Sunday 20 June 2021

Setting The Template

by Sharon N Zajdman

milk and cookies


From the age of three, until I became eligible for kindergarten, I was enrolled at Mary Beetles, a pre-school in the days before daycare programs.  It was run by Miss Mary Beetles, a single and independent woman then referred to as a spinster.  Her surname was spelled like the name of the insect, before a British pop group changed it. 

On stage at a Christmas recital, I wore a pink dress with short puffed sleeves.  A petticoat puffed up my short skirt, and a band of fake pink rose petals decorated my thick and dark hair.  I was not yet self-conscious about my thick and heavy thighs, though I was acutely aware of the clunky, ankle-length orthopedic shoes that encased my wide, flat and weak feet.  I shook cymbals and tapped a tambourine.  I had natural rhythm, effortlessly kept the beat, and felt perfectly comfortable on what was the first of many stages I would find myself on in years to come. 

The only light in the darkness of the hall emanated from the equipment of the hired photographer taking the pictures that were going to be sold to our parents once they were developed.  The one disruption came from the back of the hall.  A toddler seated on his mother’s lap stretched for a better view of the stage, and suddenly erupted into a high-pitched scream. 

“Dat’s my shister!  Dat’s my shister!”  He broke out of his mother’s arms, dropped to the floor, tore up the centre aisle, and tried to hoist himself onto the stage.  Caught between footlights, with one chubby thigh on the boards, and straining to lift his diaper-covered bottom, my baby brother raised his luminous, blueberry-hued eyes and beamed his baby-toothed grin at me.      

“Shashi!  Shashi!”  Mikey called out the nickname he had given me.  He seemed confused when I didn’t dash over to help him, and surprised by the uncharacteristic scowl on my face.  Clearly, he couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t as thrilled to see him as he was to see me.

 Instinctively, I grasped the concept and convention of The Fourth Wall, and my adorable and adoring brother was breaking it!  In this, my first crisis, I proved a trouper, stoically soldiering on while never missing a beat on my tambourine.

          While the audience rocked with laughter, a policeman who had been standing guard at the back door rushed to the bottom of the stage, scooped Mikey into his arms, and carried him away.

           “But she’s my shister!”  Mikey implored the policeman.  Could the cop not comprehend the sacredness of the sibling bond?  Oblivious to the giggles of the onlookers, patiently, pointedly, Mikey attempted to explain.  “My SHISTER!” 

The policeman merely smiled, and brought Mikey to the back of the hall.

Our recital proceeded without further incident.  By the time it was over, the cop and the toddler had bonded.  Mikey was leaning back, relaxed in the policeman’s arms, with the policeman’s oversized hat sliding down and masking the top half of his head.

Denied access to the main stage, the beguiling tyke created his own.  While the cop held Mikey, Mikey’s sweet and sunny nature held the cop enthralled. 

          In the years to come, the world became my brother’s stage.  There were no barriers that could not be broken, no obstacles that could not be overcome, nor any arbitrary rules that could not be bent nor circumvented.  Michael’s irrepressible spirit and irresistible charm remain intact.  So does his attachment to me.  


About the author

S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. Her first collection of linked stories, Bent Branches, was published in 2012. Bridge House Publishing is bringing out Zajdman's second collection of linked stories, The Memory Keeper



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