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[Friday, January 16, 2015]
After Heron and Mallory finished
their Friday morning classes,
they packed up Dairinne.
"You rented a car?"
Mallory said, looking at
Heron. "I've just about
gotten used to you using
teleporters all the time,
and now you switch."
"I want to drive through
Allerton Park on the way to
the Circle School," Heron said.
"Besides, this gives us a place
to stash whatever handouts
we get at the other schools."
"Fair enough," Mallory said,
and off they all went.
On the way, they stopped
at Starflower Montessori School.
Heron collected literature and
listened carefully to a description
about how the school worked.
Dairinne babbled her approval
of the infant room while Mallory
strolled around to watch the babies
crawl over quilts and little bridges.
"Mi-mi-mi!" Dairinne said, reaching
for one of the big wall mirrors.
"This is a mirror," the teacher said.
"When you move, your reflection
moves, too! Isn't that exciting?"
"Well, I guess that's a vote for
Reflétant l’école this summer, but
it's nice to know that Dairinne likes
Montessori materials," said Mallory.
"You can buy many of these for home use,
including the mirrors," the teacher said.
"Her grandparents already have a ton
of this stuff to share, but yeah, a mirror
might be a good idea," Mallory said,
making a note on her smartphone.
"We can pick one out in the car,"
Heron said with a nod.
It took some poking around,
and a lot of Mallory reading
descriptions to Heron as he
drove, but they finally found
a fantastic unit with mirrors of
different shapes and a pull-up bar.
At the Dellingr Waldorf School,
the receptionist exclaimed, "Mallory!
It's so good to see you again. What
brings you here, though? There's
no performance planned today."
Mallory pointed at Dairinne,
who was trying to squirm
out of the sling as Heron
tried to stuff her back in.
"That's why," Mallory said.
"We're investigating schools."
"I'm afraid that ours doesn't start
until toddlers are potty trained,"
the receptionist said. "Let me
get you some literature, though --
it never hurts to start looking early."
"Thanks," Mallory said. "We're running
out of time for the 'whatever happens'
approach to baby education, though."
"She's already reaching for things,"
Heron said. "We want to be prepared
whenever she's ready for real school."
"Well, you can do a lot of Waldorf things
at home," said the receptionist. "Here,
we've got flyers for our favorite suppliers
of toys, art supplies, and books."
Mallory laughed. "So far,
Dairinne's favorite art supply
is pureed fruit," she said.
"That's a great place to start,"
the receptionist agreed.
Heron took the flyers anyway.
"They'll still be fun to browse."
There was a map of the school,
too, and they even got to take
a peek at the toddler room.
"Everything's too big for her,"
Mallory said. "Some of this stuff
is great, but the Montessori nursery
was a better fit, physically."
"We're still just exploring,"
Heron said. "Let's see what
the Circle School has to offer.
I never did get to their nursery;
I was working with older students."
So they piled back into the car
and drove through the drab fields
where stubble poked through
the low drifts of snow.
When they came to the park,
trees rose up around them.
A cardinal flitted across the road
ahead of them, a bright streak of red
in a landscape of brown and white.
"Your darling daughter is sleeping
through the educational experience
you planned," Mallory said dryly.
"That's okay," Heron said. "She
can still smell the trees and
hear the birds singing."
"Smell the trees?"
Mallory said, bemused.
"There are evergreens
here and there," Heron said.
"Take a deep breath, Mallory --
do you smell the pines?"
Mallory sniffed, then said,
"Huh. Yeah, I do. I didn't
even notice that until
you mentioned it."
"The natural world
teaches you to notice
things," Heron said. "If
you don't, it can give you
a sharp reminder."
Even in the winter,
Allerton Park was pretty.
They watched the trees
go by, and Heron pointed out
the visitor center and other facilities.
Just beyond the park, they spotted
a sign that read, Allerton Circle School.
"Here we are," Heron said as they
turned into the road that wound
through the schools grounds.
"Wow, that's a lot of round buildings!"
Mallory said, staring out the window."
"Yes," Heron said. "Pagans tend
to see the world as a series of cycles.
They use circles and spirals to represent
that. Besides, in a round classroom,
nobody can get put in a corner."
"Like King Arthur and the knights
of the Round Table," Mallory said.
"With no head seat at the table,
they were all equals there."
"Exactly," Heron said.
"Sitting in a circle makes it
easier to see and hear what
everyone else says, rather than
the teacher on one side and
all the students on the other."
They parked the car and walked
toward the nearest building,
which was small and round.
"Here is the front office,"
Heron said. "Most of
the administrative offices
are in the lodge on the far side
of the school grounds, but this
takes care of the everyday stuff."
Inside, the office held desks around
half the wall, with a kitchenette and a row
of office machines on the other side.
A half-round couch and coffee table
filled the center of the room. Pots of
blooming flowers stood on its back.
Heron chatted amiably with the secretary,
who encouraged them to walk around
and explore the school grounds.
Then a teacher walked in, clad
in a winter robe of deep teal wool
trimmed with gray, sage-green boots
just visible under the long hem.
"Do you have my scavenger pages
printed out?" she asked softly.
"Printer four," the secretary said.
Meanwhile Dairinne had turned into
a greased piglet in the baby sling,
squealing and trying to reach for
the stranger in the vivid robe.
Energy rippled faintly.
"Some discretion, please,
my treasure," Heron murmured.
"Sorry about that," Mallory said.
"We're still trying to teach
her not to grope people."
"All babies love pretty things,"
the teacher said serenely, "and
the forest is so very pretty,
isn't it, little one?"
"Anyhow, I'm Mallory,
that's Heron, and Dairinne
is the one trying to climb
all over you," she said.
"I'm Alfreda Wilby. I teach
here, mostly younger students,"
the woman said. "Shall we see
if she'll let me hold her?"
"Good luck with that,"
Mallory muttered. "She's
been squirmy all day, except
when she slept through
the picturesque drive."
"Perhaps she'll get another
chance to see it," Alfreda said
as she took hold of the baby.
Dairinne promptly knocked off
the hood of her robe, revealing
long brown hair and pointed ears.
"That's ... interesting," Heron said.
"Oh, the ears?" Alfreda said.
"They run in the family. It's nice
to work in a place where people
don't stare at how I look or dress."
"Hear, hear," Mallory said firmly.
"Harassment really sucks."
"Would you like me to show you
around the school?" Alfreda offered.
"I can ask another teacher to take over
the scavenger hunt for my students."
"If it's not too much trouble, then
yes, please," Heron said. "I've been
here before, but as part of a program,
not as a prospective parent."
"No trouble at all," Alfreda said
as she gathered her worksheets
in one hand, expertly supporting
the baby with the other hand.
They followed her outside, where
children played in the snow, or where
it had melted, in the half-frozen mud.
"Are you ready for the nature walk?"
a little boy asked, bounding over
to cling to Alfreda's skirts.
"I need to take these people
on a tour of our school, so
Marten will help you with
your scavenger hunt now,"
Alfreda explained as she
handed over the worksheets.
A bearded man brought
a stack of clipboards with
attached markers. "Put
your page on here, and
after you finish marking it,
you will be able to show
your parents what you
did in school today."
Heron noticed that
the children organized
themselves quite neatly
without further prompting.
The older ones helped
the younger ones to fasten
the worksheets on clipboards.
"To find: twig, pine needle,
pine cone, moss," a boy read.
"Pine for the Green Man, and
moss for Lady Greensleeves!"
a girl replied, pointing to them.
"Shall we walk?" Alfreda asked.
"Sure," Mallory said. "This place
is beautiful, if nothing else."
"Thank you," Alfreda said.
"As you can see, most of
our buildings are round, but
we have some legacy ones like
the Mooncoin School Store. It
used to be a farmhouse, and
now the first floor is a store while
the upstairs is an apartment."
"There is the nurse's office,"
Heron said, pointing. "It has space
for Healthy Touch, and offers first aid
in conventional and alternative styles."
"Yes, there's a form for your preferences,"
Alfreda said. "Student needs vary."
"Call Heron," Mallory said succinctly.
"We're still working out what to use
for ordinary first aid, but yes, if it can't
be fixed with a kit, call me," Heron said.
"These are counseling spaces," Alfreda said.
"The larger one is Roundel's office, and
the small one is just big enough for
a couple of chairs for people to sit
and solve a problem in private.
We have private spaces scattered
around the school grounds, too."
"That's good," Mallory said.
"Some stuff really shouldn't be
belted out in the Quadrangle."
Heron chuckled. "That's why
I asked to take it home, and
it's turned out just fine."
"Eee!" said Dairinne.
"Oh, look at all the birds,"
Alfreda said. "I see cardinals,
sparrows, and dark-eyed juncos."
A large flock fluttered and pecked
around a hopper feeder and
a squirrel-a-gig of corncobs.
"That is a lot of birds,"
Mallory said, staring.
"We're right next to
Allerton Park and we
have the Sangamon River
running through, so we see
most birds native to this area,"
Alfreda said. "The children always
have something interesting to watch."
"Dairinne is excitable but doesn't have
much attention span yet," Heron said.
"Well, you don't have to enroll her
full-time at first," Alfreda said. "We
have a very flexible schedule here."
"Oh, what are the options?" Heron said.
"We want to offer Dairinne opportunities
without overwhelming her in the process."
"Students may attend for one, two, four,
eight, or twelve hours; and one, three,
five, or seven days a week," Alfreda said.
"Babies often start with just one or two hours
and one or three days a week. We also have
a drop-in option, but it's more expensive."
"Not really a concern," Heron said,
shaking his head. "If it becomes one,
I have some high-value barter services
that might interest the administrators."
"We could certainly use a healer,"
Alfreda said. "Life can get rough."
Heron froze. "That's not ...
common knowledge. I was
referring to my massage therapy.
I did a Healthy Touch project here."
"Forgive me," Alfreda said. "It's hard
for me to remember what other people
can't see or don't know. I'm sensitive
to energy, and when you said 'value,' well,
I thought that you were working openly."
"I'm just getting started," Heron said.
"I have been very private about
what I can do until quite recently."
"Then I will be discreet," Alfreda said.
"Moving along, we're open year-round.
We encourage, but don't require, both staff
and students to take a three-month vacation.
Some like to work two months on, one month off.
It's easier to arrange family vacations when
school doesn't have a rigid schedule."
"That sounds awesome," Mallory said.
"We get around a lot, these days."
With them living in Illinois and family
in California and North Carolina,
that kind of travel was inevitable.
"Well, you can set the schedule as
short or long as you like," Alfreda said.
"Just understand that when it's long,
people tend to get very attached to
each other. We're like a big family,
or a clan. I live right near here
at Open Circle Organic Farm."
Heron gave a rare smile.
"That definitely appeals,"
he said. "We're clannish too."
"Oh, now you've done it,"
Mallory said, rolling her eyes.
"You'll never get rid of him."
"A gain for everyone, I think,"
Alfreda said. "These are some of
our classrooms." She pointed out
more little round buildings. "We have
rooms with chairs, with desks, and
others empty for free movement."
"That's good," Heron said.
"Public schools keep students
sitting around far too long."
"We prefer to let children be
children -- to run and play and
explore the forest," Alfreda said.
"Classrooms are nice when it's cold,
or for storing materials, but they're
not the only place to learn. We
have plenty of story circles, too."
"What's the little lump on that building?"
Mallory said. "They're not all round."
"Some buildings have an extra room
for storage or other uses," Alfreda said.
"That one is a dottie. There isn't
room for a big public restroom
in most of our buildings."
Heron's mouth quirked up.
"That's nice and inclusive."
Alfreda pointed toward another
tucked under some trees at
the edge of a little prairie.
"That's a garden classroom,"
she said. "We teach permaculture,
flower correspondences, and so on."
"We helped put in a pollinator garden,"
Mallory said. "That was kind of fun."
"Here is one of our infant rooms,"
Alfreda said. "Shall we peek inside?"
"Yes, please," Heron said at once.
Inside, the room had a tile floor
dotted with several round rugs in
different materials -- a cork mat with
a tree and buildings, a braided rag rug
with the sun and moon, and a pile rug of
Native American symbols and virtues.
Most of the furnishings were wood
or fabric in soft natural colors, but
two kids had brightly-colored Duplos
and the tribal rug was vivid as well.
There were four children and
two teachers in the room already,
most of whom looked up at the guests.
Alfreda made quick introductions,
then placed Dairinne on rag rug.
"Look, it's the sun and the moon!"
Dairinne patted the rug, fascinated
by the range of textures it had.
Mallory wandered around the room.
There were cushions and blankets on
the floor for making nests. One stool
had a crocheted top, another plain wood.
A small rocking horse waited for a rider.
The room was pleasant but not too busy,
and it wasn't plastered in candy colors
like most preschools seemed to be.
Heron chatted with the teachers
and the infants old enough to talk.
All of them seemed happy and healthy
and pleased with the school. The two
playing with Duplos were even paying
more attention to each other than
usual for children that young.
"This looks very promising,"
Heron said, scooping up Dairinne
and putting her back in the sling.
She was starting to fall asleep.
They went back outside, where Alfreda
pointed out another group of round buildings.
"This is our Little Mystics Cluster," she said.
"It offers a reading room with children's books for
preschool age, a math room with manipulatives,
a soft play room, a general classroom, and
an open pavilion for outdoor education."
As they watched, several children
bundled in heavy winter coats left
the general classroom and went
inside the soft play room.
"They don't have a teacher
with them," Mallory said.
"We teach responsibility and
independence here," Alfreda said.
"When children get old enough to follow
a plan, they can walk from one building
to another. Teachers watch from
a window. Did you see the door
open before they reached it?"
"I did," Heron said, his eyes
smiling. "My parents arranged
for our neighbors to watch us
while we walked to school."
"Here, everyone walks!"
Alfreda said. "We don't need
to separate physical education
because we naturally move around
all day. We have some housing
for school staff and live-in parents,
which makes it easy to walk to school
in addition to walking between buildings."
"Live-in parents?" Mallory wondered.
"Parents whose children attend the school
but who don't work here themselves,"
Alfreda said. "There are also families
who live in nearby farmhouses, so we
have a bus that picks them up."
"That's convenient," Heron said.
"We live in Urbanburg at present,
but I see the drive as an asset."
"Many people do," Alfreda said.
"It gives them a chance to watch
the world go through the seasons.
You can talk about what you see with
your daughter and help her learn more."
Mallory laughed. "Nah, Aunt Aida is
the one who turns into a nature program
when you put her outside. Heron is quiet."
"It takes all kinds," Heron said serenely.
"Yes, that's why we offer a wide variety
of learning environments," Alfreda said.
"There's the Kore Room up ahead, which
had lots of educational toys for toddler
and preschool ages inside. Nearby you
can see a couple of our classrooms for
slightly older kids that have desks."
"Clever Cat Room?" Mallory said,
reading the sign on another building.
"Some of our classrooms have a theme,"
Alfreda explained. "That one has materials
for learning about animals. The Dream Catcher
can be used for things like yoga nidra or as
a nap room. We're pretty flexible here."
"That sounds useful," Heron said.
"It encourages people to move around
and keeps the space from getting cluttered."
"Exactly!" Alfreda said. "Here are some of
our specialty rooms for different religions.
This is the Wicca Room for witchcraft."
"Interesting," Heron said, and then
Dairinne began to fuss. "Excuse me,
that sounds like a diaper cry. Where
is the nearest restroom we could use?"
"The Wicca Room has a dottie,"
Alfreda said, leading the way.
Heron followed her inside
and made use of the bathroom.
With Dairinne back in the sling,
he investigated the classroom.
A bank of windows wrapped
around one wall, each with a statue
perched on the windowsill below it.
The other side of the round room
held a set of tall narrow tapestries,
showing a different god or goddess.
"Who are all these?" Mallory said.
"This is the Moon Goddess, who goes
by many names -- Artemis, Diana,
Selene, Hecate," said Alfreda.
"I know the next one," Heron said.
"Brigid is the goddess of bards,
healers, and blacksmiths."
"Also the goddess of fire,"
Alfreda said. She went around
the room, naming each deity
and their main associations.
They went back outside, where
Alfreda indicated the Druid Room
and the Asatru Room, each with
a slightly different tree theme.
"There's the Hindu Room and
the Tantra Room," Alfreda said. "We
have comprehensive sex education for
interested students, so that minimizes
the hassles that we have with teens."
"Good to hear," Heron said. "I'm
asexual myself, but my parents are
doctors, so we got all the details."
"That's a relief. Some parents argue,"
Alfreda said. "Here is the Buddhist Room,
also used for other types of meditation."
"Holy cow, what's that?" Mallory exclaimed,
pointing at a bird-shaped pavilion.
Wooden shingles shaped the wings
and body, mantling over a stone pit with
a podium in front and seats around the back.
A hooked beak suggested a bird of prey.
"It's the Shamanism Pavilion," Alfreda said.
"They hold most of their classes outside."
The next building had a deck out front,
where several tweens sat at a table
sanding small pieces of wood.
"Upcycling class," Alfreda said.
"We teach all students the basics
of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore.
Those with a particular knack for it
can take more advanced lessons."
"I am heartily in favor of that,"
Heron said. "My family may be
comfortable now, but it wasn't always
like that. I want Dairinne to know
how to make do, not waste things."
"The yoga studio is one of
our bigger buildings," Alfreda said,
indicating a roundhouse at the end
of the loop. "We hold classes there
for adults as well as children, and
a lot of parents like to attend."
"There's a thought," Heron said,
giving the studio a longer look.
It was a handsome building
that looked out over a field of
now-dead grass that was
probably gorgeous in spring,
with an avenue of bare trunks
leading toward the door.
The path curved around to lead
back toward the main gate, and they
saw several more big buildings.
"This is our multipurpose room,"
Alfreda said. "It has space
for larger gatherings."
"I hear music," Mallory said,
speeding up to follow it.
"The next one is our music room,"
Alfreda said. "Everyone learns
the basics like drum and recorder.
For interested students, we offer
lessons in many more instruments
including guitar, lute, and lap harp.
Some faiths have their own --
Asatru teaches the oxhorn."
"Music is good," Mallory said.
"I took theatre in college before I
moved on to computer programming,
so I knew a lot of music majors who
played for our performances. Dairinne
should have a chance to see if she likes it."
Dairinne was indeed looking around
to investigate the interesting sounds.
A harsh screech came from a small building,
making her screw up her face and cry.
"Violin practice," Alfreda said
with a tolerant smile. "We have
small practice rooms so that
mistakes are less obtrusive."
"Somewhat less obtrusive,"
Mallory muttered, hurrying on.
Ahead of them, a sign announced
the upcoming schedule for
practices and performances
in the theatre behind it.
The next building was
an open-air dance hall with
sliding wooden panels.
A team of teenagers
worked with brooms and
snow shovels to clear
the area around it.
"You don't have
that?" Mallory said.
"Of course we do,"
Alfreda said. "One of
them is supervising, see?"
She pointed to a big man
in a brown uniform.
"Then why are the kids
doing it?" Mallory said.
"Students can volunteer
to earn privileges, or they can
get on-the-job experience if they
want a career in groundskeeping
or landscaping," Alfreda said. "We
provide references, and a lot of
our graduates pick outdoor jobs."
"Nature religions," Heron murmured.
"It makes sense that they wouldn't
care to be cooped up all day."
"Speaking of religion, this
is our temple," Alfreda said,
waving at a large yurt with
blue knotwork on the outside.
"Would you like to see it?"
"Sure, why not," Mallory said.
Churches might be boring, but
most of them were beautiful.
Inside, the wooden floor was
covered with hand-loomed rugs
in a riot of different colors.
Under the watchful eye of a teacher,
a group of children in all ages piled
cushions and ottomans against
the round wall of the room.
Evergreens decorated the altar,
and the large crystalline skylight
had stained glass in the center.
"Wow," Mallory said. "It's gorgeous,
but it doesn't look anything like you
showed us in the Wicca Room."
"We use a mix of traditions,"
Alfreda said. "The current setup
draws a lot from the Near East.
Another day, it could look
The next several yurts were
much smaller, and Alfreda
indicated the junior library.
"Look," Heron said to Mallory.
"Have you noticed that almost
all of the decks here have
both stairs and ramps?"
"Yeah, that'll be convenient
if Uncle Simon comes to visit,"
Mallory said. "He'd love this place,
but I hope the trails are up to snuff."
"We have a wide variety of
trails for walking and riding,
some easy and others rugged,"
Alfreda said. "Pick any kind."
"I was more wondering if they're
capable of someone who likes
to drive his wheelchair over roots,
rocks, and all," Mallory said. "And he
makes Tolli haul it over fallen trees."
"Oh, do you think he'd consider
giving a demonstration?" Alfreda said.
"We like to invite outside presenters
to cover topics different from what
our regular staff can provide, and
we want to be inclusive."
Heron simply flipped open
his cert wallet to the pockets
which held business cards,
and gave her one of Simon's.
"Tell him I sent you, and which story
snagged your attention," Heron said.
"Or you can ask for the whole list."
"Tolli and Simon do all kinds of
stuff for Activity Scout troops and
other groups," Mallory said. "Once
I saw them put together a whole demo
on self-defense and communication
for me and my housemates, just
on the spur of the moment."
"It sounds like you have
a wonderful family," Alfreda said.
"We do," Heron said. "We're thinking
about homeschool for Dairinne, too --
my youngest brother is five, and
my parents would be happy
to add her into his lessons."
"Not a bad idea," Alfreda said,
instead of pushing them toward
her own school. "It really depends
on what kind of education you
want to arrange for Dairinne."
"Or what kind she wants,"
Mallory said pointedly.
Dairinne was evidently all
in favor of the place, though.
Smells of cooking food wafted
from the buildings ahead.
"The double building is for
home economics," Alfreda said.
"Beyond that are the school kitchen
and the cafeteria. We can support
special dietary needs if necessary."
"We don't know yet, but thank you
for mentioning that," Heron said.
Dairinne was making hungry noises
and trying to wriggle toward Mallory.
"Oh, no you don't," Mallory said.
"I'm not feeding you outside,
I'd freeze my tits off!"
"No problem," Alfreda said.
"We're almost back to the gate.
The Mooncoin School Store uses
their sun porch as a quiet room.
You can feed Dairinne in there."
"Good, let's hope we reach it
before she really raises a fuss,"
Mallory said, lengthening her stride.
Alfreda kept up, although she did
point out a few more attractions.
"These are legacy buildings from
Robert Allerton," she said, showing off
several spectacular rotundas. "That's
the conservatory, the astronomy room,
and the two-story senior library."
"Some other time, I would love
to dig into that library," Heron said.
"I got a glimpse of it before, and I
could happily lose whole days in there."
"We do that," Alfreda said, leading
them into the school store. "Okay,
spiritual supplies are here, the toys
and school stuff are over there, and
the sun porch is in the back."
Mallory took Dairinne and
headed for the sun porch,
Heron tagging along behind.
The walls were pale yellow,
but the ceiling still showed
the natural wood. A red rug
covered most of the floor, and
and a squashy green couch
sat looking over the yard.
Mallory opened the front of
her breastfeeding hoodie
and let Dairinne have lunch.
Not far from the windows
stood an iron post festooned
with different types of birdfeeders.
Goldfinches clung to a thistle sock
while house finches and cardinals
feasted in the fly-through feeder.
More finches sought the shelter of
a cage feeder serving mixed seeds.
"This place is beautiful, and
so full of life," Heron said quietly.
A woodpecker drummed on
a frozen suet cake, and
a chickadee flew down
to land on a ball feeder.
"Yeah, it is," Mallory said.
"I'm definitely not bored now."
Breastfeeding wasn't really
her favorite thing, but she knew
it was good for Dairinne. Mallory
just tried to find something else
to do besides stare at the baby.
After Dairinne finished, Mallory
rearranged their clothes, and
they went back into the store.
Alfreda was still waiting for them.
"How come you have a store
for the school?" Mallory asked.
"Some of our supplies aren't
easy to find at a regular store,"
Alfreda said. "It's just convenient
to have this here -- rather like
an ethnic grocery store."
Heron nodded. "It makes
sense to keep what you
need ready at hand."
"Besides, this way we can
use the store to teach math
and money skills," Alfreda said.
"Children are more motivated
to learn things they find useful.
They'll learn percentages if it
earns them a discount."
Mallory laughed. "That's
clever of you," she said.
"Would you like to see
the store?" Alfreda said.
"It would show you what
we use in classrooms and
various spiritual practices.
Proceeds from the sales go
to fund supplies for students
who can't afford their own."
"Yes, please," Heron said.
"This used to be a farmhouse,"
Alfreda said. "The main floor was
converted to a store, and the kitchen
moved upstairs to make an apartment
for the people who run the store."
"Yeah, a lot of places in Urbanburg
got cut down from big houses to make
student apartments," Mallory said.
Alfreda led them to the foyer.
"From here, the candle room is
ahead, and other altar supplies
are in the room to your right."
While the foyer walls were
a soft sage green, the candle room
was dark purple, lined with candles
in every color along with a case
of hoodoo powders and oils.
Heron pored over the latter
before selecting Steady Work.
"Jaliya likes these," he said.
"I figure it's appropriate for
her new business venture."
"Have you eaten her cooking?"
Mallory said. "Jaliya doesn't
need hoodoo to stay busy!"
"It can't hurt," Heron said mildly.
"I want her to know that I'm thinking
of her and support her efforts."
The next room was pale periwinkle
and held a huge array of altar tools,
stones, incense, Pagan books,
and devotional statues.
The children's room was
blue on two walls and
the rest vivid red-violet.
One wall had general supplies
for school such as scissors,
colored pencils, and pens.
Another held shelves of
mostly Montessori materials,
and a third had Waldorf toys
such as dolls and play silks.
The fourth offered Pagan toys,
children's books, coloring pages,
and seasonal decorations.
In the middle, a display table
held two sets of wooden toys
labeled Imbolc and Ostara.
"Imbolc is our next sabbat,
a fire festival," Alfreda said.
"Ostara comes next, similar
to Easter for spring renewal."
"It's like a crèche, but for
each holiday," Heron said.
"We should do that for Dairinne
after she gets old enough
to play with small parts."
When Mallory did not reply,
Heron turned to look for her
and found her filling her hands
with tiny, finger-sized felt dolls.
"Those are definitely too mature
for Dairinne," Heron pointed out.
"Who said anything about Dairinne?"
Mallory replied, grabbing another one.
"These are theatrical dolls, you can use
them to act out fairy tales and stuff. I
used to collect them when I was little."
"I didn't know that," Heron said.
"Do you want to get your collection
from home so you can display it?"
Mallory sighed. "Mom got rid of
all my 'kid stuff' when I started college."
Heron's sharp retort in Irish was
probably not suitable for little ears.
"Well, you can get those now and
we'll figure out a place to put them."
"Look, here's a little red witch,"
Mallory said. "Then this pair says
they're for Imbolc, and here's a set
for the sun, the moon, and the stars!"
"Those are adorable," Heron said.
"I can see why you like them."
"Then I saw these math ones,
but they're not quite as cute,"
Mallory went on, pointing to them.
"Oh, Edison would love those,"
Heron said. "Pick them up and
help me look for numbered sets."
"Numbered math gnomes are
right here," Alfreda said, directing
him to the relevant shelf. "These
come in a rainbow from one to ten."
Heron pulled out his smartphone
and made a quick call, then said,
"We'll take three sets of those,
never mind the price, Mum
and Da are buying them."
Dairinne kept reaching for
the brightly colored dolls.
"Looks like somebody
wants a souvenir of her own,"
Mallory said. "Come over here,
dumpling, and let's find you
a fuzzy toy you can have."
"We have a set of plushies
for the sun, moon, and stars
if you want to match yours,"
Alfreda suggested, indicating
a whole bookcase of soft toys.
"Perfect," Mallory said. "See,
Dairinne, now you have some
just like Mommy does!"
Dairinne giggled approval
of the bright yellow sun.
Alfreda brought them
a basket because Mallory
was struggling not to drop
any of the tiny, colorful dolls.
They checked out, and the clerk
gave them a reusable bag with
a holographic symbol of the moon
to hold all of their purchases, minus
the sun plushie that went to Dairinne.
"Thank you for showing us around
today," Heron said to Alfreda. "We've
had a wonderful time, and this looks like
a school where Dairinne could learn a lot."
"Yeah, it's been great," Mallory said.
"Dairinne, say bye-bye now."
"Buh-buh-buh," Dairinne said.
"Goodbye, Dairinne," said Alfreda.
"It was so nice to meet you. I
hope to see you again soon."
Mallory and Heron walked back
to their car and put Dairinne in
the carseat, then stowed
their bag of purchases.
As they pulled out of the gate,
Heron asked, "So what did you
think of the schools we saw today?"
"Starflower Montessori School
was nice, but I don't think it's
a great fit for us. We can use
the materials at home, though,"
Mallory said, shaking her head.
"Dellingr Waldorf School would
work, but doesn't take infants."
"We can still look for classes
in eurythmy," Heron said.
"I like what I've seen of it."
"Yeah, a baby-parent class
in that would be fantastic,"
Mallory said. "Or baby theatre,
they do that sometimes too."
"What about Allerton Circle School?"
Heron said, glancing over at her.
Mallory laughed. "It makes no
sense, because I'm not Pagan,
but I like the Pagan school best!"
she said. "The place is gorgeous,
the people are nice but not too nice --
I saw some of the kids throwing snowballs."
"I'm not sure they meant to hit anyone,
though," Heron mused. "I think they were
trying to reenact the Great Snow Dance
of the fauns and dryads from Narnia."
"This place is so cool," Mallory said.
"Did you notice that they had kids
in all different colors, as well as
the various religions? I liked that."
"Yes," Heron said. "Good schools,
like good societies and good families,
celebrate and cherish diversity."
"It's the kind of place I love,"
Mallory said. "That's part of what
attracted me to supervillainy, too --
the inclusivity. I don't know if it's
fair to send Dairinne here when
we're not actually Pagan, though."
"Speak for yourself," Heron said.
"I'm Pastafarian. People tend
to lump in the modern religions
with ancient Pagan ones."
"Yeah, I can see how you'd
fit in," Mallory said. "They seem
to like all flavors of weirdness."
"What about you?" Heron said.
"I don't want to push this if you're
not comfortable. We have options.
Do you know anything about Paganism?"
"Only in the carnal sense," Mallory said.
"There was this one wild party on May Eve ...
that was quite a blast, back in the day."
"Okay, so you've gotten at least
a couple glimpses of Paganism, and
so far you've liked both of them,"
Heron said. "That's promising."
"What about Dairinne?"
Mallory said. "Do you
think she liked it?"
Heron glanced in
the rearview mirror.
Dairinne had fallen asleep
in her carseat, the plush sun
still clutched in her arms.
"I'd call that a yes," Heron said.
"Cool," Mallory said. "I also
like the fact that this school has
a more flexible schedule than
any of the other ones do."
"Except for Mum and Da
homeschooling," Heron said.
"What do you think about
combining them?" Mallory said.
"We could start with one hour a day,
one day a week at Allerton Circle School.
Add a day for Mommy, a day for Daddy,
and one or two on the weekend with
Grandma and Grandpa. Leave
the rest catch-as-catch can."
"I like that idea," Heron said.
"It would give Dairinne chances
for more stimulation, but leave
some quieter times too."
"Then we watch to see
whatever works best, and
expand that as she gets
older," Mallory said.
"That sounds like a plan,"
Heron said with a nod.
Mallory gave him
a sidelong glance.
"Thanks for encouraging
me," she said. "You know,
to buy the theatrical dolls.
My folks thought they were
silly, especially when I didn't
abandon them by my teen years."
"Everyone deserves to have things
that make them happy, Mallory,"
said Heron. "I know therapists
who collect sandplay figurines.
Some of them have thousands --
and it's not just for work, they
chose that technique because
they love playing with the things."
Mallory nodded. "Dolls and figurines
can tell a lot of stories," she said. "I
never cared much for baby dolls or
fashion dolls, but I loved anything
that looked like it had a story to it."
"Aida went right for paper dolls,"
Heron said. "She was so little when
she started that we hesitated to let her
play with something so fragile. But
she tore pages out of old catalogs
as carefully as she could, and played
with those, so then we made some
for her with heavy paper. It worked."
"I wonder what Dairinne will like,"
Mallory mused, looking at her.
"I don't know," Heron said,
"but I'm sure that it will be
fascinating to find out."
* * *
This poem is huge, so the character, content, and location notes appear separately.