Excerpt from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: June
Draft 1, August 2014 , copyright Ginger Henry Geyer
It is bedtime and Chlora and her retinue of stuffed animals is set up for story telling.
Chlora liked the dark, except when there wasn't any light.
She often got in trouble for reading after lights-out because it would
ruin her eyes. She considered lighting a candle like Abraham Lincoln
but it was safer to go undercover with a flashlight.
She liked to tape the sheets to the ceiling to make a tent,
like a mosquito net in the rain forest.
It was especially eerie when the blue sheets were on the bed,
because then her tent glowed.
It was bedtime for Bonzo and Chlora
gathered up the full gang for a nighty-night story.
Usually Chlora did not invite all the animals to story time.
There was always a jostling for position,
who could sit at her right hand, and who got the left.
Last night she read Black Beauty to them,
to give them courage by association.
Hero stories were always uplifting.
But tonight was even better because it
was a love story.
She solemnly read it out of
the Song of Solomon.
None of them were too sure of the
character development or the plot of the arc,
but there was some sort of backstory here,
and whatever it was,
it made everybody blush.
The Song of Solomon was not on the
Approved List for the public library’s
summer reading program.
Chlora wasn’t quite sure if it qualified as a story or a poem
It wasn’t a page turner but a page lingerer.
But stories are supposed to create readiness,
and it certainly did that.
Everybody couldn’t wait for the next chapter,
which she had promised them: a wedding.
She had given them all advance notice,
because Arnold and Feeney, her two monkeys,
were gonna get married.
Afterall, this is how the world is supposed to operate:
Arnold and Feeney sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G,
First come love, then comes marriage,
Then comes Feeney with a baby carriage!
Chlora tossed all the stuffed toys out of the tent
and told them to go get dressed up
while she decorated for the ceremony.
She pulled in her red toy piano,
put a candlestick on it like Liberace,
and sprinkled around a few rose petals.
Teddy returned first, spouting his best bib and tucker.
He would be the best man, since he was the best
of all. Chlora could read him like an open book.
Teddy was true blue, a non-anxious presence.
Unlike those monkey-minded monkeys,
Teddy never ran off, he
just stayed put wherever she left him.
When those monkeys were too wild,
she’d cage them up in the closet, where they’d
make all kinds of racket, swinging on the
monkey bars, monkeying around doing their
monkey business. No wonder they had to get married.
Little Biba the elf crawled into the tent next.
She would serve as maid of honor.
She was supposed to bring a Bible for the ceremony
but she got confused in the dark and carried in her big volume
of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
She also brought her baby, which was bad manners,
as anybody knew, because babies inevitably cry
Then Raggedy Andy slipped into the tent.
Ever since he lost his arm from being a fugitive,
Andy was blasé about everything.
Nothing much moved him anymore.
His broken body came with a broken heart.
He said nobody would rent him a one-armed tuxedo
so he just wore his usual dungarees.
Hopefully Andy would catch the bridal bouquet
but with only one arm he’d be at a disadvantage.
Plus, that Frenchified tart named Fifi would out-grab him, no doubt.
Fifi was a fluffy pink poodle and she was big enough to sit on.
She was like overstuffed prose;
she took up all the air in the tent,
but she did lend some class to the wedding.
Fifi was a diva and she’d want to sing a solo.
She began to warm up, while Biba intoned:
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Chlora told her that was too sad for a wedding,
couldn’t Tennyson come up with something
a bit more sentimental?
Out in the narthex of the tent,
Arnold and Feeney got themselves outfitted
in 15th century wedding attire, as close as possible
to the couple in that wedding portrait by van Eyck.
Well, mainly all they wore was headgear, since
Arnold never changed his clothes and Feeney
refused to wear any at all.
She was actually butt naked, but she considered
herself dressed since she was made
out of an old, introverted sock.
Chlora pretended Feeeny looked like the van Eyck bride
in her fine, green velvet wedding gown
which looked sort of like that dress
Scarlet O’Hara made out of the drapes
when she was poor on the plantation
and needed to dress for success.
Feeney was usually as meek as a Southern belle,
unless she got riled up like Scarlet O'Hara
and pulled up raw carrots right out of the earth
and snarfed them down.
Feeney was always looking for root causes of problems.
she might look innocent, but she was too smart for her own good,
like that scientist who said we all come from monkeys.
Since the Bible says we are made in God's image,
Chlora concluded that God looked like a monkey.
But which one?
Hopefully not Arnold.
He had a gummy smile and bug eyes.
He used to be a circus monkey
and he was always disturbing the peace
with his noisy gong and clanging cymbals;
he did not have charity.
But Chlora liked his spunk.
She could hear the wedding couple
grooming each other in their endless cycle of
Those monkeys were going bananas now.
They had a bad case of the nerves.
Maybe they had been fighting out there;
they were equals and they could get quite competitive,
like in social Darwinism.
In such cases, the best solution was to
be like Noah, offer them an olive branch,
and make them march into that ark together;
it was the only hope for survival that they had.
Chlora began banging out the Mendelssohn wedding march
on her toy piano, and the quarreling pair stiffened up.
They walked in, barefoot,
either because it was holy ground
or they were ready to play footsie.
They were like Romeo and Juliet but more mature.
The retinue crammed in
around the piano.
Darn, she forgot to get a flower girl.
They all looked like they were in a dissociative trance,
with collective amnesia
as they tried to keep a straight face.
Chlora said “Dearly Beloved”
and gave a quick homily, with hand motions:
Hear no evil, do no evil, speak no evil.
Then she told a story she made up on the spot,
which may be the best kind. especially if it is a
long story short.
Teddy was most attentive, and he was well-liked
by all the other stuffed animals until they got jealous
and triangulated on him one time,
making up stories that were lies
and accusing him of evolution.
Chlora sat them down, whipped out Inherit the Wind,
read it from cover to cover, and
make them all drink Scope mouthwash.
Stories like that spread and create culture;
they became the gospel truth.
Plus, all stories are connected somewhere,
so you better be careful how you tell them.
Chlora’s impromptu wedding story lacked a narrative
but at least it had an open ending.
The wedding was over, the monkeys had a sloppy kiss
and Chlora played the recessional music.
It was feeling crowded under there so
they threw back the tent flaps
and went to the reception.
Now that they were hitched, Arnold and Feeney were
inseparable and moved around the room as a pair.
The two had become one.
They were longingly looking at the bed,
even though they had been traumatized there
by Chlora’s little brother J.P.
who loved to jump on the springy mattress.
He would chant in rhythm to the boing, boing, boing
“four little monkeys jumping on the bed”
one fell off and broke his head…
whereupon poor old Arnold took a flying leap,
landed on his head and banged his cymbals upside down
for five minutes until Chlora rescued him.
Cymbals and symbols are not toys.
Chlora demanded they put a stop to all that head bumping
on the bed. Arnold would just have to wait
to consummate the marriage
and get Feeney’s dowry transferred.
That’s what marriage was all about back then
in the 15th century, those poor bartered brides
being submissive pawns to a social system
that secured prosperity and lineage.
In the painting, the bride and groom had taken off their shoes.
Feeney substituted some roller skates for her shoes
and took off. Arnold ran after her, exclaiming his undying love
and finally she skated back to him and linked arms.
Little Biba came up with a tiny bottle of champagne,
which like the water supply in Cana,
turned into endless joy at weddings.
Chlora cut the cake
and saved herself a big slice and two strawberries.
Arnold offered a toast, “Till Death Do Us!”
Then he and his bride posed for their official portrait
in front of a mirror. Back in the day, that mirror
would be a sacred souvenir, which was odd
since mirrors reverse everything.
But that wasn’t as weird as those
newlywed Etruscans who
reclined, smiling, on top of their own sarcophagus.
Right after that, they’d be off on their honeymoon trip
to Hawaii and could come back with a archetypal
story about pilgrimage.
It’d be either be that, a journey story,
or one about a stranger coming to town,
but a good story needs to be told
so we know our own myths to live by.
They all threw rice at Arnold and Feeney
as they ducked into their getaway car,
which was J.P.’s little firetruck with pedals.
They were off to create their own life story
and hopefully they’d take the learner’s stance
and not the victim’s.
It was quiet now, and Chlora settled in for her own bedtime story.
She had been ruined by reading
Nancy Drew before she was ready for it
so she was wary of tales that were over her head.
What was the meta-story these days, the one
that made life readable, was complete in itself,
organic, and made connections hold together?
She was looking for this grand narrative, and occasionally
she liked to read the last page first, hoping for a shortcut.
One could get carried away by the spoilers, though,
and miss the whole point.
The bedroom door creaked open
and Chlora and the animals had to
quickly flop down.
They were all pros at playing possum.
Dad was checking on them
and Chlora stuffed the flashlight under the pillow.
Was there a moral to this monkey-mind tale?
Open stories help us see in the dark?
Stories make us more human?
You guys need to hear lots more stories.