A Summer Story, For My Daughter
Note: It occurred to me that for someone trying to publish fiction, this blog is notably light on fiction. And my kids keep pestering to put something on here for them, with their pictures. So, two leaves, one giant giraffe tongue.
The story starts as most stories involving giraffes do. A little girl and her family visited the zoo, stood on the wood platform, and fed the animal carrots out of a paper cup; after posing for a few pictures, the girl looked up at the creature with just the right angle of smile that bonded them instantly; the animal circled its enclosure a few times to build up speed, jumped the fence to follow the family to their car, then followed the car down the side of the highway to their home. It ran the whole way to keep up. When the car crossed a bridge, and the giraffe stayed on the ground to run across the train tracks or road or stream, it felt to the family like they rose to the giraffe’s head level. When the opposite occurred, the giraffe racing up a hill that bordered the highway and the car staying on level ground, the impossibly tall animal grew impossibly taller, and the family looked up at it like they were seeing a skyscraper for the first time.
When they returned, they faced all the problems families normally do when giraffes follow them home. The giraffe cleaned the leaves off of all the trees in a few days, then had nothing to eat. The giraffe wanted to follow the girl to the park, but animals weren’t allowed. The family cat’s tail puffed up to twice its size and never went back down. The giraffe wanted to contribute, but it couldn’t work the lawnmower, or the dishwasher. One day, it nudged the windows to all the upstairs bedrooms open, found a brush and roller, and repainted all the walls. The family appreciated the thought, but the yellow it chose was the dad’s fifth favorite color, the mom’s fourth, and the brother’s third to last. The girl liked yellow second best, but she would have preferred pink. The family said thank you to the giraffe many times, but it knew they didn’t mean it.
The family did what all families do with their out-of-place giraffes. They called their friends to see if anyone needed any Frisbees retrieved off their roofs. They called the men and women who worked for the city to see if they needed any help hanging Christmas lights, and they did, but not for another four months. Then the family came up with a plan that worked great for a few weeks. The giraffe walked around the neighborhood, and neighbors gave it their cameras, and it would take pictures of what their houses looked like from above. Some of the neighbors found the pictures delightful. Others wished they were from even higher up, but there was no way the giraffe would fit in a helicopter. It only took about three weeks for the giraffe to get to everyone in the whole southern half of the city who wanted a picture. Then it was back to laying in the girl’s yard, sighing a lot, and looking up whenever passing dogs started barking.
In most giraffe stories, this would be where the girl says goodbye to the giraffe, maybe with a tear or two, and it walks back to the zoo. Maybe a few years later, the family comes back to the zoo, and the girl is older and she doesn’t care about giraffes anymore, but when she sees the giraffe that repainted her room she remembers what it was like to be a little kid for a moment, and she gives the giraffe a big hug, much bigger than when she said goodbye all those years ago. That’s a sweet ending.
But this giraffe story ends a little different. On the night before the girl’s first day of kindergarten, she walked out to the back yard, after she put on her pajamas, but before she brushed her teeth. The giraffe laid in the yard, and she patted its neck, and it lifted its head to face her, trying hard to look happy, but the girl could still tell how it actually felt.
“You’re not very happy, are you?” asked the girl.
The giraffe shook its head, as if to say, “No I’m not.”
“I know you’re bored, and I know you feel out of place.” The girl scratched the giraffe’s neck. “But I think the real reason you’re unhappy is because all anyone focuses on is how tall you are.”
The giraffe squinted and looked up at the fading sunlight, as if it was unsure if that was the real reason, or as if it had never thought about it.
“All the jobs we gave you were because you’re tall. The reason the cat’s tail puffed up is because you’re tall. Everyone who walks by with their dogs talks about how tall you are.”
The little girl paused. “There are a lot of other good things about you.”
The giraffe shrugged.
“You can paint really well. You take really nice pictures.”
The giraffe tilted its head, as if to say, “Thanks, that’s nice of you, but that doesn’t change anything.”
“You’re a great friend. You followed us the whole way home from the zoo. And you’re so caring. You really wanted to help the family out, and I think you did a good job.”
The giraffe licked the girl’s cheek with its impossibly long tongue, and she giggled.
“Stop it,” she said. “You should know that people will like you for whatever you want them to. If you want them to like you for your painting, you just have to paint some amazing pictures. If you want them to like you for your photographs, all you have to do is take incredible photos.”
The giraffe tilted its head, the other way this time.
“If you want them to like you because you’re such a good friend, you don’t have to do anything. Because you’re already a great friend, and that’s why I like you.”
Giraffes have a terrible time hugging little girls, but it did the best it could, and the girl hugged back as hard as she could.
The giraffe had to go back to the zoo, because that’s how all these stories end. Giraffes can’t live in the city. It would never work out. But back in its pen, in between paper cups full of carrots from little girls, it painted some astounding pictures. They were so good, everyone forgot how tall the giraffe was.