Chapter Forty Nine I
We go to our room, James joins the moms in the kitchen. They all stare at him.
“Got any coffee?” he asks.
Kara, “Do you plan to let us in on the confab? If not, you have to make it yourself.”
He gives them a summary of the conversation. He explains what happens to Janah, that it is unpredictable, that it began shortly after we came together, as if somehow finding the 'rest' of her opened her up to something without explanation or cause.
Susan, “Janah’s bliss, how’s it work, any ideas?’
James, “I don’t know.”
Chris, “Is it real, is it something she just thinks is real?”
“I don’t think it is an illusion. Anyway, Daphne confirms it.”
“Ah. I hadn’t thought of that. She would know. I’m still grasping what they are, what they can do.”
Kara, “I go away when I’m really in the depths of a painting. Everything feels exactly right, perfect.”
James, “Then you see how this is for her.”
“Oh yes. I bet she said she can’t make it happen, it just happens.”
James smiles at his wife, “Her exact words were, ‘It’s pointless to anticipate its coming or to regret its going’.”
Susan looks at Chris, they both look at Kara, “Don’t tell us you started reading minds with them?”
Kara laughs, “Hardly. It’s a state of, I don’t know exactly. I, as in me, is gone. My best work comes then. I can’t explain it.”
James, “Nor can I.”
He uses a favored psychiatrist’s question, “What do you think?”
They get quiet.
A minute later Susan asks, “Are the girls okay with it?”
James, “You have zeroed in on the only thing we need to know. Those girls are in touch with things we can only partially understand. We need to come to terms with the idea that we may never completely understand.”
It is quiet again.
Chris breaks the ice in her direct uncomplicated way, “Good God, what a ride.”
Kara, “Mistress of understatement.”
We appear in the kitchen, the parents still grinning.
I say to no one in particular, “Must have gone ok.”
Susan, “I had a mommy moment. I’m past it.”
James, “We all had a mommy moment, not of anxiety, of the beauty of it.”
I move to the kitchen to begin lunch, a few minutes later Janah joins me, pulling my long hair back behind my shoulders. She moves next to me and with her arm around my waist, leans her head against my shoulder. She watches my hands as I put cut up vegetables in a pan with a bit of grapeseed oil, then stirring them carefully while they heat.
The parents sit silently, touched by the tenderness of the moment. They see that we are not lost to them, it isn’t like that; what we share is beyond friendship, beyond family. Janah is not clinging to me, she is more like tethered, as if, without that gentle hold, she might float away into the timeless.
I stir the vegetables until they were warm and still crisp, then transfer them to a plate. When I have them organized to my satisfaction, I sprinkle a tiny amount of parmesan cheese on top. Janah joins the others as Chris brings a tray of sandwiches. I take the plate to Janah, then pour tea, kiss Janah lightly on top of her head. Janah looks up at me, we are mentaling. Janah blushes.
That night, Chris and Susan are in bed talking over the newest revelation.
“Is any of this troubling you?” Chris asks.
Susan takes her hand, “Our children are not our children. I’m taking their lesson to heart.”
Chris, “Look after my honey and let her look after me.”
Susan, in a tiny t-shirt and tinier panties, flips back the covers and stretches, letting Chris enjoy her exquisite legs. Chris’ fingers trail the trim tummy and down one silken thigh.
Susan sighs, her body warming under Chris’s touch. She looks up, Chris’s eyes on her. She slips off her t-shirt, says playfully, “Dessert?”
Chris whispers, “Yum.”
Chapter Fifty I
People who function unusually well in life can take the frailties and sins,
weaknesses and evils of human beings in the same unquestioning spirit that
one takes or accepts the characteristics of nature.
At Chapmans, there are no bells. Class ends on the hour and starts at ten after. Girls in self study didn’t have hours and could be in chemistry labs, on couches in the library, the cafeteria, the gym or in an empty classroom. There are no hall monitors, bells bother Lacy. It isn’t a prison, everyone can tell time.
Janah and I are relaxing, just having finished lunch. The cafeteria is crowded and noisy. Over a hundred girls, a high pitched roar, with intermittent bursts of higher pitched laughter.
I told a story about one of my rank tests; I lost my balance executing a flying kick, I executed it alright, I massacred it, landed butt down skidding across the hard wooden floor, right into a group of teenage boys. The girls start swapping embarrassing stories. Monique, a freshman, comes up to Janah and asks if she has a minute.
Janah mentals catch you later, she and Monique go to find an empty room.
They park on a corner couch in the library, sitting facing each other, their knees almost touching. Janah’s head tilted slightly, focused on the girl.
Monique is from France, her family in Manhattan due to her father’s job. They would likely be in New York for a couple of years, maybe three, then back to France. Her dad would return as a top executive with the multinational for which he worked. Banking of some sort Janah recalled.
Janah, “Your parents are adjusting to New York?”
Monique, “Oui, Janah, the job is a very good one. My mother is sometimes lonely for her friends. We fly back to France on holidays though, so we are getting by. We lived near Paris, the big city isn’t any adjustment. Paris, like New York, is really an international city, people of all kinds. I don’t find much difference except language. Of course, there is in general more leisure time in France, although my father’s job doesn’t really allow for the typical French workday. All in all it’s been fine. My problem is not with the city. Something happened out of the school recently and I am confused.”
Janah says nothing, indicating with her eyes and a soft smile she is listening. The story would come when it came. In this case, Monique is anxious to tell it.
“I was with some of the girls last week, at Starbucks, where they hang out sometimes. We were all just talking, the usual things, and a couple of boys stopped by the table. One was the boyfriend of one of the girls. I said nothing, he began talking to me, asking me about France, teasing a bit about my accent. The kinds of things young American boys will do. I was nice, smiled at him, nothing like flirting or any of that, not at all. The boys left, we visited for a while longer, then we all went our separate ways. When I left them, everything was fine.”
Monique stops for a bit, thinking things over, “The next day at school, not a single one of the girls would talk to me. I went to speak with the one whose boyfriend was there, to tell her how nice I thought he seemed. She glared at me and walked away. I saw the others with her later, all staring at me. I don’t know what I did, I must have offended the one by talking with her boyfriend. She was right there! She knows I did nothing, just be polite. I thought she would want me to be nice to her boyfriend, she seemed fine with it then. I never thought to have such a problem with girls at this school. Are many American girls like this?”
“Some. It is unusual for girls here, but not unheard of. You must be right about the reason. Perhaps the boy said something, or one of the girls, trying to stir the emotional pot.”
“Janah, I promise, I gave him no cause to think I was interested in him.”
“It may be nothing. He might have told her later, in an e-mail or a text that he thought you were cute, or he liked you. Something innocent, understood the wrong way. It’s a problem with text or e-mail. The tone of the comment gets lost.”
“The girl, she is adorable, all blond American look. How could she possibly get upset over so small a matter? Then to blame me.” Monique pouts, looking down at her restless hands.
“We can’t know what their relationship is like. Perhaps all sugary on the outside and rotten underneath. She may be afraid to confront the boy, or she did and it led to an argument. It’s ridiculously juvenile. Stealing boyfriends is, for some girls, either their worst nightmare or their hobby.”
Monique is indignant, “So I am now the bitch who steals boyfriends! They will tell this story to the whole school. What do I do, Janah?”
“It seems to you like you lose no matter what. All because of someone else’s misunderstanding.”
Monique frowns, “Yes, exactly. It seems silly on the one hand and unfair on the other.”
Janah asks, “In France, is it the same?”
“Not so much. We are less childish on these boyfriend matters I think. A French girl would never have a boyfriend so young as herself, they are too silly. Also, in France, everything does not become a TV drama!!”
Janah has the hint of a smile. Monique pouts for a minute more then begins to giggle. Janah, easily tickled, starts to giggle herself.
Monique takes Janah’s hand, “Thanks for listening to my story, my drama,” they laugh again, “I wished to offend no one, or become involved in some nonsense like this. Should I do anything? I would even apologize to the girl if that would help.”
“Why do you want to apologize? I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, only to understand your thoughts.”
“To make it go away if possible. So she won’t be telling all sorts of stories about me.”
“If you did nothing, then an apology seems insincere.”
“But how do I protect myself, Janah?”
“Is it so important? For a time, you may find some suspicion. It will soon fade. This won’t have been the first time these girls have created a drama. It’s unusual for Chapmans girls, but it happens, often when boyfriends are involved. Perhaps some of the others girls know her and her friends. They’ll let it go in one ear and out the other.”
“So I can’t assume that everyone wants to get caught up in my little television soap opera?”
“Most of the girls here won’t even know which channel it’s on.”
Monique has a cockeyed grin, “Thank you Janah. Merci, merci beaucoup. Perhaps, should it happen, some rumor about me might spice things up a bit, make me seem very chic and mysterious, ‘Watch out for Monique, with the snap of her fingers she will steal your boyfriend, then ruin his life,’ I am a force to be reckoned with, n’est-ce pas?”
“Oui, une force majeure!”
The girls hug. Monique heads to her next class, Janah to meet with her math student.
Chapter Fifty One I
We never understand anything completely.
I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, it just seems that way. I am washing up breakfast dishes. Chris came from the bedroom, noiselessly so she thought, my back to her.
“Good morning C-mom.”
Chris, “Geez, you’re scary. How’d you know it was me?”
“I could hear you trying to be quiet.”
Susan, comes in from her office down the hall.
Chris, “Our daughter’s a freak.”
“Calling her a freak will just encourage her. She caught you sneaking around?”
“I wasn’t sneaking! She had the water on. I came down the hall like any silent taekwondo master.”
“Except she knew you were there.”
“Who else would it be? You were in your office slamming away at the keyboard. It had to be C-mom.”
“My door was closed and I hardly slam the keyboard. We need to get you an unhearing aid.”
“I like the sounds. I can turn down the volume if I want. I hear you walking, clunk, clunk, clunk, Bigfoot.”
Chris, “I need coffee.”
I pour her a cup, then one for Sis, “Got to go girls, Janah’s stomach’s growling.”
I pick up a tray of fruit, toast and a pot of green tea, then disappear down the hallway to our bedroom.
Susan and Chris sit sipping coffee.
“I wonder what else she hears?”
“Don’t ask, maybe she won’t tell.”
Despite my hyperawareness, stuff happens. Just after taekwondo class, I'm helping one of the little kids get situated in his car seat while his mom organized the older ones. Behind me is an old brick wall too high to climb, about eight feet. Sometimes the kids try to run up it like they saw actors do in martial arts movies. It was fun to see if they could get more than two steps before plopping down on the street.
As kids play against the other side of the wall, one loose brick on top comes away. It slams down hard, directly onto my foot. The thin strap on the sandal is no protection, my foot throbs and starts to swell. I sit on the ground looking blankly at the injury. Susan brings ice in a towel and wraps it. The woman I’d been helping gives us a ride for the few blocks home. In the short trip, even iced, my foot is even more swollen and beginning to bruise.
James didn’t think there was any clean break. There is no way to tell if it was fractured without an x-ray. He goes with Susan, Janah and me to the hospital and commandeers an x-ray technician, he does work there after all. There appeared to be a fracture in one of the small bones on the top of the foot. The brick had landed not exactly flat side down, not on a corner either, the damage isn’t as bad as it might have been. Still, it is nicely swollen, rich hues of purple and black. It wouldn’t do to wrap it, the swelling needs to subside, so we go back home. Chris helps me to our room, Janah is holding a frozen gel pack on my injury.
It’s nearly eleven. I begin reading, an Andrew Vachss novel in the Burke series called Another Life. Vachss says it's his last, ending the character and the noir stories of the man with a strange concoction of family and ethics. I'd followed Burke, his insanity of a 'family' and his now dead dog Pansy, though novel after novel.
Janah sits cross legged with my foot in her lap, applying the cold pack, periodically swapping it with one of the others in the freezer. Lots of martial artists, lots of ice packs.
Janah, Criminey, nobody likes dark the way you like dark. Keep reading, I'm into the story now.
Around midnight Susan comes in before going to bed. Janah is still in her spot, holding my foot; I’m getting sleepy, put down the book. Sis kisses me, suggests Janah get some rest. Janah smiles politely.
When Sis leaves, Janah helps me lie down, changes the pillow and gets me rearranged diagonally on the bed. With my height, the only way for Janah to sit and hold my foot is to have me lay corner to corner. She turns off the lights, only the soft glow of the nightlights remain. I open my mind and feel Janah relaxing me. I release myself to Janah’s care and fall asleep. Janah stays cross legged on the bed, my foot on a small pillow on her lap. She has one hand on the sole and the other on top. Her fingertips lightly intertwined, she closes her eyes. Her breathing slows to imperceptible.
Around three a.m. the door cracks open gently. Susan told me later, she came over and touched Janah’s shoulder, that she noticed her hands around my foot. She kissed Janah on the top of her head, thanked her and squeezed her shoulder. Janah briefly lay her cheek against Susan’s hand.
Sis thought the tingle in her hand as it touched Janah’s cheek was static electricity, or did she just imagine it? She went back to bed.
Susan's up at six as usual, made coffee and, while it brewed, came to our room. She cracks open the door, stops still and put her hand to her mouth. Janah is in exactly the same position she’d been in all night. I’m still sleeping and hadn’t moved. Janah looks up, smiles, then focuses back on me. Susan closes the door and goes back to the kitchen.
Chris joins Susan in the kitchen, takes one look at Susan’s preoccupied expression and says, “What? Is Daphne ok?”
“Daphne’s fine, I mean, I haven’t seen her foot. She’s been asleep all night. It’s Janah.”
“What about Janah?”
Susan recounts the events of the night, Janah holding my foot, sitting in the same spot, awake the entire night.
Chris, “That girl. We should write a book, except no one would believe it. Drink your coffee and let her sleep. I’ll make Janah chamomile tea and bring something for Daphne when she wakes up.”
An hour later they take the drinks upstairs. When Susan pokes her head in the door, she sees that I’m awake. Janah had obviously been up, there is a wet towel around my foot.
“Hi moms,” I smile cheerfully. “I slept like the brick that nailed me, my foot didn’t hurt the whole night. I woke up when Janah put a hot towel around it a little while ago.”
Janah covers the foot with a dry towel and takes away the now cool wet one from underneath. She begins to massage it through the towel; using just her thumbs on the sole, then the top.
Susan, “That must hurt.”
“Actually, it feels really good.”
My foot still in the towel, Janah begins to rotate it at the ankle gently, first clockwise then counterclockwise. She finishes by stretching it slowly up and down. She takes the towel off, bends to examine the foot, her hair blocks it from view. She kisses the big toe, making me giggle. She straightens up, mentaling playfully, baby all better.
I giggle again and Janah takes the towels to the bathroom. Chris and Susan stare uncomprehendingly. There isn’t a mark on my foot. Not a scratch, not a bruise, no swelling, nothing.
Chris, “If I wasn’t standing here sober....”
Susan, “It feels ok?”
I roll it around and up and down. “No pain.”
I get up from the bed, and gingerly put the foot on the floor, testing it. Then stand and take a step.
“God, I’ve got to pee” and stroll off to the bathroom as if nothing had happened.
Chris and Susan look at each other. Janah sits on the edge of the bed, I return and sit next to her. I hug her, something suddenly pops in my head. I kneel on the floor and take Janah’s hands in mine. I turn them palms up.
Susan gasps, “My God,” is all she can get out.
Janah’s palms are swollen and purple, as bruised as my foot just hours ago. The discoloration extends up into her fingers.
I am looking directly into Janah’s eyes, then lean forward and lightly kiss each of her palms, put them gently along the sides of my face. Chris and Susan are wordlessly stunned.
Chris stammers, “Janah, do you need anything? I don’t…how can....?” Nothing would come to her.
Susan, “I’m going to get James and Kara.”
Dad and K-mom are there in five minutes. Susan fills them in, James examined Janah’s hands. He asks her if she wants anything. Janah shakes her head no.
I intervene, “She’s exhausted. I’ll take care of her.”
I ask Kara to stay and help get Janah settled. I didn’t need the help, I knew Kara needed to be there. We change the sheets. Janah couldn’t bend her fingers very well, so I brush her teeth. Kara washes her face with a warm towel. Janah gets into bed. Kara adjusts the sheet and pillow while I darken the room pulling the shades and turning off lights. I shower while Kara sits watching Janah relax. I slide under the sheets next to her, snuggle in alongside, so Janah can feel me.
Janah’s eyes open slightly, “Thanks mom.”
Kara, “I’ll check on you guys later.”
Janah falls asleep instantly. I didn’t move. Kara or Susan peek in occasionally, Janah asleep, me watching.
The moms gather around the big table. James went to the hospital. He is back by noon. Chris puts together cold cuts, wheat bread, pickles and cheese.
The women ask James for an explanation, “I have no explanation for any of this. I can’t figure out how they mental, how they feel emotions together. I can’t even explain how they sit, stand, or turn to each other precisely at the same moment. They blink together for God’s sake.”
He gazes out the window, “On these matters there nothing to say, certainly nothing to teach our girls. We learn from them. We have an upside down family.”
Chapter Fifty Two I
Honoring superior talent is intelligence, not subservience.
I come into the kitchen just after four, Janah is up and hungry and will join us in a bit. I make green tea. While it steeps, I cut up an apple, put the pieces in water and lemon juice, wash a bunch of grapes, pull a couple dozen off the stem and put them in a small bowl. Janah comes in hugs everyone. Kara takes her hands gently and studies the palms. They aren’t nearly as swollen, the bruising has diminished.
I pour the tea and take it and the bowl of grapes over to Janah, returning to the counter for the apples, cut them into bite sized pieces. Janah sips her tea, I hold the cup, then spear a piece of apple and feed her.
“Ok, you’ll want some explanation.”
Kara, “Well, I rather not think it a miracle.”
“Janah says it’s Qi. Internal energy. Master Kim talks about it in class. She says it can be used to heal. She was able to absorb the injury.”
James, “You’ve explored this before?”
“We’ve been working with it. Neither of us had a serious injury until the brick dropped. I got better, Janah still has to learn not to absorb it. That didn’t happen with sprains or sore muscles. She’s not sure what it is about this incident. Maybe it’s the blood. At least the thing didn’t fall on my head. My brain would be in her hands.”
Janah laughs, I feed her a last piece of apple.
We look at each other, I turn to the family, “We’re going to class. Janah says she’s fine and wants to get out.”
Master Kim’s eyes widen when I walk through the door as if the prior evening hadn’t happened. Janah and the moms trail in behind me.
He invites us into his office, “When Daphne left last night, her foot was badly bruised and swelling had begun. She is a remarkable student, this is beyond even her.”
We say nothing. He studies the Janah and me, gets up and stands for a time before an ancient grainy photograph of his old Master in Korea. There is silence for a full minute. Master Kim gives one of his trademark short growls and walks over to Janah. He takes her hands examining her palms. He is very quiet. He lets go and steps back softly, looking into Janah’s eyes.
“You have the gift.”
Then he does something Chris had never seen him do in all the years she had known him. He bows low, holding it for a long time. It is clearly in acknowledgment of superior skill.
“Your presence honors my school.”
He says, “Time for class.”
During class, with Janah next to him, he sits perfectly straight and utters not a word.