Remember the Ishkabibbles
I learned math in a castle, and spelling too. We had turrets, and stonework, and a large pond at the base of the drive, which led to a roaring brook. Cars passed over the furious falls after waiting ten minutes at a time for the stoplight to blare green. On days when the water only trickled between the cracks of ice, or early September dried the river beds, some of us would sneak down the hill to where the secret stairs started, behind a lamppost just before the car bridge to search for the ishkabibbles. Ragged, uneven stones twisted downwards and we would walk along the bank, collected frogspawn and salamanders, our eyes wandering for one of the colorful and spiky underbellies left behind from last year’s hunt.
Renbrook sat atop Avon Mountain like a throne to a whole separate kingdom in the sky. The Tudor braces clung to the outside of the building like vines, and the glass was cut into diamonds and glued together with black pitch. Sometimes the grade-schoolers flitted, pixelated, around with stroboscopic fury, down on the lower field deep in battle – capture the flag, a soccer match, or once a year, Civil War Day, when the campus transformed into an anachronistic array of pitched tents and children eating hardtack, and watching carefully hewn surgical tools cut off each other’s limbs. They divided us Yankees up and no one was sure how to feign team pride for the confederacy. Special treatment heralded the percussionists in band; they were given titles to control the marching paces when we squared off on the white lined football field. We heard the dean speak. We heard Lincoln. I don’t think any of us quite bought it.
I flew to the nurse’s office, in my fifth year, like ants to a dropped lollipop. The walk through the renovated buildings opened up into the mysterious and dark lair where the nurse worked. Tapestries flank the walls. The ceiling, though unpainted, has patterned woodwork woven through it. One time I watched as a girl of seven vomited on the antique paneling of the drawing room. Despite the heat beading on my forehead, I opened a crack hidden in the wall and closed myself into the narrow stairwell behind it.
There were three ways into the attic that I know of. One, an official door under key at all times. The second, the wall panel by the nurses office. The third through the high window in the three year olds building. No one tried to climb in. It was there to peer into, some witchlike looking glass. A special task force of children sent ourselves to keep watch, should the haunted lady ever make an appearance. We all claimed to see her, of course. I can remember the curve of her wrist as it rose gracefully to retrieve a pin from her hair. The lace on her dress wavered incandescently in soft sunlight. But she does not exist, of course.
As the fresh woodchips of the playground lost their color, the spirits of the linoleum lined classrooms diffused into the sloping mountain. They trickled between the plaster and flowed high to the upper fields where they pooled on the edges of the tree line.
The woods were no secret to us and we dove into them regularly. Between trees poked wires and finished wood. The trees kept the winds at bay. The fields, adjacent, could be fragmented by whistling patches. Sometimes the wind blew so far that we could lean into it and never fall down. We lost many soccer balls to the thistles. The ropes and wires were hung in trees, and the only thing preventing the ishkabbibles from climbing them was that the rungs began eight feet up. The ropes course was required for a year, but only the adventurous claimed it as a sport. Each day was a different feat, and the greatest of all was the pamper plank.
A scrap of wood was nailed to a tree; the small platform, atop a thirty-foot roost, swayed at the peak of the mountain, and every breeze lurched the branches. There was always a harness, always a rope, but the placement of the latch, attached above and between the platform and the trapeze, eight feet out, pulled and tugged at the hips. Safety beckoned you over the edge. The eight feet to the metal bar seemed farther than the thirty feet below, than the extra ten foot dip to the field, than the view across the smaller trees to the castle-school, than the sprawling arms of Hartford below. When you jump you do not reach for the bar. You spread your arms like a tenement and fly for the tallest tower, crapping yourself with hope that you won’t crumble on the landing.
©2015 Lex Vex