Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

On Friday, Gooney Bird was wearing Capri pants, a satin tank top, and a long string of pearls. Her red hair was twisted into one long braid, which was decorated with plastic flowers. There were flip-flops on her feet.

"You look beautiful," Keiko said to Gooney Bird in an admiring whisper.

"Yes, I know," Gooney Bird replied. "Thank you, Keiko." She walked to the front of the classroom when Mrs. Pidgeon told her it was time.

Malcolm was back in the classroom. He was at his desk, writing "I will never put anything in my nose" one hundred times on a piece of lined paper. The nurse had told him to do that. She said it would keep his hands busy.

"How come Gooney Bird gets to go stand in front of the class?" Malcolm asked.

"Shhhhh," everybody, except Felicia Ann, said to Malcolm. "Listen."

"Today," Gooney Bird said, "I have a very exciting story to tell you. In my story there is a long journey, a mystery, and a rescue."

Mrs. Pidgeon, seated at her desk, had begun correcting some spelling papers. She looked up. "Listen, second-graders," she said. "Hear the different things that Gooney Bird is putting into her story? That is what good storytellers do."

Gooney Bird listened patiently to the teacher. Then she stood up straight and did some breathing exercises. Finally she took a deep breath and looked at the class. "I am ready to begin," she said at last. "The title of the story for today will be 'How Gooney Bird Came from China on a Flying Carpet.'"

"Just like Aladdin," Barry Tuckerman said in a loud whisper.

"Barry, pay attention, please," Gooney Bird said. "I like to have absolutely all eyes on me." Then, when the class became silent—all except Felicia Ann, who had been silent all along—and almost all eyes, even Mrs. Pidgeon's, were on her, she began.

How Gooney Bird Came from China on a Flying Carpet

Once upon a time, just last month, Mr. and Mrs. Greene decided to take their little girl, Gooney Bird, and move away from the place where they had always lived.

They had always lived in China. But now Mr. Greene had a new job, and his new job was in Watertower.

"That's here!" Chelsea said aloud. "I live in Watertower!"

Gooney Bird stopped talking. She arranged her pearl necklace so that it was draped over one shoulder.

"Me too!" Tricia said.

"We all live in Watertower!" Ben pointed out. "That's why we go to the Watertower Elementary School."

"Class—" Mrs. Pidgeon warned.

"Mrs. Pidgeon," Gooney Bird said politely, "let me take care of this.

"Children," she said in a firm voice, "I cannot tell a story if I am constantly interrupted. There will be time for questions and comments. Please raise your hand if you want to say something. It's very distracting for me if you call out."

"Sorry," Tricia said.

"Sorry," Chelsea said.

"Sorry," Ben added.

The class waited. Gooney Bird looked at them all sternly. Then she did some breathing exercises and began again.

They had always lived in China. But now Mr. Greene had a new job, and his new job was in Watertower.

So they packed carefully. It took many days. First Mr. Greene had to pack forty-three sets of false teeth. Then Mrs. Greene had to pack her dancing shoes and her bathing suits. And Gooney Bird had to pack all of her belongings, which included a money collection.

Finally their furniture was loaded onto a moving van, and the Greene family waved goodbye as the moving van drove away from China and started its journey to Watertower.

Gooney Bird stopped. Every child in the classroom had a hand raised. And even Mrs. Pidgeon was waving her arm.

"I'll have an intermission now, for questions," Gooney Bird said. "Chelsea? Yours first."

"Why did Mr. Greene have forty-three pairs of false teeth?" Chelsea asked.

"The false teeth are not part of this story," Gooney Bird said. "Malcolm?"

Malcolm had looked up from his "I will not put anything in my nose" paper. His eyes were very wide. "Tell about the money collection!" he said.

"That's another story," Gooney Bird said. "Beanie?"

"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.

The End

"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."