Excerpts from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: January and February
Copyright 2015, Ginger Henry Geyer
In January, at her Girl Scouts meeting, Chlora shows off and has to cover it up…
It was time for the sewing lesson.
The prissy Brownie troop leader
called the rowdy girls to attention.
Today we will learn
how to properly cross-stitch,
a skill every young lady should master.
Chlora already knew all about this.
She had been stitching up doll clothes
and embroidering tall tales
since she was little.
She brought her own sewing basket to prove it.
The leader showed how
to put fabric in the embroidery hoop.
She went to great lengths to show them
how to thread the needle,
like it was an act of extreme concern.
Just lick the thread and squint.
For heaven's sake, Chlora knew
how to thread a needle;
she could even get a camel
to walk through it if need be.
Now, you must wear the thimble on your thumb.
Chlora occupied herself by unraveling
the colorful mess of tangled
at the bottom of her basket.
The leader was stingy with thread,
but Chlora had come prepared
and was not going to be threadbare.
Next, we will stitch little green X's
with thick thread all around the border
until you get into the rhythm of it.
This was called cross-stitch,
but there didn't seem to be any cross on there.
The leader made a big deal about knots.
How come they couldn't learn
to tie real knots, with rope,
like sailors and Boy Scouts and Celtics did?
She told them to select an easy quote,
something memorable and short
for a sampler. Chlora considered a
sound byte scripture: Jesus Wept.
She knew the repetition of little X's
along the border would make her spazz out;
she might as well stitch up
a Cross your Heart and Hope to Die bra.
Patience and repetitive action
were not her forte.
As the others tentatively sketched
nice, short phrases
onto the fabric, Chlora mentally jumped
out of the loop and into the fray.
Chlora's design evolved as she worked.
Since the hoop was round, how about
dinner for the knights at the round table?
She concentrated on her work,
looping and knotting,
deftly changing the color of thread.
Gray was for the big goblet,
the Holy Grail,
and blue for the plates.
The brown represented bread.
Maybe it was a communion table.
If so, they needed to serve way beyond it,
so she kept stitching little plates.
They spilled out of bounds,
like a blue plate special at the local diner.
Her embroidery was as ugly as homemade sin,
but it was just a quick statement,
and it was done.
Plenty of brown thread was left over,
enough to feed bread to the world.
Chlora tossed the little scissors
into her basket and shot up her hand
to signal that she was the first one finished.
The leader raised her eyebrows
and acknowledged Chlora's success.
The other girls looked envious.
The leader asked Chlora to stand
and display her sampler.
In one swift motion, Chlora hopped up
and raised her hoop high, like a trophy.
But more than the embroidery got displayed—
Chlora had sewed the hoop right onto her skirt,
and now her panties were glaring.
Even worse, they were her Tuesday panties.
This was Thursday.
The troop forgot all their manners
and howled in unison.
The troop leader glared
straight at Chlora's mom.
Chlora turned as red as punch,
wishing she had worn her Freudian slip.
She stood there with her embroidery hoop
dangling between her knees.
Chlora would've been marked as a
Jezebel for life if her mother
hadn't interceded and made up a white lie.
She smiled and told the troop it was
her fault about the panties
because she never could remember
which day it was and had given
Chlora the wrong pair of panties
right out of the clean laundry basket.
There was no way to avoid losing face
when it was already gone.
The troop leader acted like
a snobby royal, upped her nose,
and pointed Chlora to the way out.
This overexposure was as shameful
as the expulsion from Paradise,
except this house was not Paradise.
Chlora ducked into the first room
in the hall and slammed the door.
She was moderately horrified,
as this turned out to be the bedroom
of the teenaged guy who lived there.
He hung around with that gang of Mean Boys
who taunted her on Halloween,
even though he didn't seem to be mean.
His name was Jackson and Joanie Kay liked him
but he paid Joanie Kay no attention.
Chlora dashed over to his desk,
grabbed the chair, and wedged it
under the door knob.
A teenaged boy's room couldn't be
more different than a teenaged girl's,
if Chlora's neat-nik sister
was any sort of example.
Dirty socks and clothes were draped
over every available surface.
Bookshelves displayed no books,
just trophies and footballs
and a little bobbling hula girl.
Posters covered the walls and ceiling,
mostly sports heroes and Spiderman,
and a black light cast a
on a poster of a rock band.
Open bags of chips and a box of Girl Scout cookies
had been left on the nightstand
next to a glowing lava lamp.
A sprawling pyramid of soda cans
encroached on a green typewriter
on his desk, while other crushed cans
lay scattered on the floor.
Chlora's proud embroidery hoop
hung from her skirt like a weight.
She frantically searched the top of the desk
for scissors to free herself from humiliation.
She jerked open a drawer
and a calculator went into a printing frenzy.
Under it was a ratty pile of
school papers, an ashtray,
a bunch of Legos,
a Playboy magazine, a Donald Duck hat,
an upside-down framed photo of a girl,
breath mints, and a MAD magazine.
Surely he had scissors and tape somewhere,
weren't there any
school supplies in here?
Chlora unclipped her Brownie pocketknife
from her belt, sat down on the bed,
and applied the dull blade to the throat
of the thread. She could not get
the embroidery hoop off of her skirt.
There is a time to rend, and a time to sew.
This is definitely rending time.
Ecclesiastes has a binary sense of time
that isn't always helpful.
broke the wooden hoop
and began hacking at the threads
with the knife.
She ripped and sliced all the way through
the brown fabric, leaving a gaping flap
in a strategic zone of her dress.
Her Brownie uniform was done for.
How would she ever walk back out
into the room full of her laughing friends
who were already conspiring
with their contagious gossip.
Chlora awfulized it for all it was worth,
realizing there was no way out of there
but the walk of shame.
Tears stung her eyes.
After a knock on the door,
the Mean Boy who lived there
called her name.
Chlora told him to go away.
He said, OK, but if you need it,
you can borrow my letter jacket
to cover yourself up.
Go ahead, try it on for size.
This was too close for comfort,
but there was no better alternative.
Her sister would be flabbergasted
to see Chlora in that cool dude's jacket.
The red and white letter jacket
hung on a hook behind the door.
It embodied the sadness of Michelangelo's
self-portrait as a flayed skin,
an awesome detail from his Last Judgment.
Chlora felt equally deflated.
The Mean Boy continued talking
as if reading her mind. Come on, Chlora,
you're too young for a mid-life crisis.
Go ahead and wear my jacket,
and I'll walk you out.
Come on out, nobody will laugh.
The coat felt awkward, huge, and heavy.
Its cuffs hung below her hands,
but the jacket thoroughly covered
her torn up skirt.
The Mean Boy was still outside the door
and said, You'll look cool. Keep it, you'll
do me a favor. My ex-girlfriend threw it
back at me after the final ballgame
and I haven't worn it since.
Now Mom was speaking from
the other side of the door.
What are you doing in there?
Chlora said she was just
trying on adjectives.
No, she was in prison in Ephesus
like the apostle Paul,
chained up and writing letters.
Paul had to stuff them in his jacket
until somebody could sneak them out.
How come he was in prison
when all the wife beaters weren't?
They were the ones who mangled up his advice
about wives being submissive.
Paul would go postal over that,
and he'd be shocked
that his letters became sacred.
Chlora sheepishly unlocked the door.
Mom gathered up her broken embroidery hoop
and snapped the stiff letter jacket shut
around Chlora's shredded skirt.
She gently braided Chlora's hair
which was what she did
when they were both nervous.
It was a calming ritual between them.
She looked Chlora straight in the eye
and said nothing.
The letter jacket was a godsend.
So was the Mean Boy,
who escorted them out.
Chlora backed her ears and exited
the messy bedroom.
The letter jacket lent her its dignity
and she strode into the room
full of expectations with her chin up.
The Mean Boy gave her a salute
and disappeared back into the hall.
Chlora knew it was time to
follow the sage advice
to love your enemy and transform him
into a friend. He was no longer the Mean Boy.
Thank you, Jackson, she whispered.
The room turned silent.
All eyes were on that coat.
No finer status symbol existed
in the entire town.
Varsity lettermen had to suffer hero worship
for their endurance and excellence in football.
They earned their right to strut around
in their letter jackets, even in hot weather.
The troop leader curtly asked,
What were you doing in there, Chlora?
Jackson stepped forward from the hall
and answered for her.
Oh, she was just tidying up reality.
Jackson flashed a grin and
motioned for Chlora to turn around.
Chlora modeled the coat with a flourish,
showing off all the patches
and the big letter "P" on the back
while Jackson narrated.
The apostle Paul lettered at least seven times,
some say thirteen,
depending on how you judged authenticity
in the ancient world.
In this century, people have tried
to enforce absolutes from
his writings, but Paul knew all about
problems with purity.
You gotta admit that even seven letters
was a lot, and then he got the Alpha and Omega,
beginning and end, as in beats all ends all.
He said something about the first shall be last,
which proves that Paul
had little to do with sports.
Maybe he preferred art.
I just got a new patch to sew on the sleeve
and I figure Chlora is the best seamstress in
the room, so here it is, Chlora.
Jackson handed her a fabric patch
with Vermeer's Love Letter printed on it.
Sew it on there and it's yours.
Chlora's Mom told the carpool girls they
would need to call their own moms
for a ride home. Sorry if they'd be late.
They all groaned.
Chlora said, Now you all just
put on your big girl panties
and deal with it.
The troop leader, who fancied herself
as Queen of the Brownies
grandly escorted Chlora and her mother
to the door. Chlora, honey, I know Jackson
gave you that jacket, but just bring it back
when you're all straightened out.
We all know my son wouldn't give
his precious jacket to somebody like you,
now would he?
Will you be back for our Fly Up
ceremony next week?
Chlora gave a mock curtsy under the stiff jacket.
Mom put her hands on her hips
and retorted, we, of course will be back.
But the jacket won't.
get your knickers in a twist.
In February, after the school play in which Chlora performs badly,
she wishes for her own love letters.
That play was embarrassing,
almost as bad as the Brownie meeting
last month. Backstage, Chlora shrugged
and pulled on her letter jacket to cover up
the stupid Bo Peep costume.
The heavy red jacket clashed with
her pink frills and that gave her comfort.
She felt like a misunderstood martyr,
like Paul on the illuminated letter "P"
on the back of her jacket.
She snapped up and
stuffed her hands in the big pockets.
In there she found a folded heart-shaped note.
Valentine's Day was long gone,
so where did this come from?
Could this be her first love letter?
She hoped it was from Sammy,
the boy she had a big crush on.
He was out there in the audience.
She walked toward the dimming stage lights,
and unfolded the note. All it said was
I Corinthians 13
Chlora knew enough to recognize this
was Paul's love letter to the Corinthians,
the community who was his problem child.
They were always having spats
and it made St. Paul more of a divine grump
than a cheerleader.
When she got home, she looked up
First Corinthians in the
Revised Standard Version Bible
that she received up front in the church
on Confirmation Day.
That had been an embarrassing moment also.
She read the passage carefully and
wrote out a checklist about love:
—rejoices in the right
—bears all things
—believes all things
—is not jealous
—is not boastful
—is not arrogant
—is not rude
—does not insist on its own way
—is not irritable
—is not resentful
—does not rejoice at wrong
Maybe people got love letters
if they excelled at this To Do list.
Or maybe it wasn't aimed
at romantic love at all.
She wondered if Paul ever wrote
a scarlet letter, or if he had been in love.
He wrote those Corinthians twice
and told them
they were themselves a letter,
an incarnated message
written not in ink but in spirit.
What a lovely metaphor.
His letters weren't always so literal,
like in the debate over the spirit
versus the letter of the law.
Chlora touched the patches on the letter jacket.
One, of a picture called Love is God
was not simply black and white
but had nuances of hues in it.
Another showed a lady licking an envelope.
Had she written a love letter?
Could be she was finishing off a Dear John note.
Or maybe she was just paying a bill.
How were we to know?
How were Paul's letters delivered back then?
Some sort of Post Office existed,
she supposed, or maybe Pony Express.
What did they do with junk mail?
Or those obnoxious chain letters?
Chlora wondered who'd saved Paul's letters
for all this time, collected his stamps,
and safeguarded the envelopes
he had licked. You could get DNA off of those
and prove if they were true relics or not.
Her mom saved a whole box of love letters
from her dad, back when they were courting,
all in nice penmanship on
thin, crispy blue paper.
Mom said she had thrown away all the letters
from other boyfriends.
Some of those suitors were not too welcomed.
What are you supposed to do with love
you don't want?
That lady in Vermeer's painting
seemed to have that very problem.
Chlora's sister Joanie Kay
would collect such expressions of love,
rudely toss them away, and never speak
to the lovelorn guy again.
Those guys were never really off the hook
and were doomed to carry a torch
for Joanie Kay for eons.
Joanie Kay needed Paul's list,
but what she really wanted
was Chlora's letter jacket.
Love was confusing
and words didn't help much.
But, to whom it may concern:
sometimes the obvious
just needs to be said.