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Chapter 18: Grief of Children

Halloween is long gone, with its Jack o'Lantern which, with proper scheduling, can be turned into several meals including pumpkin pie. We buy a table, sturdy butcher block, but with the corners rounded off so leaping kittens aren't banged so painfully. We have six chairs of mainly bent tube. The upholstery is inexpensive, and replaceable, an important plus when kittens are involved. We've planned a Thanksgiving blowout at our house with the usual participants: the Solanos and Mrs. Fisher. On the menu is turkey, of course, stuffed, and canned cranberry sauce, and potatoes roasted in the turkey juice, and steamed cabbage. Dessert is banana pie.

Maria is not looking good. She's limping badly, and to get up the step into our house she has to hold on to Coyote. She eases herself into a chair as Mariposa sets the table. Coyote brings a box of Kleenex and a paper bag to put them in. She thanks him and clears her throat, folding the Kleenex neatly and depositing it discreetly in the bag. Poor Maria!

Me: Hi, Maria! It's getting cold out there. Most of the time when we run, the ground is frozen. When do you think it will snow?

Maria: Soon now. Before Christmas. Did Javier tell you, he got a B yesterday on his English paper?

Me: Yes, he showed it to me. Pretty good. And I showed Mariposa how to do haiku, and the ones she wrote were pretty cute. Her teacher thought so too, didn't she, Mariposa?

Mariposa, giggling: Yes. She read them to the class and a couple of kids tried to copy me. I showed them how to do it right at recess. You know, nobody made fun of me. Before, they would have been all over me. It's a lot nicer when people know you can take care of yourself.

Me: Yes, it is. That's why my designers gave me these fangs. I've never had to bite anyone, because nobody wants to risk being the first.

Maria: Do you think they can go to college?

Me: Certainly, if they keep up their studies. Your kids are smart, tough and strong, just as we're taught to be. You can be proud.

Maria: Thank you, Simba. I have so much to be thankful for.

Tiger: Would you get the door, Coyote? I think that's Mrs. Fisher, and Simba, I could use some help over here getting the turkey turned over.

The kids stuff themselves. Lions are required by their physiology to eat moderately lest they get a belly ache, but we enjoy as much as is prudent of each dish, as does Mrs. Fisher. Maria's appetite is not large, but she seems to be enjoying small bites of everything.

Maria: I've heard of banana cream pie, though I never had it. But I never imagined you could make a pie of bananas like you do with squash. Well, I guess it's logical. Anyway, this is delicious. Thanks so much for letting me taste this.

Tiger: The pleasure's all ours. We get to taste it too!

Maria: This is Thanksgiving day, and I have so much to be thankful for. My wonderful children are growing up straight and tall. You're doing so well now in school. And I have wonderful neighbors. Mrs. Fisher, you've been such a good friend over all these years. And Simba, and Tiger. It was a tragedy with my poor husband; you had nothing to blame in that. You were kind when anyone else would have hated my family, and you saved us and showed us how to live free, without begging. And you're so wonderful with the children; they've learned so much from you that we didn't know how to teach them. You've been such a comfort to me, particularly now. Thank you so much.

Me: Awww. We learned accounting, and it's not a big deal that we turned it around and showed you.

Maria: I'm sorry to have to leave early, but I'm feeling quite tired. Often, these days. Javier, could you please help me home, then come back and wash the dishes? That's a good boy.

Maria limps out. She's not too steady on her feet as she goes down the step, but Coyote provides her balance. I dispose of her bag of used Kleenex. There's quite a lot, and on some of the pieces the red is not completely hidden. Oh, good, Coyote's back. We're going to need some help slicing the bird into sandwich meat and then washing all the pots. We've been buying pots, one at a time, and at last we can properly handle a feast like this.

Coyote: The garment factory pays Madre on the first and fifteenth, right?

Me: I believe so.

Coyote: The first is next Tuesday. Would they change their schedule to pay the workers before the holiday?

Me: Employers, particularly that one, are not noted for generosity and compassion.

Coyote: Well, she has her pay. She gave me five bucks and told me to go buy a six-pack of Coke after washing the dishes, and to share it with you and Mrs. Fisher. I wonder if I should, because you know I like you people and I appreciate what you're doing for us, but it's not in the budget. Madre's acting awfully strange today.

Me: Tiger, did you hear all that? I think Coyote should go and buy the Coke. We should all hang out here until, what, 8:30?

Tiger: Hmmm. 8:30 should be enough. Coyote and Mariposa: please, give me your word that you won't go anywhere near your house until then.

Mariposa: Couldn't I get my computer, to do lessons?

Tiger: You kids can use our machines. You can remember where you left off and force the program to start there.

Coyote: What's with the cloak and dagger stuff? What's going on?

Tiger: I suggest you use your lion discipline to do as your Madre told you. Beginning with washing something.

Coyote: What lion discipline?

Me: You kids are always saying you're lion people. Now's the time to make it come true. Tiger asked for your word and you haven't given it yet.

Coyote: OK, OK, I promise.

Mariposa: I promise too. But what's happening?

Me: We don't know. We'll all find out together at 8:30. Not before. It'll be a lot easier for all of us if you don't guess about it and keep making us refuse to guess or tell you to shut up. Coyote, would you bring the dishes over to the sink and we'll start washing, and Mariposa, please help Tiger cut up the rest of the turkey. Thanks, Mrs. Fisher, and if you want to dry stuff, there's a towel in that cabinet.

It's a long wait for the children. After the dishwashing is done, we get the kids' noses pointed at computer screens. They are pretty cooperative considering the situation, and we only have to saw off their questions three or four times. Mrs. Fisher watches over their shoulders. The Coke is forgotten. Finally the appointed hour arrives.

Coyote: It's time. Are you people coming, or aren't you?

We troop over to the Solanos' apartment. One light is on. There's a box wrapped in brown paper on the dining table.

Coyote: Madre, we're back!

No answer. I push past Coyote and check the small bedroom. Nobody. The bathroom door is open and nobody is there either.

Tiger: She's over here. In the kitchen. Kids, your Madre is dead.

Coyote, running over: Oh, Madre, not so soon! Oh, no, what happened to her?

Mariposa joins her brother and bursts into tears. Mrs. Fisher brings up the rear in shocked silence. Maria lies on her side, a long carving knife passing entirely through her left chest and out her back. There is surprisingly little blood on the floor.

Tiger: I think she slammed herself against the refrigerator to make sure the knife went in far enough.

Coyote: But I thought... You knew! You kept us at your place while she was here doing... this!

Me: That's right. Can you understand why we did it, or do you need an explanation? I'm serious: if you want an explanation, ask.

Coyote: You'd better tell me!

Tiger: The surface explanation is that she told you to stay at our place, and guessing the reason, we made sure you followed her orders. We had a pretty good idea how she felt. She was hurting badly. She couldn't take care of you any more. Today she can be proud of you and she knows that on her death someone she knows will take care of you. In just a few weeks your money would run out, you would get sent to a foster home whatever her will said, and she would be stuck in a hospital wearing a diaper while people tried to keep her alive as long as possible. She'll control her own life, including the manner of ending, while she still can. We think we shouldn't interfere with her decision, and neither should you. That's why we kept hold of you.

Mariposa: (Sniff) You should have told us!

Tiger: Would you have stayed? If Simba needed to kill himself I have the discipline to sit there and let him do it, but how about you?

Mariposa: I... guess not.

Tiger: You kids have the right to be angry at us, but I hope you can understand that your Madre died with joy.

Coyote: It's not very joyful for me.

Tiger: How about the alternative, grabbing on to her to keep her alive?

Coyote, after some thought: She's tough.

Tiger: Yes, she is. Are we ready to go on to another important decision, before you call the cops and report her death?

Mrs. Fisher: The poor dears... Why don't we handle the police report, and leave them to their grief.

Tiger: I sympathize with them, Mrs. Fisher, but the poor dears can lose a lot if this isn't handled right. What do you say, kids?

Coyote: What's the decision?

Mariposa: (Sniff) Tell me.

Tiger: We've promised to take care of you upon your Madre's death. Let's go over again the key reasons for you to reject our guardianship. We're young and inexperienced. We're not your species. People try to kill us. You're going to share a three bedroom townhouse with us and eight active kittens with sharp claws. And the court could refuse to go along and might send you to a foster home anyway. And another one: as you've just seen, we can be ruthless when we think we ought to be. Do you still want to become our wards?

Coyote: The budget. Will twelve people fit in your budget without starving?

Tiger: Yes.

Coyote: Then I want to do it. Mariposa?

Mariposa: I want to be with Tiger and Simba. I don't want some dumb foster home. And I want to be with my brother.

Tiger: Done. We accept both of you as our wards. You are now members of the Lion Foundation. Coyote, would you please call 911?

The same cop is on duty tonight who answered our call when El Oso died.

Cop: There was another death?

Coyote: Yes. My Madre killed herself. She's in the kitchen. We haven't moved her. We were over at the lion people's place and when we came back we found her.

Cop: I'm really sorry, kids. I remember you from the last time. Could you tell me, for the report, why you think it's suicide?

Coyote: She had cancer, and she was hurting really bad. She had to quit her job, that was yesterday, and we're guessing she wanted to die this way rather than in a hospital wearing a diaper while we kids, our money ran out.

Cop: Did she leave a note?

Coyote: We didn't see one, but we had a Thanksgiving dinner and she said she was proud of us and she thanked Mrs. Fisher and the lion people.

Cop: You understand, the coroner will need to do an autopsy. They're on their way to pick her up. I'll have Social Services send someone over to take care of you kids.

Coyote: Excuse me, that won't be necessary. The lion people are our guardians now.

Cop: Is that what you'd like?

Coyote: That's what's in my Madre's will. We set it up as soon as she found out she was going to die. They promised and just now we accepted. Before we called you.

Cop: You know a lot about your mother's will.

Coyote: I should; I typed it. The lion people's lawyer checked that it was right. Do you want to see it?

Cop: Just to be sure, I think I'd better. You people, what are your names again?

Me: Simba 7-1340 Leones and Tiger 6-3512 Leones.

Cop: Are you sure you can take care of, you know, children?

Me: Yes, we can take care of human children. We were trained to do so and we've been doing a lot of it since their Padre died.

Cop: That's the will? Guardian. OK, I'm going to leave the kids with you. The usual procedure is that someone from Social Services will come around in about a week to see how they're doing. You'll need to talk to your lawyer to get the will properly filed, because you need a court order to make the guardianship official. Coroner's here; would someone get the door?

The coroner's technicians efficiently photograph Maria, then transfer her to a gurney and cart her off. It doesn't take long.

Cop: You kids are being very brave about this.

Mariposa: My Madre was brave, and she was happy when she died. I wish she could stay alive, but she can't because she has cancer too bad. So I'm going to grow up with the lion people, and she can look down from heaven and be happy and proud of me. I'm not going to go around all whiny because I can't have her any more.

Cop: Good kid. I'm going to leave now. Here's a sheet of phone numbers. If you people have any problems, call.

Me: Thank you, officer. I hope this is our last professional meeting.

Cop: So do I. Goodbye.

Mrs. Fisher: Like the officer said, you children are being so brave. Do you need a hug?

They cry into her clothes. I imagine we'll get our turns to have our fur dampened. Finally they break it off.

Me: Thanks, Mrs. Fisher, for backing us up. Could we consult with you tomorrow about the funeral arrangements, like we did last time?

Mrs. Fisher: Why, certainly. Is there anything I can do, like lend you, I don't know...

Me: Don't worry, we'll knock on your door. I think what I'd like to do now is get the kids' basic items like toothbrushes and computers over to our house, maybe make a short list of what to do tomorrow, and then go to bed. We're going to need all our energy tomorrow and our day begins at 0600. Kids, we have our fur, but how do you keep warm at night?

Coyote: Our blankets. Should we, of course we should bring them. And Mariposa, you'll want to bring a stuffed animal.

Me: You sleep on the couch, right?

Coyote: We don't bring the couch. We'll sleep on your rug. I guess we'll need our pillows.

Mariposa: That box on the table. It looks like a present from Madre. Do you think we should open it?

Tiger: Yes, I've been wondering about that too. She obviously put it there for us to find. I'll just cut the paper off with my claw... It's her pot! Here's her perico, and El Oso, and your coyote and mariposa, and look, she had the lady put us on too! That's so nice.

Mariposa: She's Perica, not Perico, because she's a girl.

Tiger: Oh. I'll carry the pot.

It takes two trips to get what the kids consider basic over to our place, including several stuffed animals, one of which is not going to stay stuffed for long. I wonder how much more junk we're going to acquire in the next few days.

Mariposa: Tiger, could we have some hot chocolate?

Tiger: Of course you may.

Coyote: We can't exactly call you Madre and Padre. What do you want us to call you?

Tiger: Well, I called my supervisor Ms. Holbeck, but that's no good for us. How about Ms. 6-3512? That's a joke. Call us by our proper names, Tiger and Simba, like you've been doing all along.

Hot chocolate is nice. It calms the nerves and makes sleep easier when you're jittery. The kids certainly need that help. They seem so on edge. And of course it's all very nice to make heroic promises, but now I'm also feeling the weight of having to come through.

Me: OK, kids, let's rinse our cups, wash up, and go to bed. Tomorrow starts early.

Coyote: Uh, Simba, what exactly do lions do when they wash up?

Me: I'll brush my teeth and wash around my mouth to get the hot chocolate off. Then I wash dry tears off my eyes, wash my pocket and penis, and wash my feet. What do you wash?

Coyote: Well... We just kind of go to bed.

Tiger: Here's your first lesson in lion family life. We're not going to order you to wash. However, we will make sure you understand the reason for proper washing, which is that germs and fungus grow in the residue on those areas, and the first in a sequence of problems is itching. And when we see you scratch your crotch we'll make jokes about your mushroom garden. Do you understand our style?

Coyote: You have all these tricks to get me to do stuff!

Tiger: It's not a trick. Do you want to grow up right? Strong, smart and tough as a lion?

Coyote: I guess. I think the deck is stacked against me here.

Tiger: We also want you to grow up right. We have a goal together. Now taking washing as an example, someday you're going to grow up and be out of here. Have you and I succeeded if you don't wash? Of course not. You have to wash whether we lions are watching you, or not, and that means you have to choose for yourself to wash. So we feed you the information you need to choose what to do, and if necessary we'll make jokes when you refuse to do it and get hit with the consequences. Simba and I are going to wash first. If you're not used to, for example, cleaning your eyes, you might want to learn from us. What about you, Mariposa?

Mariposa: I guess I'd better. Sometimes my eyes itch. Maybe it's because I don't wash them enough.

The kids are fascinated by what we do, and are astonished that we aren't shy when they stare at body parts not normally visible through our fur, such as our pockets. But then it's their turn.

Mariposa: I can do it too, just like a lion person. I don't have to be shy because I can take care of myself. Am I doing it right, Tiger?

Tiger: You're doing just like a lion. I'd make the washcloth a little more wet.

Mariposa: Come on, Coyote, get started or I'll be asleep before you're even in bed.

Coyote: Look, I'm not used to this. I'm going to wait until you're done. Hell, I'm not going to let my little sister out-lion me! There, see, I'm not shy to show my dick! Could I have a washcloth, please?

Tiger: Very good, not to be shy, and I'm glad you let me see it because it looks swollen and red. I noticed that when you were playing on the water slide, but I had other things to think about and I forgot to talk to you about it until now. Does it hurt?

Coyote: Yeah, when I, you know, do stuff.

Tiger: I'll make up some warm salt water so you can clean the inside. The real fix is to stretch the cover skin, so you can get the inside outside and wash it with soap. There are glands, and yours obviously have gotten infected.

Coyote: You're making me embarrassed. I didn't know it had an inside. I wonder if there's a mushroom growing in it.

Tiger: Well, we had a lesson on that, caring for human babies. Follow my lead on this and you'll be a lot more comfortable, I'm sure. Mariposa, you're not going to put the dirty clothes right back on, are you?

Mariposa: Well, that's all I have.

Tiger: Oops, I didn't think about that. Tell me where you keep your clothes, and I'll go over to your place and get clean ones for you to wear tomorrow. For now, though, I suggest you let your bodies air out. Roll up in the blankets. Oops again, you can have our spare sheets. Roll up in the sheets and blankets, and you'll be perfectly warm. That's what the human kids do at the Lion Foundation, unless it's a lot colder than it is now. We have the heater on.

Mariposa: It doesn't feel like you have the heater on. You mean they don't wear clothes?

Tiger: Right. We don't wear clothes either.

Coyote: Look, you want me to choose what to do, the right way, right? I feel really stupid standing here like this, washing the inside of my dick with salt water, but what the hell. I remember when I was real little I took my clothes off and came out to my parents and said hi. You know, little coyote game. El Oso beat the shit out of me, and I've never done anything like that again. Until you teased me on the water slide. When I think about what you're trying to get us to do, it doesn't feel right. My friends would laugh at me; it's sexy as hell, and they'd say, if your guardians just let you, go for it! But I want to do the right thing.

Tiger: Good, Coyote. If you don't feel comfortable we'll work something out, and you should act because you think it's right, not because we tell you to. But I'm really concerned about having you all bound up 24 hours a day in clothes, because you already have some kind of bacterial problem and I don't want it to get worse. And most likely El Oso was just copying what and how his father taught him, but I'm going to tell you straight out, I think he taught you the wrong lesson, and I think he picked the wrong way to teach it. But wrong or not, it's your lesson now, and I'm not going to force you to go against it.

Coyote: I'll finish washing and then decide. Our clothes are in the bottom drawer of the chest in the bedroom, and there's only one clean set left, and it's nice of you to go and get them for us. And thanks for making the salt water for me. I got some scrunge out, and I think it feels a little better now.

We get the giggling kids wrapped up like burritos in their sheets and blankets, just like Willie and Cathy did when we were little. Finally it's our turn to sleep.

Tiger: Well, we have a family now. Scary, isn't it?

Me: Yep. We'd better do a good job.

Coyote: I heard that.

Me: Go to sleep. We're waking you up tomorrow at the normal time for lions.

Well, we want to do something before actually sleeping. It's weird. It seems like there are three other people accompanying us on our lake of liquid fire.

Far from nature, in winter we are awakened by the alarm clock. I call to the children through the window from our bedroom to the living room.

Me: Good morning, young lions! Let's get moving; there's lots to do today. When you're done in the bathroom you can stretch on the rug or on our exercise mats; your choice.

Coyote: Aw, Madre, can't you be quieter... Oh. Is that Simba? It's pitch black in here. It's not time to get up yet.

Me: We will be doing our exercises, as soon as Tiger gets out of the bathroom, and we'll have run and eaten and started work while you're still asleep.

Coyote: OK, OK, just don't yell. I can't see a thing; could you turn on a light? And it's cold with no clothes.

Me: Sorry, I forgot you're human. Tiger, would you turn on the bathroom light, please? How's that?

Coyote: I'm doomed to live like a bat. Wake up, Mariposa, wake up and dress! The lion people are starting their exercise.

We all stretch the sleep out of our legs and shoulder joints and spines, then get busy on the strength exercises. The bar is too high for Mariposa, and even Coyote has to jump for it, so I or Tiger lift Mariposa up when it's her turn to do chinups. If I put in holders at several levels, we can move the bar easily to accommodate everyone. Now it's time to run, and the sky cooperates by shedding gray pre-dawn light on the world. Coyote sticks with us all the way, although Mariposa has to take several walking breaks near the end, as she usually does when running with us. The kids aren't used to breakfast, usually taking a few bites of cold leftovers or skipping it entirely, but today they can't resist our oatmeal. We show them how to microwave it with water. They've seen our oven but always let Tiger or me work the controls. Hmm. I've seen lactose free milk in the grocery store; maybe the kids would like it in oatmeal or other cooked breakfast cereals. I make a note.

Me: Are we all cleaned up? Let's make some plans. OK, Tiger?

Tiger: Right with you; I'm getting my machine to take notes.

Me: Kids, sit around the table with me and Tiger. First I'd like to get you started in the right direction. We lions begin any project by stating the goals. Then we identify issues that we'll have to deal with. Then we plan our action, and then we execute the plan. You're going to hear that a lot from us, when you get the steps out of order. Mariposa, would you repeat the steps in a project please?

Mariposa: State the goals, figure out issues; I'm not quite sure what that is. Plan the action, and do it. Right?

Me: Right. An example of an issue is a part of the problem that can be worked on separately. Coyote, would you repeat it please?

Coyote: What is this, a lesson?

Me: Your whole life is a lesson. If you learn the basics, and this is one of the most basic, you can do the rest easier and more effectively. If you don't, you thrash around and have trouble to accomplish your goals. So...

Coyote: OK, say the goals, figure out issues, plan the action, and do it.

Me: Right. Now, you kids have a life. What are your goals for your life? I'd like Mariposa to go first again.

Mariposa: I want to have someone who cares about me.

Me: And you do have that. Your goal is a good one. But what do you want to get from the person who cares about you? Coyote?

Coyote: I want to have food to eat, and a place to sleep out of the wind. For so long we've been so close to not having that.

Me: Very good goals. One reason I'm bringing up these issues now is that while you're with us, you won't have to worry about any of those three goals. Do we get a hug?

Mariposa rushes around the table and squeezes me, and I hug back. I lash my tail emotionally. Coyote looks reluctant, but then hugs Tiger. For quite a while. When they break up I can see that Coyote's face is wet. My fur is damp also, from Mariposa.

Tiger: Kids, hug us frequently, and each other, and expect us to hug you. It's good for people to hug. Crying is optional, though.

Coyote: Isn't it, you know, a baby thing, not what a man does?

Tiger: I have several lessons for you on that question. First, lion males and females do the same thing, and I recommend that policy to you, so I'm translating your question to, don't adult people avoid hugging, rather than adult male humans. Second, adults and children do the same kinds of things, but adults do more and better, so I'm translating to, don't people in general avoid hugging. Do you see where this is going? Do you want to make a try at finishing it?

Coyote: I'm thinking of a little kid who loses a game or a fight and runs crying to his madre. That's not me.

Tiger: But why isn't it you? Because of the hug, or because it takes a lot more to send you crying to your Madre?

Coyote: Well, that's not going to happen any more, and like Mariposa said to that cop, I'm not going to get all whiny about it. OK, I kind of see what you said; I don't break easily, but if I do, it's OK to ask for a hug. The blame is in the breaking, not the hug. Not like how we kids tease.

Tiger: Smart Coyote. And lay off the blame business, OK? We'll push you to improve; we'll demand that you fix what you broke; but we won't blame you. To us that means saying you're worthless, or hopelessly out of it, and you're not.

Me: I'd like to add something. Don't wait until you're hurt to ask for a hug. It's a lot more fun to hug us when you're happy. And expect us to hug you too, when we feel like it. OK?

Coyote: OK. This is going to take getting used to.

Me: Lots of things are going to take getting used to and I already have about five on my mental list. Now we were working on life goals, and you're assured of food, warmth and emotional support. Mariposa, try to think of the next most important goal.

Coyote: Why does she always go first?

Me: Because when the two of you are together she often leaves the talking to you, and I want to make sure in this that the thinking doesn't go with it. Mariposa?

Mariposa: I want to grow up to be tough and able to take care of myself. To choose what to do right, like you were telling Coyote last night.

Me: Bingo! Let's add smart and strong to your list. Now, Coyote, where do we lions fit in as you try to achieve that goal?

Coyote: Well, you answer our questions, and you wrote some of the lessons on the lion disc, and you helped us in a lot of things, but for achieving the goal, well, you're not doing the lessons for us. I'm not sure how you fit in. Like Madre and Padre, they took care of us but they didn't really, you know, fit in to growing up. It feels weird; we're all alone now except for each other and for you. And I'm not going to get whiny about it.

Tiger: Could I take over here for a moment, Simba? You want to be tough; you've told me. Who's your best model to imitate?

Coyote: Madre! And I'm mad because you're making me cry again when I said I wouldn't. Aw, hell, hug me!

These emotional reactions take time, that we don't have much of. But they're necessary for the kids' mental stability. I shove my emotions into a warm aspect and give Mariposa a competent hug.

Tiger: I'm not jerking you around just to make you cry; the example is important. You learn a lot, that you can use for your primary goal, by watching what your parents do. That's where they fit in, and that's where we fit in. Simba, you're hitting on teamwork with the supervisor, right?

Me: Right. Our goal is also to have you grow up strong, smart and tough as a lion. You kids and we have the same goal. Therefore, we should work together to achieve it. Get the picture? When we criticize you or push you to do something, you shouldn't react as to a competition. And if you have a problem, talk to us and we'll try to compromise. If possible. We'll talk frequently about cooperating with your supervisors, but I wanted to get it on the table from the very first morning. Am I correct that you aren't used to cooperating with your parents to get you grown?

Coyote: Well... El Oso and I had fights, like the one I told you about but lots more, and he usually beat me up. Since he died, since you showed us how to do a budget and a nutrition plan, we've both cooperated a lot with Madre, and I'm not going to cry over it again. But that was in the staying alive area, not the growing up area.

Me: Good points. Both of you, keep your eyes open for cooperation issues, and learn to use the services we provide to do the best growing you can. OK? We promised to take care of you and we want to do a good job. I think that's enough on foundations; is everyone ready to plan some actions?

Mariposa: I thought goals and issues would come first.

Me: Smart. They would come first. The first goal is to get you two going in our family, and we've already made some progress on that. The second is to do your Madre's funeral. Agreed? Let's work on that one for a minute. I suggest we handle it very much like we did for El Oso, with two exceptions. I think, since we have the pot already, if we can get the casket we can do the funeral tomorrow. If Father Jorge is available. OK? Second, your clothing. You're on our budget now, and we have enough so you can buy clothes. We aren't going to be extravagant, and we're not going to get impractical clothes for you, but you can have neat clothes that fit, and you can have them today, and wear them at the funeral. Sound good?

Mariposa: New clothes? Yay!

She hugs me. Coyote is again reluctant but remembers his lesson and hugs Tiger. He's smiling this time. I'm sure he's thoroughly annoyed whenever the patch falls off his black jeans and his butt shows through.

Me: And afterward, when the funeral is over, we have two things to do. First we have to print up the legal documents so we can do probate on your Madre's estate, whose most important content is you. Second, we have to get the stuff out of your apartment, and clean it up so Ms. Alarcon can rent it. That should keep us busy for a while. What time is it? Let's see if Sid's Discount Caskets is open yet.

I phone. They have a suitable pine box, and I put it on will call.

Tiger: OK, you and Coyote pick up the casket, and Mariposa and I will schedule the funeral with Father Jorge.

Me: Actually, I wanted to talk to him about the kids' religion, so could we go together? Kids, you know we're not religious, but we want you to continue in your religion.

Coyote: You mean, go to church every day?

Me: Well, that seems a bit extreme, but I'd like both of you to find out from Father Jorge what you're supposed to do, and then do it. You can negotiate extreme points. I don't think you intend to become like us religiously, do you?

Coyote: Well...

Me: I'm sure your Madre and Padre would have taken that to mean no. Also I've been warned to expect questions from various sources of the general form, are those awful lion people turning those innocent little children to the ways of Satan? I'd like you to have an answer ready for that, to tell the judge. OK?

Coyote: It sounds a lot better when you put it that way.

Me: Take it seriously. Humans get a lot of comfort out of religion, that we're excluded from. Enough on that. While we're getting the coffin, Tiger and Mariposa, you two could talk to Mrs. Fisher and plan what clothes to buy. Actually, go over to the apartment and do triage on your clothes, then talk to Mrs. Fisher. Coyote, is it OK if they plan what clothes to get you?

Coyote: If I can go over the list afterward. What's triage?

Me: What we do in the hospital. We separate the people into three groups: the ones who are going to die whatever we do, the ones who just need Band-Aids and handholding, and the ones who we can make a difference on. I think your black jeans belong in the first group. Split the clothes into trash, stuff that's too small but that someone else might want, and clothes that you can still wear. And drag your storage chest over here, if there's time.

Coyote: If I get any bigger, all my clothes will just rip. There aren't that many clothes anyway.

It takes almost an hour to drive over, buy the casket, and drive back. On our return we find that Tiger and Mariposa are at Mrs. Fisher's place, and they have the shopping list mostly worked out. The kids' meager clothes didn't take long to sort. The storage chest sits in the middle of our living room, empty except for Mariposa's black dress. None of the other clothes, except the kids' jackets, were worth keeping.

Me: How's it coming? I'd like to go over to the church now.

Tiger: OK, I'm going to finish this. We will get the skirt, and we won't get the pumps. Mrs. Fisher volunteered to go with us to buy the clothes, since obviously lions know nothing about that. We're walking to the church, right?

Me: Right, but let's phone ahead to see if Father Jorge can meet with us. Thanks, Mrs. Fisher. Now, can I make one point? In one of my classes I picked up that people aren't supposed to kill themselves. Religiously. I suggest that we be appropriately vague about the exact cause of death, and concentrate on the fact that it's mercy that your Madre isn't hurting any more. If necessary, we say that the autopsy report isn't back yet. Which isn't a lie. Maybe she told Father Jorge what she planned to do, or maybe he can figure out what's likely given the circumstances, but let him bring it up. OK?

Coyote: I don't like jiving a priest.

Me: Well, I don't like jiving anyone, but I think there could be negative effects if he's made officially aware that she killed herself, and judging from outside the religion, I don't think that's fair.

Coyote: I kind of see what you mean about officially aware. OK, Mariposa? Then let's get moving. Mariposa, are you going to be OK talking about the funeral? I'm going to feel like to cry but I'm not going to do it.

Mariposa: Me neither. We have to get Father Jorge to do a nice funeral for Madre, and crying isn't going to help.

Catholicism is definitely a minority religion in Salt Lake, and the Catholic church is of modest size and construction. The rectory is around in back.

Father Jorge: How do you do? You were most helpful to the Solano family when Seņor Solano died. And hello, Javier and Guadalupe. My, you've grown since you were here last.

Coyote: Yes, Padre.

Father Jorge: Won't you have seats? Are they satisfactory?

Me: Yes, our tails fit in human chairs. It was a design specification. We'd like to talk to you about two things. First, religious support for the children, and second, we'd like to schedule a funeral for Maria Solano.

Father Jorge: Oh... She told me she was ill, but... Death comes so suddenly.

Me: Yes. We prepared for it, but the actual event was unexpected.

Father Jorge: Will you be handling the funeral similar to what you did with Seņor Solano? Cremation afterward?

Me: Yes, cremation. The autopsy isn't done, but it's promised for today. Unless it's delayed, we could do the funeral tomorrow.

Father Jorge: Would three o'clock be satisfactory?

Me: Yes, that would be fine. We'll have Maria here at 2:30. Thank you, Father.

Father Jorge: And would the service be in English or Spanish?

Me: Spanish. Right, kids?

Coyote: Right, Spanish.

Me: Now I play synth and organ. Do you have one? If so I could play some of my pieces before the service, and if you know what hymns you want to sing, I could prepare them. If you'd lend me a hymnal.

Father Jorge: Why of course! We have an electronic organ but our organist moved away and nobody's played it at services for some time. Here, let me put bookmarks on the hymns I'll be using. Really, thank you for your help in this tragic time. This must be awful for you children. May I be of help to you, spiritually? What you've been through is very hard.

Coyote: Hard, yes, but we know what we have to do and we're doing it. The lion people have helped us a lot. They suggested we talk to you about church. We... had problems coming. Now that we're with the lion people, we should be able to come more often. Is once a week OK?

Father Jorge: You should come whenever you need to, but yes, once a week is OK. I'll look forward to seeing you. When you say you're with the lion people...

Coyote: They're our guardians. They promised, and Madre put it in her will.

Tiger: I realize that we're not God's creatures, but is there some kind of religious ceremony when a child joins a family?

Father Jorge: Factum non genitum, eh? There isn't a specific ceremony, but you certainly deserve a blessing for taking the children in. Kneel and put your hands together, the children too. Heavenly Father, these lion people Simba and Tiger are not of your making, but please bless them with your gracious guidance to rear up your children Javier and Guadalupe in your ways. And let the glory of your creation and your grace be reflected in them for all to see. Amen.

Tiger: Thank you, Father. Thank you very much. I'm honored by your blessing. If you don't mind, I'm going to copy it down and post it on my web page. Is that OK?

Me: I'm honored too.

Father Jorge: My, I've never had anything on a web page. Of course it's OK. So we'll have the funeral at 2:30 tomorrow.

Me: Right. If there's going to be a problem with the autopsy we'll let you know as soon as we find out. Hmm, we'll also confirm as soon as we know there isn't going to be a problem. Thank you for seeing us, and thank you for your blessing.

We walk back to our house. On the way, once well out of earshot of the church...

Coyote: Tiger, you were really laying it on thick, how honored you were.

Tiger: Got any idea why I was laying it on thick?

Coyote: You wanted to keep him happy? You wanted something out of him?

Tiger: Spoken like a true coyote. But in fact I really did feel honored, and I'm not shy about saying so. When we get home I'll show you how to make an anchor on a web page.

It takes a lot to render Coyote speechless.

The next activity, shopping for clothes, is a very new one for me and Tiger. She has explained to Mrs. Fisher our feelings about purchases, and Mrs. Fisher knows which store is likely to lack designer labels, but to have durable and attractive clothes at a price commensurate with their value. It's incredible how much junk a human can put on his or her body: socks, underpants, main pants or whatever you call it, undershirt, overshirt, and an optional skirt for females but never for males. Not to mention a scarf or hat, neither of which we're buying for the kids. Both Tiger and Mrs. Fisher insist that the children must change their underpants and socks every day, which the children aren't in the habit of doing because they don't have that many of each. We plan to do a load of light clothes and a load of dark, once a week, so we have to invest in seven underpants per kid, and seven pairs of socks. Except they come three to a package so we end up with spares. The children will have decorative tee shirts, to be changed daily, and in cold weather these will be worn under thick cotton long sleeved shirts, which won't have to be changed every day. Those are a novelty for the children, who have always made do with cheap tee shirts even in winter. We also don't need seven long pants per kid.

At the store we have to balance practicality with art, price and different peoples' taste. Cartoon characters on tee shirts are garish, and we have to remind the kids that we have to look at the things too. Coyote wants to get short pants but we tell him to wait until warmer weather, since he's likely to grow. Mariposa gets her white blouse and one nice peach-colored skirt.

Me: Kids, see this display here? I've seen humans, adults, wear these for sleeping. We could get this for you. Now I've been adding our bill as we went along and I think it's up over three hundred dollars.

Coyote, interrupting: Three hundred! That's enough to feed us and both you lions for a month! Are we going to have enough money to eat?

Me: We have resources, and we have reserves. We're able to spend that much and not endanger our operational responsibilities. But! We're not money machines, and we'll only spend on things that we think useful and prudent. No gold chains. You're going to have to get used to having money and using it properly. If you think they're necessary we can get these blanket thingies for you, but I'd prefer not to. Also you're using our spare sheets; you need your own. I wonder how much those are going to cost.

Coyote: I've been thinking about what Tiger said last night. I think we don't need to get the pajamas.

In the linen department Mariposa finds a sheet with a lion cartoon character, and Coyote finds... Coyote and Roadrunner. They look very uncertainly at me, but I smile and approve the extra cost over white sheets. These cartoons are colored much more tastefully, and somehow the sheet format is more conducive to pleasant layout. I take the kids back to the tee shirt display.

Me: Compare, kids. This is tasteful. This is garish. I don't want to look at garish. Can you see the difference?

Coyote: Well, I can see that they're different. Our sheets are good, but this tee shirt is, well, maybe the right way to say it is that I'm just a garish person. I hope you don't mind, heh, heh.

Tiger: Maybe that's accurate, but there are proper situations for your cheeky behavior, and visual arts aren't it. Simba doesn't want to look at garish, and neither do I.

Mariposa: Right, Coyote. You should act it when it's funny, or when someone's teasing you, but I think that shirt is dumb, not fun.

Coyote: You're all ganging up on me!

Me: Appropriate garish behavior. Let's get out of here before someone else gets an urge to buy something.

Back at our house, after a quick lunch, we go over to Mrs. Fisher's place and get her to give us all a lesson in laundry, particularly what needs to be hand washed the first time or two, to prevent dye from transferring to the other clothes. Apparently Maria handled all the Solanos' washing.

Me: Kids, the clothes are yours, so I think it's fair that you're the ones to keep them clean. We don't wear them, so we shouldn't have to wash them. Would you please now apply what Mrs. Fisher just taught you?

Coyote: But that's woman's stuff, not a man's job.

Me: You want to be a lion?

Coyote: Well, the way you say it I get the impression I'm going to lose this.

Me: Remember we're on the same side? Don't forget. Human males want to wear but not wash, or eat but not cook, so they say this or that is woman's work. Lions don't do the gender role thing, and I think the human female around here has started to pick up on lion customs. I suggest you think about how your clothes are going to get clean. Also the advantages of cooperating with Mariposa rather than trying to handle it on your own, in a rush later.

Coyote: Well, mark another thing off your list of things I have to get used to.

Mariposa sticks out her tongue at him, and giggles as he tries to swat her. They get right down to work, in our kitchen sink. Almost every one of the jeans and winter shirts has to be washed in a separate portion of hot water due to dye leakage. With our greater strength we help by squeezing the water out of the thick cotton. Then Coyote and Mariposa drag the wet clothes, as well as the new white garments and the sheets, over to the laundry near Ms. Alarcon's unit, and take turns feeding coins into the washer and dryer. While these machines finish, the kids do lessons on battery power. Meanwhile we consult with Mrs. Fisher about some details of the funeral. For example, Maria has a fancy tablecloth that she inherited from her mother and that she's very proud of, and we think it would be nice to put that over the coffin.

On their return, the kids fold and put away their laundry in the storage chest. What luxury! Each one has his or her own drawer, plus they can share the bottom drawer for some overflow items like pants. But...

Tiger: Kids, that chest can't stay in the middle of the living room. I guess we have to decide where it will go, and that means where you will go. Let's think of eight kittens. One idea is to put us and the two smallest kittens in the big room, four younger kittens in one kids' bedroom, and you and two oldest kittens in the remaining room. However, the books we've read suggest that it's best to give a sexually mature, or almost mature male his own room, splitting him up from the female. You're not going to get your own room, Coyote, but we could have one human and three kittens per room. What do you think?

Coyote: We've always been together at opposite ends of that stinky couch.

Mariposa: I don't want to be split up.

Tiger: What about the sexual issue?

Coyote: I'm not going to screw my own sister!

Mariposa: I know how to kick him in the balls. What about the lion kittens? Do you have to split up the males and females?

Tiger: No. Of course they'll know everyone's sex by their scent, but that's almost the only difference when we're young, before sexual maturity. We'll split them by age.

Coyote: I think we'd like to stay together. But maybe we could have our own beds.

Tiger: Getting four beds, desks and chests into one of those rooms is going to be a real challenge. I saw an advertisement for a thing with a desk, a bed over it, and storage behind the desk. We have to measure, but I think we're going to be getting about ten of those eventually. You kids, pick a room, and we'll help you get the chest up the stairs.

Coyote is learning to think of consequences, and he chooses the end room, not the one next to the bathroom, so he won't have to listen to flushes in the night. We haul the chest up there.

Me: I think on Monday we're going to spend some more money. We're supposed to be increasing reserves, not spending them! We're going to get you the bed and desk assemblies, assuming four can fit in each room. And you need mats. For now you can sleep on the rug downstairs; was that OK last night? Now your next job is nutrition. You know what you had for breakfast and lunch, and that's fairly typical. For dinner you should plan to have lion food as your starch; it will be leftover stuffing and however many potatoes. But I want you, individually, to make a nutrition plan and figure out what our diet doesn't give you. In particular, there's turkey meat in your refrigerator, which you should bring over to our place, and I want a number reasonably soon for how much of it you should eat, and what other nutrients you're low on. Then, you plan meals for a week that supplement our lion food to make a healthy diet for human children. I'll give you thirty bucks and you go to the grocery store and buy what you need. Don't worry, Tiger and I will also be doing the assignment and we'll go over your shopping list when you have it, but the primary responsibility is yours for seeing that the right food and vitamins and minerals go down your throats. Agreed?

Coyote: The man wants to eat but not cook. If anyone sees me over there, I'll tell them I'm buying beer.

Mariposa: Thirty bucks food budget? That's a lot. Could I get a Twinkie?

Me: That's a real good question. My instinct is to say yuck. No, I'll say it plainly: yuck. But I can't stop you from eating that stuff, can I? You tell me what I should do.

Mariposa: Why is it yuck? It tastes good!

Me: I don't doubt it, but what should I do? How should I teach you?

Mariposa: I guess there's something you know and I don't. If you just tell me... You said I have to choose the right way by myself, and I have to know what the right way is.

Me: Right. You're going to have your nutrition plan: components you need to get, and components you need to avoid. Make sure you add up the latter part too, because when you read the label of the Twinkie and match it up to your plan, you'll have your answer. Also plan some other food to buy that tastes good and is fun to eat and is healthier. I don't want you to feel like eating right is totally boring. Look at all the ways we cook starchy foods, and our drawer full of spices. Are we all cooperating? Good. I'd like you to add two items to your list: a bottle of lactose-free milk, and some fennel, for us. That's a spice. You'll love hot chocolate and oatmeal with milk, and you can credit the milk in your nutrition plan.

The kids run over to their apartment to get useful food out of their ancient refrigerator, and they're soon back, carrying it in a frying pan which retains a few patches of its nonstick surface, and in a dented pot. Good kids; they can generalize an instruction. It takes them about half an hour to modify their nutrition plans to account for our lion food. Mariposa borrows our recipe book. Soon they have the shopping list for our approval, on Mariposa's computer.

Coyote: Take a look; what do you think?

Tiger: These items look interesting. What kind of flour did you mean; we have plenty of corn flour.

Mariposa: We were going to make chocolate chip cookies. That's the fun thing, but I'm going to get the Twinkie too.

Tiger: We already have wheat flour... But with four mouths to feed, it'll soon run out. Get five kilos of whole wheat flour; you didn't specify the type or the quantity, nor on the nuts. Also we have no cookie sheet. Unless your Madre has one, you'll need to buy one. Fix the list, and you can borrow my printer. Simba, we need to get a proper network in this house. Here's 35 bucks. Give us back what's left over.

Coyote: You really trust us.

Me: Your stomachs trust you too.

Coyote: Look, there's another thing my friends would laugh at me about. There's a six-pack of El Oso's beer still in the refrigerator, and I found what was left of his rum. Madre must have kept it kind of as a souvenir of Padre. I could have drunk it.

Me: That's right. I assume you didn't. Finish your questions, and then tell me why not.

Coyote: I want to be grown up, right? Only adults can drink, right? So if I score some beer and drink it, well obviously I'm the same person as before, but I feel grown up when I do it. Mariposa and I were joking around with the beer, and she was saying I'd better not really drink it, and I didn't. I can't figure out why.

Me: This sounds like when we felt we had to take you kids in, but we couldn't figure out why we had to. You want me to suggest some ideas, or do you want to brainstorm it with me?

Coyote: With you, I want to do the right thing. But you weren't even there! I could have done it and nobody would have known.

Me: You said that you want to do right, for us. When I do the right thing I don't do it for other people, and I don't care if anyone knows. What matters is that I'll get a good result one way, and a bad one the other. You saw a threat from drinking and you wisely went the other way.

Coyote: I'm not chicken!

Me: You're also not stupid; if someone tells you you're chicken if you won't do some stupid stunt like mooning a teacher, well, is there any profit for you in mooning the teacher?

Coyote: They get to laugh when I'm punished, or they get to laugh at the teacher if I can run away fast enough.

Me: Whereas, as soon as we can I want you to have your proper shots, and what are you and Mariposa going to do when the nurse comes at you with the dripping needle?

Coyote: I really don't like the idea of shots. I guess you're going to tell me how great they are and how wonderful they feel, and I'm going to choose for myself to go along with it. Joy. And I'm going to stand there and take it like a man. Bend over; wooo, it feels just like sex. Heh, heh.

Me: Now that's both brave and wise, and pure coyote. Going around a threat, when it gets you nothing to engage it, is wise, whereas engaging it is brave and very stupid and not coyote at all. Agreed?

Coyote: OK. My friends wouldn't understand but I do because I'm Coyote. So what's the threat? El Oso died by getting drunk, but one bottle wouldn't do that to me. Would I, would I get in the habit of drinking like he did? Would I drink more? I don't know.

Me: I'm no expert on beer, but I suspect your limit is closer to half a bottle, and Mariposa's is even less. If you're not sure how you'd behave, then drinking is a threat worth avoiding.

Tiger: Let's not waste the beer. I saw a recipe for beer pancakes. Bring the beer and rum over here and we'll use them in different recipes. The alcohol will evaporate when we cook the stuff. Now it's getting close to dinner time and I'd like you to get the groceries so we can all cook together.

The kids scamper off to the grocery store.

Tiger: So when does the other shoe drop? Mariposa just digs in and does what we tell her. Coyote's himself, but after some wiseass remarks he does the same thing. When are they going to explode in tears? When is Coyote going to bite into his independence and run off and do something incredibly stupid?

Me: They're real aware that Maria is gone, but I think they're handling it fine. It helped that they knew for three months that she'd had the course. Coyote, now I think we don't have to worry about him. I think he's going to make himself into a coyote he'll be proud of, and he's been working on it since we gave him the lion disc. So I'm proud too.

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