Your Stepfather, the Giraffe
On the twelfth anniversary of your parents’ divorce, your mother calls you up.
I’ve met someone, she says. There’s something breathless in her voice, something fluttering. She wants you to come to the house to see him. She always calls it the house: Are you coming to the house this Thanksgiving? You should come by the house this weekend and I’ll give you some home-baked chocolate chip cookies. As if it doesn’t belong to either of you, especially your mother.
Will you come? she says, and so you do.
Your mother greets you at the door of the house, a diamond ring winking garishly on her finger.
It was love at first sight, your mother sighs, and takes you round back of the house, where her new husband is contentedly grazing off the tops of the neighbors’ trees.
His name is Howard, says your mother.
Her giraffe ducks its head in your direction, as if in greeting.
You’re probably upset I didn’t invite you to the wedding, your mother says. It was just a small ceremony. Just us and the judge, and your Aunt Susan as witness.
She reaches out and strokes her giraffe’s leg. It was all very spur of the moment, you know.
Your mother has always been the type who likes the spur of the moment, not like you, or like your father, who would never do something like fall in love with a giraffe. Your mother likes to say your father lacks an adventurous soul. Sometimes they meet for lunch (to discuss you, you assume, for they have never had anything in common outside of that), and they’ll embrace politely upon parting, your mother brushing your father’s cheek with her lips.
We’ll have to do it again sometime, your father says, and your mother laughs.
I should never have married an accountant, she says. So predictable.
Her new husband, she says, hasn’t got a head for numbers (it’s one of the things I love about him, she declares jauntily, running her hand tenderly along the giraffe’s leg). Your mother has become an expert on giraffes since the last time you saw her. She says her giraffe is a Masai giraffe — you see the distinctive blotches on his coat, she offers in a tour guide’s voice — and that the horns atop its head are actually called ossicones.
He’s a ruminant, you know, she says.
The whole time, your mother’s giraffe has been eating from the neighbor’s trees, muscles twitching at her caress.
We’re moving to Kenya, says your mother. He’s so lonely here.
The plan, she says, is for her to travel with her husband with only what she can carry on her back. She has vowed not to be jealous if he mates with other giraffes.
I know he’d like to have a child of his own, she says. Who doesn’t want that?, and strokes the top of your head with her free hand.
Besides, she says, giraffes don’t mate for life.
We’re an exception, she says, showing you again her diamond ring.
She says she’s always wanted to visit Kenya and, while they’re gone, you can stay in the house.
Much nicer than that cramped apartment of yours, she says.
Her giraffe tears some bark of a tree limb and chews it noisily.
What about lions? you say.
Your mother blinks, her calf eyes dull and wide, like the giraffe’s. Well? she says. What about them?
About the author:
Cathy Ulrich once got to meet a wolf at her local zoo. There are no giraffes there, and she probably wouldn't want to marry one anyway. Her work has recently been published in Gambling the Aisle, Cheap Pop, Spry Literary Magazine and others. Her humor writing can be found here.