Bonjour Les Oiseaux – Chapitre 1

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Catherine. Je vis en le comté de Henford-on-Bagley. C’est un comté très joli et très charmant. Il ya beaucoup, beaucoup d’arbres y plus de fleurs. Comme ça, la terre est verte, y les habitants sont contents.

Ce communauté est francophone, mais je ne parles pas français bien. Bien sûr, j’apprends! Et je parles beaucoup avec les animaux, et ils se moquent si je fais une erreur.

C’est Teddy. Teddy est un lama. Il est très gentil y très bel. Il est très drôle, aussi.

Quand je chante, Teddy rit.

J’aime bien Teddy.

Teddy fournit la laine beige. Cette laine est très douce.

En fait, il fait doux tous les jour avec Teddy et les fleurs et les nuages.

À bientôt !

Author’s note: What’s this? I’ve been learning French through reading, and I thought writing in French would make a useful addition for a learning tool! I’ve also been enjoying playing Cottage Living in Sims 4, and I’m a lifelong birder, so I thought, why not combine these special interests? I’d love corrections, so please share them in comments! Cheers!

A Day at the Office

This story was written for the June/July Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, coordinated by the lovely LisaBee. The prompt for June/July is a word challenge, with the instructions to “use the word at least once with proper usage. If you wish to challenge yourself further then use one of the meanings of the word as the theme of your story.”

The word is TORTUOUS.

In early August, head over to LisaBee’s blog to find the list of all entries. You can vote for your three reader’s choices in the veteran and novice categories.

Trigger warning: This story includes sustained, forced eye contact; unclear expectations; painful sensory overstimulation; social exclusion. If you’re neurodivergent and you’ve experienced trauma related to these types of situations and conditions, read with care, or skip entirely. I’ll be writing more about this type of experience–and healthy alternatives–in Spectrum, and you may find it healthier to just wait for that.

“You’re late,” your supervisor says.

“Yes, I mentioned yesterday that I’d be staying late today to make up for coming in late this morning, because I had to take care of something.”

“I must have forgotten. It’s gotten hectic, while we’ve been waiting for you. Something urgent has come up. We need you to deal with it right away.”

You breathe. You feel the soles of your feet. You try to filter out the hum of the air conditioning and the buzz of the fluorescent lights.

“This is important,” your supervisor says. “I need to look at me so that I know you are listening.”

You want to say that you process information best when you can look in the corner, or off in the distance, so you can visualize the information.

But the words don’t come, and you couldn’t get them out, even if they did.

“I’m over here.”

You can tell she’s talking, because there’s this shrill sound over the humming, buzzing, and clicking of air conditioners, computer fans, fluorescent lights, and someone’s fingernails on a keyboard in the room next door. But you can’t make out her words.

All you notice are eyes.

She looks really sad.

Or maybe she’s tired and stressed, because now the clarinet blare of her voice has gotten more shrill. Certain patterns of sound repeat.

Her eyes are really beautiful, if you look at them long enough. She has nice cheek bones.

What is it that causes light to shine from someone’s eyes? And how is it that someone’s able to talk when staring into yours?

At last, she breaks the tortuous eye contact, glancing with a scowl at her computer screen.

“So we’ll need this posted live on the website by 4:00 p.m.”

And your stomach drops to your socks. You have no idea what is needed by 4:00 p.m., but if it has to go live on the website, you know that you are the person responsible for it. You’d better get busy.

As you head into the team workspace, you realize you can ask a coworker.

But Sarah has a deer-in-headlights look on her face, and Stacy is giving her the evil eye. Office drama–no help there.

When you check your email, you’re in luck. There’s a message from Karen, the graphic designer. “Here are the graphics you need for the announcement to post today. Please let me know if you have any questions!”

You open the attachments to find banner graphics and a PDF flier for summer enrollment. It’s that time of year. This makes sense now, and the flier contains all the information you need.

This puts a jab into your day–you’d meant to mention to your supervisor that your hours were already filled with an urgent project for the Governing Board–but you figure you can handle it. Buckle down. Get the new webpage set up, the short URL created, everything ready by 3:45, then the last few hours should be enough for the other work that needs to be done before you go home.

You put on your noise-cancelling headphones and zip into the zone. All that exists is code.

When at last you reach a stopping point and look up, you see your coworkers gathered around the conference table, diving into burritos. They must have ordered from Carlos’s.

“We called out we were ordering,” Juanita says, “and you didn’t reply.”

You had your noise-cancelling headphones on.

“That’s OK,” you say. “I brought my own lunch, and it will be nice to sit outside.” It’s your favorite lunch, that you bring every day, veggie wraps packed in a stainless steel bento box, with stainless steel chopsticks for the sauteed onions and carrots that escape the wrap.

You have some luck that day–your bench is empty, and so is the one next to you, and the sky is blue, and finches are singing from the meadow, and for twenty whole minutes, you feel space, air, and peace.

You can hear their voices from the hall when you return.

“–the same lunch every day!”

“Veggie wraps!”

“In that little stainless tin!”

“With chopsticks!”

They break into laughter and fall suddenly silent when you enter the room.

“Anyway,” Sarah says, “anyone else catch ‘The Bachelor’ last night?”

You settle back into your work station. There’s really not time even to feel bad, and besides, your little office plant greets you cheerful as ever.

You put on your headphones, bring up your work, and dive back in.

You beat your boss’s deadline of 4:00 p.m. and meet your own of 3:45. At 3:55, just as you’re about to push “Publish,” your supervisor calls. She’s on her cellphone, so her voice sounds like cellophane.

“We’ve had a change of direction,” you can barely make out her saying, “so we won’t need that page posted today.”

After she hangs up, you repeat her words a few times, until you’re sure that’s what she’s said, and what it means. Don’t post.

All right, then. You’ve still got two hours to finish the project that Governing Board needs done.

Halfway through, you hear a commotion near the door.

“I’m gonna order the biggest Margarita!”

“Mine will be bigger!”


The coworkers are heading out to Carlos’s for Happy Hour.

They chatter as they file out, and then the door closes. Silence.

You turn off the lights. You can take off your headphones now. The computer fan buzz feels friendly and companionable.

You finish your work. You check your email. The day is over at last.

Soon, you’ll shut off your computer, lock the office door, and head out through the lobby into the wide world under a sky still bright from a not-yet-setting sun. You’ll drive home. You’ll rest. You’ll do your best to recuperate, because tomorrow, you’ll be right back to face the daily torture once more.

More Short Stories by CathyTea

Flowers, Anyway

Author’s note: This story is my entry in the May Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, generously hosted by the lovely LisaBeeSims. Thank you, Lisa! Your efforts are so appreciated.

Readers, please take a look at all the entries, which will be listed on LisaBee’s site at the beginning of June 2021, then vote for your favorite three in both the Veteran and Novice categories.

This month’s theme is May Flowers.

“What are you planting flowers for?” he asked. “They’ll just die anyway.”

It was their first house together. They’d dated a few years before getting married, so she knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t being cruel in saying this. He was not a mean man. But she didn’t know him through and through. She hadn’t yet seen into his spots of pain.

She planted carrots, kale, zucchini, beans–practical crops they could harvest before they died. She developed a fondness for squash blossoms, and one year, she planted peas, and she snuck out early in the morning to let her eyes wander their white blossoms, little slips of satin tucked among the vines.

Life challenged them, as it does all of us, but through the years, they learned not to challenge each other.

They worked together for their life, side by side.

Late at night, while they lay together, he looked up at the ceiling and sometimes told stories. She learned how he blamed himself for his mother’s death, when she died when he was ten. He hadn’t loved her enough. He took her for granted. He always thought there would be tomorrow to listen to her, to thank her.

They never had kids. She wanted a cat or a dog. He wouldn’t agree.

“Their lives are too short.” His family dog died when he was twelve. “I wasn’t ready for that.”

Sometimes, she marveled that he’d taken her into his heart, at all, closed as he was to anything beautiful, tender, temporary.

“You’re so strong,” he said, “and healthy. You’ll last forever.” So maybe that was why he dared to love her.

There were other pains, too, that he’d faced alone, before they met, and new ones that they faced together as husband and wife.

When you know somebody’s pain, something happens. You soften, and maybe they soften, too, and when you spend your lives together in that soft space, delicate, lacy petals open. The garden grows inside both of you.

After the doctor’s appointment, when she found out that even with the best treatments, she would die, anyway, she ordered hundreds of bulbs. They arrived the next week, and she spent the days of her last autumn planting them, knowing she wouldn’t see them bloom.

He looked up from his work at the computer to watch her. He didn’t believe the doctor. She wouldn’t die.

“I want you to get a companion,” she told him. “You shouldn’t live alone. If not another wife, then a dog. A cat. Some living thing to breathe beside you.”

“I’m not getting another anything,” he replied.

In the spring, he woke alone every morning. He still told his stories every night, though her side of the bed was empty; it just felt right to share his pain into the night room, as he’d done throughout their life together.

Tulips, daffodils, and narcissus bloomed. He knew flowers died, but somehow, that didn’t matter, anymore.

His breath caught when he saw them, his heart opened, and that had to mean something.

Five years later, his garden is filled with flowers, and a golden retriever is always by his side.

With each zinnia he plants, each rose he tends, he glimpses something that maybe lasts, at least in his mind’s eye and heart’s breath, after the flower fades.

More Short Stories by CathyTea

Office Tales: What I Miss Most

I’ve been feeling out of sorts lately. Adjusting to retirement presents more challenges, sometimes, than I’d anticipated. I have so many hobbies and interests that I can always think of something fun and engaging to do. And with a home, a kitchen, and a garden, each day falls into a natural structure around useful activities that contribute to the health of our household.

And yet, I felt something missing. I read a lot of Eckhart Tolle and breathed and centered myself in the now, and I just felt off. I felt like I do when I don’t get enough exercise, only in my brain. Something was off in my form.

I also had this odd feeling of not being satisfied or fully engaged when doing something I loved–playing the piano, it was like I was holding back, going through the motions, but keeping myself from fully getting into it. I’d get fully into cello practice, but then it was over, and then what?

Did I always feel like this? Was my mental health off? What’s missing? What was wrong? I tried to be patient, gentle, realize that this is a transition, and transitions can be rough. I kept up good habits of eating, exercising, gardening, music, writing, and other activities I love.

I thought of abandoning this blog series, Office Tales. I couldn’t really imagine continuing to write it because I feared that in the writing, I’d change it. I’d spoon it into a narrative structure, make it a story, leave out bad parts, or focus too much on the bad parts, and the experience would change through the filter of the telling. So I just let it be.

My first few months after retirement, I processed the hard parts of the job: the stresses of overwork, especially this past year with the pandemic, but also the previous five years, as expectations had built and support had diminished; the difficulties I felt with a boss who misunderstood me, always casting what I did in the worst interpretation; a group of co-workers who excluded me, through their ageism and ableism, and who gossiped hurtfully about other employees, and, I’m sure, about me, too, for no one was excluded from gossip, excepting their own closed circle. I had been on the brink of autistic burnout, and retirement gave me a needed way out. So, while I was doing the mechanics of life and adjusting to this new life chapter, I was also processing all of that.

The other evening, with my brain feeling slushy and wanting a relaxing game to zen out to, I downloaded NeuroNation. I’ve been playing Lumosity for over a decade, and I love it–I’m also accustomed to it, so I wanted something different. Playing NeuroNation gave my neurons what they wanted! My mind sparked and felt good! So some of what I had been feeling was lack of mental exercise. Even though I’d played music and challenging video games, wrote daily poems in April for GloPoWriMo, and kept up with teaching activities, I still lacked the intensity and duration of mental activity I had while working.

This morning, I woke up happy, remembering a feature I’d loved about my workaday life: Every workday, I’d drive into the office and have 15 minutes in which I was completely alone. I could sing, laugh, cry, listen to music, prepare for the workday, and I could do so in complete solitude. Then, on lucky days, I would have the office to myself, at least for a few hours, and I could go into total concentration without interruption.

And most days, I could take a long walk, alone, in the middle of the afternoon.

This uninterrupted time of solitude, engagement, and alternating mental focus and relaxation provided me with an essential daily ingredient for 23 years of my life.

I’m not sure why remembering this makes me happy. Maybe it’s because, while I was processing all the hard parts, I’d begun to wonder what the job had offered me, and I felt, perhaps, like I’d wasted or misspent decades of my life in a situation that was harmful.

But it wasn’t always–It was often wonderful, and in addition to a salary that allowed us to purchase our home and that gives me a good pension for life, it also provided a day-to-day experience that I often loved.

And maybe I’m also happy because I’ve identified this feature, of immersion without interruption and time alone, and I know that I can find ways to work this into my life, even living with someone (for he loves his solitude and uninterrupted activities, too).

I remember that there were days at the office when it seemed unreal to me that I was getting paid to do this, for it felt like a privilege and a treat to sit at my computer and work on the website for hours at a time, and my mind thrilled with the detail of coding HTML and the pleasure of routine details to concentrate on. It was like oxygen for me.

I also loved my chair. (Yes, object attachment is a real thing for autistics!)

Anyway, remembering all of this, today, has brought me out of my funk. My life wasn’t a waste–it makes sense. Without discounting the hard times, remembering the things I loved and that were good and healthy for me brings me a feeling of wholeness and self-respect. I didn’t slave away at a job I hated, with people who disrespected me and treated me badly, for 23 years. I had some challenging times of overwork, too much change, too little accommodation, and co-workers and supervisors who didn’t get me. And I had a lot of really lovely, wonderful, exciting, engaging, rewarding, autonomous, structure-filled and freedom-laced moments, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and years, and even decades, when work was a joy. And it brought in a salary and, now, a pension.

It’s pretty miraculous, actually.

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Thruhiker – Day 8

March 27 (6:00 – 15:45)
Magnolia Promenade – Newcrest (20 mi)
Total C2C miles: 143.5
Weather: Cloudy, partly sunny AGAIN – rain in the morning, clearing in afternoon

It’s silent when I wake, save for raindrops on the hard pavement and tiled roofs.

No one is in the courtyard, and the vendor that I bought the tea from last night is closed up, a note pinned to the door.

Service suspended, due to pandemic shut-down, per Governor’s order.

We’ll open for take-out once we find a way to get PPE.

Be safe, people. Masks on!

The pandemic? I check my phone, scrolling through Google’s newsfeed.

When I left, a week ago, the pandemic was something that was on another continent. We didn’t have to worry about it here.

I admit, I hadn’t even looked at the news, except for weather reports, during the past week. But one week? Could things change that much in a week’s time?

Indeed. On Friday, with 120 people testing positive in the state, 55 in this county, Governor Kracken, spooked by rising death counts across the nation’s border, joined governors across the country in issuing “shelter-in-place” orders.

We were all to stay at home.

What does that mean for me, who doesn’t have a home, at present? My home is the trail, until I get where I’m going.

And what of others who don’t have homes?

I scan the executive order. The homeless are to find shelter. Or get tested and then go into quarantine, if positive, or temporary housing, if not.

No mention made of travelers or thru-hikers, like me, only that travel is being canceled, and everyone is to go home. This isn’t going to work.

I’m frightened. I’m confused. I just walk, leaving Magnolia Promenade.

I think, if I can just get through here, without seeing anyone, with no one seeing me, it will be OK.

Just stick to the trail.

I walk and I focus on my heartbeat, the rhythm of my breathing, my rushed steps. I focus on the moist air, and I wonder, does the virus survive better in humid or arid conditions?

No one is around.

I walk, and no one is around, and if no one is around, then there is no one to spread the virus.

How did this all happen so sudden? Why did I not know?

Of course I didn’t know, for I haven’t spoken to anyone. But I wonder why the vendor didn’t tell me when I bought my tea last night.

I think of the revelers at the bar, their shouts and songs and noise. Of course. It was their last party before shut-down.

The sun comes out, blaring its rays across the pond, and I realize that the sun doesn’t care about viruses. It shines regardless.

It’s not silent, for robins, thrushes, wrens, and mockingbirds sing, louder than ever. But there is no noise of cars or planes.

I simply walk because I don’t know what else to do. The trail winds beside the river between Magnolia Park and Newcrest, so it’s a pleasant hike, and when my thoughts cease and my breath keeps me going, one foot after the next, I don’t have worries.

I walk like this all day.

When at last I reach the Newcrest Park, I head into the forest, way off the trail and out of sight of any houses. This will do. I’m trying to find a balance between denial, responsibility, helplessness, need for control, and just being a person with a dream of hiking across country. I feel like a fugitive.

But no one anticipated this, right? And for right now, I don’t really see many options for me. So I guess I’ll just keep on with my hike.

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Another Legacy, 1.30

During the years when Kiki is growing up, Ira is working on her college degree. It seems to take forever. Rather than rush to get through it, Ira gets into it. This is my life now, she decides, and she directs all of her perfectionist tendencies into her work. It pays off in terms of grades and that dopamine satisfaction of goals met and jobs well done, but it has costs in terms of stress, overall well-being, and life balance.

Ira doesn’t care. She figures that she can achieve balance later, once her good grades are established.

At one point, one of her mentors at college gently suggests that she might want to get an evaluation from a neurological psychologist.

“You seem to have a different neurological profile,” her mentor says. Ira, having lived with Case for 15 years, knows she’s not autistic, but she also suspects she’s not neurotypical. “Maybe ADHD?” the mentor suggests. “OCD? It might be useful to find out more about that. Or maybe not.”

Ira decides not. She knows she’s neurodivergent and that her urges to steal things, her “twisted up mind,” as she calls it, her hyper focus, her drive to always be doing something, and her perfectionism stem from this. She also decides that it’s OK. It’s part of who she is, she’s managing fine, and she’s not going to bother unpacking a diagnosis–or misdiagnosis. Everything is OK.

And whether it actually is or not, she’s got so much support from Case and Kiki, a harmonious home life, and even from their family friend Aadhya that she feels she doesn’t need official “support.”

During Kiki’s second year in junior high, a school counselor makes a similar recommendation to Case regarding Kiki’s neurological and sensory profile, and he, having witnessed Kiki’s approach to making friends her own age, which, in its continuously missing the target, reminds him so much of his own social style, agrees. He and Kiki are too similar in too many ways for him not to already suspect that she’s on the spectrum herself.

And she is. He’s glad she got diagnosed before reaching adulthood, since so many girls and women fly by faking it. Perhaps since she grew up in a home with Case and Ira, Kiki never really formed a convincing mask, and the flimsy masks she did bother to create, she seldom bothers to wear.

Case and Ira are both thrilled to have an autistic kid in their neurodivergent home.

And to Kiki, who continues to look up to Case and Ira as being the best examples of the best of humanity, being autistic like Case makes her think that she, too, might be an awesome person who can do amazing things.

By the time she enters high school, she’s embraced her social identity as a geek and she’s chopped off all her hair.

She didn’t like the way other people, boys, girls, adults, kids–everyone–were always grabbing her long red locks. Having her hair short, most people don’t even look at her twice, anymore, and she can disappear into the background when she wants to. She can also wrap her head in a bandana or other head-covering, like Case does, when the air pressure is doing that changy thing and stave off the barometric headaches.

Aadhya remains a close friend, dropping by often after school, even when Kiki’s too old to actually need a babysitter.

Every time, Aadhya asks, “So what did you learn in school today?”

Most times, Kiki doesn’t answer. She knows that once she starts talking about French pronouns or Shakespeare sonnets or the pigments that make up cerulean blue, she’ll forget to stop and Aadhya will get bored from too many details.

It’s easier to smile to herself and answer on the inside, rather than talking out loud.

Aadhya will fill in the spaces, anyway.

“You look good in a bandana,” she says. “I wish I’d been brave enough, as a teenager, to wear whatever I wanted.”

Kiki imagines Aadhya in high school, with her curly hair, smiling and joking. She was probably popular.

“As it was,” Aadhya continues, “I just wore what all the other girls wore, as if we had a uniform. We might as well have! Tight jeans and French-cut T-shirts. We all looked the same!”

Kiki suddenly imagined a line of French kittens, wearing tiny black berets, mewing in chorus.

“Are the other kids ever, you know, rude to you? When you stand out?” Aadhya asks.

“Sometimes?” Kiki answers. “I’m sort of used to it. It doesn’t really matter. People will be people.”

Kiki has learned that generalities work really well in a) keeping her from answering in too many details and b) satisfying the other person that a conversation is actually happening. She’s got a whole stock of them she pulls out when needed: “Time will tell”; “All things pass”; “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

They’re all true and also not-true, as most generalities are, and they serve as little envelopes that she can insert real meaning into, in case she ever meets anyone besides Case and Ira who want to have a real conversation.

One evening, when Case is running late, Ira gets a call from his secretary. “I just wanted to let you know that he just now left the office, but it’s so late he’s missed his usual bus, so don’t worry that he doesn’t come home at the regular time. You know Case! Always the workaholic!”

Case running late and missing his bus isn’t a big deal–it doesn’t happen often, but it happens often enough not to cause anyone to worry. But what is a big deal is that someone would call, and that that someone would be Case’s secretary.

“You have a secretary?” Ira asks him when he makes it home shortly after dark.

“Oh, yeah,” he replies. “That just happened. Part of the promotion.”

“Promotion?” This is the first Ira has heard of it.

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess I’m like the boss now, one of them. At least I can’t really be promoted anymore. Top of the field.”

“That’s fantastic!” Ira says.

It is fantastic. With his promotion to Master Inventor, Case achieved his lifetime aspiration of Eco Innovator. Completing the aspiration doesn’t seem to mean that much to Case (he immediately switches all his passion to his new special interest of achieving the Botanist aspiration), but it means a lot to me. I’m kind of thrilled that our founder reached this success, and that he did it his way, without really having to change or give up any of his own characteristics and inclinations.

And I’m even happier when I see this pop up:

He is a positive influence, and I’m happy the game can see it. I especially love the second point: “Friends will be more forgiving if he commits any social miscues, and they won’t be quick to judge him.” What autistic person wouldn’t love this? Having experienced lifetimes of slice judgments, the freedom of not being judged for missing social cues feels… well, it feels like an environment in which we can thrive. I’ve experienced this at work a time or two. Once, I had a manager who always gave everything I did the best interpretation! A few times, I had to admit, “No, I really did mess up on that one!” But even then, she’d find a way to discover the best in what I’d done. “Oh, I’m sure the instructions could have been more clear,” she’d say, or, “Well, if this is the first mistake you’ve made on this weekly project in over five years, I think we can live with it!”

Isn’t that what we all need to thrive, others who are willing to overlook our miscues, and who consider all we do with the best interpretation?

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Choose Your Own Archetype: The Fool

Author’s Note: This is my entry to the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge for April, hosted by LisaBee. April’s theme is The April Fool. This isn’t a story; it’s a personal reflection. I’m in the midst of a major life transition, having retired in January from my full-time job, and I’m finding that most of my creative energy is going into adapting to the rhythms, pace, activities, and choices of this new life. I’m feeling very much a Fool. But the theme draws me in to reflect on my favorite archetype, and maybe to find some strength, as I have during past challenges, in the Fool’s fortune. So have an essay!

Friendly readers, please check the listing of April submissions on LisaBee’s blog after April 30. You’ll find lots of great entries, and you’ll be able to vote for your top three! Happy reading!

I’ve always identified with the fool. As a young child, with two older siblings, who were smarter, stronger, and more able in countless ways, I found myself in Simpleton, the boy who didn’t speak much, especially as he made his way through the world in “The Queen Bee.” This fairy tale showed me that you didn’t need to be the cleverest, fastest, boldest, or know-it-allest to succeed, that sometimes, a good heart, kindness, and a kiss of luck from the universe could see you through, and for me, as a child, this gave me hope that I might grow up all right, after all.

In the Tarot deck, the Fool–his head literally in the clouds, fingers twirling a white rose, white spaniel yapping and dancing at his feet–walks along a precipice, a step before a fall. But his pup will stop him, or the wind will catch him, or the nimbus will form a road to the heavens. It doesn’t matter, for we know he will be all right, saved, somehow, protected.

When I feel safe and protected, I let myself fall into the Fool’s state of bliss, always just a breath away, savoring sounds and scents and sights and changes in temperature and air pressure that lie just outside the normal range of perception, as if heightened sensitivity let me understand a language seldom heard, but always whispered. As a child, I learned I couldn’t always go into those states of being: chores would go undone, instructions would be unheard, accidents would happen, and I’d be punished for being irresponsible. I carried that lesson with me into adulthood, and whenever I do let myself venture into rapture, I try to set an internal reminder to pull me out in time to make supper, pay the bills, or show up on time. It’s like living on the precipice, a foot in each world.

In the Grimm Brothers’ tales, the Fool is always bullied, by siblings or villagers. How could it be otherwise? Those of us who think differently, who live with one foot in another world, are bullied, at home, school, work. It was that way for me. Our brains get shaped by bullying, too. Part of the Fool’s secret is that he carries on, anyway, with sincerity, or at least seeing past the meanness of others. There’s always a task that needs to be done, even if you’re being teased and harassed on the way to doing it.

Usually, in the fairy tales and in real life, the tasks seem impossible: pick up the thousand pearls scattered in the pine needles before sunset; choose the finest carpet in all the world without venturing from your village; post and link to 568 PDFs before 5 p.m.–oh, and you’ll be receiving them at 3:45, by the way.

But something in the Fool’s luck makes these tasks accomplishable. In the stories, the Fool has helpers, the bees, ants, and frogs he showed kindness to along the way. When I was a child, I relied on imaginary friends to give me assistance and resilience to sweep the thousands of pine needles off the walkway before supper, or to wash and wipe dry each window, and these seemingly insurmountable chores became possible. As an adult, I relied on my super power: the focus and attention to detail that comes from an autistic mind.

Accomplishing impossible tasks never won the Fool his sibling’s or the villagers’ favor, but they did put him in good stead with the king. At the office, I didn’t finally find friends, acceptance, and inclusion when I met the impossible deadlines–but I did earn good performance reviews and administrators’ respect. It brought job security, even if it didn’t help me fit in.

I guess what I love most about the Fool is that he’ll never fit in–even when he succeeds, he’s just as weird as he was at the beginning, still ridiculed, excluded, made fun of. But he keeps on–he’s got his helpers and their enduring gratitude. He’s got the king’s respect. He’s earned rewards. His strange contributions are sometimes what is needed.

When I think that these stories have been handed down, generation after generation, for over five hundred years, I see that we have a place–we neurodivergent folk–and we may never fit in, we may face impossible tasks in our everyday lives, and we also have the resilience and individual strengths and abilities to be able to tackle some of the challenges we face. And we can do so in our own Fool’s way.

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Another Legacy 1.29

Unlike the stressful and glitchy gameplay during Kiki’s toddler years, the gameplay during her childhood years felt fun, focused, and successful. The only point of gameplay stress was managing Ira’s university tasks–but we figured it out and fell into a pattern that worked.

I tried the skilling hack that JordanNicoleJJ and I discovered during legacy-play back in 2015, where mental skill is developed through the arithmetic game and creative through Keyboard commander, but the glitch that allowed for rapid simul-skilling has been fixed, so the hack no longer works.

Nonetheless, Kiki knocked out all the childhood skills well before it was time for her to age-up, and she managed to complete all the childhood aspirations, too, and she still had time to play, draw, and ponder mortality and eternity.

Man, I love kids in The Sims 4.

When she comes downstairs one morning in the bear suit she wore for a school play, Ira and Case don’t mind. They don’t even ask her about it.

Her voice sounds muffled and echoing when she speaks from deep within the suit, so Case needs to focus extra hard to make out what she says. Ira just figures Kiki will repeat herself or speak a little louder when they don’t hear her.

“Bears are solitary animals, right?” Kiki asks. “I mean, they like to be alone best?”

“Bear cubs like to play with each other,” Ira says, “wrestling and such. And they like to hang out with the Mama bear.”

“I like hanging out with grown ups,” Kiki says.

“I like hanging out with you,” Ira says.

“Bear cubs don’t really understand each other,” Kiki says. “That’s why they’re always wrestling.”

“Would you like us to invite some of our grown-up friends over more often?” Ira asks.

“Yeah!” replies Kiki. “That would be great!”

So on the weekend, Ira invites over Aadhya, the other Father Winter, and Knox. It’s just the right amount of people for the llama game, but not so many as to make it feel crowded and noisy.

“I didn’t realize you’d adopted a bear,” Aadhya says, “and one who likes fruit salad, even!”

“All bears like fruit,” Case replies.

But Kiki feels a bit awkward hiding behind the bear mask, so she braves a party dress. After all, Aadhya has changed into a party dress, too.

They all settle down at the game table, and the grown-ups take the game so seriously. Kiki tries to crack them up, grabbing her hand, as if it had a life of its own.

“No!” she says. “Mustn’t pull the stick! Must. Not. Pull. The. Stick.”

Aadhya chuckles. But the other Father Winter and Knox are deep in analysis. Which stick? Which speed to pull? Does velocity make structures more stable, or will it topple?

Knox wonders out loud, and Kiki learns about how the balance of force produces equilibrium, which then leads Aadhya to speculate on the right approach to living, and whether the secret of life might not be found in a simple game for children. But the other Father Winter says that there’s no such thing as a simple game–that all of life’s complexities and secrets can be found in any game, no matter how limited, and the more seemingly simple, the more elemental the truths.

They talk for hours, pulling out sticks, toppling the llama, making jokes, telling stories, growing somber, talking politics, sharing stories about their parents, all of whom have passed.

And after they leave, long after it’s grown dark, Kiki sits alone and lets the conversation roll in and out, like a tide, and she picks among the shells and colored bits of glass washed up on the shore. It’s an amazing thing to be a person, she thinks, and we’re all so much alike. Even those of us who are so very different, we’re really all alike.

If only the kids at school could get that.

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Another Legacy 1.28

Kiki has a fascination bordering upon obsession with one gnome in particular. Perhaps it’s no surprise, seeing as she’s an orphan who has daily internal dialogues with her mom-and-dad angels, that the object of her obsession is Grim Reaper Gnome.

It’s not just the way his eyes glow.

It’s an eerie calm, too, that descends upon her, when she gazes upon his scythe.

It’s as if he’s saying, “Be still. Don’t worry. I am on my way in my own good pace.”

Kiki thinks those are words to live by.

It makes her think that love is extra special, and extra needed, all the time, because we don’t know who might go when.

Because she’s a little kid, she gets the idea that she’s not supposed to talk about love, or about things that are deep, like life philosophies. It’s not that Case and Ira give her any messages that she shouldn’t talk about these things–it’s the people at school, grown-ups and kids alike, who look at her crossways when she says anything out of the ordinary. She figures Case and Ira are just polite and love her anyway, so they will listen to anything she says, no matter how outlandish. She uses the people at school as her guideposts for what fits in and what doesn’t.

But she discovers early on that no one looks at her funny when she draws her feelings and thoughts. So she develops this philosophy of everyday love for everyday people and things through her art.

Case and Ira love her drawings so much they hang them where everyone can see them–everyone who comes upstairs, that is. Ira talks about the composition, the brushstroke, the palette, all the things she’s learning at university.

“I like the Freezer Bunny,” Case says, “and the robot. And the bee. All my favorite things.”

School’s going pretty well for Ira. She is remarkably conscientious, forgoing fun for study and putting in extra effort and attention during class. She finds that even though she feels tense sometimes, she loves the way her mind feels. She loves having thoughts and ideas always being processed, as if her mind works on its own while she takes care of other things.

It isn’t as hard as she’d feared being an older student, socially, that is. The work is hard, but in a feels-good kind of way. It’s that everyone there seems focused on learning and growing as artists, and so there’s no time or energy spent towards the social stuff. This is huge relief for her.

Case has been taking on more responsibility at work, so he works from home less, needing to be on site to oversee the projects he’s responsible for, and Ira is often at class, or commuting to and from university, or working on her term paper, so, true to her word, Aadhya steps up.

She’s over nearly every day to wash dishes, cook a meal, take out the trash, and mostly, to spend time with Kiki.

“I don’t like school, but I like the bus,” says Kiki. “Is that weird?’

“It depends. What do you like about the bus?” Aadhya asks.

“I like how peaceful it is. Nobody sits with me, so I can look out the window, and it’s so quiet. I hear the wheels go chink, chink, chink as they drive over little pebbles in the road. It’s electric, you know, Case says we only have electric buses and stuff here, because of his work. But it’s better for quiet. And what I like most is the way the fields and trees go by through the window. Like green and green and green, in all different flavors.”

“It’s not weird,” Aadhya replies.

The conversation about the bus makes Kiki feel a bit bolder. Here’s someone who’s not Case or Ira, who doesn’t look at her crossways when she says what she really thinks.

Kiki begins to figure out that maybe, sometimes, with some people, it is OK to be your real self and say what you really mean and how you think and how you feel.

She tests it out a bit more.

“Do you have anyone you tell all your secrets to?” she asks one day. “I mean, not anyone living, but like, an angel? Or two? Or a friend who lives inside of you?”

“I used to have an imaginary friend,” Aadhya says. “Is that what you mean?”

Kiki notices that Aadhya’s mouth has gone a little bit tight, and her eyebrows are arching up a bit, so she laughs and says, “Yeah, imaginary. That’s right.”

Aadhya mentions something to Ira when she returns from class that night about Kiki’s social emotional development perhaps not being quite on course.

Ira thanks Aadhya, but she doesn’t really take it too seriously.

The next morning, while Kiki’s sitting outside waiting for the school bus, Ira says to Case, “I think Kiki is lucky to have us.”

“And we’re lucky to have her,” Case replies.

“I mean, of course, we’re all lucky in that way. But, I mean, I think that she is especially lucky to have us, you and me in particular, as opposed to people less creative, less eccentric, and more neurotypical.”

“Um, OK.”

She relays Aadhya’s report to him.

“See what I mean? Not everybody, even including people who love her, is going to get her unique ways of perceiving and being. We do. She’s lucky to have that, as a kid.”

Case chuckles. Maybe he’s thinking about all of his unspoken observations through his childhood, and what it would have been like to have someone to share them with. Maybe he’s reflecting on how lucky he is now, to have someone at home that he doesn’t have to mask with, who’s patient and understanding and accepting. Maybe he’s just enjoying that happy buzz he gets inside when he and Ira talk.

They don’t say much else before they both have to leave for school and work. They don’t have to–they’re on the same page, and it’s a bright page in an illustrated book with pictures of hearts and bees and freezer bunnies.

Kiki kind of likes this new idea that it’s OK to test out who you can talk to. She doesn’t have to have a hard and fast rule of “don’t tell anyone anything that’s important to you.” She can try something like, “talk to people and find out, and if you see they don’t like something, then you can talk about something else.”

So when Knox drops by one evening, she challenges him to a game of chess, so she can use her moves as a distraction if her topic of conversation doesn’t fly.

“You ever notice how Grim Reaper Gnomes are quieter than other gnomes?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah,” he replies. “Man, that Grim, he’s got deep thoughts, you know. Sorta changes the whole aura around him. Deep and dark.”


It’s going OK, pretty well, in fact, so tries the big one.

“You ever talk to anyone inside? Like someone you can tell your secrets to?”

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “All the time. My moms. They passed on, you know. The big Grim came for them. But I talk to them all the time, inside, or sometimes even aloud. It’s kinda weird, but it’s like they’re not even gone, sometimes. I guess I feel closer to them now than ever.”

It feels sort of like a miracle to Kiki to hear someone else say that.

“I talk to my mom and dad all the time, too,” she whispers. “They died when I was a baby. It’s not like I even miss them anymore. I mean I have Case and Ira and they’re the best parents any kid could have. But it’s like my mom and dad are just part of me. They’re angels, but they’re also part of me. So I am always talking to them.”

“Man, that’s so beautiful,” Knox says. “Crazy beautiful. You know, when they passed, I bet they were so bummed that they wouldn’t get to see you grow up, but now, with them being so much a part of you, it’s like they’re not missing out on that at all. They’re there. Inside you. Just like you say.”

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Another Legacy 1.27

“Now that the adoption’s final and Kiki’s settling into school OK, I think I should apply to college again,” Ira says to Case one morning.

“It’s a great idea,” he says. “I appreciate you waiting, for all this to settle out, but I think we’re ready, right?”

“I feel super nervous. I was so upset when I got rejected last time. I really took a big hit emotionally. Do you think I can handle it if I don’t get in again?”

“First, I really think you’ll get in. You’ve been working for years to prep for the entrance exams, and you’ve developed your painting so well, too. I know you’ll ace the logic portion of the test. And we can work on your essay together.”

“Moira was going to help me,” Ira says. “I just feel so sad going through with this stage without her.”

“True. That sucks. She would want you to go through with it. She’d want me to step up to give you the support you need, and I’ll do that, best I can. I know I don’t have Moira’s warmth or instincts for emotional support. But I’ll do what I can, and if I’m not helping in the way you need, just let me know, and I can do better.”

“I don’t really feel like taking emotional risks right now,” Ira says. “I mean, Kiki needs us to be stable, right?”

“Kiki needs us to take risks,” Case says, “especially emotional ones. Doing so, we show her that it’s OK if you don’t feel great and happy all the time. We can feel grief or disappointed or messed up or nervous, and the world’s not going to end. We’ll get through it. That’s the best thing we can do for Kiki.”

At supper that night, Case tells Kiki that Ira’s going to apply to college to study art.

“She’s already the best artist,” Kiki says, “but that will be cool for other people to find that out, too.”

“It’s about time,” says Aadhya, who’s dropped by and is helping out by catching up on the dishes. “You know it takes at least four years, sometimes longer, especially for older students, to finish a degree. We’re not getting any younger.”

“Older and wiser,” says Case. “Thanks for helping out, Aadhya.”

“Anytime,” she replies. “Always happy to help. Which is a good thing, as I expect you’ll be needing more of that around here, once Ira begins her studies.”

“That’s assuming I get in,” says Ira, who’s come downstairs to see if Kiki needs homework help.

“Oh, you’ll get in,” say Aadhya and Case at the same time.

“Of course you’ll get in,” chimes up Kiki. “You’re the best artist in the house!”

A few weeks later, and the entrance exam has been taken with scores en route, the application has been completed, and the essay has been written, torn and shredded, written again, ripped up, written another time, revised, edited, tossed in the trash, and written one last time, proofread, and ready to mail with the application packet.

“I have such a good feeling about this,” Case says. “Life is about to get very interesting!”

“I am not even letting myself feel,” says Ira. “Or breathe. I think I’ll hold my breath until I hear back. And if I don’t get in, I’ll sob and carry on, and then I’ll be breathing so hard, and if I do get in, I will sigh in relief. Either way, I’ll breathe then.”

But the application packet goes in the mail, with a wish and a prayer, and even when they wait, life goes on. And Ira does breathe while she waits.

And the weeks turn to months, and one sunny day, the postal delivery person stops by to raise the red flag, notifying the Donovan Mahajan Flores household that there’s something in the mailbox.

“Ah! Life is good!” says the postal delivery person. Most people feel that way in Port Promise these days–the air is just so clear, so pure, and even so quiet, you can hear the bees buzz.

“Thanks for bringing the mail,” Ira says, stalling, trying to calm down a bit before she sees what came. This is the week the university admissions said they’d be sending out acceptance letters, and hard as Ira has tried to distract herself enough to forget that, it’s about the only thing that’s been on her mind.

She fills a few moments with small talk until the postal delivery person says she needs to be going now, more deliveries to make, and so on.

Ira takes a big breath. Case has told her, nearly every day, that whatever happens, they can handle it.

At last, she reaches into the mail box. It’s a thick envelope this time, addressed to her.

Dear Ira Mahajan,
We are happy…

And that’s all she can read.

“We are happy” means she got in, and she can read all the details later, because right now, if they are happy, she is happy, for if they are happy, it means she got in, and if she got in, it means…

She, Ira Mahajan, first generation college student, at the ripe old age of nearly middle-aged, is going to college! She got in!

She got in, and she’s going to be an art student.

And she’s also have to take literature courses, and probably a math course, and history. Maybe economics. Film theory. Probably something with ceramics. Textile studies. Feminist theory. History of the Oppressed. Macroeconomic theory of nano particles. Oh, crap.

Who was she kidding? There is no way she’s ready for this. How is she even going to find the time to study?

And besides, Kiki and Case need her. And who is she kidding? College? Her? She’ll never amount to anything. Her mom was right. Don’t set your sights too high. Settle for what you’ve got.

OK, it’s not too late. She can just not accept. And Case and Kiki don’t even need to find out that the letter came. They’ll just carry on as if it never got delivered. “Oh, I guess my application must have gotten misplaced,” she’ll say.

It’ll be easier that way.

“She’d want me to step up and give you the support you needed,” Ira remembers Case saying. Case’s life hasn’t been easy, and he’s always been stepping up. Was it easy to go through the process of adopting Kiki? It was hard. But if they hadn’t done it, what would Kiki’s life be like? Has it been easy for him to be an ecological engineer? It’s been hard, especially when he needs to interact with other people, but look at what an impact he’s made.

“Kiki needs us to take risks,” Case had said. That was the most important point of all.

Though she didn’t like to admit it, and it didn’t fit with the image she projected, Ira was not always one to take risks. Growing up, she never felt she had the emotional support to do so. But maybe it’s time to change.

She’s got the emotional support now.

OK. She would do it! She would accept!

Maybe she’ll fail in a blazing glory of vermillion F’s, but hell or high water, she’s going to college!

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