"This is very--awkward," I said. We were trotting down the quay heading out of town. A dozen travellers riding on donkeys makes for an interesting spectacle and guests from the inn who'd watched us rehearse had come out to see us off. They waved and cheered enthusiastically, while other tourists pointed at us and laughed. Geraldine turned to the rude ones, drew back her wide lips and showed them a massive set of gleaming teeth. A smile? I think not.
"Relax, Toots. Try not to bounce so much, you'll be fine. I haven't lost a rider yet," she told me.
"It's not that. I just didn't expect my feet to be quite so close to the ground and my legs are kind of flailing about and I'm talking to you while you're carrying me on your back."
"Well, if you're implying that I'm short I'm ever so sorry, but I am a donkey and this is how we're built you know! If you don't want your legs to flail, tuck in your knees."
We trotted along in silence, while I tried to manage my knees and pull my foot out of my mouth at the same time. I mumbled some sort of apology, making matters worse I suppose because Geraldine switched to a jarring gait that jolted me from my coccyx all the way up my spine until my teeth felt they were going to shake loose. I decided to try a different tack.
"I had a wonderful time this week, but I never did get to shop in Duwamish what with writing, rehearsing, performing, etc. It was exhausting,"
"You want tired, Chickie, try carrying people on your back," came the surly reply.
"The Enchantress gave us a bunch of souvenirs. Strange assortment of stuff, though."
"Heehaw, heehaw," she laughed, "Is that what you think they are? Better make sure you don't lose 'em," she said, making every effort to jostle me and my treasure loose.
I clung tenaciously to both my bag and Geraldine. "I think there's some discrimination going on with the ferry women. I hope they get it straightened out before the next tour." I felt her flank muscles relax a bit and began to tell her about meeting Beverly on the Isle of Ancestors. She slowed down and stopped after a moment to sniff.
"I'm sorry Geraldine, I really didn't mean to upset you, or to hurt your feelings before either."
"I'm very sensitive, you know. There's a lot of suffering in the world, donkeys, asses, mules, oh the jokes we have to endure. Short jokes, too. We're not known for our beauty"
We had left the town limits and reached the woods. The others passed us by and entered the forest, a few turned around calling out to us to hurry up and follow.
"Geraldine, we really have to go, dear."
"How would you feel with this belly?" she asked. "Oh, horses get all the compliments, except for a few sway backs. Now Arabians, even I have to admit they are the most beautiful animals. Dashing, that's what they are. There's this Arabian stallion, his name is Firestarter." She sat down abruptly and I slid off hitting the ground with a thump.
"Ow! That hurt!" I got up and brushed myself off, realizing I'd been better off when Geraldine was annoyed with me. Somehow I had to get her going and catch up with the tour. I couldn't be mean, she'd been through so much and she was sobbing uncontrollably now.
"You're a beautiful donkey, Geraldine. Have pride in yourself--love your body!" It didn't work, she wouldn't budge and huge tears continued to stream from her brown eyes. There was only one thing left to do. "Let me tell you about what happened when Gaia joined our group in the bath house," I said and by the time I was halfway through Geraldine was heehawing and gasping for breath.
"Stop, stop," she begged. "I can't take any more!"
"It's getting late, the sun's going to set soon."
"I don't want to go into the woods."
"Me either, but I have to. Won't you please take me?"
"No one's ever asked before," she told me. "Of course, I'll take you. He's in there, you know. I wonder if I'll see him," she said and heaved a great sigh.
I petted her head and hugged her neck and climbed on her back.