“A blue giraffe! I should have known.” Lucina fastened on a small object in the window of the breakfast nook at Professor Joan Donaldson’s house where she, Louis, Dawn and Cheryl spent the night. Cheryl and Dawn were still in bed on the back sun porch, but Louis and Lucina got up early to enjoy freshly ground coffee with their host.
“Why should you have known?” Joan set a tray of hot almond croissants in front of them. “To me, it looks more like a camel wanting very much to be a giraffe. A Camelopardalis trying to be a Camelus. They’re related.”
“I meant, I should have known I would see a blue giraffe.” Lucina spread a buttery croissant with the homemade raspberry jam Joan retrieved from her pantry. “Suddenly, we’re having such luck!”
“You don’t usually see giraffes in Indiana.” Joan sat down and poured three cups of steaming coffee in rust-colored mugs, a smile spreading on her face. She really liked these two New Yorkers! “And never a blue one.”
Lucina beamed affectionately at Louis who looked more relaxed than he had in weeks.
“Lucina’s enigmatic nature is part of her mid-western upbringing,” he said, good-naturedly. “They have a special brand of mysticism in Illinois.” He’d already consumed one croissant and was reaching for another.
“What does that mean, Louis?” A blue giraffe is a symbol of good luck for me — that’s all I meant.” She tore at her croissant, miffed that her spontaneous feelings had been commented on.
“Why is that?” Joan watched her guests with some amusement. Like all couples, no matter hows loving, they had their little tensions.
“I have a friend who repairs antiques.” Lucina did not want Joan to think she and Louis had problems; she put her hand tenderly on his arm as she talked. “She’s the caretaker of an incredible blue porcelain giraffe. It had been her grandmother’s, than her mother’s. It’s not transparent like yours. Been broken several times — but it’s still intact, under Alice’s care. She claims it has saved her life already, at least three times.”
“Somehow I thought you were going to tell us an ancient myth about a magical blue giraffe,” Joan commented. “But then, I hang around scholarly types too much.”
“It’s just a real-life experience,” Lucina returned, with some edge. “Like most of our plays.”
“The Nelson Whitmore story, in your play Choice — that was profoundly unsettling! Devastatingly real, even as a stylized drama. I hope it and the petition get the results you need to find out the truth about Cheryl’s cousin. I’m really glad I could go to part of her meeting yesterday. She handled it brilliantly, I thought. Has she thought of a degree in political science?” Joan looked at her guests for a reaction, knowing that Cheryl’s short departure from the troupe’s tour had an enormous impact on them.
“Cheryl’s pull is toward activism not academia,” Lucina returned.
“Okay — she has time,” Joan interrupted. “But what wasn’t being talked about enough, I thought, was how afraid whites are about the black community organizing itself. And behind that tremendous fear of black anger erupting is the guilt for allowing a racist society.”
“I think Cheryl is extremely aware of whites’ fears and guilt,” Lucina broke in sharply. “And how that feeds the wanton violence against blacks. She keeps saying, ‘any movement where blacks and whites work together has to be handled very skillfully.”
“Well, we’re very lucky to have her work with us,” Louis added quickly wanting to ward off the growing tension between the two women. “Just think how many people made that production work last night. All the promotion work you did for sours group, Joan…. I mean, you got the art department, theater department, and political sciencese classes involved. It’s been amazing for us. And there was a really insightful review in the student paper about our production of Choice last night. Did you see it?”
Before Joan could answer, Lucina broke in again: “But I was disappointed he write about the women’s plays as well. Anyway, there was a student at Cheryl’s meeting who will, I hope.”
Joan turned to Lucina: “Yes, one of mine. Your scenes from Moments of Loss/Moments of Gain, powerful. I really loved them. Well, that’s not exactly the right word for an abortion and a rape scene. You women don’t fool around, do you?”
“We deal with the hard stuff from our lives.” Lucina took a deep breath, her eyes back on the small glass animal, enjoying a window box all to itself. Joan had displayed it well. She breathed in deeply again. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if she and Louis could do something different that afternoon, like a picnic. Joan could come too, if she loosened up a bit more. But they had to head off for Reams in a few hours. What was Joan saying?
“The rape scene — it brought back some unpleasant memories — seeing that on stage. The younger students were laughing, at first.”
A catch in Joan’s voice pulled Louis’s attention back to the women. He’d turned away from them briefly to admire the neat kitchen with all the modern appliances — a far cry from their loft! Joan, about Lucina’s age, attracted him. The way she pursed her lips as if wanting to kiss or be kissed. Strange. Her eyes weren’t blue, like the giraffe, but gray.
“Sorry, if it was too much.” Now Lucina was talking.
“What’s to be sorry for? One of your aims, I take it, is to say to women in the audience, ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’ ”
“Exactly!” Lucina took in a mouthful of croissant as Joan began talking softly:
“I was raped by a person from the town, the first year I taught on this campus. The University wanted to cover it up — too unpleasant a topic. I was afraid of stirring up trouble, so I didn’t press charges though I knew who the man was — I’d seen him at a local bar.” She hesitated, her eyes closed: “You know, I don’t think I can handle this right now. Sorry.” Then shes was hunched over, blowing her nose in her napkin.
Louis swooped in gallantly pouring them all more coffee from the porcelain pot Joan had carefully placed on a cork tile near one corner of the Maplewood table with the comment, “I like to keep things safe.”
“You were telling us something about a Camelopardalis, versus a Camelus….”
“That’s right, Louis.” Joan flashed an appreciative smile and offered him the remaining croissant.
“How are they related? I know they both have long necks and long faces.” He squinted as if to look somewhere in his brain for an answer.
“To reach leaves,” Lucina added.
“Exactly. And both are ruminant mammals.” Joan delved eagerly into the topic. “Their stomachs are divided into four compartments for –”
“Cud-chewing.” Louis chomped playfully on his croissant.
“You two are great!” Joan exclaimed animatedly. “Actors are so, what do I want to say? Spontaneously excited about things.”
“Things and smart women,” Louis nodded, gazing warmly at his two women companions.
“Oh, I’m sure.” Joan stood up abruptly. His way of looking at her, of touching her somehow with his disarming intensity. “That reminds me — oh good! I would have felt terrible if I’d forgotten.”
“Forgotten?” Lucina eyed the little animal quickly, wanting to hold its pleasing color in her mind again. Was it cobalt or azure blue? Maybe Joan knew — but she had left the room.
And then she was back holding a letter: “Air Mail Express letter for you, Lucina, from New York City. It came last week.”
“Oh, sorry, we didn’t tell you,” Louis apologized. “We gave out our university contacts, sparingly.”
“Oh, fine,” Joan addressed him, while handing the letter to Lucina. “So you’re not only fancy free troubadours? You have people back home.”
“My family is from Brooklyn….”
Lucina stared at the envelope. Was he going to tell her about his disapproving parents, his nagging ex-wife and his precious daughter in upstate New York? Even if she had done a dynamite job organizing the entire event, Joan was a stranger.
“Oh, what part of Brooklyn, Louis?” Like old friends, the two of them were soon describing favorite candy stores and egg creams. “I visited my cousin there when I was a kid.”
“It’s from Shauna,” Lucina spoke softly. Shauna must have gotten her phone message after all. But wait, she hadn’t been able to leave a message. So probably she was reporting that everything was fine, just wanting to know when they’d be coming back to pick Rune up. That kind of thing.
“Oh, great!” Louis turned from Joan momentarily. “That was nice of Shauna to write.” He stayed silent as Lucina plied the envelope open, wondering why she was moving so slowly.
He turned back to Joan: “I’m more poet than actor. Lucina got me into body stuff and helping out in her theater sculpture shows. One thing led to another….”
“Have you been published?”
“A few places. Paris Review, Antioch Quarterly, New American Poetry. And in my journal, PAN.”
“A talented guy with many–”
A scream knifed Joan’s comment.
Louis lunged toward Lucina: “Lucina, what’s the matter? What’s in the letter?”
“Someone smashed her — my Rune — two weeks ago at a party. Shauna doesn’t know — how it happened. It had gotten pretty wild — about one o’clock at night. All she knows is when it was over — everyone was gone — my sculpture was smashed to smithereens. That’s what she writes — ‘smashed to smithereens.’ Oh, my god. My god! The pieces were removed from the loft — not by her. She wasn’t even there!”
“Wait a minute! How does she knows this?” Louis grabbed the letter and began reading it silently, mouthing the words. His look changed from confusion to disgust. “That piece was sturdy — like a piano. It was a great work!”
He spoke so solemnly, Joan bowed her head: “How terrible! A terrible assault,” she moaned.
“A criminal assault! It was her last sculpture, a masterwork.” Louis stared dumbly at the paper in his hands.
Lucina’s head sunk to the table. “Not any more,” she managed. Joan’s hand was on her shoulder. She heard her own breathy sobs, her broken words — “She says friends of h-h-hers — were st-staying at the loft — no one knows who d-d-did it.” She wasn’t in her body anymore.
Louis stood abruptly pounding his fists together, ready to smash down on those who had smashed down on his beloved’s masterpiece. “Why wasn’t Shauna there to stop it!”
“You read what she said — she wasn’t there! She was away, vacationing — in Province….” Her voice broke into wails: “My baby — my baby.”
Louis’s face opened into a roar. “Who was there?”
Lucina snapped back into her body again. “I told you. Sally and Karen were staying there!”
“I’m so sorry –” Joan whimpered.
“Did they tell Shauna what happened?” Louis, shaking and ashen, sank to his chair. “Someone knows — what happened — and they’re going to tell me. Or arms and legs are going to be missing!”
“I don’t know!” Lucina now standing, shrieked out. “I can’t think. My Rune, my Rune is dead.”
“Can I do anything?” Joan managed, feeling quite helpless at the couple’s disturbing news. “Please use my phone if you need to call New York.”
“Rune is gone…. My Rune is gone! I should never have left her!”
Louis shook his head in disbelief. Joan’s eyes had closed. “I used to carry that’s sculpture around to all the shows Lucina was in.” He couldn’t hold back the tears flooding his eyes. When was the last time he had seen Rune, not wrapped up in that mummy’s sheet, but really seen her in all her beauty? He turned his whole being to Lucina; she clutched Shauna’s letter and stared at the Blue Giraffe.
2 thoughts on “WHEELING ACROSS AMERIKA: Book 2, Chapter 47, The Blue Giraffe”
Jeri, I’m delighted that you have created a blog with selections from your novel manuscripts. I quickly read ‘The Blue Giraffe.’ It’s marvelous! All three characters in the scene are so vividly, quickly depicted. Bravo. I’m off to read other excerpts.
Eric, I’m thrilled that you read the chapter from Fire Dragon Street Theater, “The Blue Giraffe.” I hope you have a wonderful time in my “cyber book shop” cozying up with another excerpt. And thanks so much for letting me include your photo of Nancy Willard and myself acting out in New York City.