Chapter 36: The Joy of Reading
“And here’s another picture of Copernicus, and here’s another picture of Copernicus. and here’s another picture of Copernicus,” Susan continues on and on, flipping through pictures on her laptop, rather quickly for Ilona’s taste.
“Now just wait a second, I’ll get the next batch of photos,” Susan states, about to click another button.
“Ahum!” a voice calls out to them, causing Ilona and Susan to glance up.
They see, standing before them, Collette. Behind her is the SummerFall playground, all a bustle with activity and craziness and sights that seems quite normal. Further off in the distance, Clara is chasing Madison and shouting something about… muffins? Ilona cannot quite make it out from where she and Susan are sitting by the wall.
“Endlessly showing Ilona your endless albums of Copernucis, I see? Half of these she has probably already seen?” Collette lectures, tapping her foot.
“And if I am?” Susan replies defensibly, “Copernicus is an amazingly photogenic cat, she really captures th–”
“Full stop!” Collette cuts her off. “What about the Lost finale you are writing? Remember that? Hmm? Or are you simply procrastinating?”
Susan stares at Collette, clicks another button on her laptop, and a few seconds later a document full of text fills the screen.
“Did I ever tell you I hate it when you are right?” Susan says to Collette, than turns to Ilona, “Okay, the real reason I called you over is so that you can proofread and edit what I have already done so far.”
This stuns Ilona. “Proofread? Edit? But–” she stammers.
“You fixed my script for Clara’s Corner, so I figured you could fix this,” Susan explains, “and Collette knew about this, and gave me a justifiable whack for wasting time.”
Ilona looks from Susan to Collette and back again. “If you are sure…” she says.
Susan and Collette give Ilona a thumbs up. She carefully, tentatively takes the laptop and starts to glance at the screen.
“Oh good, Ilona is editing your script.”
Ilona looks up again, having not even started reading or editing or anything at all, and sees Cynthia standing beside Collette.
“I haven’t ever started yet,” Ilona says, wondering where Cynthia has been so far this morning.
“I kind of guessed that. Susan has been putting off asking you for days,” Cynthia gazes at Susan.
Susan puts her hands on her hips and pouts, than stops. “I was about to say I wasn’t putting it off, but I was, so I can’t be indignant.”
“And speaking of putting things off,” Cynthia moves her gaze to Ilona, “you told me you finished the letter to the author of the book with the trident on the cover, but have you mailed it yet?”
Ilona stares at Cynthia and gulps.
“Would you believe me if I said yes?” Ilona replies.
“Nope!” Cynthia shakes her head, giving off a motherly vibe.
“She is suuuch a taskmaster,” Susan stage whispers to Ilona, who nods in agreement.
Madison, carrying Clara on her back, almost collides with Collette and Cynthia as she runs up.
“Muffin!” Clara shouts, playfully punching Madison in the side.
“Muffin!” Madison shouts back.
Ilona, Cynthia, Collette and Susan exchange glances of confusion.
“Okay, who wants to ask? Okay I will. Muffin?” Collette raises her eyebrows.
“Yes! Muffin!” Clara shouts. “Yeehaa Muffins!”
“Muffin muffin muffin!” Madison squeals out, huffing and puffing, “But enough about your obsessions with muffins, where you been this morning Cynthia? Rounding up another foster kid? Saving the world? Training dragons?”
Cynthia laughs and smirks. “No, no, nothing that exciting. Mrs Travis texted me this morning, wanting to ask me about something at SummerFall. So I went by the office, we had a nice little chat, and now everything is all straightened out.”
Cynthia finishes. Everyone stares at her.
“Well? What was the big deal at SummerFall? Details!” Collette snaps out, thrusting her hands in the air.
Cynthia giggles. “Somehow I knew my dramatic pause would drive everyone insane. And the first to break was Collette. Surprising it was not Maddie.”
“That is because I am centered now. All because of the muffin,” Madison declares. Clara giggles out, “muffin.”
Everyone stares at them again.
“Anyway,” Cynthia says with a shake of her head, “Mrs. Travis was… concerned about the Grade Five Reading Partnership this year. Turns out, several of the grade fives who participated last year whined and complained about it.” Cynthia shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t get why, but some did. So Mrs. Travis wanted to know if there was any interest from the grade fives this year. I told her I was fairly certain, so we put up the sign up sheet.”
“People complained?” Clara says with a look of surprise. “Were these people stupid or just plain dumb?”
“Indeed. I have been looking forward to this for years and years,” Collette states, “How could anyone not love it?”
Cynthia gently waves her hands in a reassuring way. “I know, I know, I feel the same way. But the important part is that it is happening. And I take it, by a show of hands, that we are all joining in?”
Everyone’s hand went up, even Madison and Clara’s, which required some readjustment of both because of one carrying the other. And Ilona raises her hand as well, even though she has no idea of what Cynthia is talking about.
“Great,” Cynthia smiles, “We can all sign up when we go inside. This will be very very fun.”
“Ummm,” Ilona says as she lowers her hand, “What is this grade five reading partnership?”
She notices most of her friends glancing at her, but Cynthia pipes in right away.
“Every year, going back to the dawn of time, volunteers in grade five go to the kindergarten class and reads to a child. You sit out in the hallway, on that comfy old brown couch, with a small pile of wonderful books, and give them the love of reading.”
Clara, trying to stay on Madison’s back, huffs out, “When I was in kindergarten, I was read to by Tracey. That was amazing.”
Madison, grunting while shifting Clara around, sputters out, “I got Josh. The. Best. Ever.”
Ilona pushes her thoughts back, further and further, going pass this year and grade three once, and grade three twice, to finally settle on that long ago kindergarten. Focusing on a someone, sitting with her on an old brown couch that felt so big and full of love, and slowly only pulling a name out of memory. A name which Ilona can now associate with books and early companionship and caring, all of which her kindergarten self now vividly recalls about her grade five friend. A name now popping out of Ilona’s mouth, bringing a smile to her memory.
“Joy,” Ilona says, “Her name was Joy. She was my grade five reader. Joy. She was so nice.”
Cynthia, Clara and Madison exchange looks. Cynthia pulls out her smartphone, presses a bunch of buttons, than turns to Ilona.
“This girl who read to you in kindergarten, Joy, is this her?” Cynthia hands her smartphone to Ilona. She looks at the picture and sees the years spiral backwards in her mind. The face from the couch, now becoming clearer and clearer, meshes oh so well with the face on the phone, so fuller and fuller. This teenage girl was once the preteen she knew as Joy, that much is abundantly true. And Ilona slowly realizes, this teenage girl is still Joy. Still the Joy who read to Ilona. And in many ways, first sparked in Ilona the joy of reading. A joy only rekindled recently.
“Yes, that is her. That is Joy,” Ilona replies with a calmness and serenity that soothes her soul. A piece from her past has now come back. And all is right.
“This is Joy. She is in grade eleven at Trudeau High School. She sees Joshua, Tracey and Sarah all the time,” Cynthia explains, “would you like to see her again?”
Hope fills every part of Ilona as she pipes out a hearty “Yes! Yes, that would be wonderful! But would she remember me?”
Cynthia starts tapping on her phone. “Sending Joshua a text right now. She may not reply right away, I understand Joy is quite busy with afterschool work, but I am fairly certain she will remember you Ilona. Joy is just like her name.”
Hitting send, Cynthia then glances up as the school bell rings away. Ilona and her friends straggle on into SummerFall and enter their respective classrooms. After another wonderful morning with Mrs. Chase, flipping chalk and learning amazing mathematics, Ilona and her friends meet-up quickly at lunch outside the school office.
One by one, they print their names on the Grade Five Reading Partnership sheet. When Ilona’s turn comes, she thinks back to all those years back, and how Joy took this exact same step. That led Joy to Ilona. Who would this lead Ilona to? Making sure her penmanship is perfect, Ilona signs on, looking forward to this future.
Lunch passes, as does the lunch hour, with a double group high five occurring, all because Collette completed The Fault In Our Stars and Cecily has finished The Adventures of Superhero Girl. Lunch hour ends with several beeps on Clara’s smartphone causing her to show something to Susan, making them both ramble while lining up. The afternoon flies by with pleasure as Mrs. Chase entrances Ilona and the class with learning disguised as fun.
The end of the day has much chattering between the friends. Talk of a book for Cynthia and Collette and talk of a beep for Clara and Susan. As everyone slowly departs, Ilona gives a small silent nod to Cynthia, who smiles back.
After crossing the park, Ilona walks with a purpose towards the end of the street. Kneeling down and pulling open her bag, Ilona stares at one of the contents. What had started with carefully written words by a favourite pencil, was retyped and finished on a laptop. Pages and pages long, she could feel the weight of her thoughts in her hands. Feeling determination absent from before, she pulls the envelope free from her schoolbag and stands up.
Ilona opens up the mailbox and puts her letter to the author of the trident book inside. Promise kept, she thinks, promise kept.
Song For This Chapter: Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day by Morcheeba
First serialization started on Friday, June 7th, 2013.