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.”

“Exactly!”

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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Another Legacy 1.26

Even though it never snows in Port Promise, on Winterfest, it snows. By now, Kiki has had time to process what it means that the adoption is official, so when she looks out on Winterfest morning to see Ira making snow angels, she smiles to herself. Now, she doesn’t only have her mom-and-dad-angels looking out for her from heaven, she’s got a real live angel or two looking out for her here.

They say heaven is a great place to be, but this morning, Kiki can’t imagine anyplace more beautiful, more exciting, or more fun than home.

Especially when that home is too small to have a Winterfest tree inside, because that means they can have it outdoors!

Tinker Tailor stops by to help them decorate, which is supposedly fine, because “the more the merrier,” but secretly, Kiki thinks no one can decorate better than Ira.

She tosses the ornament with a swing and a prayer, and it lands in just the right spot!

Kiki tries it, too. The ornament goes flying, but no one seems to care. It’s the style that matters.

When it’s done, it’s so perfect. It must be the best tree ever, with the biggest pile of presents, and the best smell of rosin, and the prettiest green. Kiki can’t help but whisper to her mom-and-dad-angels, “Look! This is for you, too! It’s our Winterfest tree!”

Kiki tries not to notice when she spots Ira over at the tree later, doing something with the presents. Kids aren’t supposed to know about sneaky present things, Kiki has gathered, so she plays along, pretending to ignore the growing pile of fancily wrapped gifts.

It seems to get dark before the day has even properly gotten started.

“That’s what winter’s all about,” Case explains, “darkness and cold. That’s why we have Winterfest on the darkest of days, and why we have lights everywhere and things that warm us from the inside.”

“Like presents,” Kiki adds.

“How come there are so many elves walking around?” Kiki asks.

“Must be some sort of party,” replies Case, “or community event.”

All evening, they see them walking on the road past their house, checking their phones.

“It’s a charity challenge!” Ira explains. “They dress up, post to their social media, and then there’s some sort of fund-raising thing-or-other where they get matching funds.”

It makes it harder for Kiki to spot the actual Father Winter, with so many dressed up in elf costumes.

But at last, he comes, walking right down their street towards their very own house!

There’s no mistaking that long blue snowflake robe, even with a yellow-and-green-striped t-shirt underneath, and that jolly belly and big beard, even if the guy is skinny everywhere else and the beard is black. It’s Father Winter. It has to be!

He even stops at the Winterfest tree, when he thinks no one is watching, and adds to the present pile!

“Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores!” he calls. “Is there a Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores here?”

“Here I am!” Kiki answers, and she comes out of her hiding place behind the dew collector.

“Well, I am very pleased to meet you,” says Father Winter. “Have a seat. Let’s chat.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, too,” Kiki says, remembering politeness, even though she is very excited and feeling more than a little bit shy.

“Now, what Winterfest wishes can I make come true for you?”

“Oh!” She is stumped for a moment. “You see, my most wished-for wish already came true. And so, I forgot to even think about another wish.”

She explains, in just above a whisper, how she was a foster kid for more years than she can remember, and how she always wanted to be adopted, not just for her, but also for Ira and Case, so they wouldn’t ever be sad without her, and how now that wish, which was so much a part of her forever, has come true, and so she’s happy, and Ira is happy, and Case is happy, and everyone is happy, but she’s just not sure that she will ever wish for anything again, because why? She has what she’s always wanted. It would be selfish to want more.

By now, Ira and Case have wandered out to join them.

“It’s not selfish to want things,” says Ira, “even when you’re happy and you’ve got everything you’ve ever wanted. In fact, it’s kind of a secret of happiness, not just to be happy with what you’ve got, especially when your biggest dreams come true, but then to think, what next?”

“Oh!” says Kiki. “In that case! I saw this light thing once in a video and it makes these little dancing colors and shapes on the walls, and I thought that would be so cool to look at when I fall asleep sometimes. It would be fun to have one of those lights.”

“I had a feeling you might say that,” says Father Winter.

He hands her a package in blue-and-white wrapping paper, just like his robe, with a big white bow on top, and when she opens it, she finds that light-show lamp inside!

“You really ARE Father Winter!” she exclaims.

“I think Father Winter deserves a present, too,” says Ira. She hands him a smaller package. It’s a digital camera.

“This is too thoughtful,” he says.

“Well, you do all the work, on a holiday, nonetheless,” says Ira. “You deserve a treat.”

“Now for the adults in the household,” he says, handing a gift to Case.

It’s a giftcard to a seed company. “Rare heirloom herbs and veggies,” he says.

“Very thoughtful. We’ll make good use.”

“I know you will.”

“Where’s Clement Frost, by the way?” Case asks. “We were expecting him.”

“Oh,” replies Father Winter, “blame management. Something about mixing up routes to increase blah, blah, something, something, whatever. Anyway, he’s got San Myshuno this year, my regular route, and I’ve got his route here in Port Promise. Nice change, actually. I got to meet you and your family!”

I have to say, I was incredibly relieved to hear this Father Winter’s explanation. With the impact of Moira’s passing still felt in the household, I wasn’t sure we could handle losing our original Father Winter just yet. In fact, before I closed out the game that night, Clement Frost called, just to wish Case and his family a very merry Winterfest. Like my Sims, I get attached to the original Townies and NPCs, too.

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Thalassa’s Song

This story is part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, coordinated by LisaBee. This month’s prompt is to tell a fairy tale. Please check back at Lisabee’s blog at the beginning of March, when you can read all the month’s contributions and select your three favorite.

Thalassina lived in an old house with her father and mother, the Distinguished Professor and Mrs. Amelia Mariner.

Mrs. Amelia Mariner dressed her daughter in stiff clothes with scratchy lace.

“Keep your arms at your sides, darling. And for goodness sake, still your hands!”

“Must she make that shrieking noise, dear?” the Distinguished Professor asked. “Is she all right?”

Mrs. Amelia invented a thousand excuses not to take their daughter to a specialist. Of course, the child was perfect! How on earth could she and the Distinguished Professor have a child that was anything but perfect?

“I’m sure it’s just a phase. She’ll grow out of it. All intelligent children experience a stage of quirkiness.”

“Whatever you say, dear,” replied the Distinguished Professor.

The summer Thalassina turned 13, the family visited the islands. It was not a vacation, after all, for the Distinguished Professor had a conference, and it fell to Mrs. Amelia to officiate countless functions, as wife to the Renowned Keynote Speaker.

That suited Thalassina just fine. The moment the Distinguished Professor and Mrs. Amelia left to attend to duties, Thalassina dashed off to the beach, to comb the shore, wade in the surf, and ponder the strange changes happening to her body, mind, and spirit.

Gentle waves rocked in and out, in and out, beckoning to follow, deeper, deeper, until Thalassina could spread her arms and wave her hands and roll on her back with happy squeaks.

Every day, as soon as her parents left, she ran to the sea.

One day, her fairy godmother joined her. She was never without a friend, then.

“Well, it’s been quite a success,” reported the Distinguished Professor at supper one evening.

“Quite satisfactory, after all,” added Mrs. Amelia.

“Pack up before bed, Thalassina. The plane leaves bright and early tomorrow.”

She hadn’t considered that summer would end, that they would go back to their old house, and that her days would be filled with loud classmates and strict teachers, and hard desks and the powder scent of chalk, and that she would have to keep her arms at her sides and her hands still once again.

After the Professor and Mrs. Amelia were fast asleep, she dashed down to the shore again and plunged into the sea, swimming towards the moon.

In an unfamiliar cove, she heard her fairy godmother call her name.

“I can’t leave! I can’t go back! I can’t lose me!” she cried.

“Right now, Thalassina,” replied the fairy godmother, “you have no choice. But one day, the choice will be yours. You can decide to become a normal person and live a normal life or to live as your true self in your own unusual life.”

“A normal person?” Thalassina asked. “But how will I choose?”

“You will know,” said her fairy godmother. “Both choices bring sacrifice. But you will weigh the costs, and choose with your good heart.”

Seasons passed. Thalassina kept her arms at her sides, her hands quiet, and her voice steady. Her parents grew proud of this studious and responsible young woman.

“Remember how we worried?” Mrs. Amelia asked as high school graduation approached. “Now she’s in the top ten of her class and heading to university in the fall!”

“Would be better if she were valedictorian,” replied the Distinguished Professor, “But, you were right as always, dear. Just a phase.”

Thalassina found, at university, that some of her classmates didn’t mind if she waved her arms or squeaked when excited. Some of her professors, especially in Literature of the Oppressed and Paleolithic Art, rewarded her less-than-common ideas with higher-than-average marks.

“He’ll pick you up at 6:00 p.m.” her mother wrote early in spring semester, “he” being Jonathan Donovan Cure, the son of a colleague of the Distinguished Professor, who happened to study economic theory at the same university.

Thalassina didn’t want to go on her mother’s pre-arranged date, but her imaginative capacity, at the moment, was devoted to the Gobustan Petroglyphs, so no spare synapses produced a passable excuse. “It’ll just be easier to go,” she reckoned, leaving her mind free to ponder the strange Azerbaijan etchings of fin and scale on lichened rock.

They had a decent time. She kept her arms to her sides, her hands quiet, and her voice carefully modulated, as he watched her with fascination and, possibly, admiration. Being with him felt familiar.

One date led to another. She kept up the act; he kept up the admiration. Doesn’t love feel familiar? Family, familiar? So she reasoned as the semester drew to a close and summer approached.

“Don’t go to the islands,” he told her.

“But I must!” she replied. She’d lined up a summer internship restoring wetlands at the estuary.

“Why? To dig in the dirt with eco-freaks and hippies?”

She would disappoint him if she went, not to mention disappointing the Distinguished Professor and Mrs. Amelia. They had set her up with him, after all, this promising young son of her father’s colleague.

But the islands. The ocean.

“I must,” she whispered, more to herself than to him, feeling the cost of this independence.

While he watched her pack her bags, he said, “You don’t know what you’re missing. I would’ve married you, you know. You could’ve been a normal person, with a normal life, and normal friends, living in a normal house in a normal world. Now you’ll just be one of the weirdos. One of the beautiful weirdos.”

The moment she breathed the ocean air, the magnitude of her choice fell on her. She would be different, always. It was a sacrifice, to never fit in.

But she made a few friends, and with one of them, she discovered, she could be her true self.

Life might be hard, sometimes, and it might be lonely. But isn’t it better to experience one’s own authentic hardships, one’s own loneliness, while living as one’s own self, than to experience someone else’s normality?

Another Legacy 1.25

Case rings the breakfast bell

Late one evening, a few days before Winterfest, after Kiki has gone to sleep, the social worker calls. It’s a go–the adoption is approved. There are still a few formalities left–the appearance before the judge and the receipt of the final paperwork, but those are mere procedures. It’s been approved, and Kiki’s no longer a foster child; she’s adopted.

Case and Ira are so excited they can barely sleep, and they arise early before dawn.

“I can’t wait to tell her,” Case says, looking to see if she’s stirring yet. She is such a sound sleeper.

“Let’s make a celebration out of it,” Ira says. “Let’s cook a fancy breakfast and all eat together and tell her then!”

They make pancakes and scrambled eggs and fruit salad with cranberries, oranges, dates, raisins, and Ceylon cinnamon. They make coffee and tea and hot chocolate, and when the sun comes up, but Kiki lingers in bed, Case can stand it no longer, and he pulls out the cowbell they use to announce suppertime, and he rings it so hard the windows shimmy.

“Breakfast!” he calls. “Sunshine! Celebration! Hurry! Fun-time! Breakfast!”

Ira busies herself at the counter, swallowing giggles.

Case rings the breakfast bell

But when they all sit down to eat, no one says anything right away. Ira has decided to leave it to Case to announce, and Case isn’t sure how to start. In his excitement, he forgot to script this one.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

He closes his eyes and just dives in.

“So she called last night and it’s going through!”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“These are good pancakes,” Kiki says.

“Do you know what Case is talking about?” Ira asks.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“I was eating,” Kiki says, “not listening. It sounded like grown-up talk.”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

Case tries again. “What I mean by ‘she called last night,’ is that the social worker called, and what I mean by ‘it’s going through’ is that the adoption. The adoption has been approved.”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“For real?” Kiki asks.

“For real. We still gotta see the judge and get the papers, but it’s a real thing! You’re adopted! You’re out of foster care, and now, we’re a for-real family!”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

Kiki doesn’t say anything. With the quietest of smiles, she spreads the fruit salad on the pancake and eats it.

“We were so excited we could hardly sleep,” Ira says.

“It’s what we’ve been wanting forever. It’s what I wanted even before I met you, when I just knew about you. When I brought you home on the bus that day, I hoped then, more than anything, that I could adopt you. I couldn’t think of a greater honor,” Case says, while he thought, or responsibility.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“Are you and Ira my mom and dad now?” Kiki asks.

“We could be, if you wanted. Technically, I’m your legal guardian, and Ira will be your godmother, which means if anything happens to me, she’s your guardian.”

“Like fairy godmother?” Kiki asks.

“Exactly,” says Ira, “only without the fairy part and the wish-granting part. No mice pulling pumpkins and spider webs turning into ball gowns or any of that nonsense.”

“I was thinking you’d like to have your birth mom and dad as your always mom and dad,” Case explains. “That’s why we’d be guardian and godmother. But what do you want?”

“I like that,” Kiki says. “That way, I can still talk to them.”

“Exactly,” says Ira.

“But what about my name? Will I be Kiki Flores?”

“If you want,” Case replies. “Another option would be to take all the names. So you could be Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores, or any other order you wanted.”

“I like it! It’s so long!”

“We can practice,” Case says, so together, they chant the whole thing: Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores! Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores!

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“I bet nobody else at school has a ten-syllable name,” Case says.

“You’d be surprised,” Kiki answers.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

She recites them all: Rainflower Sunshine Jessamine Snowchild; Billy Bob Jasper Water Buffalo; Rebecca Sally Smith-Johnson-Snow-Tea.

“Are you making these names up?” Ira asks.

“Might be,” answers Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores, as she takes another bite of pancake.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

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Office Tales: A Wished-For Career

Looking inside the HR office

When I gazed inside the HR office, one late-summer morning, over 23 years ago, a wish shot up from deep within me: I want to work here.

I was dropping off my application packet. It contained my resume, transcripts, letters of reference, the application form, and a letter, in which I tried to express all the ways that my own particular experience, training, skills, and interests made me a good fit for this position. It felt like posing, but it also felt that, just maybe, it could be also be true.

Looking inside the HR office

I had watched people, in suits and business dresses, walk into the building. They seemed professional but also relaxed, comfortable. They walked with an attitude of belonging, and I wanted to belong there, too.

Looking inside the HR office

I practiced their walk through the foyer, to the HR office, trying on that comfortable sense of being where I am supposed to be.

Looking inside the HR office

I tried the feeling on for size. That was always how I judged what schools, jobs, homes, even friendships were right for me. I tried on the feeling of belonging, and if it fit, or if it asked me to grow in a way that I wanted to, then I judged it right.

Six months before, I’d wished for a job like this. At the time, I was a full-time instructor at a community college. That had been a job I’d wished for, too, and one I’d worked hard to get. The competition was stiff–over 100 qualified applicants tried for the position I’d ended up getting. It was fulfilling, exhilarating, demanding, exhausting, draining, intensive. I pretty much figured I’d spend my career there, at that very college for the next twenty-five, thirty years. Somehow, I’d figure out a way not to get so drained every semester.

One spring day, walking to the office to make some photocopies, for this was back in the days when education was just beginning to go digital, and paper handouts were still a part of our face-to-face classes, I spotted a flier on the bulletin board.

Wanted: Webmaster for School Website

Looking inside the HR office

Hardly any schools had websites back then. I’d been developing webpages for my classes for the past year, but I was the only faculty member in our discipline who had a webpage. I lived and breathed HTML back then, having just learned it. This was HTML 2.0, and in all its simplicity, logic, and structure, it felt like a native language to me.

Even though I was in what I’d thought of as my dream job, even though I felt grateful every day to have been the one selected for that position, even though I figured that I’d find a way to make the job work in the long run, I still was stopped short when I spotted that flier. The school webmaster position barely paid anything, so I didn’t consider it seriously, but I did think, “Man, I would love to be a webmaster for a school.”

A few months later, I left my dream job. My boyfriend got accepted to the university which was in a different city, and though we could live apart while he earned his degree, we didn’t want to. Plus, there were reasons for leaving. I’d had a #MeToo encounter with a supervisor, which I decided to report to the sexual harassment ombudsperson, and that pretty much ensured that my extended tenure there would be a fight. In addition, the building was, literally, toxic. Housed in an old printshop, the fumes throughout our offices were strong enough to induce headaches on a daily basis. Not only that, but two faculty members had died, and three had contracted cancer in the past year. All these added up to more than a sign: It was time to go.

It always feels strange to me to leave jobs. I had loved this job. I’d loved every job I’d had, and most, I’d stayed at for several years. But I was young, the city we were moving to had a lot to offer, my boyfriend was excited and inspired to finish his degree, and I was eager to support him. We’d spent most of our lives together moving, shifting, following the currents to find the place where we could settle, and this felt like one more shift, one more moment of reading the signs and following the signals.

The decision to leave came too late for me to apply for a full-time position with the college in our new city, but I got a part-time position, teaching English composition on the Air Force base in the evenings. I’d read that it typically takes seven months to find a new job, so I wasn’t in a hurry to look for a full-time position. I spent the summer swimming, writing, playing video games, gardening, exploring the city with my boyfriend, and tasting the electric air of summer thunderstorms.

At summer’s end, I began looking for a full-time job. This was so long ago that newspaper listings were the best place to find job openings. I let myself be picky at first–I didn’t want to work for businesses. I wanted to work for nonprofits or educational institutions.

When I saw the listing for this position, my imagination jumped. I could imagine myself in that job! It was listed as a Technical Writer for the public school district, but it required knowledge of HTML and website construction, and one of the job duties would be to update and maintain the school district website. I remembered that wish I’d sent out when I’d seen that flier. Could this answer be in response to that wish?

There’s a kind of happy ache when you want something deeply.

I felt that after I turned in my application packet.

Looking inside the HR office

The woman I’d handed it to had been so nice. “Good luck!” she’d said. “Maybe I’ll be your co-worker soon!”

Oh, maybe! I hoped so. By the time I left the building, I could imagine myself there.

Looking inside the HR office

I felt I would be so lucky if I were to get that job. I wouldn’t need to keep it forever. Maybe for five years, just to get experience. And then, I could go back to teaching full-time at the community college here.

But wouldn’t it be an amazing five years? Wouldn’t it be something if I were to get that job?

Looking inside the HR office

I didn’t realize it then, but the school district takes an inordinate amount of time to fill empty positions. In fact, the position that I’ve left through my retirement is still not filled, though I notified my supervisor and HR of my retirement in October, three months ago.

So after I turned in the application, a month went by before I heard anything. I got worried, and our savings were becoming depleted, so I contacted a temp agency, who was lining up positions for me. One of them was with a missile company, and I knew I couldn’t accept it. I could not work for a company that made weapons for war. I travelled to visit my folks one weekend, figuring I should go before I was working full-time, and that weekend, I thought, well, when I get back, I’ll either hear from the school district, or I’ll have a temp job. Somehow, it will work out.

I tried to hold on to that feeling of belonging that I had when I left after submitting my application. I tried to breathe that mix of longing, confidence, and faith, that life has you, that life will hold you, that it will all work out, and there will be a place for you, a place where you can contribute, a place where you belong.

Looking inside the HR office

Authors note: Office Tales is a new autobiographical work I’m writing in which I reflect on my career as a web editor at a large urban school district. I retired three weeks ago, and it feels unreal to me, unfinished somehow, that I’ve left this career. I retired during the pandemic–because of the pandemic–while working at home, so there was no retirement party, only an awkward Zoom meeting with my department early one Monday morning. I emailed those I worked closely with, but I forgot a few. And so many of those faces–and all those lovely office spaces–that I haven’t seen since March and didn’t get to say goodbye to. For closure, and to integrate that experience that I had there, I’m writing this series. I know that writing and telling stories changes things: we select scenes, people, memories, we reshape them, we tease out the significance, and we create something that wasn’t quite what it was, but is, instead, our interpretation of it. But I feel I need this interpretation in order to move into my new life, my life without this full-time job. Writing this is a way, too, to honor and to share love. It’s also a way to come to terms with some of the complexities and some of the challenges and hardships. I’m not sure if this will be interesting to read, but I am completely sure that writing it will be a significant act for me. It will be an act of integration, and right now, I need this wholeness.

Sea Change

Participant Veteran January 2021 - Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge

This is my entry for the January 2021 Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, hosted by LisaBee. Please check the official January 2021 Challenge webpage to find all the month’s entries, as well as a poll where you can select your top three “Readers’ Choice” entries. Happy reading!

Clarissa standing in the dark

Clarissa Thalassa had been given a choice: she could be made redundant and collect unemployment or she could retire early and collect a pension. She chose the pension.

It wasn’t much, by hometown standards, but it was enough to support her if she moved to someplace less cosmopolitan. She found a beachside community, not yet fashionable with eco-tourists, where she could rent a tiny off-the-grid home for a quarter of her monthly pension.

Clarissa reading in a small room

The cabin wasn’t much more than a kitchen with a divider to mark off the tiny study and sleeping nook. But every wall held a window and every window held a view.

Clarissa at the table by the window

The hardest part had been leaving without proper goodbyes. Before her network account was closed, she emailed everyone she’d worked with closely, those who would notice when they emailed her with a task and received, instead of confirmation of task complete, a message-undeliverable error.

She felt canceled.

Her mind had all these synapses that no longer had a function. Thursday: she should be preparing to post the agenda for the Board meeting. Every tag needs an end-tag. PDFs must be accessible; videos closed-captioned. Don’t forget the alt tag for every image.

But now, none of this was her responsibility, and her mind, instead of buzzing, held gaps of quiet space.

She filled the gaps by repairing things–or trying to: the old tub beside the out-house; the rickety railings on the stairs to the roof-top deck; the pump for the well.

Clarissa fixing the bathtub

It didn’t really work. Things stayed broken.

Her mind still felt busy. She had an odd sense of guilt, too. She wasn’t working twelve-hour days. She wasn’t working at all. Her efforts, what efforts she could think up, didn’t really benefit anyone. They just filled time.

Clarissa digging in the sand

She could dig through every pile of sand on the beach, and there would still be more piles, and none of it will have made a difference, like her career, which had ended, and all the tasks that now fell to someone else.

She gave up trying to make sense of her days, trying to fill them with something productive. She let sleeping synapses lie. She felt the stillness of her mind.

Sometimes, she swam in the bay, and though she’d swum competitively back oh-so-many lifetimes ago, she seemed to swim faster now, as if the energy previously used by all those now dormant synapses charged, instead, through her muscles, propelling her like a fish or a dolphin.

Clarissa swimming

Somehow, days passed. The patterns in the sand began to make sense, and she could read the passages of turtles, seabirds, and tides in them. She learned where to dig for shells, which estuaries accumulated trash after a storm, so she could go and clean them up, and what the scents in the air meant–what it smelled like when the tide was coming in, when a storm approached from the south, when the frangipani bloomed.

One night, the air thrummed with electricity and orange smoke rose from the volcano across the bay.

The volcano at night with firey clouds

She dreamt of swimming that night.

Clarissa with a mermaid tale

She felt more free in the water than ever.

Clarissa the mermaid leaps out of the water

A high whistle, and her heart soared, like you feel when you see your beloved. A blue dolphin swam directly to her and nuzzled her.

In dreams, you can experience a love that is as close as two souls can get: that is how she and the dream-dolphin felt.

Clarissa the mermaid talking with a dolphin

The volcano sat quietly the next morning, and the sky shone clear in the dawn.

Her old world continued on, as if she didn’t exist. And the new world spread its bays and beaches before her, welcoming.

Clarissa painting

Different days, different shores, different mind. She didn’t belong in the old world, anymore.

She belonged, if anywhere, here.

Clarissa looking over the horizon

Another Legacy 1.24

Kiki sitting at the desk

In late autumn, a new sadness enters the home. Moira Fyres has died. The grief hits Ira hardest, maybe because she hadn’t been friends with Moira as long as Case had, or maybe because she doesn’t have as many projects, interests, and activities as Case and Kiki do to distract her.

She goes back to bed after Case leaves for work and Kiki goes to school, and her mid-morning naps dissolve into crying beneath the covers.

Ira crying under the covers

“I can’t get my mind around it,” she confesses to Aadhya. “She was just here the other day. We were becoming friends. Now, we’ll never be better friends. She seemed so full of energy. So alive.”

Ira and Aadhya talking

“They say it was an aneurism,” Aadhya says.

“I know. So sudden,” Ira replies. “Did you know that she was Case’s first friend?”

Ira and Aadhya talking

“I thought I was,” Aadhya says.

“Oh, maybe you were. Maybe I heard wrong and he meant one of his first friends.”

“Probably,” Aadhya adds. “We all used to hang out together.”

Ira

“I just don’t know why it’s hitting me so hard,” Ira says.

“Don’t bother trying to figure it out. Grief never makes sense. I mean, look at me. I should be all broke up, right? Or what about Case? You’d think he’d be really sad. Maybe he is, and he’s just not showing it.”

“I think he’s too busy,” Ira says. “He has work. He’s all wrapped up in the adoption process. I’m just here all day, with my thoughts. It gets to me.”

Aadhya, carrying the blank canvas, follows Ira out to the easel.

“Painting will help you feel better,” Aadhya explains.

“I suppose so.” It does feel good spread the paint on the canvas, and the scent of linseed oil helps Ira relax.

Aadhya follows Ira out to the easel

Aadhya leaves before the painting is finished, and Ira is alone, first with her thoughts, and then, as she continues painting, with no thoughts, only feelings, a knife in her chest, bruises under her eyes. Grief is painful.

“Can you help me, Ira?” Kiki asks. It’s a school project.

“Oh, a volcano,” Ira says. “I made one of those when I was in first grade. Using baking soda and vinegar?”

Ira helps Kiki with her school project

“Something like that. Are you still sad, Ira?”

“Yeah. I miss my friend. I’m just so sad that I’ll never see her again. I had all these plans for what we’d do together, and, you know, I thought she could help me as I grow older, by telling me what it’s like and stuff.”

Ira helps Kiki with her school project

“You know what I do when I miss my mom and dad?” Kiki asks. Ira doesn’t say that it’s different, because her mom and dad died when she was so little that she probably doesn’t even remember them. She swallows that thought, and she just listens, instead. “I talk to them.”

“I might feel silly talking to her,” Ira says.

“Doesn’t matter,” says Kiki, “but you could also write. You could write her a letter. It will help.”

The next morning, after Kiki has gone to school and Case to work on-site, before she even cleans up the breakfast dishes, Ira sits at the kitchen table with her journal. She imagines everything she would want to say to Moira.

Ira writes in her journal

Dear Moira,

We never became best friends, but I thought, last time you visited, that we might. I thought, maybe, you would be my close woman friend, and that you were an older woman was all the better, for I would have someone to talk with about the changes my body is going through, and about the shifts in my goals and my plans and dreams as I grow older.

I envisioned us gardening together, sitting at the chess table with a pot of tea, talking over Kiki’s latest milestones, planning for ways to make life easier for Case. I thought that, if I ever did get into college, that I could lean on you for a role model and for advice.

I guess I saw you as a role model, and now you’re gone.

This feels so selfish, because this is all about me, and what I’m missing, which is my dreams of having someone to fill this gap in me. But the thing I’m really sad for is that you’re no longer here. That your life on this green world is over.

When you were here the last time, which is the first time that you and I really talked, the time when we really became friends, your eyes sparkled. You were shining from within, I don’t know if you knew that. We talked about your garden club, and you talked about how hopeful you felt, with all the changes that have happened here in Port Promise, all the changes that Case has been either responsible for or directly involved with, and you told me that you felt so proud. You felt proud to know us.

Maybe it was that shine in your eyes that inspired me, that made me decide then that I wanted to be like you. I’m not much, Moira, and even though I speak my mind, probably more often than I should, I really lack confidence. But somehow, you made me feel that that was OK, and that it didn’t matter, and that just being a person was enough.

Can we still be friends, even though you’re not around? Can I still write you?

I’m not sure if I feel better, but at least I don’t feel so lonely.

Wishing you peace, wherever you are,

Your friend, Ira

Ira writes in her journal

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Another Legacy 1.23

Kiki walking down the hall

Four years have passed since Kiki came to live with Case and Ira, and the adoption still hasn’t gone through. Because Case won’t lie to her, and because of the social worker lady’s visits a few times each year, and because she’s a super good eaves-dropper, she knows she’s a foster child, and she knows that this means that where she is now might not be her forever home, and Case and Ira might not always be her really-tall-people. She could get taken away. She knows this.

It’s sad for her because she loves it here. This is her home, even if it’s not her forever home, and Case and Ira are her tall people, even if they’re not her birth mom and dad.

But she feels it’s even more sad for Case and Ira, because they love her. They tell her that every day, and she can see it in how they look at her, which is like how they look at each other, and she can taste it in the food that Case makes, especially the veggie dumplings with the just-so crinkled sides. It would be too sad for them if she ever had to leave, and she can’t bear that they would ever be that sad.

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

They don’t force her to always be happy. They leave room so that she can be sad sometimes. She thinks that, being an orphan, and a foster kid, and not having a forever home, it’s only natural that she be sad sometimes.

When she’s sad, they don’t try to talk her out of it. They just create this warm space, like a cloud she can live in, but not a bad cloud, a warm one, that glows pink, like sunset-pink–rose–inside, and she can stay in there until that warm pink rosy glow is all inside of her, and then she only smiles. That’s the kind of space they make for her.

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

She asks them sometimes how her mom and dad died. “From gentrification,” Case says. And she comes to learn that that means having to leave your home and get a new job and getting in an accident and then through medicine and drinking somehow dying. And she can understand that if one person dies, another might, too. She thinks it must mean that her mom and dad loved each other a lot.

“Angels are made of light,” Ira told her once.

So when she sees the flame of the candle, she thinks it’s her mom and dad. She always has, as long as she remembers. And she talks to them that way, too, through the flame.

“I’m doing really well here,” she whispers to them in the candle-flame one night. “I’m thriving, that’s what the social worker lady tells Cay-Cay and Ira.”

The candle flickers, as it always does when she talks to them in it.

“Is it true you can make wishes come true?” she asks them for the hundredth time. “I think it must be. I read that somewhere. If so, will you make my wish come to be? Will you make this my forever home?”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

She waits and watches for an answer. Maybe it’s just the wind, but the flame begins dancing, and in her heart of hearts she hears a promise of “yes.”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

“Thank you,” she whispers. “Cay-cay says that you will always be my mom and dad, no matter what happens. And Ira says that you are angels, always watching over me. And I think, if I can live here always, and grow up here, that you will feel really happy and proud of the person I grow up to be. You can’t help that, right? Cause I know how I feel in my heart, and since you’re there, you know how I feel, too.”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

“Would you like a story, Kiki? Or would you prefer to sit alone?” Ira calls from the doorway.

“Oh, a story!” Kiki replies. “Is it Heidi?”

It is, and it is also Kiki’s favorite story, this little tale of an orphan girl who finds a new home in the mountains with a stern man who comes to love her.

“‘God is good to all of us,'” Ira reads. “‘He knows what we need better than we do. And just because he thinks it is better not to give you what you want right now doesn’t mean he isn’t answering you. You shall have what you ask for but not until the right time comes.‘”

Ira reads to Kiki

“Do you think that’s true?” Kiki asks Ira.

“Well, I’m not sure I believe in God,” Ira responds, “or at least, not that type of wish-fulfilling God. More like, you know, a universal consciousness, the spark of divine. But anyway, yeah, I think that principle is true, the bit about the right-timing, and all.”

Ira reads to Kiki

“I think so, too,” Kiki says. “I think sometimes, things are what we think are bad–and maybe they really are bad–but it’s not like the end of the universe. Sometimes, it’s just that we need a little bit of time, and then something really good happens.”

“Like we have to get ready for it,” Ira adds. “Ding! Time’s right! Cake’s done! Take the cake out too early and it’s a gooey mess!”

Ira reads to Kiki

Case joins them.

“I don’t have cake in the oven,” he says. “Are you hungry?”

“No,” Ira and Kiki giggle.

The family sitting at a table

“We were just talking about timing adjustments,” Ira says, “of the universe.”

“All things at the right time, eh?” Case asks.

Kiki has stopped listening to the words. She’s bathing in the sounds of the warbles, and that pink-rosy-glow forms a safe bubble over them and the light inside swishes and swirls, and she thinks that if anything is forever, and she actually knows that nothing is, but if anything were, it would be this. This moment of rosy glow.

The family sitting at a table

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