Communication Gap

Sam frozen in Carbonite becomes the model model“You are quite the enigma.” Jerilee’s new foster mother studied the smiling girl. This was the child’s third full day in the home. Mama Fernandez moved clean socks from a red to a yellow basket as she tucked pairs together. “It’s certainly pleasant to be in your company,” she continued. “Does the racket bother you here?”

Jerilee went on smiling and began kicking her feet against the bed. Mama Fernandez finished another pair of socks.“I talked to your teacher again today.  She said you got a 100 on the spelling test all three times you turned it in. But she wants you to remember you aren’t responsible for your classmates’ work.”

Possibly, Jerilee bobbed her head. Possibly, she just smiled more. “Anyway,” said Mama Fernandez, “I wondered if I could get your help with some of this folding?” With one foot, she nudged a blue basket of shirts across the floor.

Immediately, Jerilee scrambled backwards on the bed, stretched her legs long, reached out her hands until they wrapped under the soles of her feet, then buried her nose in between her knees.

“That’s very good dear!” Said Mama Fernandez. “But I meant I’d like you to help fold laundry, not yourself.”

Jerilee picked up her head and tilted it without letting go of her feet.

“Here. Can I have your hand?” Mama Fernandez put an unmatched sock back in the red basket.

Jerilee extended her left arm, still without changing her pose. Mama Fernandez put the blue basket on the bed, then gently sat the girl up and guided both of her hands. She moved Jerilee through the motions, then stepped back and smiled as the folding continued without her.

Just a few hours later, though, Mama Fernandez was on the phone to Jerilee’s social worker. “Maggie?” she said, “I know you told me Jerilee likes to do chores, but you forgot to tell me how to make her stop. We’re running out of shirts!”


This is my submission for this week’s Trifecta competition, where the word of the week is enigma.

Jerilee is a composite of my daughter and several of her friends (on and off the spectrum), with the added quality that Jerilee is completely nonverbal and being shuttled around in foster care.  The story grew out of Caroline’s having to give blood a few weeks ago. The phlebotomist asked for Caroline’s arm, and pointed to the one she wanted.

Caroline gave her the other arm. I said, “You have to be really specific.”

The phlebotomist handed Caroline a red ball and said, “Now pump that fist for me.” Caroline gave her this quizzical look, because she knows ‘fist bump’ but not ‘fist pump’ and wasn’t sure if they were the same. So the phlebotomist demonstrated the motion. Caroline’s eyes lit up, and she pumped her opposite fist. After all, the fist the phlebotomist pumped didn’t have a ball in it.

The lady was actually really patient and she totally got everything on the first try, but Caroline’s efforts to do what was asked of her were running right up against her complete literal mindedness.

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Communication Gap — 27 Comments

    • I can only imagine how hard it would be to shuttle from home to home to home. To do so with a communication impairment of any kind would be so difficult. And then, too, for a foster parent to have to find the right way to reach out to a kid on the spectrum, that must also be a struggle. I think these two may just make it work, though.

  1. I was holding my breath for what will happen in the story. Towards the end, I was laughing loud.
    This is a nicely paced and developed piece. 🙂 It will be in my head for hours.
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    • Thanks! I’m glad it resonates with you :). I think there is tension inherent in the relationship. These two don’t know anything about each other, they don’t know where to extend trust, and Jerilee may not know HOW to extend it.

    • Yay! Caroline has that ‘hard to make her stop’ feature sometimes. And the answer is that you may as well just leave her alone until she decides she’s done. That may be the case for Jerilee as well, I’m not sure.

  2. JQ, I really liked this piece. You had me giggling at the end. Well done. You really developed the characters well in a small amount of time. Also, love the social workers name. 🙂
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  3. Great story! The girl’s personality comes through so well. I chuckled when she folded herself. If she runs out of folding there, we’ve got plenty 🙂
    Hop over and visit jannatwrites’s recent post Dear DiaryMy Profile

    • No kidding! We do, too. Caroline is a champion sock folder, with added expertise in finagling quarters out of us in payment.

  4. I really like both of these characters. You’ve portrayed them so well. Mama Fernandez, full of patience and love. And Jerilee with her spelling test(s) and her literal understanding of the world. Please write more of these characters!
    Hop over and visit kgwaite’s recent post The Fullness of the MoonMy Profile

    • Thanks! Not familiar with character (confesses to complete TV avoidance problems) but it’s cool to have evoked something specific for a reader 🙂

  5. thanks for all your comments on my enigma post! LOl. Nope, don’t make jester hats and my Etsy is gathering dust. But I’m very touched that you are “in love” with my mom. She needs all the love she can get. Also really interesting to hear how your character is a “composit” which I think is true of my characters as well; going into the third person of the eldery woman is a way of exploring what my mother is going through. At the same time, it isn’t really her personality. And most of my memoir stuff is finally, fictionally finessed. Love this challenge! I was missing A-Z.
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    • Stupid WordPress dumped you into spam, and I had to save you! Sheesh. Sorry it took so long. I think the very definition of creative nonfiction is life written as if it were fiction. For me, that means that as long as I’m true to the experience, I’m more than happy to put words into people’s mouths as long as it’s about what they would have said anyway. I love your Mom’s spirit and her independence. I’ve always admired the people who grow old without giving up their lives, no matter what obstacles they face. My grandparents were all like that. (I still have one, he turns 97 in … oh I’d better get that card in the mail … TUESDAY!!) I can’t imagine when you would have time to knit right now anyway! Your life sounds tremendously full.

    • You got dumped into my spam folder by idiotic wordpress. I found and saved you. But SHEESH it took me long enough, didn’t it? Anyway, thanks for dropping by!

  6. I love this story, and I can just see her fold herself up in a little wad. At first, I envisioned something dreadful happening; you left that open. The ending was perfect.

  7. This was so sweet and childlike. Reminds me of a book I loved as a little girl, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. Amelia’s a maid, and a very literal one at that. When the woman she works for asks her to “put out the lights,” she removes all the lightbulbs and takes them outside.

  8. The warmth and ease really come through in this piece. It’s lovely to have a picture of a nurturing foster care relationship painted instead of the typical negative views portrayed in the media.
    Thanks for playing. Please come back and join us for the new prompt.
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