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Chapter 19: In the Probate Court

Saturday morning we invite Mrs. Fisher over for an early lunch, for I want to get to the morgue at noon to prepare Maria. The problem is going to be dressing her. Mrs. Fisher drives Tiger and Mariposa, who have the black dress and other necessary clothing and makeup, while Coyote and I go in Tiger's car with the coffin in back, plus a few of my (actually Mr. Fisher's) tools and my medical kit. I'm anticipating the operation will be somewhat more difficult than for El Oso. There wasn't much you could do with him, being so crisp, beyond just put him in the box. Whereas for Maria, while this isn't going to be an open coffin affair, we're also not going to just dump her into the box like a piece of garbage. As she attended other peoples' funerals, so she will attend her own, and even if nobody else sees, the kids and we will know what she looks like inside the coffin, and she will be neat and presentable. At the morgue...

Mrs. Fisher: Will you, um, need help in there...

Me: Thanks, but you might want to just go around to the lobby and wait there. If we hit a snag one of us will come out and ask you questions. Um, sir... Oh, don't jump so; surely you've seen lion people on TV. We're here to pick up Maria Solano. No, she's a client, not an employee. Yes, I'm the executor of her estate; see, it says right here in her will, and I'll sign for her on the way out. Coyote, would you deal with the medical kit and tools; Tiger and I can handle the coffin. Come on, let's try to find the room.

What a stupid door guard! The body storage area is, smartly, adjacent to the loading dock. The technician on duty is more helpful, and less flustered by my species, although he does check my bona fides carefully.

Tech: We don't get personal service very often. Generally, mortuary people pick up the body. How did you plan to handle this?

Me: What we hope to do is to borrow your table there, dress her, put her in the box, and carry her out.

Tech: The kids...

Coyote: She was our Madre. It may be kind of a grossout, but we're going to give her a good funeral. We don't really have money for a funeral home.

Mariposa: Right. I'm the one who knows what she wears and how to put it on.

Tech: Well, we're really just supposed to deliver the bodies, but I can look the other way if you don't take too long with it. Maria Solano... Here she is.

He pulls open the refrigerated drawer. The children gasp, but then look at each other and stand kind of at attention.

Me: Tiger, would you hold her head, please; I'll get the middle, and Coyote please lift her legs. Ready, up!

We move to the other side of the room and deposit Maria on the stainless steel table. Tiger and I are careful to keep our tails from touching surfaces that might have unexpected residues. Unanticipated, the first job will be a good mopping. I put Coyote to work on Maria's face; stomach content doesn't stay inside automatically when you're dead. Tiger is assigned to the other end. I get the staple pliers from my medical kit and close up and de-bloody the several gashes in her chest and abdomen, only one of which was there when she was delivered.

Mariposa: What should I do?

Me: Bring us paper towels as we need them. Your major job comes next, in just a moment.

Maria doesn't have to be spotless; particularly, if the blood doesn't want to come off, all we need is for it to stay where it is. Tiger stuffs a wad of paper towel in her ass to discourage embarrassing oozing, when the kids aren't looking. Now it's Mariposa's turn.

Mariposa: First she needs her underpants. Could someone kind of lift her in the middle? Is it straight on the other side; I'm not tall enough to see. Now she needs her bra. If you could lift her, you know, chest, I could fasten it. And her stockings next. Coyote, help with the other leg; see how you roll it up? Now the dress goes on, let's see, hold her hands over her head. Lift her shoulders and her chest. Coyote, can you keep her arm from flopping? Aw, it's not straight. Lift again. Now can you get her hips up? Coyote, help with the legs, please. There, that's nice. Let's put her shoes on next. Now is there a chair I could stand on? She needs her hair brushed. Coyote, see how I do it, could you get the other side? Now she wants lipstick, and a little rouge on her cheeks. She looks so pale. Do you think it would help if I put more on?

Tiger: I think there's a limit to what we can do. That's enough rouge. More wouldn't look good.

Mariposa: OK then. I'm going to give her her favorite scarf. Doesn't it look nice on her?

Tiger: You did a great job. Madre would be so proud of you. OK, let's put the coffin at the end of the table and put her in it. I've got the middle. Simba take the head and Coyote the legs. Mariposa, you see her arms go in straight. Ready, up! Move off endwise. Now down! Oof, she's heavy! Mariposa, check her clothes; they look OK to me.

I put the lid on and fasten it with nice brass screws, that I've pre-drilled the holes for. The idea of nailing a coffin shut, bang bang bang, gives me the creeps, and I'm afraid it would give the children nightmares. I turn to the technician.

Me: Thanks so much for letting us do the work here. What do I have to sign?

Well, that went faster than anticipated. The technician will have a good story to tell his colleagues when they get back from their lunch break, about two lion people and two kids.

Back at home, Maria stays in the car since the chill wind makes an effective refrigerator. The living, however, need to get ready for the funeral. I explain that I've gotten blood on my fur, and Tiger and I are going to take a complete shower, and I recommend that the kids, particularly Coyote, do the same. They agree. Afterward Tiger and I blow dry and brush each other's fur. A quick zap with the dryer and the brush are all Coyote needs to look good, but Mariposa takes as long on her tresses as we did on our whole bodies. They aren't that stunning; I don't see what all the fuss is about. Finally Coyote is snappy in his white shirt and new black trousers, and Mariposa looks dignified in the black dress she wore to El Oso's funeral. Their winter jackets don't match the effect, but they won't be on display in the jackets. It's time. Mrs. Fisher, in her black dress, coat and hat, accompanies the children on foot to the church, while Tiger and I drive. If everyone in black is headed for the funeral, there will be twenty or thirty people there, a lot more than wished El Oso goodbye.

We check in with Father Jorge. The previous group, a christening, have just about all left. Tiger and I set up the bier and place Maria on it. We spread the tablecloth over the foot end of the coffin, not the whole thing, like a blanket, and we put Maria's pot on top. People from Casa Serena filter in: gossip friends of Maria, family of Coyote's and Mariposa's friends, and a few, I think, whose major interest is in furry faces. I give those what they were looking for: in this church the organ is on the main floor at the side, just within the bar marking off the officiant's territory. Since freshman year I've learned quite a number of pieces, many religious and suitable for this occasion, and I play almost all of them, one after another. Ah, Father Jorge is ready in his ecclesiastical vestments. I give him a nod and skip to the coda, and the piece ends.

He goes through the Catholic ritual. From my music studies I'm familiar with the ordinary of the mass and with how it's varied for a requiem, but I know it in Latin, not Spanish, and neither am I familiar with the reforms of the previous century. Even so, I'm able to pretty much follow along, and Father Jorge gives me a solid cue for the first hymn. Then come the eulogies.

Coyote (in Spanish): My Madre was brave and kind. When she found out she had cancer, she decided not to have treatment so she could still work, to feed us...

He continues with three anecdotes of earlier sacrifices to care for the children, and he manages to delay sniffing until after he's away from the microphone.

Mariposa: I'm going to be like my Madre. She always took care of us, and I'm going to take care of my kids too. She did her best with what she had, and I'm doing that too. When the lion people offered to take care of us, she didn't call them mutants or monsters like some kids do; she saw that they were brave and tough like her, and that we could grow up right with them, and she let us go with them. I'm not happy that my Madre died, but nobody could stop it, whether or not she took the treatment, and for me to go around whining isn't going to bring her back either. I'm going to grow up smart, strong and tough, and the lion people are helping me, and she's going to be proud of me in heaven.

Father Jorge has another hymn right after the eulogies, and as I play the accompaniment I notice many sniffs among the singing. The service ends with a prayer for entry into the Holy City. Then comes the ceremonial carrying out. Shutting off the organ, I join the kids and Tiger around the coffin. We set the pot in its box, which was discreetly tucked away, and fold the tablecloth. Then Tiger and I lift the main weight of the box at our waist level, while Mariposa and Coyote keep the tail end balanced. We practiced this last night and got a semi-graceful arrangement, considering the varying height of the pallbearers, but of course the box was empty then. Well, we're strong as lions. As Father Jorge says a final prayer we march out the door of the church. The car is parked strategically, and Coyote, with the key in his pocket, opens the door. In she goes. And it's done, except for one detail. I give Coyote an envelope and send him and Mariposa back to give it to Father Jorge, and to retrieve the pot and tablecloth.

We drive off, with the females again in Mrs. Fisher's car. Our destination is the crematorium that handled El Oso. We carry in the coffin and the pot. I sign the papers and pay the fee. We'll be able to pick up Maria's ashes tomorrow. On our return home...

Me: Mrs. Fisher, thank you so much for your help.

Coyote: Yes, thank you! If something comes up, like you know, your knees are bothering you and you want a floor washed, ask us and we'll do it for free. We're neighbors and we have to stick together.

Me: Surely you'll have dinner with us? Tiger, did we decide on sushi? And the kids have their meat dish and they'll make enough for you.

Mrs. Fisher: Oh, you needn't. You have your own troubles without me adding.

Mariposa: Didn't you listen to my eulogy? We're not happy that she's dead, but we're not going to let Madre's death slow us down. We have this recipe for English muffin pizza and we have all this stuff, green peppers and sliced tomatoes and things, and it's going to be great! Triple cheese, for the protein. You have to try it.

Mrs. Fisher: Well, I guess you've talked me into it. And on the floor, it doesn't have to be this week, or even next, but I would like my upstairs vacuumed. But I insist on paying you your proper wage.

Coyote: I wouldn't be Coyote if I turned you down when you insist. You know, I always wondered, with your children moved out and all that, why do you keep such a big place when you're only using one room? The rent must be expensive too.

Me: I'll start the rice, Tiger start the fish, and you kids cut the bits for your pizzas. Let's get moving; I'm hungry.

Mrs. Fisher: What can I do to help? I've never actually made sushi before.

Me: You can learn how to roll them, when the rice is ready.

Mrs. Fisher: Coyote, you asked about why I'm still in my place. Well, sometimes I ask myself the same thing. I guess I've just been there so long, I don't think about changing. The way my knees are getting, I really can't take care of the place by myself, and the stairs are hard to climb.

Coyote: I know where there's a vacant one bedroom place. Right across the garden.

Mrs. Fisher: I hadn't thought about that. Thank you, Coyote; I'll think about it seriously.

Tiger: Do tell us when you make a decision. I have to discuss this with Simba and the kids, but we may have an ulterior motive here.

Mrs. Fisher: What's that?

Tiger: I don't want to bias your decision; it wouldn't be fair.

Mrs. Fisher: Come on, tell me! I'll die of curiosity.

Tiger: OK, and the kids haven't heard this yet, and it's not an actual proposal, but here's the deal. We're going to have eight kittens, one per year. That means four people per room, here. If you moved out and we rented your place, it would be two people per room, a lot less crowded. And your common area would make a great work area for the kittens.

Coyote smiles broadly, but has the sense to keep his mouth shut.

Mrs. Fisher: Eight! I don't mean to stick my nose in, but that seems like rather a lot.

Tiger: We're an endangered species. Well, not officially, but there are only eight lions now, and we have an approved breeding plan that specifies rapid population growth at a four to one ratio. Actually the kittens are more important to the species than we are.

Mrs. Fisher: When you first appeared on TV, I just assumed that was a selected group. I never realized that was all there were! The black one on the end, was that you? And where were you, Simba?

Me: In the middle; I gave the opening speech and directed questions.

Mrs. Fisher: You did a marvelous job, all of you. People, human people, were fascinated with lion people.

Tiger: For a while lions got a lot of media attention, but the project staff discouraged it, and we personally avoided getting entangled with the media.

Tiger and Mrs. Fisher continue the discussion of media hype and lion history.

Coyote, whispering in my ear: If we rented her place, would we be over budget?

Me, whispering: No. It would change plans, but we could afford it. I'm inclined to go for it, if she decides to move. But don't say anything to her; it wouldn't be fair.

Mariposa, also whispering: I really hope she moves. Our apartment isn't that small, but, well, I shouldn't talk like this about my Padre, but when he was there he kind of took over. I worry a little about the two older kittens taking over our room.

Me, whispering: Let's not discuss too much without Tiger. I need to start cooling off the rice.

I bring the blow dryer down from the bathroom.

Mrs. Fisher: You blow-dry the rice? I've never seen a blow dryer used on food.

Me: The heat is off. If you let the rice stand, it takes half an hour to cool properly. The blow dryer pushes air through the spaces between grains, and this will be ready for rolling in five minutes.

Mrs. Fisher is fascinated by the process of rolling sushi, and she picks up the procedure quickly. She enjoys eating it too. The muffin pizzas come out interesting; Tiger and I have a few pieces torn off one of Mariposa's muffins. Cheese oozes off the edges and sticks to my teeth and mouth. The kids and Mrs. Fisher seem to like them, but Coyote is the only one who puts Cayenne pepper on his. After dinner...

Mrs. Fisher: I haven't been just gossiping through dinner. I think I've come to a decision. I'm going to accept Coyote's offer of his apartment.

Mariposa: Yay!

Me: I think everyone wins on this deal. Tomorrow, let's negotiate the details with Ms. Alarcon. We have the duty to clean up the apartment, and I'm sure the kids will be happy to paint it for you in the color you want, if Ms. Alarcon pays for the paint and the hours. Agreed?

Mrs. Fisher is sent home in a cloud of good will. But afterward...

Me: It's a stroke of luck to be able to latch onto Mrs. Fisher's townhouse. Thank you, Coyote, for getting her moving in the right direction, and thank you Tiger for recognizing how to use the opportunity and acting. But I'd like to plan something a little bit nearer term: what to do tomorrow and Monday. First, we have to sort your Madre's papers. I specifically want Social Security cards for El Oso, your Madre and both of you, your birth certificates, and your immunization records. And El Oso's death certificate. Lacking any of those, we need to do the research to get duplicates. Another thing: I assume you didn't bring all of your food yesterday. I want your refrigerator completely emptied and the food brought here, or junked if it's spoiled, and the same for the dry food. The rest of the cleanup has to be done, but that has lower priority. Second for tomorrow, you kids have done a fine job on the probate documents, but we need to get them finished, checked, and printed. Third, I think we should buy your bed and desk things tomorrow, and they'll require assembly. That should just about fill the day.

Coyote: Are you going to get your beds too?

Me: I want to talk to Tiger about that. I was thinking about a double-size bed and desk thing. But let's stick with planning for you kids. Do either of you know what shots you've had? Do you think they're complete?

Coyote: Not very likely. There was one in elementary school and I don't know what it was. But Madre was worried that I hadn't had earlier shots so that one might make me sick, so she didn't sign the paper for that one either.

Me: Wonderful. Assuming we don't find the immunization records tomorrow, you're going to have an experience that's almost as good as sex at 0800 on Monday.

Coyote: Don't we get to choose?

Mariposa: Stupid, you don't want to get sick, do you?

Me: Make time to do the lessons on immunization. Both of you. Tonight might be wise, considering what we have to do tomorrow. If you can't find the lesson, we'll help you. There's a very graphic description, with a picture, of tetanus. That will help you decide.

Coyote: OK, OK, I'll do the lesson and you can plan on me being there on Monday.

Me: When we get out of the clinic, I want to try to get your Madre's death certificate, and when we have that, I hope on Monday, we immediately file the probate documents and publish the legal notice. We also need to pick up your Madre from the crematorium. It doesn't sound like a lot, but I have a feeling that it's going to drag on for the whole day. Can anyone think of anything else?

Tiger: I can't. Look, we've done a lot today and I want to do something relaxing. I'm going to practice the violin, and if Simba wants, we could do a sonata with him on synth. You kids can join in when you've finished your lessons.

On Sunday we try to organize Maria's papers, but nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Maria has a Social Security card, but if El Oso ever had one it is not in evidence. Nor does El Oso figure prominently in any other documents. I'm beginning to wonder if El Oso was legal. Neither do the children have Social Security numbers. Jeez, we're not even human and we've had them since birth and barbecue. Maria pays a pittance in taxes, but she could have paid none at all if she could have just written their numbers on her tax return -- which fortunately there's a copy of. More serious, the children weren't born. Or to put it more seriously, Maria does not have either of their birth certificates. Nor, as expected, any immunization records. Coyote knows that Mariposa was born in Salt Lake, and he believes that he was also. Let's hope he's right and that the birth was properly reported. Otherwise I'm not looking forward to the legal complications. We do find Maria's birth certificate, from El Paso, Texas.

By contrast, cleaning out the refrigerator is a piece of cake. Maria and the kids could not tolerate losing food to mold. The kids' bed and desk units are a big success. None of us had any experience assembling wooden furniture, but with care, reading instructions before acting, and cooperation, we put together a veritable palace, by their standards, for each kid. They are thrilled to do lessons at real desks and sleep on real beds, for the first time in their lives.

Monday I take the kids to the county health clinic. There is a special line for immunization, and at 8 AM nobody is waiting.

Coyote: Hi, is this where you get shots?

Nurse: Yes, it is. Who's your friend?

Coyote: This is my sister Guadalupe, who's getting shots too, and that's Simba. When we get through some legal stuff he'll be our guardian. I'm Coyote, that is, Javier Solano. Can I sign for the shots myself, or if not, can he? We phoned on Friday and they said it would be OK.

Nurse: Um, Simba, are you...

Me: I'm a citizen of the State of Utah. Would you like to see my birth certificate?

Nurse: If you have it I should look at it. We need an adult signature. Yes, you qualify. Would you fill out this form please, one copy for each child? Now, do you know what immunizations the children need?

Coyote: As far as we know, we never had any shots at all. We should start at the beginning. If I read the standard schedule right, that means DTP, hepatitis and polio, and later we'll get boosters for those and start MMR and AIDS. I'm feeling like a porcupine already.

Nurse: It's really not bad. Do you have an immunization record?

Coyote: No, we need a yellow card.

Nurse: The ones we give out are white. Fill these out and I'll get the vaccines.

She soon returns with a tray of ominous looking cylinders, which the children eye suspiciously.

Nurse: OK, who's first?

Coyote: Me, I guess. Should I take off my shirt?

Nurse: Yes, then sit in the chair. Just a little stick... That's the DTP. It wasn't bad, was it? Now here's the hepatitis. Very brave you are. Now look at the ceiling and open your mouth. Wash that down with a cup of water; that was polio vaccine. You're all done; let me just stamp your card.

Coyote: Thank you, Ma'am.

Nurse: Why, you're welcome! We don't get many thank you's around here.

Coyote: Well, you did something important for me. But I think as an experience it was overrated. We were talking, and someone said it would be almost as good as sex. Heh, heh.

Nurse: Sorry to disappoint you. Now, Guadalupe, I see you're all ready.

Mariposa: Yes, Ma'am. Don't mind Coyote; he teases a lot.

Mariposa creases her brow and flinches slightly when the needles go in, as did I at that age, but other than that is steady as any lion. The nurse stamps her card and gives it to her.

Mariposa: Thank you, Ma'am.

Nurse: You're welcome, Guadalupe. My, you children are polite.

Mariposa: It's a lion custom to be polite. I have to learn to do whatever is necessary, and being polite after shots is hard, but it helps me learn. I wasn't sure I could stay steady, but I did.

Nurse: Yes, you did. Both of you children did very well. It's not often I see kids come in and ask for shots, and know what they need.

Mariposa: The lion people had us read a lesson. I really don't want to get any of those diseases.

Me: So how much do we owe you?

Nurse: No charge. The county would rather pay a few dollars for immunizations than hundreds or thousands of dollars per child when an epidemic breaks out. You all have a good day.

Our next stop is the Hall of Records. We're able to search an ancient database, not on the web, and we're in luck: both children have birth certificates on file. We order three copies each, which may or may not be ready after lunch. We also get another copy of El Oso's death certificate. Maria, however, is not yet available. The person at the help desk assures us that death certificates from the weekend may or may not be filed by 10:30, depending. We have over an hour to wait, and we make the time useful by picking up Maria from the crematorium.

Mariposa: It's kind of creepy with Madre back in the trunk. I wish she were up here with us.

Me: She's a lot safer there. Her pot is wrapped up and protected by the box. Come on, let's see if her death certificate is filed yet.

We're back at eleven, and the County comes through: the death certificate is in the database, and we order six copies. At ten dollars each for official, stamped copies, today's bill will come to 130 bucks. Ridiculous! I wish I could get my claws into the County's record storage system and give it a thorough redesign.

Me: Kids, I'm expecting we'll get our copies maybe at two. I'm remembering when I was a kid our supervisors took all the lions to the art museum, at the end of a really hard day of work. We all got pictures for our rooms. How would you like to look around the museum, and maybe get pictures? There's a snack bar there and we could have lunch.

Mariposa: Yeah, lets!

Coyote: Well, OK, I guess. I'm not really the art type, you know. I go for garish.

Me: Well, if it doesn't suit you, at least you get your belly filled. Let's go.

Inside the museum I quickly scan the floor map, and lead the children around to an area for Mexican and American Hispanic painters. But on the way...

Coyote: What is that? Can we go in and look? It looks like when the painter tripped over his ladder and the paint went all over the sidewalk. It's coyote! Do you suppose there's a copy of this one I could buy?

Me: There might be. Look around; what do you think of the others?

Coyote: This one is kind of nice, but it's sort of regular, like the colored lines have a repeating pattern. The other one is much more free.

Me: Jackson Pollock is too structured. My art teacher would enjoy you, Coyote.

Mariposa: Do these have stories? Like some of the other pictures were of a person, or a place, or something was happening.

Me: Well... Look behind you. The one with the red square; that was there when we visited first, and Charlie figured out the story.

Mariposa: The red square is squishing the thing under it.

Me: Right, the rectangle is getting squished. Now Charlie knows history real well, and he knew where Red Square is, in Russia, and what the Russians were doing when this was painted, which was nasty. We think the artist was commenting that the Russians were being nasty to people. It turns out that the man who painted this is the grandfather of the Lion Foundation's accountant, the father of our close friend, who grew up with the lions.

Mariposa: That's cool! Could I see the paintings over there?

Coyote: Hey, I haven't seen all of these yet.

Wild and outrageous are coyote, while Mariposa goes for Gauguin and that style, sunny tones and bright flowers. Around 1:00 our hunger drags us out to the snack bar, after which the kids hunt for prints. Mariposa has several to choose from. Coyote doesn't find his splashed paint, but he's equally captivated by what he calls an explosion in a glass factory. I see the structure of the radiating lines, but he responds to the apparent outward motion and the glittering, chaotic colors of the facets. Among the prints I spot a Kandinsky cat, and buy it on impulse. It will complement his bird. As guardians we're responsible to see that the children have a life, and I think this has been successful as a first step. And it's important for them to see me have fun doing some of the same things they enjoy: buying the cat print. We'll see the Hispanic painters next time, when perhaps Tiger can come too.

At the Hall of Records, no, the copies aren't ready yet. Sit and wait for your number to be called. The delay is galling, but actually not too long; we have our expensive copies around 2:30. Now, borrowing a vacant spot on a work table, we assemble our probate filing: the petition for probate, both death certificates, the will, the letters testamentary, and the petition for preliminary appointment of guardian. Plus our duplicate copies of all the forms. The County Courthouse is just across the street. Whew! There's a cutoff of 3:00 for filing cases, and we're the last people in the line snaking around the court clerk's lobby as the doors are closed. Heads turn, checking out the fanged filer. The line moves slowly. How long does it take to turn in a few papers? Finally a little after four we get to the clerk's window. The worker stamps all the forms, including our duplicate copies, and accepts our 65 dollar filing fee. In the corridor outside the office, a salesman from Salt Lake's legal newspaper wants fifty dollars to publish a legal notice of the probate. Ripoff! But the wheels of justice are now turning. We'll find out soon enough who they grind up.

Now it's Wednesday, the day after Christmas, and the ground outside is covered with snow, packed down by pedestrians and cars. Inside, the courtroom is nearly packed with people and the air is tight with their breathing. A line of people are checking in with the clerk; we've been through that line already. Ms. Donegal, Tiger, I and the two kids sit patiently on one of the hard benches. The children have their warm jackets folded beside them, as well as their cotton outer shirts. Their tee shirts bear the Lion Foundation logo. Ms. Donegal sent them down as Christmas presents, so she said, but both I and the kids recognized that they were to be used in this hearing. Somewhere in the crowd, two adversaries also wait.

Bailiff: All rise. The Probate Division of the Superior Court of the State of Utah, in and for the County of Salt Lake, Saul Martinez, Judge, presiding, is now in session. Be seated.

The judge takes his high place on the bench, and reviews papers which are handed up to him by the clerk.

Judge Martinez: These cases are approved. I'm only going to read them once, so listen carefully...

Our case is not among them. The cases are then called in which the judge has to decide something. An attorney acting as executor wants payment for some expense, and is told to include it in the final accounting as a normal executor would. Two sisters can't agree on the division of a silverware collection, and the will says equal parts, so the executor is told to do what the will says, unless they can come up, in writing, with a solution in which one gets all the silverware and the other gets all of something else. Finally the clerk calls Solano 88223: our case. We pass through the bar, not including Ms. Donegal. There are two tables, scarred with much use. We sit at the one on the left, and two well-fed attorneys sit at the one to the right. I glare at them; they sneer back.

Judge Martinez: In Solano 88223 the JTD item is the petition for guardian. It's not usual in my experience to get one, much less two amicus curiae briefs on a case like this.

The judge removes and polishes his spectacles.

Judge Martinez: The court has a vision problem, as you can see, and we are most grateful to you gentlemen for pointing out that the proposed guardian is not of the same species as the decedent's children. We appreciate your concern for the children's welfare. We get quite a number of probate cases involving surviving minors, and the court's primary concern is then the children's welfare. Many times the petition for guardian is clearly appropriate and is approved with a brief hearing. As you quite cogently point out, this is not one of those cases. In the more complex cases the court takes quite a range of issues into account, some of which you touched on in your briefs. We appreciate having you remind us of some of the issues that could be of concern, and you and the organizations that you represent can be assured that we do intend to discuss those, as well as others, with the petitioner today. However, the problem with both your briefs is that they don't actually add anything to the proceedings besides a shopping list of problems the children might have with the petitioner, with carefully crafted discussions of their importance and references and citations and so on. The record will be the same in substance with or without your briefs. So I accept your concerns, but not your briefs. You gentlemen may have a seat in the audience area.

Is the battle won before a shot was fired? Somehow I don't think so. I resist the urge to turn and look at Ms. Donegal.

Judge Martinez: Now, which of you is the petitioner, Mr. Leones?

Me: I am, your honor. I'm thinking, all lion people have the family name of Leones. It might reduce ambiguity in the record to call us Simba, that's me, and Tiger.

Judge Martinez: Simba is David, and Tiger is Cynthia. Hmm. OK, Simba, the interspecies issue isn't going to go away. However, I intend to take that up last. I see your list of precedents for young guardians. Nicely done; could I inquire as to the source?

Me: We had some help from the Lion Foundation's lawyer, Ms. Donegal. She's in court today, although in an advisory role, not as our attorney. The Lion Foundation subscribes to a search service.

Judge Martinez: So why do I care that Ezekiel ``Zeke'' Butler, age 13, was assigned as ward to Frank Juniata, age 19, twelve years ago?

I didn't memorize all 127 cases, but I did memorize the ones that were most relevant to us.

Me: In that case, like this one, there were no relatives or other reasonable guardians, so the alternative was to dump Ezekiel in a foster home. In that case the Juniatas had a stable marriage, like we do, and the guardian had a stable job and could handle the ward financially, as we can. And in that case, like this one, the guardian had an established relationship with the ward. What worked then is a guide to what will work today.

Judge Martinez: You hope. I'm going to look at your precedents like this. If the court finds an otherwise favorable situation, young age is no bar to guardianship. But a problem with the young guardian is experience. Do you have any idea what to do with a thirteen year old boy and a nine year old girl? I would ask this of anyone your age, but as the two amici went to great lengths to point out in their briefs, what could a lion person possibly know about human children? I'll give you an example. What are their medical needs? Have they had shots?

Me: Mariposa, would you give the copies to the clerk, please, and tell the judge how you got them?

Mariposa: We were poor, and Madre and Padre didn't know a lot about doctor things, so we didn't have any shots. Right after our Madre died and we started living with Simba and Tiger, they planned what we would do, and one of the things was to get shots. They had us read lessons on that, so we knew why we were getting them, and so when we grow up we'll know what we have to do for our families. Then before we picked up Madre's ashes, we went to the county clinic and got the shots. The paper shows what they were: DTP, hepatitis and polio, which you drink. The lion people taught us to be brave like our Madre was, and steady, and we were. Next week we'll have more shots, and I'll be steady for those too. There's a paper in that pile we turned in that says it's OK for the lion people to be our guardians, and if you sign it we can have our own doctor, which takes the guardian's permission.

Judge Martinez: Yes, most doctors require that. What do the lion people do to help you in schoolwork?

Mariposa: The lion people know a lot about helping kids grow up, and if you keep asking parts of it you might miss some. Could Coyote, that's Javier and I tell it to you all at once, so nothing gets lost? Please?

Judge Martinez: Is it short?

Mariposa: They know a lot of things. Each one is short.

Judge Martinez: Go ahead, but I may interrupt you.

Coyote: Your Honor, now that our Madre and Padre are dead, we want a good home where we can thrive. The lion people are giving us that. First, they've shown us how to practice to be strong.

Coyote takes off his shirt, and while he hasn't the muscles of an adult human male, the judge should be able to see that he's not starving. Mariposa doesn't take off her shirt. They start doing pushups in front of the table, talking at the same time.

Coyote: Pushups are one of the exercises that the lion people taught us to do every day. We do pushups, leg lifts, chinups and bendovers. We stretch before those, and run afterward. Do you want to see how many we can do?

Judge Martinez: That's enough, thank you.

The kids get up and Coyote puts his shirt back on.

Mariposa: The lion people gave us lion discs, which have lessons on them, and showed us where to get computers to run them, that we could afford from scrubbing peoples' floors. Doing the lessons, we've gotten a lot better in school. Here are copies of our report cards from last year, before the lion people came, and our midterm reports from last month. See what my teacher wrote about me! The lion people don't do our lessons for us, but when we don't understand something we can ask them, and they try to show us what they're doing that uses what's in our lessons, and they give us jobs that use what we learned. Coyote will show you one of those now.

Judge Martinez: Just a second, Coyote. They call you Mariposa, right? Your teacher has some very nice comments about you. How much do you think you would have improved with different guardians?

Mariposa: If the lion people hadn't come, we would have just gone on being dummies. Are you saying if you send us to a foster home could we still learn from the lion disc, without the lions? Well, they said to tell you the truth, and someone like my teacher in school could help me like they do, but she's not in my Madre's will and they are. I don't know any of my friends whose parents could help them as much as the lion people help us. One of my friends got a lion disc, and she's improving but not as fast as me.

Judge Martinez: I see. Coyote, you have something to give the clerk?

Coyote: This is our nutrition plan from last week, plus a list of what we actually ate and an ending audit. We do that every week. We're showing it to you for two reasons, to show that the lion people are helping us get food suited to human kids, and to show you that we can use the math and computing and health lessons that we got off the disc. Humans need more protein, calcium and vitamins than lions do, so we all eat lion food which means starch and vegetables, and then we kids eat extra food that's high in protein and calcium, and we have vitamin pills. We make the plan, and the lions check it, and then we buy and cook our food. You know, all together, not like the lions are making us do it separately. My friends laugh at me for doing woman's work, but I know how to deal with them; I'm Coyote. And I like getting the food I need, which they aren't, and cooking it the way I like it. We did some research on the web, and some of the foster home parents sure don't know much about human nutrition. Do you have any questions, your Honor?

Judge Martinez: How often do you eat out?

Coyote: You mean eat in a restaurant, right? We did once. Simba and Tiger's supervisors, that's like their guardians, they came to visit and took us all out for pizza. It's not on the list I gave you, but we've learned to make both regular pizza and muffin pizza. They're both good, and we can make them healthier than the restaurant can, with the vegetables we need, peppers and things. We can also do it cheaper.

Judge Martinez: Do I see something Mariposa wants to show?

Mariposa: These are two budgets. When my Padre died the lion people helped us learn to do budgets, and Coyote and I did it for our Madre, who's not that good in math. That's the first one. The second one, the nasty church people that you threw out said the lion people couldn't afford to take care of us, in both of those fat papers they turned in. They don't know anything about Tiger and Simba! The lion people let us do a budget for them, for this month. It shows what we would do with the money, and another column for the plan they'll actually follow. The church people were wrong. It's important to learn to do a budget, and to do what you planned even if you want to buy a Twinkie, and the lion people taught us that.

Judge Martinez: Why do you say ``nasty church people''?

Mariposa: Because they want to take us away from Tiger and Simba! You notice they weren't there when my Madre was sick, and they didn't offer to help us, and they didn't give you a paper saying they would be our guardians. They just want to make trouble. We laugh at them!

Judge Martinez: Do you go to church?

Mariposa: Yes, every Sunday. We started after our Madre died.

Judge Martinez: What made you change from not going, to going regularly?

Mariposa: Before, our clothes were dirty and full of holes and patches, and we had nothing to put in the collection plate.

Judge Martinez: Do the lion people go with you?

Mariposa: No. They aren't God's creatures and they don't feel welcome. But they brought us to talk to Father Jorge and work out what we ought to do.

Judge Martinez: How do you feel about living with someone who isn't God's creature?

Mariposa: They're nice, and brave, and strong. I think God would like to meet them. The nasty church people are wrong.

Judge Martinez: So it's not that churches are nasty, it's that you think some people are nasty because of their religious beliefs about the lion people, right?

Mariposa: Yes, your Honor.

Judge Martinez: Thank you, Mariposa. You children have quite a list of good features to tell me. How about one more. Coyote?

Coyote: Tiger and Simba hug us, and we hug them, and that isn't baby behavior. And it doesn't matter that they aren't human. You like to keep things short; do you need me to say any more on that?

Judge Martinez: No, I'm familiar with the importance of hugs. You've painted a picture of perfection. Now I'd like to hear what's wrong with them. You've been living with them for a month. What do you wish could be improved?

Coyote: I'm coyote, and that usually means wiggling out of a question like that. You're coyote too, aren't you?

Judge Martinez: An interesting metaphor. Yes, and I can see you when you wiggle. I've done it often enough as a kid, and as an attorney, and I've seen quite a lot of wiggling from up here on the bench.

Coyote: OK, no wiggle. There's a lot that Simba and Tiger don't know. They have to look up stuff on the lion disc, or on the web, or call Ms. Donegal, or Dr. Newman. It's cool to find stuff out on the web. And we kids aren't too dumb. The lion people don't miss much, but if we're having trouble they don't know about, we'll tell them. Here's a gripe: they have a ton of money, compared to us, but they won't spend it unless they absolutely have to. Like computers: the ones we have are junk nobody else wanted, that we could buy for twenty bucks. The lion people live on computers, but the ones they have are the same model as ours, just the army version, that they got before they went to college. They haven't bought new machines. If I had that kind of money I'd buy a gold chain, but no way are they going to get one for me. Another problem is that some of my friends are scared of them. But I just tell them they're chicken, and once they meet Simba or Tiger it's OK. Maybe a big problem is these people who don't like lion people, like those two lawyers. Thank you for not letting them jerk us around this time, but we'll always have to watch out for trouble. And the kittens: I don't know if they're going to be a load of fun or a royal pain, with their claws. Probably both. Let's say Mariposa and I are going to get real good training for our own families, taking care of the lion kittens. That's about it.

Judge Martinez: Thank you, Coyote. You and Mariposa have given me a lot to think about. Now I'd like to ask Simba and Tiger something. The interspecies issue is still with us. You have a boy here of a certain age, and a girl who's going to be there real soon now. You can teach them math and accounts and nutrition and computers, but how can you, as lion people, teach Coyote to be a man, and Mariposa to be a woman?

Me: To be adult they need to develop a number of qualities. One is courage, meaning doing whatever is necessary. Mariposa told you about getting the shots...

Judge Martinez: I was thinking rather less abstractly. I was thinking about the birds and the bees.

Coyote, indignantly: Your Honor! This is our lives you're going to decide! You can't go hiding behind words you never know what they mean! If you want to talk about sex, let's talk about sex.

Judge Martinez: Snapping at a judge isn't coyote.

Coyote: It is when he's doing something wrong.

Judge Martinez: And I suppose you want to be the spokes-coyote here, to demonstrate how they're teaching you to be a man, a human man, in the sexual area, in open court.

Coyote: I certainly do, and having them tell what they're going to do isn't fair, to me or to them, while having me tell what they've already done is the fair way. I know enough about sex to make every bird and every bee in the State of Utah blush, and I've learned from the lion people that I mustn't be shy about making them blush. The crazy thing is, most of what I knew is wrong. When you go around saying birds and the bees, you tell everyone that they have to hide sex from kids, and where are we going to find out? From our friends! Who don't know anything either, but they don't want to say that, so they make it up. Or they tell what they saw older kids doing. What I learned from the lion people is, the point of sex is not to get my dick into some girl's cunt. It's to get me and her together so we'll stay together. My friends would say that's hokey and a man would go for it and I'm a wimp if I don't. You know how I can tell they're wrong? I can see Tiger and Simba together, how they stick. I want that. My Madre and my Padre were like that, but I couldn't understand it until the lion people explained it to me. You and those lawyers go on and on about different species, but hell, I'll take Simba and Tiger as examples any day, than those studs that go around putting notches on their guns, probably clapped out. Come on, please sign the paper.

Judge Martinez: You'll take them as examples. Yes, you will. The will of Maria Solano is admitted to probate; David 7-1340 Leones, executor. The petition for preliminary appointment of guardian is approved; David 7-1340 Leones and Cynthia 6-3512 Leones, guardians. When this case comes back for final distribution I'll want to see evidence of continued performance, specifically report cards and immunization records and a recent physician's report. Good luck, Mariposa and Coyote, and congratulations, Simba and Tiger. You can pick up your orders at 2:30 downstairs in the clerk's office. Clerk, call the next case, please.

Coyote hugs Mariposa, then turns around and hugs Tiger while Mariposa runs around and hugs me. The attorneys for the next case are entering, and we sweep up our papers and notes and vacate the table. Ms. Donegal, with the kids' jackets and outer shirts, meets us at the bar...

Ms. Donegal: Congratulations. Hugs in the lobby. And watch for reporters.

We exit the courtroom as the next case is getting underway. The news people and the lawyers for the nuts have sure gotten moving fast. I form up Tiger and the kids in a line hiding behind me, and myself behind a camera, and move in.

Lawyer: ... travesty of justice! Leaving those poor children in a clearly unsuitable situation! No question, we will appeal.

Me: Denied! When will you people ever learn, you're supposed to be charitable to us lions. Did the reporters listen to our presentation? If not, the text will be coming out pretty soon. Read it, if you want to see what a good home looks like.

Cameras swivel: the desired effect. Tiger, Mariposa and Coyote spread out to be seen; Tiger guides the kids in front of us for a cute shot of the family group. The adversary lawyer snarls.

Reporter: So how can lions raise humans?

Me: We're kind, steady and tough, just like human parents should be. You want to talk about kids, or about the religious nuts' real issue? I don't think they care at all for the kids' welfare.

Lawyer: So just what are you going to do to those poor children?

Me: What abominations are we going to wreak on them, right? We're abominably going to teach them what's real, not someone's fantasy conversation with the supernatural. We've given them clean clothes and we've been sending them to a church of God, not a pack of nut cases. You want all that to stop, right?

Reporter: How do the children feel about being assigned to people from another species?

Coyote: We're coyote! We talked the judge into it! He threw out those turkeys himself, but he wasn't sure about the lion people, and we showed him they were good guardians.

Mariposa: Right. Those nasty people wanted to wreck our family, and we wouldn't let them.

Tiger: And I think, right now, that this family deserves a celebration, so we'll leave you now to film the hot air rising.

Lawyer: We'll see you in court!

Tiger: Denied! Get used to that word; you'll be hearing it a lot. Come on, family.

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