Saturday, January 19, 2008

Monkey Comfort

My best friend Starr Ann (hi, Starr Ann) and I were at Jodie's house yesterday when the mail arrived. There was a package in it - late Christmas present from Jodie's cousin. She opened it and laughed the moment she saw popsickle-blue fur sticking up between light pink tissue paper edges. Very lovingly, Jodie pulled the stuffed monkey from his delicate nest, saying, "Ah, my goddess, if it isn't Bomba." She buried her face in the monkey's neck and took in a deep breath. "Smells the same as always." By the look on Jodie's face, that was a good thing.

So, Jodie told us Bomba's life story. And when she had finished, she put Bomba on her desk, saying she'd have to find the proper place of honor for him later. Only thing was, Jodie hadn't paid attention to how she laid Bomba down. One monkey foot was twisted under his wiry body, and the left monkey hand didn't look a bit comfortable the way it was bent.

Well, ever since she was little, Starr Ann has had this kinda extended empathy. First time I noticed it was with a statue of The Blessed Virgin Mary.

See, Starr Ann was always a great speller. When she was in third grade and I was in fifth, Sister Blissie Marie started up these weekly spelling bees at our school. Starr Ann was too advanced to compete with her own age group, so Sister Blissie put her in with my class.

We were all real excited about that very first spelling bee. I lasted fairly long, but dropped out when I drew the word 'discombobulate' and spelled it 'd-i-s-c-o-m-b-O-O-b-u-l-a-t-e.' Before long, the contest got down to Starr Ann and Cory Jameson. Starr Ann made it safely through 'gramophone' (I told you she was good), and Cory had to spell 'quadruple,' which came out as 'q-u-a-d-r-u-p-A-l. Starr Ann was the winner!

So, the prize was a full week's custody of this real pretty statue of The Blessed Virgin. During her first week taking care of the trophy, Starr Ann fixed up a place in our room, on the table right between our beds, for Mary. Every morning, Starr Ann dusted Mary and faced her toward the window. Then at night, before closing our shade, she turned Mary back around to overlook our room.

The next week, Starr Ann won The Mother of God again. It got down to her and Cory, but Starr Ann aced 'cornucopia' right ahead of Cory getting hold of 'annihilate,' which well, annihilated him.

By the third spelling bee, Starr Ann was getting pretty attached to our Mary, and she studied her vocabluary words harder and harder. So, as everybody expected, we all got shot down (I missed on cunning, don't ask), leaving only Starr Ann and Cory standing once again. That week, Cory's mom had come to school to watch us. Yep, some of the kids at our school weren't actually part of the orphanage. Their parents even paid tuition. In a master stroke, Cory made it past 'rappelling,' and Starr Ann got off with 'exemplary.' Then Cory was unlucky enough to venture 'f-l-a-c-k-s-e-e-d' for flaxseed. Dang. Three victories for Starr Ann in a row!

But when Sister Blissie Marie went to the center of the room for the presentation, she said, "Congratulations to Starr Ann for being so good at spelling. This week, however, because Cory has barely missed first place three times in a row, we're going to award him the care of Our Blessed Virgin Mary." Sister Blissie looked in our direction. "That's fine with you, isn't it Starr Ann?"

Starr Ann just nodded her head yes.

Well, that evening, Starr Ann asked me to sneak over to Cory Jameson's house with her. She said she wanted to check out Mary's new place. The Jamesons were finishing up supper, and it was getting dark out, so we could see in their kitchen window real well and it was a warm night, so it wasn't hard to hear them talking through the screen door. We heard the mother telling the father all about how Cory won the spelling bee. And she told Cory to go get his trophy. When Cory got up from the table and unzipped his backpack, Starr Ann's hand gripped mine real tight. Cory pulled Mary out of that dark bag, upside down. The father put down a chicken leg and didn't even wipe his hands off before reaching out and handling the statue. Then he handed it back, and Cory laid Mary on the counter, on her side, with her face stuck in a pile of dishrags or something. Starr Ann and I didn't say too much on our way back to the orphanage.

Anyway, the following week, when Cory and Starr Ann squared off, I could feel Starr Ann's resolve. By all that was holy, that girl was determined to win Mary's freedom from the Jamesons. Luckily, Cory's mom wasn't around that week. Starr Ann's final word was 'reverence,' which I would have guessed should be spelled 'r-e-v-e-r-A-n-c-e.' Whew, Starr Ann was good. Then, in a weird twist, Cory got 'relevance.' Well, he must have been thinking the same thing I had about 'reverence,' because without hesitating, he boomed out, 'r-e-l-e-v-E-n-c-e." Game, set, and match to Starr Ann.

That night, as Mary stood strong and secure on our table, I knew it would be Starr Ann's first good night's sleep for a whole week.

On the following Friday, Cory's mom was there again, and when Starr Ann won the spelling bee (I can't really give you the details of how she won that one, because I kinda left for a few minutes), Sister Blissie Marie announced that there was a new prize. From then on, the winner would be awarded merit points that could be saved up and traded in for extra dessert at lunchtime. Seems The Blessed Virgin statue had disappeared at some point during the bee.

Anyway, the minute Jodie walked away from her desk, Starr Ann nonchalantly reached over and arranged Bomba so he looked real comfortable.