"When are you going to tell about the prince and the diamonds?" Beanie asked.
Gooney Bird thought it over. "On Monday I'll tell it," she said. "Now, there's time for one more question before I continue. Mrs. Pidgeon? Did you have your hand raised?"
Mrs. Pidgeon nodded. "Gooney Bird," she said in a nice voice, "you have an amazing imagination and we think you are wonderful at telling stories. Don't we, class?" She looked around, and almost all of the children nodded.
"But I want to be certain that the children understand that these are made-up stories. So I want to point out—"
"My stories are all absolutely true," Gooney Bird said.
"I want to point out," Mrs. Pidegon went on, "that of course we all know that China is a foreign country across the ocean, and that a moving van could never drive from China to Watertower."
Gooney Bird rearranged her pearls and sighed. "Mrs. Pidgeon," she said, "why don't we take a few minutes for research? Is there an atlas in the bookcase?"
Mrs. Pidgeon laughed and said, "Of course." She went to the bookcase and took out a book of maps called an atlas.
"Now," said Gooney Bird, "would you find out if there are other Chinas?"
"Other Chinas? I don't think—" Mrs. Pidgeon began turning the pages of the atlas. She found the index at the back.
"My goodness!" Mrs. Pidgeon said after a minute. "There's a China in Texas!"
"Correct," said Gooney Bird. "And? What else?"
"There's a China in Maine!"
"Correct," said Gooney Bird. "And?"
"California! There's a China Lake! Oh, and my goodness, look! In North Carolina—"
"And now it is time to continue the story," Gooney Bird announced. "Where were we? Oh, yes. I remember. The moving van had just left China—"
She took up the story again.
After the moving van left China, the Greene family loaded up their station wagon with five big suitcases. Then they added a lawn mower that they had forgotten to put in the moving van, a cooler full of ham sandwiches and iced tea, a bundled-up stack of National Geographics, and an orange and white cat named Catman, who had no tail because he had flicked his former tail once under the lawn mower. The last thing they put into the station wagon was a rolled-up rug from the front porch of their house. It was too long to fit. They tried it sideways, and folded, and upside down, but it still wouldn't fit.
"Let's leave it behind," Mr. Greene suggested.
But Mrs. Greene began to cry. "It was my mother's," she said. "There's a stain on it where my mother spilled some black bean soup forty years ago. I feel sentimental about this rug."
So Mr. Greene agreed to take the rug because it made him cry, too, if his wife cried. He decided to put the back window of the station wagon down so that the end of the rolled-up rug could stick out. He made certain that everything was nicely arranged and that Catman had a comfortable place to sleep on the back seat, just beneath the end of the rug and next to the place where Gooney Bird would sit.
Mr. Greene and Mrs. Greene and Gooney Bird Greene all got into the car and drove away from China, starting their long journey to Watertower.
They drove for many, many hours. They ate all of the ham sandwiches and drank all of the iced tea. They stopped to get gas. They went to the bathroom. They played the car radio and listened to news and operas and football games and talk shows about love relationships.
Suddenly Gooney Bird glanced down and noticed with dismay that her beloved Catman had disappeared. She looked around the floor of the back seat, but Catman was not there.
She heard a small sound, like a purr, coming from inside the rolled-up rug. She knew that Catman had entered the rug. He probably found it a warm and dark and cozy place.
But Gooney Bird was worried about Catman. She decided to try to get him out. She reached into the rolled-up center of the rug. But he slithered away, beyond her hands.
She looked at the backs of her parents' heads, wondering if she should tell them about the problem with Catman. But her mother was dozing and her father was driving, watching the road carefully and listening to a radio program about whales.
So Gooney Bird decided to wiggle into the rug herself to rescue Catman.
"Oh, no!" Keiko cried. "I'm going to faint!"
"Shhhh," the other children said.
It was dark and dusty and a very tight squeeze inside the rolled-up rug. But Gooney Bird wiggled inch by inch toward Catman.
Catman slithered away, inch by inch. She could see his glittering eyes as he backed away from her hands. Gooney Bird was determined to rescue him. She continued forward.
Suddenly an amazing thing happened. Even though Gooney Bird was not very large and did not weigh very much—and was not wearing her heavy diamond earrings from the palace that day—her weight inside the rolled-up rug caused it to tilt. At that moment, Mr. Greene leaned forward to change the radio station, and the car went over a pothole in the road. The rolled-up rug, containing both Catman and Gooney Bird, slid out of the back of the station wagon and flew through the air before it landed at the side of the road in some thick grass beside a fence post. A cow chewing a purple flower looked curiously at it and then wandered away.
The station wagon drove on, around a curve in the road. Slowly the rug unrolled. Catman's fur was standing on end, and if he had had a tail, his tail would have been sticking straight up in the air. For a moment Catman stood still, looking at Gooney Bird. Then he ran away, very fast.
Gooney Bird sat up. She was not entirely sure what had happened. But she was not hurt. She simply wondered where her family was, and her cat, and the car.
Other cars stopped and people got out. Many people offered her a drink of water from their bottles of Evian. But Gooney Bird wasn't thirsty. After a while, a police car with a flashing light came. A TV reporter came, and a cameraman. While the policeman talked on his radio, the TV reporter, a woman with very large hair, interviewed Gooney Bird and called her "the little girl who had a flying carpet ride." In the interview, Gooney Bird described Catman and asked people to call the station if they found him. But she never got Catman back.
Eventually the police car took her to her parents, who were both crying at a gas station four miles down the road.
When Gooney Bird and her parents were finally reunited, everyone, including two policemen, a TV reporter, and the gas station owner, hugged and kissed and did the tango.
"What a lovely story!" Mrs. Pidgeon said. "And an exciting one, too! But a little sad, to lose your kitty that way."
"Catman is not a kitty," Gooney Bird said. "He is a cat. And I didn't say that I lost him. I just said that I never got him back."
"So no one found him and called the TV station?"
"Actually, they did," Gooney Bird replied.
"But where is Catman now?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon.
"He was consumed by a cow," Gooney Bird said, "but that's a different story."
"By a cow? You're joking," Mrs. Pidgeon said.
"No," said Gooney Bird. "I'm not joking. I tell only absolutely true stories."
"Tell it! Tell it!" the children called.
"I will," Gooney Bird said. "Another day."
On Monday, Gooney Bird stood in front of the class when Mrs. Pidgeon told her that it was story time. The children barely noticed Gooney Bird's clothes, even though she was wearing a ruffled pinafore, dark blue knee socks, and high-top basketball sneakers. The second-graders, and Mrs. Pidgeon, too, were all much more interested in Gooney Bird's earrings.
The earrings dangled and glittered and were very large.
"They're beautiful," Keiko said in an awed voice.
"My grandma's house has doorknobs that look like that," Tricia announced. "And she has a sparkly chandelier in the dining room. My grandma is very rich."
"Do you have holes in your ears?" Malcolm asked. "My mom does. My mom went and had holes stabbed right into her ears with a needle!"
"I did, too!" Beanie called out. "I have pierced ears!"
"So do I," Mrs. Pidgeon told the class. She turned her head
from side to side so that they could all see her small gold earrings.
"No," Gooney Bird said. "My earrings screw onto my ears. They have little screws that you turn."
Barry Tuckerman thrust his arm into the air and waved it wildly. Around him, other children had their hands raised, too.
"My mom has pierced ears!" Barry said loudly.
"Ben?" Mrs. Pidgeon said next.
Ben said, "My mom has pierced ears and so does my grandma!"
"All right, class," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Does anyone else have something to say which is not about pierced ears? Because it is time for Gooney Bird to begin today's story."
All of the hands disappeared except one. Chelsea kept her hand high in the air.
Mrs. Pidgeon sighed. "Chelsea?"
"My mom has a pierced nose," Chelsea told the class.
"Oh, no!" Keiko wailed. "I'm going to be sick!"
"Shhhh," the other children said.
When the class was quiet, Gooney Bird began her Monday story.
The Prince, the Palace, and the Diamond Earrings
Once upon a time, before she moved to Watertower, when she still lived in China, Gooney Bird Greene was on her front porch, playing Monopoly against herself. Gooney Bird #1, the thimble, owned all four railroads and St. Charles Place, which she liked because it was magenta.
Gooney Bird #2, the car, was having a harder time of it. She owned Atlantic Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, and she liked the combination of yellow and green; she also owned both Water Works and the Electric Company, but unfortunately she was in jail.
Suddenly, just as Gooney Bird #2 tried unsuccessfully for the second time to throw doubles and get out of jail, she heard someone calling loudly, "Napoleon is missing!"
It was the prince, who lived next door.
Hands flew up into the air, and Gooney Bird looked impatiently at her classmates.
"Are these really, really important questions?" she asked. "Because I have just barely started the story!"
One by one most of the hands went back down.
Mrs. Pidgeon had picked up the encyclopedia. "Gooney Bird," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "I have a feeling you know this already, but Napoleon Bonaparte—" She turned to the class. "He was the emperor of France," she explained.
"Ooooh," Keiko said. "I love emperors."
Mrs. Pidgeon, still looking at the encyclopedia, went on. "Napoleon was born in 1769. That's more than two hundred years ago."
"Mrs. Pidgeon! Mrs. Pidgeon!" Barry Tuckerman was halfway out of his seat, waving his hand.
"My grandmother once saw an emperor butterfly! But now it's extinct! It was purple," Barry Tuckerman said.
Gooney Bird sighed. "Do you want to hear this story or not?" she asked. "I can't wear these earrings all day. They're very heavy."
"Yes, we do," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Please go on."