"Our Hearts Go Out" (Illustrated by Irina Mirskaya. )
It is spring in Wormhoudt, France, 1942.
Shanton, Circus Jeanne's ballerina exchanges letters from home. She takes out her notebook and begins a letter.
Something special happened this week. Evette, our orphan elephant, took ill in a mysterious way She didn't touch her food and would not come out for the performance. We had to use our milking cow to replace her! You should have seen Laurette, the cow, strutting around in a slow circle with a chimp balanced on her tawny hide. Then one afternoon, Evette stood up abruptly and ran up to the road. She trumpeted the whole way, blowing out wild sounds like I've never heard anywhere.
Roma, the weight-lifter, and I ran after her. Il était de la folie. [It was crazy] to think we could stop a 7,000-pound elephant, but as you used to say, "our hearts went out" where our bodies could not go. A group of Nazi soldiers with their German shepherds appeared. Evette's deafening wail threw the soldiers out of rank and the dogs strained to get away.
Only one man appeared calm and actually dared to walk closer to Evette. Evette stood still as the man patted her big ears and murmured in Russian, "Ivetta, dorogaya moya ivetta, kak davno mui ne videlis." ["Evette, my dear Evette — it has been so long."] She caressed him with her trunk. Tears spilled down both of their faces.
"It must be Kiril, Evette's old trainer," said Roma.
Too quickly, it was over. Kiril was not a free man and Evette understood. He saluted to his officer, the commandant grunted at him, and the parade of soldiers resumed their training exercise. Her eyes still full of tears, Evette turned around and came back our way.
Maman, I will never see anything like that again.
One more thing, Maman comment va Grand Pere? [How is Grandpa?]
Shanton had no more gotten the question down on paper, when she looked up and saw Petra running toward her with a package. It was from her mother. Inside was a wooden hand mirror. It was the work of her grandfather. He had carved a peacock in full plumage into the back of the mirror. It was magnificent. What did the gift mean?'
Remember, I told you how Grandpa insisted on returning to the cottage when he got sick? He needed to be where he felt at home. I have to tell you that he didn't make it. He left the earth in the very same spot where he was born and worked up to the very last day. We found this on his workbench — for you. He always told you that peacocks get their beautiful feathers from eating thorns. I guess he knew that in your young life you would learn much about those thorns. He made this to remind you of how strong you are. When you look in his mirror, look for his eyes in your own. Tu te souviens comme il t'aimait autant que nous t'aimons? Oui? [Remember how he loved you, how we all do. Yes?]
Shanton leaned into the tree trunk and closed her eyes to take it all in. Feeling sad but peaceful, she thought of Evette having to leave behind her beloved Kiril, and now it was to her grandfather that Shanton's heart went out where her body could not go.
Special thanks to Irina Mirskaya for her illustration. To see more of her work, visit IMillustration.com.
Catherine Hein has written a series of stories featuring Circus Jeanne for the Kids' Reading Room. Check them out at latimes.com/kids. You can find them under Short Stories on the left side of the page.