NANOWRIMO Day 5 – the small wooden giraffe


Kenyan Wood carving

 Carving in wood is a traditional craft amongst the Wakamba people of Kenya. Some have emerged as true masters. We have selected the best. All our carved sculptures are signed by the artist. Expert packing and creating for shipment is free of charge.

 Don’t forget: should you require an item not already in our catalogue, we are happy to search out items on your behalf. Simply let us know your requirements and we will get straight onto it. Our customers have been suitably impressed when we’ve delivered the most obscure examples of African arts and crafts.

 

For years she hid the little giraffe away, at the back of her wardrobe, in the pockets of little worn best dresses and later, when she reads Sherlock Holmes, she discovers the notion of hiding in plain sight and the giraffe takes up permanent residence in a cluttered and disorganised box of other toy animals.

She tries not to notice it, has taught herself to look through it whenever, rarely, she needs to search for something, someone else in the small animal box.

Occasionally, accidentally, she picks it up and the waves of guilt and anxiety, as strong as the first day, when she ran upstairs, ignored her mothers’ shouted greeting and buried the giraffe deep under her mattress, heart pounding, mouth dry, run through her body, making her drop the wooden toy as if it is burning hot.

Although when she packs up her bags and boxes to move to Art School, she carefully packs the giraffe, even wraps it in a scrap of fabric to keep it safe on the carefully planned journey along the A47.

In the student bedroom, it lives on the window sill, next to a quickly discarded alarm clock, sometimes buried under a clutter of clothing, balanced precariously on piles of books she means to get around to reading, lying on its side when too large a movement from the bed causes the little toy to fall over.

The giraffe moves with her, from student halls to shared houses, to a brief spell in a rural squat and then on to slightly nicer and nicer houses that are really homes until now, it is here  in the house that she calls our home. The home where children are born, where builders are plied with tea and chocolate biscuits, where dinner parties evolve from giant bowls of pasta to homage to the blessed Jamie and Nigella and where stuff, pictures, furniture, quirkiness is chosen with care, deliberation to make a statement of taste, of belonging, an actual, not virtual, constantly changing status update.

The giraffe lives on the window sill of the window on the first floor landing now. It has lived there so long now that it has become almost invisible. Her eyes glide over it, not seeing, not even noticing the signs of wear and damage that it carries now. A missing ear where it was thrown against a wall in some moment of early 20 angst, a burn mark to its side from the days when she and everyone she knew still smoked and it is in fact this sharp longing for a cigarette, something she thought long abandoned, which actually makes her really see the giraffe for the first time in years and even to pick it up and hold it in the palm of her hand.

The longing for a cigarette, although surprising is not completely unexpected. It is a conventional cliché and the whole evening has been one of cliché. The children sent to his mothers’ for the evening, the lack of lighting and bustle, the silence and then the sentences

“We need to talk……I need to talk…….It’s not you, it’ me…..”

 

And afterwards in the silent, empty house, as she prowls from room to room, longing for a cigarette, for anything to stop her screaming and smashing things. She knows, in the clichéd plan of survival, that her next step should be the phone call, the arrival of the gay best friend, the gin, the family sized bar of Dairy Milk, but instead, she finds herself standing staring out of the window, the wooden giraffe in her hand and she is immediately transported back to that summer, to that day of shame and its  little understood actions.

Looking back now, with decades to understand, she knows that the Wilkinsons were simply in the first wave of  a new sort of middle class to hit the suburbs. Conscious of design rather than durability, travelling abroad and not on package deals, allowing a degree of artistic untidiness to creep into their living room and of course stripping wood back to nudity, they seemed fantastically glamorous, almost other worldly and she was caught like a moth, returning again and again to the light of their home.

Her mother was suspicious, cautious, tried to rein in the friendship, but it was impossible to keep her away.

She remembers the girls’ first day at school, Lucy, in her class and her sister, Maisie, one year above them . It was their blondness that first attracted her, that almost white, sun lightened hair ( the result of 3 weeks of running wild on a Greek island, she later discovered) which fell down their backs in glorious wildness, no neat pig tails, plaits or french twists for  them. She wasn’t even sure if their hair had been combed that morning.

Walking home alone, a rite of passage which had only been granted this year after much deliberation and discussion on the possible risks and dangers, she saw the golden girls walking ahead of her and she simply joined them and when they turned into their front garden so did she and the friendship continued, until of course, it didn’t, as easily and naturally as that.

The 2 girls never questioned why she was their friend, they seemed happy to have here there, always agreeing to their plans, sharing her pocket-money, smuggling the forbidden Barbies and Sindys into their bedrooms for orgies of dressing and hair styling and in return they share their parents copy of the “Joy of Sex”,the 3 of them staring silently at the many,many illustrations.

This book simply makes their mother completely fascinating, she finds herself staring at her when they all sit around the scrubbed pine kitchen table, the mother smoking, using a saucer as an ashtray, drinking bitter smelling black coffee and offering the girls clumpy lumps of home-made flapjacks. The mother wears jeans and not just for gardening or heavy work, often has bare feet and on summer days, her breasts are almost visible under almost see through tops.

She cannot help but compare this woman to her own mother,  the mother who cooks the evening meals to a strict un-changing routine, roast of Sunday, chicken curry (with raisins) on a Monday, chops on a Tuesday, shepherds pie on a Wednesday……..Her mother who changes bedding on a Monday morning, always attends parents evenings, checks pockets before washing anything, keeps an up to date birthday book and guiltily feels dis-satisfaction, although she never dares to find the words, even in her own head, to actually articulate this dis-satisfaction.

She likes Lucy and Maises’ house, cannot help but notice the differences between the 2 homes and over a period of weeks, she begins to pop tiny things into her pockets, a glass marble from a large jar of them on the kitchen window sill, an empty packet of cigarettes, rescued from the waste paper bin, an odd earring, found on the bathroom floor.

These treasures and she is clear that they are treasures, are hidden in her bear shaped nightdress case, taken out late at night, stroked gently and then hidden away again.

She is careful to take things that have no real value, are really rubbish and unlikely to be missed and so she can, with a clear conscience, not call this theft, can square it with her own parents’  moral code, but then she sees the giraffe.

The giraffe is about 5 inches tall, carved from a single piece of wood, the grain in the wood used to suggest the dappling of the animals’ coat. It lives on the pale wood book shelves, staring at the space where in every other house on the avenue sits a television, with the 3 piece suite carefully arranged around it.

One afternoon, when they arrive home from school to find the mother halfway through an intense conversation and a bottle of red wine with 3 other women who look like they could be her sisters, the girls are dispatched to put some music on

“good and loud and leave the door open”

Maisie is allowed to touch the music centre and she simply replays the record which is still circling on the turntable, Joni Mitchell fills the house

“You pave paradise and put up a parking lot”

The girl picks up the wooden giraffe and wanders back into the kitchen, rubbing its soft wood back against her cheek.

The mother notices her and the giraffe and smiles, extends her hand and holds the giraffe for a moment, stroking its neck with one gentle finger and then asks the girl to put it back on the shelf. The girl turns away and out of the kitchen, but doesn’t go back into the sitting room where she can hear Lucy and Maisie singing along, badly, to Joni Mitchell and instead she opens the front door and runs as fast  she can back home, the giraffe clutched to her chest, heart pounding, feeling so evil that she cannot believe that people on the road are not able to see the badness inside her.

Lucy and Maisie are puzzled the next day, have brought her school bag, left in the tiled hallway yesterday, with them. She cannot look at them, can hardly speak to them and simply ignores them,day, after day, after day until they stop speaking to her.

 

And now, standing alone in this  too silent house, the giraffe in her palm, she understands that judgement has finally come. This, today, is her day of reckoning, her punishment. A long time coming, but finally here.

She puts the toy back on the window sill and walks slowly downstairs, wondering if she has the energy to make it as far as the late night cornershop to buy 20 Marlboro Lights.

 

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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