“You did everything on that list, Pa-Mama?” Gabriel had decided to call Papa that while she transitioned into being Mama. His sister had already started calling her Mama, but Gabriel liked the name he’d made up.
Pa-Mama ripped the top sheet off her lavender notepad and grinned like she’d won an Olympic medal. “Another day of accomplishment.”
“You’re amazing, sweetie,” Dad said from his armchair in the living room. “Your organizational skills put us all to shame.”
“Nonsense.” Pa-Mama winked at Gabriel. “It’s not that hard to keep lists and get things done.” She handed Gabriel the lavender sheet. “Put this in recycling, will you, love?”
It was the evening ritual — the day’s to-do list deposited in the paper recycling box in the laundry room. Or so Pa-Mama thought. Since Dad and Gabriel were in charge of doing the laundry, Pa-Mama didn’t know her lists never ended up in the recycling box.
Upstairs in his room, Gabriel pulled a shoebox from the back of his closet. He settled against his bed pillows and added the day’s list to a messy heap of colorful sheets of notepaper. “Butterflies today.” He ran his fingers over the glittery creatures doing loop-the-loops along the borders of the new page.
When his door burst open, Gabriel scrambled to fit the lid on to the shoebox. Instead, he pushed it off his knees. “Don’t you knock?” he growled at his older sister, Tamara.
“Why do you keep those?” She watched with crossed arms as he gathered lists from the carpet.
“I like the colors.” He held up a few. “See? Peach. Lemon. Lime chiffon.”
“Lime chiffon? That’s a color?”
“Yes, and I love Pa-Mama’s handwriting. What do you call it?”
“Yeah. It’s all curly. And look where it says, ‘Take Gabriel to dentist’.” He held up a pink list. “See how she dots her I’s?”
“With a circle. Cute.” Tamara backed toward the door. “Okay, weirdo. I just stopped by to see what you decided about the costume contest at the rec center.”
Tingles crawled up Gabriel’s neck. “When is it?”
“Seriously? It’s in two days. Dad finished my clown costume this morning.”
Gabriel was so stunned by this news that he didn’t even make a joke about Tamara being a clown. “I don’t have a costume.” His voice cracked. “What do I do?”
Tamara rolled her eyes. “Go ask Dad and Mama.”
Gabriel tore down the stairs so fast, he almost did a somersault.
“Whoa, there, horsey,” Pa-Mama said. “You’ll break your neck.” She and Dad sat together in the living room, watching TV.
Gabriel perched on an armrests, leaning on Dad, the family sewing expert. “I need a costume for the contest at the rec center. Can you please, please, please make me one? Please? Like, maybe a weird superhero alien thing. I want to win the prize for originality.”
Dad lowered the TV’s volume. “Isn’t this contest in two days?”
Grimacing, Gabriel nodded.
“Seems to me,” said Pa-Mama, “the only award you’re likely to win is the poor planning prize.”
“But what am I supposed to do?”
“For one thing, not take Daddy for granted. He’s not a magician. The costumes he makes for you and Tam take lots of hard work.”
Gabriel covered his face with his hands. “I know. Sorry, Dad.”
“It’s okay.” Dad patted Gabriel’s knee. “How about I drive you to Morgan’s tomorrow, and we buy you a costume this year.”
“But I want to be something original, not something you buy at the store.”
“A kid after my own heart.” Pa-Mama pressed her hand to her chest.
Dad laughed. “Too bad he doesn’t also have your organizational skills.”
The situation seemed hopeless to Gabriel. “Maybe I’ll skip the costume party.”
From the end table on her side, Pa-Mama pulled out the lavender notepad decorated with butterflies.
“Are you making me a list?” Gabriel asked, trying not to sound rude.
“I am not.” She handed him the whole notepad. “You are going to make your own list.”
“Listen, Gabie,” said Pa-Mama. “You’re an imaginative boy. Use this notepad to jot down your ideas. What you’d like to dress up as, what items you’d need to make the costume, that sort of thing.”
Trudging toward the stairs clutching the notepad, Gabriel mumbled, “This will never work.”
“Well, it won’t with that attitude.”
“Just give it a try,” said Dad. “If you get nowhere with it, we’ll go to Morgan’s. Deal?”
“That’s my brave boy,” said Pa-Mama. “We’ll get you organized yet.”
At the top of the stairs, Tamara danced around in her clown costume. Its silky red and yellow stripes made her look like she was in one of those fancy circuses on TV.
“Clowns are so original,” growled Gabriel, pushing past her to his room. After slamming the door just quietly enough to keep Dad from coming upstairs, he slumped onto his bed. Pa-Mama’s lavender notepad stared back at him. “How is some stupid list supposed to help me?” He could’ve sworn the butterflies around the border were laughing at him. But that gave him an idea.
“I could be a butterfly!” Reaching over to his desk, he grabbed a pen. “So… now I make a list.”
At the top of the page he wrote, “Butterfly costume – Things I need.” On the second line he wrote, “Wings.” And then he stared at the page. And stared and stared. His mind was as empty as the next twenty lines on the paper. Finally he wrote on the third line, “Dad makes me a butterfly costume.”
Poking his finger at an especially happy-looking bug on the border, he asked, “Why can’t there be a magic spell that turns you into a costume?” He waited, just in case, but no wizards or fairy godmothers showed up. His own words repeated in his head. “Turns you into a costume.”
And then he had it – the most original, weird, alien, superhero costume anyone would ever come up with. This time he practically skied down the stairs. “Do we still have some of that clear packing tape?” he asked on his way through the living room, but he barreled into the kitchen without waiting for an answer.
He found the tape in the “things and stuff” drawer, behind six take-out menus and a rubber band ball. Half a roll of clear packing tape. “Got it,” he informed his parents as he bolted back up the stairs, taking three at the time.
“I think we’ve created a monster,” he heard Pa-Mama say.
Dumping out his entire collection of Pa-Mama’s lists onto the floor, Gabriel prepared to make his costume. He lined up the notes as evenly as he could, list side up, in ten rows of fifteen. Then, using small pieces of packing tape and every ounce of his patience, he taped all the sheets of paper together. When he held up his handiwork, he found he’d made a paper blanket in a rainbow of pastel colors, and entirely covered in lists. One last detail, and the costume would be ready.
“Hey, Tam,” he called, rapping at his sister’s door.
She opened just enough to show her eyeball. “What do you want?”
“A safety pin. A big one. For my costume.”
“Are you going to pin a sign to your T-shirt that says, ‘This is my costume’?”
“No, wise-guy. Just, please, do you have a pin? I’ll give it back.”
Tamara’s face softened. “Sure.” She disappeared for a few seconds then handed him a safety pin. “Let me know if you need help.”
“Thanks. But I got this.”
It was time for the transformation. Gabriel brought his costume and the safety pin into his parents’ bedroom. They had a full-length mirror. Gently, afraid of ripping it, Gabriel draped the patchwork of lists around his skinny shoulders. He found two spots enforced with tape to pin the sides together near his neck. It looked weird and alien for sure. It was perfect.
“Tamara! Dad! Pa-Mama! Look at me.”
With Pa-Mama’s butterfly notepad in one hand and a pen in the other, Gabriel paraded through the house. His unusual cape flapped with each step. “I am Listman,” he declared, waving his pen and pad in the air. “Able to organize your life with a single piece of paper. Able to get more things done in a single day than regular people can do in a month. Can’t figure out what you’re supposed to do next? Call Listman for help!”
Tamara and Dad laughed and clapped. But Pa-Mama wiped tears from her eyes, the kind of tears she cried when Dad surprised her with flowers or Tamara made her breakfast. “Young man, I thought I told you to put those in recycling,” she said with a wink. Then she wrapped Gabriel and his cape in a great big hug. “I don’t care what they say at the contest, love. You’re first place in my book.”
Gabriel felt like he’d won the prize already.
Wendy Martin illustrated this story. She lives in Missouri with her husband and a fat, lazy cat named William. Wendy can be found working in her studio with papers strewn around her creating stories and illustrations for children with watercolor, pen and ink, and a computer. She likes to make brownies in her spare time. Learn more about her at her website wendymartinillustration.com or invite her to come to your school for a visit.