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.”
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.”