Excerpt from Chlora's Book of the Month Club: March
Copyright 2015, Ginger Henry Geyer
The setting is Chlora's backyard, while a birthday party for her little brother, Jerry Pete (JP)
is winding down...
Chlora did the check-off list in her mind:
party prep, arrival of guests and their parents,
hamburgers from the grill,
games in the backyard, birthday cake and ice cream.
Now they were onto unwrapping presents, and to end it
there'd be the piñata-bashing.
The sky looked gloomy and so was Chlora.
She had sorta overtaken the game portion
of the party earlier and felt a tad guilty
about the episode in the playhouse.
She had decorated it to look like the
Little Red Schoolhouse.
Since the children were only in preschool
they thought this was very cool.
Chlora invented a game called playing school.
She donned some large eyeglasses, got a ruler
and did a harsh reenactment of a
bad day at school, first making them pick up
spilled school supplies and then
chasing them with the teacher's paddle.
Unfortunately she didn't have a paddle,
one of those long, wicked ones with holes drilled in it,
so she used the small bat JP had for T-ball.
She didn't even hit anybody with it but
JP and his buddy Walter had cried.
Chlora had gotten in trouble for scaring them
and now she felt like an exile.
It wasn't the first time she had ruined a
When she was JP's age, she went to a party
and unwrapped all the presents.
Since she was not the Birthday Girl,
this presented a problem.
She still resented that.
It wasn't like she was the Prodigal Son
or something. She just really liked giftwrap and ribbons.
The paddle-chasing incident was merely
a crime of passion and it really shouldn't have counted against her.
But her parents made her sit out on the rest of the games.
The children played with a crepe paper ball
that released little trinket toys as it was unraveled
and passed around the circle.
Then they did a genteel round of
pin the tail on the donkey.
She could've gotten into that,
poking an ass with thumbtacks.
The next thing she missed was
musical chairs, which was fine by her.
On that one, you got the chair pulled out from under you
when the music stopped.
Everybody laughed when you hit the dirt.
Now why was this better than
being threatened with a little bitty baseball bat?
Chlora's portable record player had done its job
quite well for the musical chairs game,
though she feared her records had gotten scratched
from Mom's abrupt needle lifting.
The record player sat at the edge of the patio,
its umbilical cord stretched into the house
to the electrical plug.
Record album covers were scattered about,
as were the small 35 rpm's, which belonged
in a carrying case.
These were the soundtrack of her life.
It might include some easy listening
or record breaking, but occasionally there
were pitch-perfect moments,
like when Maria Callas hit a high note.
Chlora's life should have such a wide range.
Changing the tune was necessary because
Mom and Dad would always defer to Their Song.
It had been popular when they got married
and they still liked to jitterbug to it.
As they say, all music was once new—
even the golden oldies, even parents.
Chlora preferred "Twist and Shout"
or some life lessons from the Beatles.
She liked watching the big green apple
on their records spinning around under the needle.
It gave her the same dizzy
sensation the surreal Magritte paintings did.
They played "You Say It's Your Birthday,"
which was lost on the three year olds.
They were wrapping up the game
and Chlora knew she must dig out
something before her Mom
put on another dog like that awful WWII song—
"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!"
She carefully flipped through her records.
If she'd been in charge of the record player
she'd put on Elvis the Pelvis
and get those kids doing the bump and grind.
Where was that pelvis record?
Chlora resorted to her Sound of Music album.
The big vinyl had been played so much it had warped.
She lined up those little kids like
the von Trapp family stairsteps and
made them sing along to "So Long, Farewell,"
hoping they'd get the clue to go home.
Chlora suggested they now have a snipe hunt.
That'd be a game changer.
At the moment JP was beset
with greedy anticipation of presents.
He was getting all jitter-jabbery,
giddy with delight.
For the entire party, he had kept an eye on that
card table piled high with colorful packages
and his gratification could
no longer be delayed.
He ripped into one box after another
with barely any recognition to the giver.
He was not good at gift management.
First, a holster with 3 silver bullets and a pistol.
Next a set of Go Fish cards,
all of them with pictures of Jesus doing something with a fish.
Mr. Potato Head, the cross dresser.
A fuzzy Lamb Chops puppet.
A Magic Slate that could tell the future.
Then he opened up the very same
burning bush telephone from the dimestore
that Chlora had rejected as too obnoxious
when they'd gone shopping.
It was Moses' hotline to heaven
but it had a bad ring to it.
JP would remember few of these gifts by tomorrow.
For now he was entirely in the present
and his eyes were wild.
The last two gifts were from his big sisters,
Chlora and Joanie Kay.
Joanie Kay handed over a thin
gift bag fluffed up with tissue paper.
Chlora gave him a slender shirt box
wrapped in the comic papers.
JP ripped into the bag and scowled.
It was an inflatable inner tube
and it didn't look like much until
Joanie Kay began to blow it up for him.
She got blue in the face, handed it to Chlora,
and left to see her girlfriends.
Chlora was curious what this hybrid animal floatie
looked like so she took on the job,
huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf
on that little nozzle.
The inner tube puffed right up
but the head took awhile to gain air.
It suddenly uprighted itself and grinned at them all,
with bright blue eyes presiding over sagging ears.
That face reminded Chlora of a camel
in the Adoration of the Magi by
her favorite artist, Giotto.
She had laughed at it in some Christmas book
because obviously that 14th century Italian
had never seen a real live camel
and this one was pretty goofy.
A goofy, lightweight, float-on-the-surface toy
was perfect for JP.
He begged to go swimming right away.
Not until the public pool opens in June, said Mom.
Till then you can play with
this present that Chlora made special for you.
JP cut through the comics quickly, and
looked puzzled at the contents of the box.
Chlora went into a long explanation
that each character represented
a blessing in disguise, according to Mother Teresa.
Chlora proudly admitted that she
had invented the paper dolls herself.
She told the story about Mother Teresa
addressing the Kiwanis Club
when some old coot asked her,
How do you stand it when you have to touch
some truly despicable person?
You know, the real scum of society?
Mother Teresa sighed and replied,
I take a deep breath,
look deeply into their eyes and say to myself,
My, Jesus, what an interesting disguise you're wearing today.
All you had to do
to get into the good graces of Mother Teresa
was to get yourself born.
JP had done that three years ago.
He asked where his own paper doll figure was.
Chlora patiently explained that he
wasn't one of the paper dolls
because they were all stereotypes.
Each figure could hang onto
a cardboard cutout of Jesus.
There was the prostitute, and the prisoner,
and the old Jew, and the Hispanic lady with
so many children she didn't know what to do.
There was a little Chinese girl,
a bag lady and a gay man,
and who was the eighth one
who looks like a neo-Nazi?
Oh yea, that's the skinhead.
All but him represent the marginalized people
that we nice folks politely ignore.
I added him in there as a challenge to myself. Do you think he has
any Jesus in him?
I'll tell you for sure, when his arm got torn off, I didn't cry.
Paper dolls are for girls, JP pouted.
No, they are for rich white boys too!
He wrinkled his cute little nose,
tossed them aside,
and reached for the toy army tank
from his pal Walter.
He could really make tracks with this in the sandbox,
set up his own war, invent an enemy
and grind them into the sand.
So much for the good fit of a gift.
He liked everything better than her paper dolls,
even the miniature Benediction football.
Earlier, JP had already gotten the gift
that surely was intended for Chlora,
that much-coveted and mammoth set of watercolors.
What more could he want?
Chlora eyed the watercolor set, now on display
for all to admire,
with four brushes and fifty—
count 'em, fifty!— pans of color.
JP didn't appreciate this any more than
the paper dolls, being a sexist macho man-in-training.
Chlora reminded him that all of the famous watercolor
painters in the past were male.
Nothing could depict an oncoming storm
as well as watercolors. Couldn't he see that?
One was surely coming today, you could
tell by the dog's behavior.
Stogie the weenie dog cowered under a lawn chair.
The loot fest was over
and as the kids ran off to the next great thing,
Chlora sauntered over to the watercolor set,
tucked it under her arm
and slyly deposited it inside the back door.
Mom saw her and asked what she was doing.
Oh, just rescuing those watercolors
from JP and the rain. They really shouldn't
get wet except by an artist.
Mom said that all children were artists.
Chlora raised her eyebrows
and retorted that all children
were also doctors.
The other moms at the party exclaimed
about how gifted and talented JP was.
You have to learn to live into your giftedness
and being only three, he had a long way to go.
Mom then handed Chlora a nicely wrapped box.
Here, this is just for you.
This was pleasant, albeit expected, as they always got
some little present at their sibling's birthday parties
to ward off jealousy.
It had a famous painting on it for gift wrap.
Chlora could identify it as a Rembrandt.
Chlora knew this one.
It was called a story of homecoming,
but there was not a mum corsage, or a homecoming queen in sight.
It was really about the Prodigal Son.
Why here and why now?
She supposed this meant she was the prodigal daughter.
No fair, she had never even run away,
which JP had tried twice.
She had moral superiority and she was proud of it.
She popped off the simple red bow and ripped
into the package. Peeking out was a globe of the world.
Chlora bit her bottom lip, and stood there.
She smiled with her mouth but not with her eyes.
It was like the time her Mom received
a vacuum cleaner for Christmas.
Chlora figured she could experiment with some real
global warming later on with her Easy Bake Oven.
Finally it was piñata time,
which signaled the grand finale.
At the far end of the yard a colorful piñata
had been slung over a tree limb.
Chlora took her unwrapped gift that direction, and
jammed the fancy box under a lawn chair
next to the shivering dog.
She remained in the margins,
where she felt most comfortable,
lining herself up with a
trio of Italian cypresses swaying in tandem.
Such trees really do look better in Italy
back where they belong.
With both trepidation and cheer, the kids queued up from
short to tall to dismember a chicken.
Its surprise contents were their party favor,
but they'd have to earn it.
Make it or break it!
The little kids ruffled its feathers, knocking his
left wing or his right wing.
The piñata was spinning the truth.
This was an acceptable level of violence
but it was not gonna get the job done.
What they really needed was a croquet mallet
and no blinders, and someone
who could bushwhack that stuffed effigy.
From the sidelines, Chlora bragged
that she could beat the blessing out of it.
They might not let girls play Little League
but she'd show 'em how to hit, even with a
wussy little buster bat. The piñata hung
there like Judas, stiff and twisted.
She would get three tries, just like Peter,
to make that cock crow.
Someone put the flimsy handkerchief
over her eyes and
turned her around three times.
She was dizzy but not in denial.
She knew with one well-placed death blow,
she could knock the chicken-shit out of that rooster.
She stood stalwart on the line drawn in the dirt
and gave it her best shot,
like Cain going after Abel.
She made contact but the piñata swung back
like a pendulum and hit her in the face.
The homeland security commission
wasn't paying attention,
so Chlora stepped over the border,
scrunched up her nose, squinted her eyes
and let the blindfold slip.
Now seeing red, she
took aim at the rooster's weak spot.
She wasn't sure if he was an enemy
or not, but just in case she bellowed out a war hoop:
"Remember the Alamo!!!" and bashed that chicken so hard
his feet flew out from under him,
spraying a rain of goodies.
Instantly, Chlora was the hit of the party.
But she had no time to revel in her hero status.
She dived into the rabble-rousing swarm
of kids, candy and toys,
scratching, kicking, shoving, and when necessary,
stomping on fingers. She avoided
those thirty pieces of silver,
and went for the gold like an Olympic star.
She grabbed her share,
but there wasn't much to be had.
The innards of that rooster were just lightweight,
cheap stuff, and all the kids were howling.
One boy got a bloody nose
and a girl's party dress was torn.
Chlora lost a shoe and stumped her toe.
Her loose tooth dangled
and her hair stuck out like straw.
The scene was worse than the hustle
for helicoptered food rations
you see on TV. They were all crazed
by the scramble for the manna,
having a feeding frenzy
when they weren't even starving.
Someone had the good sense to break this
cycle of violence, and declared
that the rooster ruckus was over.
Some of the Sugar Daddies made the kids
pick up and say polite thank-you-goodbyes
and they scurried home.
You can't beat that with a stick.
Chlora sniffed the air. It was fixing to rain.
Her brother was always the lucky one;
it didn't even sprinkle on his party
but politely waited until it was over with.
Otherwise they would've weathered a crisis.
Some girl said the sun had gone behind a cloud.
Chlora corrected her: no,
the cloud went over the sun.
Life was not fair. Chlora's loot bag was almost empty.
She was the one who'd wrestled for the blessing,
like Jacob and the angel.
She had been patient, hadn't cut in line, and had
followed all the rules. Well, except one rule.
She had peeked through the blindfold.
But it wasn't all her fault since it was sheer fabric,
a silk scarf with Dali's picture of the transparent Jesus on it.
He was at his Last Supper where they all ate
flesh and blood.
All these kids wanted to eat was candy.
In this picture Jesus' body was dissolving into thin air,
which was weird because he
always seemed to be a real body in most pictures.
And by most accounts, he had a pretty good physique.
Chlora knew she was not supposed to think
about such things so she made herself get guilty.
She was pretty good at guilt
and now she felt like Peter did in the
courtyard of the high priest when he wanted
to ring that rooster's neck.
Later Peter regretted hitting the snooze button three times.
But he got forgiven and was turned into a rock.
Not a bad outcome if you liked rocks
as much as Chlora did.
Chlora had a sinking feeling, but knew it never helped to stone yourself.
So she limped over to the edge of the yard
and plopped down beside the abandoned piñata.
He'd had a worse time than she did at this party.
He looked forlorn and depleted.
She gave him a plastic harmonica and told
him he resembled a famous rock star named Matt Dillon.
But the rooster just remained bug-eyed
and unimpressed by her flattery.
He flopped over and she plucked candy out of his
rumpled tail feathers and gorged herself.
Is this where the word cocktail comes from?
That rooster could've pecked her eyes out,
but instead he just lay there
unflappable as a nonviolent demonstrator.
The rooster's head tilted toward the tree.
Whereas he had once been cocksure,
now he had chickened-out.
Chlora walked over there.
Under the tree she retrieved
the rooster's broken off feet.
They were chock full of chocolate kisses.
The kid who received the bloody nose
sat there, still waiting on his mother.
She had given him a tissue and an ice pack
and she was now busy chasing down gift wrap
that'd been whipped up by the wind.
The kid smiled under his bloody nose
and thanked Chlora for breaking the piñata.
It was Walter, the same kid she'd tried to spank
in the playhouse.
Cloudy judgment now swelled around Chlora.
Where did she ever get the idea
that spanking was good for kids?
There were plenty chocolate kisses to share,
so she handed them over to the Walter.
He said a nasal thank you.
Under his lawn chair was the present
Chlora had half-unwrapped earlier.
Something was written on the tiny card:
"… you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."
Chlora shrugged and summoned up her gumption.
There was something intimate
that needed to be talked about,
but she felt vulnerable and couldn't do it just then.
What is the sound of reconciliation?
One hand clapping?
The crackle of unwrapping a chocolate kiss?
She told Walter she was sorry for the earlier mishap.
And she admitted that she had cheated with the blindfold.
Walter sniffed but kept silent.
She scanned the grass for a four-leaf clover,
but they had all been picked for St. Patrick's Day.
Chlora turned toward the rooster
and stared at his bug eyes.
It was an I/Thou moment.
She spilled her guts, and apologized to the rooster.
She had killed the messenger.
Instead of feeding sheep three times
like Jesus told Peter, she had fed herself.
She blabbered on that she didn't understand
the crucifixion, or the resurrection, or forgiveness,
and maybe that was sinful,
but she promised she'd track every rabbit trail
to it until she figured it out.
The party was over.
The remaining parents kindly pitched in
They donned silly hats that matched
the party plates and napkins
that were now scattered upon the wind.
They tooted horns and put their favorite vinyl
on the record player.
Parties like this are really for the parents.
The canopy over the sandbox was flipping up
and Chlora imagined it as a ship in a battered sea,
with that seascape artist Turner lashed to the mast
so he could experience the furious storm
he yearned to paint.
Turner was good with both watercolor and oils.
Chlora realized she should probably
not steal her brother's watercolor set
but give him some lessons.
She vowed to show him how to get good results
by dipping his brush in holy water.
There was no need for fifty colors anyhow,
since mixing what you have
is the whole point of water coloring.
Lightning flashed and someone hollered
unplug that record player!
There was no need to float the weather balloon;
Chlora knew rain was imminent
because the panting weenie dog
dashed for cover on the porch.
He was a fair weather friend.
A deep rumble sounded from the
still-plugged-in record player.
It was Tennessee Ernie Ford,
"He's Got the Whole Wor–uld In His Hands".
Chlora took the boring globe out of its box
and looked it over. There were a lot of oceans
and rivers and countries on there.
And none of them were separated by dotted lines.
She could even feel the textured terrain.
The mountain peaks on the globe caught
a bit of light that broke through the clouds.
Chlora thought of the myth of Indra's net
stretching across the world,
with sparkling jewels forming at every intersection.
If she cut out enough paper dolls
and joined them hand to hand,
they could curve up, over, and all around
the real globe, making so many
lit up interconnections
that liberals would see wonder
instead of light pollution,
and conservatives would glow
with an attitude of gratitude.
The globe fit in her hands pretty well.
It was whole and it was wide.
And it was hers.
Chlora quietly sang along with the deep bass,
He's got you and me brother in his hands…
She asked Walter if he knew the
parable of the two brothers, er, the prodigal son.
He replied, is that the one that is really
about the happy father?
Chlora rolled the globe in her hands.
Walter, if you were in charge of the world
what would you do with it?
I dunno, be a Harlem Globetrotter
and sail the seven seas?
Or turn it into a world bank and save money
to save the planet.
Chlora tossed the globe into the air like a ball.
The globe was a small one.
But if the gift is from God, it is not a small gift.
Chlora said, my mom says
a gift must stay in motion,
The boy caught the globe and spun it around.
Where are the ends of the earth?
Do you make ends meet or do you make amends?
Walter put the globe on his shoulder
and declared himself Atlas, the
master of the universe.
It rolled down his back.
Isn't this what the father gave his elder son,
the one who was jealous?
Chlora said, yea I think so,
but if you read that story, maybe the older guy
was just bewildered by his blessings.
He had more love than he could deal with;
maybe he didn't know how to reciprocate.
Or maybe he was just plain spoiled.
Whatever, he didn't reform himself like
his pig squatting brother did,
but his Dad gave him that gift anyhow.
The Elder Brother should meet Martha,
as in the Mary and Martha story.
They'd make a good pair.
Walter removed the ice pack from his nose,
snorted and sang that obnoxious Disney song
"It's a Small, Small World"
Chlora tried to override him by twanging
Willie Nelson's "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?"
Before it got too world-weary,
Chlora put the globe back into its gift box
and tied it up. She gave the box to Walter.
Here, just ribbons, no strings.
If you've got a gift for the world, give it.
But that was your present, Chlora.
But I need to give it to you.
Globalization depends on it.
She glanced at her Easy Bake oven on the patio.
Betsy Wetsy's legs still hung out of it
from Chlora's morning revenge.
She'd pull the truth out of the oven and
let poor Betsy wet her pants as often as she wanted.
Furthermore, she'd pop Betsy's arms back in.
For now, there was a short psalm before the storm.
White pear blossoms
blew off the newly bloomed trees,
and it looked like snow falling.
Chlora's favorite color doubled over itself
in the sky. It was that
troubled periwinkle blue,
the shade that blows hope into the world.
A Frisbee rolled across the lawn.
The grown-ups scrambled after their windfall profits tax.
The storm gusted in from afar,
delivering air breathed earlier
by others out west.
Big fat raindrops plunked down.
That crestfallen piñata listed to the left,
still knocked out from
the concussion Chlora had delivered.
He was scatter-brained,
nothing more than a container of candy,
a vessel to be broken for their brief pleasure.
Worse, he would dissolve into a gummy mess out here.
Chlora gathered up the wounded rooster
and all his body parts.
He might need crutches, but then who doesn't?
If nothing else, Chlora was good with a glue gun.
She would repair the damage to the poor piñata.
Even fallen creatures
deserved to get their feet back.