Excerpts from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: July
Draft 1, Copyright 2014 Ginger Henry Geyer
Chlora and family are on a short vacation
to the lake for July Fourth…
Since they were all gonna be crammed into that RV,
all three kids were instructed to bring only a backpack.
This wouldn't be too difficult;
a swimsuit took up negative space,
but it was those hiking boots that'd cram it.
They, however, were necessary for two outings:
one to the rodeo parade
(since she had to hand-me-down
her cowboy boots to her little brother)
and the other for the cave exploration she hoped to do.
Otherwise, all she needed to pack was a change of clothes,
a toothbrush, and the entire series of Bobbsey Twins books
to keep herself occupied.
Her big sister would have to sneak
in her hairdryer case and curlers.
No way they'd fit in a backpack.
Unfortunately, same problem with the Bobbsey Twins.
Chlora had to settle for only one book and
a small pack of Go Fish cards in order to include
a couple of items for her rodeo attire.
Such sacrifices are necessary.
The next day they drive to visit a cave,
where her hiking boots are appropriate,
and then to the rodeo parade...
She struggled once again to put on the cowboy boots
she had given to her brother.
They were still too small, but
maybe her feet had shrunk in the cold water, like other
body parts do. However, it was like putting on
Cinderella's glass slipper. She crammed her toes into the boots
and walked with her heels stilted up inside.
She wanted new cowgirl boots — not boring brown,
but red or purple. These would never do.
She would have to resort to her hiking boots
and just pretend they had pointy toes.
A real cowgirl would have fancy, decorated boots,
so Chlora drew on the toes of her boots
with a magic marker.
She liked to run races in these boots
and she could beat all of the girls — and boys — in her class.
So she commemorated her Olympic prowess
with pictures of running athletes from ancient Greece.
...After a wild time at the rodeo parade, they buy fireworks
and have their own Fourth of July splendor out at the lake.
Even with no pit stops, it took forever to get back to the lake.
Chlora, however, felt relieved to observe the
quiet insistence of the wheatfields out the windows.
A lark arose from the swaying wheat
and ascended in twirls, as if Ralph Vaughn Williams
had written a song just for her.
Twilight was upon them, a welcome relief from the sun.
The summer night air was palpable,
a perfect medium for fireflies
whose tiny lights would soon be superseded by booming
chrysanthemums and shooting stars.
It was not fair that itty bitty creatures like fireflies
and fairies could fly and people couldn't.
Chlora let her brother have the big mayonnaise jar
so he could catch a few fireflies.
J.P. ran off with it as she warned him
if you intend to store a miracle in a jar,
be sure to leave off the lid.
All the kids wrote their names in the sky
with sparks and smoke which dissipated slowly
and thickened the thin air.
But the sparklers were enough to hush
the mating chorus of crickets and katydids,
reminding Chlora of Romeo or was it Juliet
who said that
"Love is a smoke made by the fume of sighs."
All of them were eager for the dark to arrive
but it felt like night would never come,
even though you can trust night to reoccur
quite often, once a day in fact.
When it was its turn, the
sun did set rather quickly, which was nice of it.
While waiting for a dark black background
for their firework show,
they popped off a few firecrackers.
All the women were concerned for the kids' safety
and told big-eyed stories
about people who’d blown off their fingers.
They made everyone aware of the fire put-er-out-er,
and they had a hose ready.
One of the cousins stuck a firecracker
in a tomato and tossed it up;
everyone was instantly showered
with chunky tomato sauce,
which seemed wasteful except that the
home garden had overproduced again,
and they were all getting tired of eating tomatoes.
Another tomato went up, and another,
and the cousins hooted like they were being chased
by bulls in that Spanish town where people had
The mess gave the parents a good excuse
to hose down the lawn and the kids
before the real fires started.
Nobody was absolutely sure that fireworks
were legal out here, but the coast was clear,
so fire away.
The set up for the big show was
cautious and giddy at the same time.
By now the night air was soft as a caress.
Stars were clear as could be, here before light pollution
clouded up their glory.
The Big Dipper was spilling over, its stalwart flickering
not about to be outdone by the fleeting fireworks.
As if the stars were not enough, the moon smiled down
on the little human attempts to recreate the big bang
when God blew himself up so he could go around in bits
small enough to be experienced.
It was a starry night but certainly not a silent night.
One after another, the fireworks mimicked the booming voice
of the universe. Little Sir Echo, O How Do You Do? —
got a real workout as the booms bounced off the bluffs.
It was as if the lake had loud speakers built into it.
Chlora carefully observed how long it took for each type of
firework fuse to burn down as the cousins lit them one by one.
There were spewers that fizzed out quickly
and non-spewers that wound up and took their time.
Chlora quietly stuffed several fireworks into her backpack
where she had hid the Bic lighter found on the shore.
Reflections of fireworks lapped on the ripples of water.
She wasn't sure how much more of this glory she could stand.
The oohs and ahhs were linked by the breadth
of each blast more than with its noise.
Chlora smiled at the spreading grand finale,
thinking that Van Gogh's Starry Night painting
was probably his tribute to fireworks.
But then, did the French have fireworks back then?
They certainly didn’t have a Fourth of July.
She commented on how pretty it all was.
Why them fireworks are as pretty as bombs!
a cousin said in a singsong, "The rocket’s red flare,
the bombs bursting in air"
Chlora said, "It may be in our national anthem,
but there's nothing pretty about bombs killing people.
Yea, let's bomb them back into the Stone Age!
Bomb who? Oh, all the anti-Americans everywhere.
Why can't we uninvent the bomb, Chlora muttered.
Just then a dud bottle rocket shot off sideways,
and they all jumped.
Patriotism quickly degraded into nationalism
and God Bless America and only America.
Chlora wondered just how far this American exceptionalism
could go before somebody got hurt.
She yelled Ban the Bomb!
The rowdy cousins retorted with Ban the Bra!
They had consumed all of their stinky beer and
were hooting and hollering and playing charades,
mocking the people they had encountered that day.
One cousin limped like the quiet Chinese lady
who had given them extra fortune cookies at the restaurant.
Then he whined like the snotty nosed kids
who couldn't afford anything at the fireworks stand.
The other cousin pretended to be the
half wit clerk in the gas station,
with his half-shut eyes and bad teeth.
They took on the obsequious politicians
in their fancy convertibles,
and the obnoxious protesters
outside the courthouse.
They paired up like the huffy detectives
when they hauled off the rodeo clown at the end of the parade.
Chlora laughed at their prissy antics about the snarly cowgirls
but was uncomfortable when they got off on the rodeo clown.
"That clown would give cotton candy to any of those people,
"Oh, Chlora, go jump in the lake!"
But wait for us, let's go skinny dipping together!
Those cousins would not grow up to be rocket scientists.
There was no way she would get naked with them
and their rubbery fishing worms.
The very thought sent a chill up her spine.
She stomped off, followed by her mom.
"How come those boys can’t have any compassion?
Why can't they be nice?"
"Compassion is not the same thing as being nice.
It is deeper than that and hard to sustain."
"I don't know, Chlora dear.
Sometimes going deep requires staying put.
You have to go down to go up,
get off the surface, and breathe deeply.
Compassion is risky.
You sometimes have to jump into it
and just accept whatever happens on the way down."
Chlora stared at her lifejacket, still there on the dock.
Compassion may require scuba gear.
Chlora envisioned Jesus with tanks on his back, flippers,
and breathing apparatus, prepared to dive
into the dark waters where big slimy things live,
like the Loch Ness monster, or Leviathan.
If compassion means to suffer with,
it required more courage than she had.
It had been a rather frightening day,
what with the near-death scare of the rearing horse,
and that dip down to hell in the cave,
and then that snake that slithered underneath the RV,
and now those cousins threatening to skinny dip in front of her.
Chlora knew she was a weenie.
This had not been a day to engender courage.
Compassion took courage
and it had something to do
that was so difficult that only God can provide it.
Chlora would try on some courage first.
Slowly the smoke cleared,
but the odor of gunpowder reeked,
as did the drunken laughter of her cousins.
Chlora prepared for her own Declaration of Independence;
from just what she wasn't sure.
She'd fly across this river-lake like
Washington crossing the Delaware,
like Jesus in the book of John
when his feet never quite touch the ground.
First, she'd strap big rockets, like spurs,
onto the back of her boots, and shoot off
like Wylie Coyote
Catch me if you can, beep beep …
She slipped skinny bottle
rockets inside her boots behind her heels.
She'd light her fire and take a flying leap,
faster than the speed of light, and enact what
MLK Jr,. called "the fierce urgency of now."
She tucked some firecrackers into her backpack,
plus three fat Roman candles.
By golly, she would reach for the sky
and blaze off into glory land.
This was her best chance yet for flying,
for ascending into heaven.
However, Chlora was realistic: if gravity won,
the backpack would be her life saver.
It would fill with air and make her float.
Just in case of mechanical failure,
she was assured that Jesus the lifeguard was on duty.
She knew it was not wise to put God to the test.
If she did blast off, it'd be a sign
that she was indeed going places.
If she sank, it'd be a sign that, like Peter,
she needed a second and third chance.
Even the ascending lark had to
come back down to earth sometime.
No one noticed as Chlora climbed
to the forbidden upper deck of the boat dock
like Godzilla scaling the Empire State Building.
She whistled Handel's Fireworks Music.
The stairs groaned under her,
her and her backpack,
and the whomper-jawed deck
jerked slightly with every large wave
that struck it far below.
She wished she had some night vision goggles
as she peered over the railing.
The water below looked dark and deep.
Maybe water moccasins were lurking down there,
their lips curled back,
ready to twist themselves around her legs.
From this height, lake water would be forced
up her nose and a brain-eating amoeba
would attack her.
Maybe she'd do a belly buster and humiliate herself.
Or, maybe with the power of positive thinking,
she'd hang ten and make a Top Ten list.
With a certain gravitas
she would jump to conclusions.
She quickly lit the fireworks
in the backpack and put her arms
through the straps.
Then she lit up her boots.
She clamored up to the rail,
gripping the edge with her toes.
She posed momentarily like Lady Liberty,
up there, high and dry.
What if she drowned? But Peter didn't.
He had jumped out of the fishing boat
thinking he'd walk to Jesus. Fat chance.
Instead he sunk like the rock he was.
The sparklers in the backpack flicked behind her head;
the Roman candles fizzed in her ear.
This was not a time to think; it was a time to act.
She recalled the many other dangers, toils and snares
she had already come through.
She posed on that thin line between fear and awe.
Maybe Peter needed to sink.
Peter was the impulsive disciple clown;
he needed some depth.
Jesus didn't sink because he already was the depths.
He was either up in the sky or down here
where compassion resides.
Chlora maintained her balance.
she might go down in smoke,
but if so, grace had brought her safe thus far
and grace would lead her home.
With her eyes wide open, she sang out,
"O'er the land of the free,
and the home of the brave!"
She raised one arm, held her nose,