There was no place for Gooney Bird to sit down. And we all know that it is dangerous to stand while a bus is going. But she had no choice. She stood beside the driver and held on to the side of his seat. He promised to drive very, very carefully.
"Next, turn left," Gooney Bird said, and pointed.
"And there we are!" she told him. "See that large brick building? That is the Town Hall Auditorium!"
"Yay!" the orchestra players called again. The women began to comb their hair.
"Thank you for directing us!" they all said to Gooney Bird as they got out of the bus. The driver had opened the luggage compartment and was lifting out cellos.
"You will be late to school," one man said as he picked up a large black case. "Trombone," he explained.
"Yes, I will," Gooney Bird said. "I will be tardy."
"Is there some way that we can thank you for leading our orchestra?" he asked.
Gooney Bird thought for a moment. Finally she thought of a way, and she whispered it to the trombone player.
He nodded. "Yes," he said. "We will do that."
One by one the musicians thanked Gooney Bird. She said goodbye and hurried down the street to Watertower Elementary School.
She arrived at school just as the class was about to read "Cities" in their social studies books.
"Questions, anyone?" Gooney Bird asked.
"Was there a drum player?" Malcolm asked.
"Yes," Gooney Bird said. "Every single part of a symphony orchestra was there. Even a harp."
"Oh," Malcolm said, sighing. "I wish I could have seen the drum player. I love drums."
"You will," Gooney Bird said.
"Was there a flute player?" Chelsea asked.
"Two," Gooney Bird said.
"I wish I could hear the flute players," Chelsea said.
"You will," Gooney Bird said.
"I have a question, Gooney Bird," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "What was it that you whispered to the trombone player?"
"Secret," Gooney Bird said. "But you'll find out at twelve o'clock sharp."
"That's lunchtime," Mrs. Pidgeon pointed out.
"Precisely," Gooney Bird said. "Now, shall we turn to our social studies?"
All morning the children, and Mrs. Pidgeon, too, glanced again and again at the big clock on the wall. They did social studies and arithmetic and had a snack in the middle of the morning. Then they did reading and art. Finally, just as the clock hands moved to twelve o'clock and the second-graders were about to reach for their lunch boxes, Gooney Bird announced, "Here they are!"
She pointed to the large windows on the side of the classroom. The children all stood up and watched though the windows as a red and white bus pulled up and parked.
When the door of the bus opened, the orchestra players came out one by one, holding their instruments. They arranged themselves in a semicircle on the lawn, facing the Watertower Elementary School.
The conductor, holding a baton, stepped to the center and lifted his arms.
"Too bad he doesn't have long black gloves," Gooney Bird murmured.
Mrs. Pidgeon opened the windows so that they could hear better. The orchestra began to play a slow, stately melody.
When it was finished, the conductor bowed. Then he turned to the windows and explained, "That was a sarabande. It's a kind of dance. We'll play it one more time, in honor of Gooney Bird Greene."
So the orchestra played the short sarabande again, and the children danced around the classroom in a very serious and graceful way.
"Today," Gooney Bird said on Wednesday, "I am going to tell you about Catman and the cow. Maybe you've noticed that I'm wearing my cat and cow outfit today."
The students nodded their heads. They had noticed. Gooney Bird was wearing an orange fur jacket. Over her shoulder was slung a purse made from brown and white cowhide.
"Sometimes storytellers have special outfits that they wear. I think that's fine as long as it doesn't interfere with the story," Gooney Bird continued. "You can buy fake cat whiskers and ears, for example. But I would never wear such a distracting costume."
"Would you wear a tail?" Beanie asked. "I know somebody who had a cat tail and ears at Halloween."
"Put on your thinking caps, class," Gooney Bird said. "Think back to when I talked about Catman last week."
"No tail!" the entire class said, all except Felicia Ann,
although she looked up from the floor.
"That's right. Catman has no tail. I would tell about the lawn mower accident and it would be an absolutely true story, but I never use violence in my stories."
"Oh, good," Keiko said. "Violence makes me cry."
Gooney Bird smoothed her fur jacket and did her breathing exercises. Deep breath. Let it out. Deep breath. Let it out. "I know a lot of you have been worried about Catman," she began.
"I certainly have," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "I've been thinking about Catman ever since he flew out of that flying carpet."
"By the way, Mrs. Pidgeon," Gooney Bird said, "I do want to mention how lovely you look today."
Mrs. Pidgeon blushed a little. She was still wearing her high-heeled shoes with the buckles, and today she was also wearing a rhinestone butterfly perched in her hair.
"In fact, the whole class looks quite lovely," Gooney Bird pointed out. She looked around. "Malcolm, would you stand up?"
Malcolm rose from his seat and held his shoulders back. He was still wearing his polka dot bow tie, and today he had added a plaid belt.
"Keiko?" Gooney Bird said.
Keiko giggled and stood. She had a bright green bow in her hair and a long shiny silk scarf wrapped around her neck.
"Me?" called Chelsea. "Can I stand up?" She did, and the class could see that she was wearing a fringed cowboy vest over her best dress.
"Me! Me!" Everyone, all but Felicia Ann, was calling out now, but Gooney Bird said, "Later. After the story. I'm ready to begin now."
She took one more deep breath, let it out, and began.
Beloved Catman Is Consumed by a Cow
Once upon a time, not long ago, after they had left China, Gooney Bird and Catman found themselves flying through the air on a carpet. The carpet landed in a meadow, near a large brown and white cow who was contentedly eating wildflowers. The flowers were purple loosestrife.
The carpet unrolled, and Gooney Bird stood up and looked around. She could see, in the distance, her father's car quickly disappearing down the road.
Beside her, Catman also stood up. He had become very furry and fat, the way cats do when they are frightened.
"My cat becomes very enlarged when my brother brings his dog to visit," Mrs. Pidgeon said. Then she put her hand to her mouth. "Oh! I'm sorry, Gooney Bird. I interrupted."
"That's all right," Gooney Bird replied. "Maybe this is a good time for everyone to tell cat-getting-big-suddenly stories."
Many children did. Barry Tuckerman's grandmother's cat became huge and his tail stood straight out in the air when a groundhog appeared in the yard.
Chelsea's cat became enormously fluffy and hissed and spat when the veterinarian gave her a shot.
Tricia told how her cat got very, very fat and then one day had seven kittens inside the laundry basket.
"Good. So you all understand about cats. Now I'll continue," Gooney Bird announced.
The cow, who had some purple blossoms dangling from her mouth, looked very surprised when a person and a cat and a carpet all landed in her meadow. She thought about what to do and decided that moving to a different corner of the meadow would be the best choice. Carefully, moving slowly in a cowlike fashion, she strolled away toward a corner where yellow cosmos and oxeye daisies were in bloom.
Gooney Bird's attention was on the car, which had now disappeared around a bend in the road. She was a little worried about the disappearance of the car.
But Catman didn't care about the car. Catman had never liked the car at all. In fact, Catman had hated the car, and he was glad that it had disappeared.
But he was very interested in the cow. Catman had never seen a cow before. Now he watched with fascination as the cow moved slowly toward the other corner of the meadow.
He liked the way the cow walked, heavily and with determination.
He liked the way the cow smelled, of thick, sun-warmed cowhide and meadow flowers.
And, as he scampered along behind the cow and the cow noticed and mooed, Catman liked the way the cow sounded. It was comforting, the low, throaty sound of a moo, and in the background was the buzzing of flies.
Catman began to purr. In the distance, he could hear Gooney Bird calling "Catman! Catman!" But he didn't care. He found himself falling in love with the cow.
"I like romance," Beanie said.
"Me too," Keiko said with a tiny sigh.
Gooney Bird waited a moment, but no one else said anything. She continued the story.
In the evening, the farmer, Mr. Henry Schinhofen, came to the meadow and called the cow. It was time to take her into the barn to be milked.
The cow liked the farmer, who was soft-spoken and kind; and she liked the barn, which was airy and dark and smelled of hay; and she liked being milked, which felt a little like sneezing: something that needs to be done now and then. So she cheerfully followed the farmer when he called her.
Catman cheerfully followed the cow.
Mrs. Clara Schinhofen, the farmer's wife, was feeding the chickens when her husband walked past, leading the cow. "My word," she said. "Look! There's a cat with no tail, following the cow!"
"So there is," said her husband. "Perhaps he is hungry. We should feed him."
They tried to take Catman into the house to be fed, but he refused to leave the cow. So they brought him a bowl of tuna fish and gave it to him in the barn. When Mr. Schinhofen milked the cow, he squirted some into a dish for Catman.
That night, Catman, who was by now completely and hopelessly in love, curled up beside the cow and slept. He has slept there ever since. During the day, he goes to the meadow with the cow, and while the cow eats wildflowers, Catman chases field mice and butterflies, listens to the buzzing of flies, and smells the warm and pleasant odor of cowhide.
Gooney Bird paused. "Questions?" she said.
Keiko raised her hand. "I was waiting for the bad part," she said. "I was going to cover my ears."
"What bad part?" asked Gooney Bird.
"You know," Keiko whispered. "Where the cow ate Catman."
Gooney Bird looked surprised. "The cow didn't eat Catman! The cow hardly notices that Catman is there! The cow eats wildflowers."
"But you said—" Keiko began.
"Yes! You said—" Malcolm called.
Mrs. Pidgeon stood up. "Remember the title of the story, children," she said.
They all tried. "'How a Cow Ate Catman,'" Barry Tuckerman called out.
"'How Catman Got Eaten Up by a Cow,'" Tricia said.
Mrs. Pidgeon shook her head. She picked up her notebook. "I wrote it down," she told them. "'Beloved Catman Is Consumed by a Cow.'"
"Let me finish," Gooney Bird suggested. She went on with the end of the story.