IT GAVE ME EVERYTHING

“How are you, Chavale?” asks my mother on the phone.

“It’s gorgeous outside,” I tell her. It’s so much easier to talk to my 90 year-old mother about the New England fall than about me. The leaves are better–and prettier–at spilling their guts out than I am.

“A treat to the eyes,” my mother says.

“Grace,” I say back.

She makes no reply. I’m not sure how grace translates to an old orthodox Jewish woman.

I’m writing a novel about an 87 year-old woman driving from Florida to California in her much-loved car whom she calls Abe, after Abe Lincoln, to meet up with the love of her life whom she hasn’t seen in 70 years. Abe breaks down in a trailer town in Texas, west of Houston, and there she encounters another woman who has had bad luck with love, only this woman always wears T-shirts with giraffes on them.

“Why do you always wear giraffes?” she asks the Giraffe Lady.

And Giraffe Lady tells her this story, which is my story, too.

“Once I visited a park west of here, a conservation place for animals that have been hurt and wounded. They have antelopes and zebras, wolves and hyenas, ibex and hippos, and even rhinos. Some of the animals roam free, though not the rhinos.

“A guide drove our large van of people and I sat next to him on the passenger side. We rounded the bend and there was an enormous giraffe at the side of the road: white with brown and yellow spots, and the tenderest eyes in creation.

“‘Put your hand out and open your palm,’ the guide instructed me.

“‘I don’t have any food to give,’ I said.

“‘Put out your hand and open your palm,’ said the guide again.

“‘Are you sure it’s safe?’

“But I did as I was told. The giraffe seemed as tall as the clouds, but slowly and elegantly it started to bend its long, long neck. Many seconds seemed to pass till its head came down to my hand. It put out its tongue and licked my open palm, the softest touch I’ve felt anywhere on my body. It licked that empty palm again and again even though there was nothing there except my skin, eyes rimmed black behind long eyelashes, looking at me like they’ve known me my entire life. The oldest look in the world. Then, with great delicacy, the long neck rose again till eventually the head was back in the clouds, and it walked away.

“I gave it nothing. It gave me everything.“