>
o. the fool
2003-11-01 - 8:21 p.m.

O. The Fool

When I saw the giraffe, all I could do was chew my pen. My large white teeth gnawed with renewed fervor on the already-split plastic end. Crunch, crunch. Somewhere, seemingly far distant from the patch of grass upon which I stood, a blue pen-cap fell, unnoticed. Somewhere beyond a line of tall oaks, an unseen tractor trailer loudly bellowed smoke on its sojourn down the highway.

And somewhere, a somewhere that seemed to be directly in front of me, there was a giraffe. The long lever of its gold and orange neck leaned down, and its thick lips delicately dug into a powder-blue hydrangea. The long road of its neck cast an odd shadow on the ground when the sun momentarily peeked through the gloom of the clouds. Pale lips sucked in the last of the flowers, and the woman beside me barely muffled a screech.

"It took me three years to grow those," she moaned, running a hand through her salt-and-pepper hair. Her love face lifted and set into new waves of frown lines, while she attempted to muster a smile.

"See? We're not crazy," she offered, wagging her finger as I jotted down her words in blue.

Behind their thick lenses, my eyes drifted back over to the giraffe, which was slowly ambling over to a grassy swathe at the center of the condominiums. It passed a powder-pink Huffy whose occupant, a ponytailed girl in denim overalls, dropped her mouth as if she were a carp waiting for a dockside potato chip. Entranced, the tiny occupant de-biked and followed the sapling-thin legs that slowly pumped their way to the green.

"Amanda, get away from there!" called the woman. The dark-eyed little girl made no response. And suddenly, two little friends appeared: the generic blond boy in the generic kid-jeans. A white-faced Asian girl.

And like the rats behind the goddamned Pied Piper, they moved in slow-motion behind the giraffe. The very real giraffe, which happened to leave a great steaming pile on the lawn as it passed. As the bass notes of the scent – scents does have notes, you see, much like fine wine – struck me, I pondered the metaphysics of elimination. And I tried to mine the name of the Goddess of Giraffes, but my mythological mind was coming up a blank.

There was a great beauty to this foreign import, this mountainous creature with its knobby-ended nubs that served no real purpose. Its liquid brown eyes seemed highly amused as it sidestepped a plastic recycling container. Some mystery sprouted up in its footsteps, like cow-patties (or giraffe-patties, as the case may be). And what else could've inspired such wide-eyed trance-admiration? The children, the humans in general, couldn't help put follow.

As unnatural as a hibiscus in the snow, maybe. And yet as natural as one. The Serengeti surreptitiously slipped into a suburban bedroom, and offered stumbling apologies as it engaged in a life and death struggle on the carpet, so to speak. I couldn't help but watch. That yellowed hide, that spoke of foreign grasslands. The comic height and the long face with the pursed lips. An amused intelligence there.

I swallowed the sacredness of the moment. Not now. I have to be a professional.

Not knowing what else to do, I quietly excused myself to make a call on the cell. Official-sounding heel taps echoed from the house-walls as I strode to the curb and sat on its crumbling edge, my legs splayed wide. My blunt-nailed hand struggled with the miniature keypad but, after three failed attempts that involved cursing the holy spirit of Techne, I succeeded.

"Newsroom." Brenda's voice shot out in its usual rapid fire staccato.

"Hi, it's Jasmine," I said. "Um. There is a giraffe."

"A giraffe?" I could hear her take a sip of coffee, and then settle into her usual state of manic shivering. "A giraffe? A large mammal of the Sahara? Are you sure it's a giraffe?"

Pause. Breathe. Count backwards from three.

"Yes, I'm sure. It's eleven feet tall. It's kind of yellow. Has those cute little nobby horn-things. It's most definitely a giraffe."

"How did it get there?" she said, her voice ascending an octave into the nails-on-the-blackboard realm.

"It didn't have a comment for the press."

"Don't be an asshole!" she screeched. "I don't pay you for fucking talk! There's a fucking giraffe in a residential neighborhood, and I want to know why it's fucking there!"

My breathe slowly whistled out of pursed lips, as I sullenly blanketed fantasies of the giraffe. In my mind's eye, I watched it trample the seedy paper-strewn newsroom, breaking the backs of all the copy editors who fucked up the headlines on my stories. Trampling the polished executive desk of the publisher with those splayed feet and long thin legs. In my mind's eye, it paused in front of Brenda's desk, where the fluffy 80's-hair bleach blonde was repeatedly downing small cups of espresso.

The steaming pile of excrement took its five-foot drop right onto her poodle head. She shrieked, and the office lightbulbs spontaneously exploded. Then the giraffe took a swipe at her with one raised foot. Suddenly, the sparks from the shattered lightbulbs caught on a pile of old yellowed newsprint, and flames delicately licked the walls. My mind's eye panned out, riding a universal news chopper. In the dark, you could see a ball of flames and the distant shape of a mushroom cloud, which faded ultimately into black. Then the black became stars, bedecked with whirling galaxies, shining like a diva's necklace. The black became the amused pupils in the eyes of a giraffe, wandering arcanely through a subdivision, its feet delicately sidestepping pink Huffies and entranced small children that followed its swaying hips as if it were the Pied Piper, flinging Pez dispensers and catchy tunes all along the trail to the mountain.

Of course, I didn't say any of this.

"I'll call animal control and the cops," I offered, alms into the hands of the professionally paranoid. "Can we get a photo?"

I hear the slurrrrp of the steaming coffee, and the sharp crack of its base against the desk. At last, a task she can accomplice.

"I'll check. Hold on."

As I press the small phone against the whorl of my ear, I glance at the path threading its way between the houses. A mockingbird darted, a flash of white-spot wings as its beak nipped at a moth. And while the strange creature was blocked by a peaked gable, a linear shadow sliced its way across the uniform mowed grass, disrupting the pattern decided upon and enacted by bored groundskeepers. Or ornery homeowners' associations, checking the tint of every front door, making sure it is regulation red, and not such revolutionary colors as hunter green or mauve. All have to be the same, ya know.

And isn't that it? The shadow swayed on the green spearheads of the grass. A dandelion weaseled its way from a sidewalk crack, oblivious to the designs of the homeowners associations's spectacled gray-haired members, who all exhibit the customary stick up the ass. As much as we strive for the perfectly mowed expanse of green and the uniform doors, the customary offspring with their fashionable sneakers and matching therapy appointments, nature decides to disrupt our human plaid with the wild amoebas of paisley.

Sometimes it's giraffes. Sometimes, the doughty silver limb of the oak crashes through the dining room ceiling, sending the chandelier tinkling to the carpet, an ersatz musical instrument. We respond by cutting down all the trees, and pulling their stubborn stumps. We can't get the roots out, and leave them to rot underneath the white stone slabs of the sidewalks. She responds again, with an army of fleas conquering the pristine forestland of the housecat's pelt. We respond with chemical sprays and then, ultimately, by shoving the clawing feline into a packing crate and leaving it at the doorstep of the nearest shelter.

"You got me, but I'll get you," Nature smirks, pointing her fingers in an a-okay sign. Her white teeth sparkle. Oh, how white, how pointy they are, grandmother.

She sends the thunderhead with the golf-ball hail, and the black mold that coats the basement. We rebuild, ants with their dirt palace kicked over by a malevolent teenager. Or termites. On and on the game runs. We get bitter, cursing and stamping and making obscene gestures with our rubber-gloved hygienic paws. She laughs merrily; it's a game to her. No harm, no foul. And, in the end, she wins. Slowly by slowly, cell by cell, our bodies wash away in the tides of time, writing on the sand. The neurons untangle, oil-soaked spaghetti. We gibber and limp, silvered and lined like the trees, transformed into a delicate papery moth.

And then we retire into her dark brown embrace and rot in it. The grubs, which we had so endeavored to route from the Perfect Lawn with the perfect Mass-Produced Chemical Spray, gnaw on our old bones. Our descendants, who had once followed a giraffe like a certain group of skipping youngsters in Hamlin, try to thwart the Old Woman one more time: bury ‘em in stone, a perfectly rectangular box. Within it lies another box, a veritable Russian doll of boxes. The inner one is lined with satin.

The Old Woman smiles with her imperturbable grin. A half-grin, a moon-crescent, the waning sickle.

"What does it matter?" she asks, spreading her loamy hands wide, encompassing half the Milky Way in the act. "They're still fucking dead."

What does this have to do with giraffes?

I have no fucking idea. I think too much. Like most mealy-mouthed Hildegard van Bingen wannabes, I have a fascination with death, and I see it in every shadow. In the linear shadow of the giraffe, in the one under my own sandaled feet.

But. Maybe. Grace? My eyes drift back to the gable. Its head peeked out quizzically, as its jaw ruminated over the remnants of a garden bed.

Maybe it's the strangeness of grace. The Old Woman, unlike the homeowners' association, does not have a large garden tool wedged in her softer tissues. Oh, how she laughs. I wish I could, sometimes.

***

After a brief eternity, Brenda's voice rattled through the air, bouncing off satellites hurtling over the South China Sea.

"Russ said he doesn't have anyone to send."

"What? Where are all the photographers?"

"Out on assignment. Mallory's at a fire. Payatt's at a school, doing a shot for a centerpiece. Lamar's out somewhere."

I paused. My eyes drifted to the underbelly of the oak leaves overhead. Light cascaded through their sawtooth edges. Peace, I whispered to the dryad. Give me peace.

"Don't you think a giraffe wandering through a neighborhood is a little more unusual than a school shot?" Somehow, I arm-wrestled the serrated edge of annoyance out of my tone.

"Russ said he had no one to send!" she screeched, and paused again to slurrrp. "There's no one to send!"

"Then we won't have pictures," I sighed.

"But we need pictures! This is a giraffe in a residential neighborhood. It's centerpieceable! A-one-able! We need art!" she shot. Her words sprayed, machine-gun fire at a drive-by.

"But Russ said there is nobody."

"That's right! There's nobody! But we need fucking pictures!"

Pause. Breathe. Count from five backward. What comes after three? Breathe again.

"Brenda, I'm still out on assignment. You figure something out. I'm going to call the officials from here, and then go back and talk to the residents."

With a tad too much kinetic eagerness, my thumb pressed the magic button that ends calls; sound ceased in mid-exclamation. The rivers of memory coursed through my neurons, running down through my long thin arms into the thin twigs of my fingers. With a magic known only to be-thumbed primates, they dialed. The mockingbird landed five feet from me, and my purple paisley hippie skirt fluttered on an unfelt breeze, a sail unfurled and flaring to unknown reaches.

I gave the animal control officer the sour apple of my identity. In his high-pitched drawl, he gave me the tale: with a catch. Off the record, those magic fucking words, the phrase permanently tattooed across my brain with the paint of honor, although inconvenient honor.

Her name is Sally, and she sallied forth from a recluse's private Eden, located in the neighboring town, sequestered from the busy web of highways that send its roaring tide of machines to jobs and mini-malls. A recluse, living on old money. He died, as recluses eventually do, remaining undiscovered for some weeks. Heirs inevitably waited, in pressed formal black, lining an attorney's office for the reading of the will. A woman with platinum-yellow hair fidgeted, and her designer suit rustled. Diamonds dangled from perfectly rounded earlobes, as she cast pale blue eyes to the mahogany desk. Waiting.

One ended up with the estate and its concomitant menagerie. Lions and tigers, ostrich and even, ‘tis rumored, a rhinocerous. The heir with the estate pillaged, sans rape, gathering and dispersing antiques on the market. The menagerie? Left to starve, feeding off squirrels and azaleas.

The big cats lapsed into wide-eyed starvation, their ribs branching, a bone forest. The ostrich threw itself against the wire until it died. And somehow, Sally decided to bust her way out of that latched gate and into the green world, which spelled fast food to a starving giraffe. She left behind her mate, starved into a crumpled heap.

"I told some of the folks there how to care for her," the animal control officer said, as he rattled some unseen cages. "We're making arrangements for an animal rescue group to pick her up in a few days. We just want to give her a chance to eat and get a bit stronger, you know? It's just the kids that are following her around...."

"Virgil, where do I go to get some of this on the record?" I wheedled, hating myself for it.

"Call the chief," he said, after a breathy pause. He didn't need to explain. I knew; I had written it in 11-point font, subsequently transferred into a front page potboiler. How the chief called him and his partner, who helped run the shelter for fifteen years, a "pair of sodomites" while at church. Testifyin'. Wouldn't have been a problem – considering that sacred ratty-edge piece of parchment designating our free speech rights – if Virgil's partner didn't up and lose his post, with just two weeks to go until retirement.

Palming cash, the accusations had run, pelting the man with shit. He had stood with his lawyer and wept, rubbing weathered palms over a leathery red face. My lids closed and opened in a neutral blink, as the blue ballpoint scribbled a man's pain in blue ink. Warmth welled, a floodtide. I built the tides to batten it back, to fight the natural force of saltwater and righteous anger and rage and tears. To wall it back behind the black and white columns of words, behind ballpoints and questions crusted like dirty kitchen knives, waiting for the charwoman. Great Mother, how I hate myself in those moments.

I tried the chief and found only absence and an official-sounding secretary with a needling, tired tone. "Can you page him?" I tried with an equivalent quilting-needle of a voice and a tiredness to rival a chaingang. She promised to try. I pretended to be satisfied and hung up, padding across the perfectly manicured lawn in my cheap sandals, sidestepping wads of giraffe shit. I crouched before Amanda, who seemed oddly lost in her oversized denim overalls. Her mother nodded her salt and pepper head. Yes, talk to the nice newspaper lady.

"Amanda, what do you think of the giraffe?"

She paused, plumbing the depths of her oceanic soul, opening oysters with a pocketknife, looking for the pearl.

"It's cool," she said, turning the monosyllable into three, rising and falling.

A giant eraser attacked the blackboard of my mind. Fuck.

"What's your favorite part of the giraffe?" As soon as the words made it past my lips, I swallowed a triple-x expletive. Favorite part of having the giraffe!

"The head," she said simply. And then a tumble of words elbowed each other out of the way in their mad cascade over the Niagara of her mouth. "It's really big and it's kind of yellow and it's really gross when it poops!"

Mom swooped down, an elbow looping around her daughter's neck. Her eyes sparkled, and she said something official. I wrote it down, officially.

***

Every morning, still in my ugly flannel nightgown, I light the candles on my altar and pray to the Old Woman. And then I pull a card from the Tarot deck. Why? An omen, I suppose; a nod and wink as to how the day will progress. Or what lesson I will need to pan from the gravel of the day, swirling it out like gold from muddy water. Life is learning, says the Old Woman. It sets the theme of the day, an opera score, a swelling orchestra.

That day I had pulled the Fool. Card zero: nothing, an egg, the universe itself, the divine vagina, the circle of life. The dreamer, the mystic, according to the paperback that accompanied the deck with its garish yellow sky and ugly plaid backing. You have great desire to accomplish, but be careful to make the right choice.

But I disagree. The Fool is, you see, faith. Trust. And I am an atheist of faith, religiosity aside. It's like believing in gossamer-winged fairies or unicorns, or love. Faith that the police chief will return my phone calls, and that I'll put together a fine story before deadline, that my boss won't contrive to get me canned. Faith in my abilities as a journalist, a Wiccan, a human being, a singer, a folk-harpist, a container-gardener. Faith in my Buddha-nature, my reputed goodheartedness. Faith in my self-sufficiency, in the solidity of the floor beneath me, in the overal safety of my dwelling place, the stability of my finances. Faith in others' good opinion of me.

The Fool, garbed in ribbons and wildly contrasting patterns, laughs at the cliff's edge, gleefully of indeterminate gender. A boyish girl, a girlish boy. She puts the tinwhistle to her mouth as she strolls, piping a lively tune. The sky glows a strange unearthly yellow, bright with optimism. She wears a flower in her short locks, puts its stem under her colored headband and whirls and dances and waltzes to music only she can hear. She doesn't see the far fall, the burning towers, the smog-filled cities of desolation in the valley below, the gay man crying over his lost job. Her eyes gleam with innocense; her laughter holds no bitter tinge.

The white dog yips in warning at her be-ribboned heel. Dance and waltz and then, inevitably, the pebbles skid and over she goes, a flurry of ribbons and color and braids and flutesong. She walks unthinking into the air, into the sound of bones cracking, the suffering of impact, the horror of helplessness and lost naivete. Or she walks into the still pure air of hope, the faith in potential, and sprouts wings as Daedalus. She is cradled in the hands of Varuna and lands gently as a feather on the meadow, a feather on the breath of god. Or an anvil on its nine-day fall to Tartarus,

Does the outcome rely on the perception? The faith that brings the mountain to Mohammed, that allows the yogi to be pierced bloodlessly, that makes miracles of coconuts or giraffes? Or is it chance that cradles her on the breeze or throws her agaisnt the sharp edges of boulders? Mere happenstance, a trick of the weather patterns, the vicissitudes of human nature, a flick of the hormones, a traffic accident?

I want that faith, the Fool's sunshine grin, her ribboned tunic, her colors.

I want the world to be full of fucking giraffes, in the most unlikely of places.

previous Next begin at the beginning

Index - Older - Host - Design