Friday, April 10, 2009

Shasta the Explorer

(excerpt from High Tide)

Shasta comes to find me after school. My case notes, Weekly Summary Report, and Needs Assessments have been updated; so I take the time to pay back some of the attention she missed yesterday.

“What did you study in school today?”

“We studied the explorers that came to California,” she says in a disappointed tone.

“Explorers?” I ask with piqued interest. “Why don’t you be the guide and we can explore your short cut?” I deliberately demonstrate I had paid attention to what she said this morning.

“Well okay, but you can’t tell no one else,” she insists with deadly certainty.

“Deal!” I agree and offer her a pinkie-promise as a sign of my sincerity.

Quickly, Shasta hunkers down and tiptoes down the hall in the direction of the alcove where the staff hang their coats.

I follow behind her a slight distance.

She stops abruptly and turns toward me. “You gotta get down!” she harshly whispers the command, motioning me lower with her hand.

“Of course,” I whisper. “And that would be because of–”

Shasta stands up straight, hands on her hips, seemingly annoyed with my adult ignorance. "Because of the bears! Haven’t you seen the California flag?” Her voice is full of indignation and disappointment in me.

Quickly, I stoop down. I’ve seen the flag. I know enough to hide from bears. My Mamma didn’t raise no fool!

We tiptoe near the wall as if in step to Henry Mancini’s ‘Pink Panther.’ Rushing to stand flat against the wall next to a statue of Saint Ann, Shasta motions for me to do likewise. I don’t even want to think about what we look like sneaking around the hallways of the convent. I can just imagine what would happen if Mother Elizabeth came around the corner.

We tiptoe past the saint and down the hall in tandem, then slip in an alcove behind the statue of Saint Ursula. Shasta pushes on the wall behind Ursula.

I look back to make sure we weren’t seen. However I am sure our names would have been sounded had any one of the sisters noticed us. A faint click earns my undivided attention. To my surprise, Shasta pushes open the panel to a hidden passageway. It’s an interior hallway, but there is sunlight coming through narrow horizontal windows high in the walls.

“Wow! How did you find this?” I whisper my amazement, as Shasta shuts the secret door behind us.

“I’m a kid!” She beams.

Of course! I think sarcastically. That explains it! I simply smile and nod understanding.

Shasta leads hastily to a door with a small window. “Lift me up,” she requests. “I wanna see inside.”

No wonder she agreed to show me the secret passage without protest; she has an agenda of her own. I marvel at how long she must have wanted to see in the window. Before I agree to help her look, I peek through the window to see if there is something she shouldn’t see beyond the door. It looks safe enough for a child’s eyes.

“Come here, Little One. Ah, you grew while I was away!”

Shasta giggles at the thought she grew so much in one day. Growing is a big thing to a first grader. She slides her arm around my neck, and leans closer to the door to see through the window.

Together, we look through the glass at an open-air courtyard garden fully in bloom around a larger-than-life size gray statue. Although the statue is facing away, from the look of it it’s a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of these Franciscan nuns. There is a marble bench in front of the statue.

Shasta nudges me. We both catch a glimpse of a brown-robed nun move from the bench. My instincts scream, Run!

From High Tide


  1. I know it looks long-ish, but that is only because I couldn't tab the conversations. It's a quick read, I promise.

  2. Ah, Thank you, Andy. I think I might put something in from Storm Surge next week. I'm aiming to put in excerpts that haven't ever been posted (anywhere) on the internet.