Lisa Leibow and Erika Levison

The Brave Hearted Child  (MP3)
Erika Levison

Inspiration piece (click on the Title to hear the music)

Everything New Is Old Again
By Lisa Leibow

By Lisa Lipkind Leibow

Creamed corn and baked chicken chases Lysol into her nostrils as she slows her motorized scooter to a halt at the entrance to the dining hall. The first opening she notices is at the far side of the nurse-made clique of doddering senescent elders who swallow bottom lips and stare into space. Elizabeth scans the crowded room for an opening.


Friday was pizza day and the only day Libby bought school lunch instead of brown bagging it. However, rectangles of bread with tomato hunks and cheese gobs didn’t stop her from gagging at the lingering stench of yesterday’s mud-colored drool-drenched chipped beef and mashed potatoes that looked more like the paste Mrs. Kent dolloped onto cardboard squares for art class.


Unable to stand the Bingo ladies’ caddy gossip, Elizabeth shuns the table by the window, where pink sunset transforms blue hair to purple. Likewise, the guys at the corner table make her hair stand on end and prickle her neck.


The popular kids sat together and guarded their territory at the table near the exit. They taunted nonconformists, tripping, or knocking lunch trays to the floor or snorting like a pig while creeping behind one pubescent junior high student or another – bookish girls with head gears, pimples, and fuzz peeking out over knee socks because their parents refused to let them shave legs until they reached high school.


Echoes of the guys’ whooping, while a stewardess in movie night’s showing of Airplane blew the inflatable autopilot. One of the blue-haired gossips removed dentures and motioned come hither with a coy wink. It was laughable. Even tonsil hockey couldn’t get those geezers’ shriveled parts to firm up.


Libby treaded the long way to avoid getting anywhere near the in-crowd’s table, trying to avoid bringing attention to herself. As she walked, she overheard the buzz of child’s play and adult escapes colliding – invitations to smoke packs of Malboro’s under the slide at the playground and boastful claims of sneaking schnapps to spike McDonald’s milkshakes. Hell, if she could get stoned it could help her escape from the drudgery of having to study Latin and Sewing. It might also make the awful brassiere her mother forced her to wear more bearable. Trussed turkeys headed for four hundred and fifty degree ovens must feel more comfortable than Libby felt with her breasts hoisted up by this contraption.

That’s the moment it all began. Libby thought nothing of the first sneeze or two from the boy at the cool kids’ table, whose pompadour matched the fur on her next-door neighbor’s golden lab. By the fourth sneeze, she realized he was faking it – not a sneeze at all. The yellow-haired boy raised a long, lanky arm, stretching a grimy index finger in Libby’s direction, with a loud, “Stuffy,” masquerading as a sneeze – one sneezed insult at first, from a boy in the back of the cafeteria. In an instant, and for the first time all day, Libby forgot about the physical discomfort from the band of her cross-your-heart digging into her ribcage. The pain disappeared the same way smashing a thumb with a hammer makes one forget about one’s headache. Before Libby knew it, all populars followed like lemmings. At the bus stop, in home room, and at lockers between classes, slick-haired boys with plaid shirts and saddle shoes and in-crowd, flat-chested girls with pearl-trimmed sweater sets pointed at her chest, accusing her of stuffing her bra. She hunched over in her assigned seat, trying to concave her chest.


Elizabeth hadn’t noticed it before, but the seatbelt on her scooter digs into her spleen. If she still had a gallbladder, appendix, or uterus, it would dig into them too. Her heart thuds in her ears a sound that in her youth meant she was running in the zone, but now, coupled with her dry throat and muddled brain, signifies fear. There’s nobody here for her. She’s wound up in this place full of people, yet she’s utterly alone between worlds. Geriatrics may be old, but they were as immature as pubescent pimple-faces. She might as well spend her twilight in the company of satellite radio. It could tune in both CNN and “Burns and Allen.”


She glued her eyes to the tip of her pen, which she zigzagged to and fro to draw horizontal lines, short at first, growing longer with each zig, drawing tiny funnel clouds on her paper grocery bag book cover. The images mirrored the whirling winds in Libby’s soul, clearing away the cruel and ridiculous comments as if the tornadoes were centrifuge. All the while the jeers echoed. “Who grows boobs overnight?” asked the yellow haired boy?“ Maybe they’re her brother’s gym socks,” said a ponytailed girl with a hot pink silk scarf knotted at her neck.”

Libby tried to ignore them, but her twister doodles had begun to swirl inside her lungs, fetching letters, words, and nonsensical phrases from her gut. The mixed-up alphabet spilled from pen to book cover, making her head spin. 

She mumbled under her breath at first, “What do they know,” and “Someday they’ll be jealous,” and “what the hell are they talking about?” 

When the yellow pompadour started prancing back and forth, pinching his shirt and pulling to mime pointy boobs, the tornado touched down.

Libby shoved the kid and bellowed, ”If I were going to stuff my bra, don’t you think I’d do a better job!”


Elizabeth wheels to spot between blue-haired gossips and shriveled men. She’s taken so long to choose a seat that dinner’s almost over. A liver-spotted man with a comb over joins her and places tapioca pudding in front of her. “Your favorite,” he says.

Elizabeth meets his eyes. They’re green with a cloudy cataract on the left.

She reaches for his hand. “Thanks.”







One Comment

  1. Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm | #

    Interesting to have audio as an inspiration and a detailed response too. Well done.