead but there’s a fire in his eyes that says otherwise. His head tilts back. He squints. “Em’, we’re running out of time, but it’s not too late. Aemon is waking up. You nee—” Aiven says, in a disembodied whisper.Thud! Crash! Shattering in the distance interrupts his declaration, echoing through the building. I glance away and then turn back to my brother. Aiven’s gone when I turn around.
I need to get home, but I should probably check that out. Someone might have gotten hurt. Low conversation and sweeping guide me to Mr. Rosenberg who’s chuckling with Mrs. Danison. She’s picking up scattered sheets of paper, rolling pens and a mess of markers while Mr. Rosenburg pours swept coffee mug fragments into a bag. Small amounts of Mrs. Danison’s drink spread toward her materials.
I grab a mop from the large, gray plastic bin on wheels, soak up the puddle and hand over the largest piece of the mug. Text in a bright red heart reads: “World’s best Mom.” I shouldn’t have yelled at her. She lost her husband and daughter. “The coffee smells good,” I say aloud.
“It’s Sachlav,” Mr. Rosenberg declares. “Ah, Carmel, that aroma takes me back. Make it yourself?” he asks Mr. Danison. I wonder why and how he knows her first name. He looks like a grandpa; she’s definitely twenty or thirty-something.
“Ha! I wish, Isaac,” Mrs. Danison responds. “I take classes at bet tefila every now and then. “The women in the congregation made a substantial amount and I took some home.” Mrs. Danison gleefully gathers her belongings. “It’s not actually authentic Sachlav, but it is definitely close enough,” She says, tying the bag of debris. “Thank you, Emery. My daughter, Lisa, got this cup for me after Ezra, my husband, died. It’s one of my few mementos,” Mrs. Danison declares proudly. “I make it a point to use it during the holidays.”
I understand what she means, I’ve been wearing Aiven’s jacket all winter. It’s all I have left of the brother I remember, in the way I remember him. “I’ll fix it for you.” Dammit, I never know when to shut up.
Mrs. Danison hands me the plastic bag. “Thank you, Emery. I’ll see you next year.”
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