"What do you mean?" Barry asked.
"You're talking about a small-p palace. But I was talking about a capital-letter ice cream shop called The Palace, where they have—"
"Bathrooms!" Beanie suggested.
"And a gumball machine!" Chelsea said. "With diamond earrings!"
"Exactly right," Gooney Bird said, and she took her seat. Then carefully she unscrewed her dangling earrings. "Ouch," she said. "These really hurt."
Malcolm returned to the classroom. "Did you get out of jail, Gooney Bird?" he asked.
Gooney Bird looked unhappy for a moment. "No," she said. "Napoleon ate my Monopoly game."
On Tuesday, all of the children, including Felicia Ann, arrived at school early—even Malcolm, who had never been early before.
Tricia had a flower in her hair.
Ben was wearing a vest.
Keiko had a tiny bit of pink lipstick on her lips.
And Barry Tuckerman was wearing a polka dot bow tie.
"Good morning, class," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Don't you all look nice today!"
"You do, too, Mrs. Pidgeon!" the children said, and Mrs. Pidgeon blushed.
"Well," she said, "I thought I'd wear my new shoes today." Usually Mrs. Pidgeon wore soft, comfortable shoes. But today she was wearing very shiny high-heeled shoes with gold buckles.
The principal, Mr. Leroy, made announcements on the intercom. He announced a bake sale and a birthday and a meeting of the crossing guards.
A fifth grade boy read a poem about Christopher Columbus over the intercom. Everyone in the school said the Pledge of Allegiance together. Then it was time for school to begin.
But Gooney Bird wasn't there.
"Well," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "let's take out our social studies books, class. Let's turn to the chapter called 'Cities.'"
"But Gooney Bird isn't here!" Nicholas called.
"No," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "she isn't. She seems to be absent today. Maybe she has the chicken pox."
The class was silent. The room seemed sad. The lights seemed dim. Even the gerbils, who usually scurried noisily around in their cage, were very subdued. George Washington, in his portrait on the wall, looked as if he might cry any minute.
Slowly the children took their social studies books from their desks and turned to the chapter called "Cities."
Keiko began to cry very quietly. "I don't want to do social studies," she whimpered. "I feel too sad."
Malcolm crawled under his desk and curled up in a ball.
Suddenly the door to the room burst open.
"It's Gooney Bird!" everybody called. The lights seemed to brighten. The gerbils began to run in a circle, and George Washington seemed to smile.
Gooney Bird was out of breath. "I'm sorry I'm late," she said. "I am never, ever late for anything. I always set three alarm clocks, and I lay out my clothes the night before, and I even put toothpaste on my toothbrush before I go to bed so that I can brush my teeth quickly in the morning! But today—
"Wait," she said. "I have to catch my breath." She stood in front of the class and took a few deep breaths. "There," she said. "I'm fine now."
She smoothed her red hair, which was flying about, and tucked it behind her ears. Today Gooney Bird was wearing gray sweatpants, a sleeveless white blouse with lace on the collar, and amazing black gloves that came up above her elbows.
"This morning," she explained, "I quite unexpectedly had to direct an orchestra."
"An orchestra?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon.
"Yes. A symphony orchestra."
Mrs. Pidgeon smiled. "I hear all sorts of interesting excuses for tardiness, but I have never heard that one before."
"I believe I'm unique," Gooney Bird said.
"Yes, you are, indeed. Did you wear your gloves when you were directing the orchestra?"
"Yes," said Gooney Bird, "as a matter of fact, I did. I found them very helpful."
All of the second-graders had their hands in the air and
were pretending to lead orchestras. Even Malcolm was back in his seat, using two pencils as orchestra batons.
Gooney Bird headed toward her desk. She looked around at the other children's open books. "I see we're in the middle of social studies," she said.
Mrs. Pidgeon slipped one foot out of a high-heeled shoe and rubbed it with her hand. Then she put her shoe back on. "Actually," she said, "I think the class would appreciate it if we held story time a little early today."
"YAY!" called all the children, and they closed up their social studies books.
"A Gooney Bird story?" Gooney Bird asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pidgeon.
"YES!" called all the children.
Gooney Bird smoothed her long gloves. She went back up to the front of the room. "Which one would you like today?" she asked. "'How Catman Was Consumed by a Cow'?"
"I'd certainly like to hear about Catman and the cow sometime," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Maybe tomorrow? But this morning I'd like to hear one called 'Why Gooney Bird Was Late for School Because She Had to Direct a Symphony Orchestra.'"
"Oh," Gooney Bird said. "All right. I could tell that."
"And it will be absolutely true?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon.
"Of course," Gooney Bird said. "Have you forgotten? All of my stories are absolutely true."
Then she curtsied, and began.
Why Gooney Bird Was Late for
School Because She Was Directing
a Symphony Orchestra
Once upon a time, in fact it was just this morning, Gooney Bird Greene got up and got dressed in the clothes that she had carefully laid out the night before.
She ate her breakfast, brushed her teeth with her pre-pasted toothbrush, gathered up her homework, put on her elbow-length gloves, and started off to the Watertower Elementary School.
Gooney Bird interrupted herself. She explained to the teacher and the class, "Sometimes stories start in the most ordinary way. Then they become exciting when something unexpected happens. Don't you find that to be true?"
The children nodded, thinking about their favorite stories.
"Like Where the Wild Things Are," Ben suggested.
"Or Little Red Riding Hood," Beanie said. "When the wolf appears, and you don't expect it!"
"Oh, I'm so scared of the wolf!" Keiko whispered loudly. "Every time the wolf appears, I—"
"Shhhh," the children said.
Gooney Bird continued.
Gooney Bird walked down Park Street, and turned the corner onto Walnut Street, and when she was halfway down Walnut Street, halfway to school, suddenly...
She paused. "I've explained before," she said, "about the word suddenly. It makes things exciting. Sometimes, class, if you're creating a story and you get stuck, just say the word suddenly and you won't have any trouble continuing at all."
"What a good idea!" Mrs. Pidgeon said. "We should start a list called 'Writing Tips.' What happened suddenly on Walnut Street, Gooney Bird?"
Gooney Bird continued.
Suddenly she saw an enormous red and white bus coming, very slowly. Each window had a head in it. The bus was quite full of people.
Gooney Bird was amazed. Even though she had lived in Watertower only a short time, about a week, she knew that the town of Watertower did not have enormous red and white buses.
Watertower had two medium-sized yellow school buses, Gooney Bird knew. And she knew, also, that one of the Watertower churches had a small white bus, really a long van, that had a rainbow painted on it, and said JESUS IS LORD on each side.
But an enormous red and white bus was completely new to Watertower.
As Gooney Bird watched, it moved very, very slowly down Walnut Street. She could see that the driver, though he was steering carefully, was also trying to look at a map in his hands.
The bus driver saw Gooney Bird, and he beeped his horn a very small beep. He pulled the bus to a stop with a breathy sound of brakes. Then he pushed the handle that opened the folding door.
"Excuse me?" the bus driver said. "You look as if you're on your way to school."
"Yes, I am," Gooney Bird replied, "and I certainly don't want to be late. I am never, ever late."
The bus driver looked as if he might begin to cry. "I feel exactly the same way," he said. "I am never, ever late. But this morning I have a terrible problem." He held up his unfolded map.
"Do you need help folding your map?" Gooney Bird asked. "It is hard to fold a map. But I find that if you follow the creases very carefully—"
"No," the bus driver said. "My problem is that I'm lost."
"Oh, dear," Gooney Bird said.
"And," the driver continued, "we are going to be late for a concert."
"Yes. I have an entire symphony orchestra on this bus."
Gooney Bird paused. "Questions about orchestras?" She asked. "Class?"
Barry Tuckerman was waving his hand wildly. "We know all the parts of an orchestra! We listened to A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra!"
"Winds!" Ben called.
"Strings!" Tricia called. She pretended to play an imaginary violin.
"Brass!" Chelsea called. She tried to make a trombone noise, not very successfully.
"Percussion!" said Malcolm loudly, and he began to tap his two pencils in rhythm on his desktop.
"And also," Barry called out, his hand still waving, "we listened to Peter and the Wolf!"
"Oh," Keiko said in a small voice, "I hate when the wolf comes. Every time the wolf appears, I—"
"Shhhh," the children said.
Gooney Bird continued.
So Gooney Bird climbed up the steps and got on the bus.
Every seat was filled. There were men and women in the bus, all of them dressed in black. All the men were wearing black turtleneck shirts. The women were all wearing long black skirts.
They definitely looked like an orchestra. But they looked very distressed.
"Where are you supposed to go?" Gooney Bird asked the bus driver.
"To the Town Hall Auditorium," he said. "We are supposed to play a concert there this morning." He looked at his watch. "It begins in twenty minutes," he said in a worried voice.
"I will get you there," Gooney Bird said.
The bus driver called to the orchestra players. "This wonderful girl is going to direct us!" he said.
"Yay!" the orchestra players all called.
Luckily, even though she had lived in Watertower for only a week, Gooney Bird knew exactly where the Town Hall Auditorium was, because her father had pointed it out when they drove around the town.
"There is the hospital," her father had said. "Go there if you happen to fall from a ladder and break your arm.
"There is the police station," he had said. "Go there if you happen to see a bank robber on the loose.
"And there is the Town Hall Auditorium," her father had said. "Go there if you want to see a ballet or a concert."
"Start the bus," Gooney Bird told the driver, "and turn right at the very next corner." It was a good thing that she was wearing her long black gloves. When she pointed, everyone could see her long black pointing finger.