At the end of Summer Claire began to suspect that there was a giraffe on the loose. At first it was just a suspicion, then a theory, but by the first snowfall she was convinced that a giraffe was lurking somewhere in the alleyways of her city.
She wouldn't have suspected at all had not the tree in the playground lost its leaves. One day they were there and a windy night later they simply weren't.
Claire searched around the playground for the missing leaves. She'd really been looking forward to jumping into huge, crunchy piles of them, but all she ever found were three measly leaves. She knew there had been a lot more than three leaves on that tree.
"Mommy," she asked, "what sort of animals eat leaves?"
"Oh, lots of animals do, koalas for instance eat eucalyptus leaves," said Mommy. Claire thought a cuddly koala would be even more fun than crunchy piles of leaves, but it would take a whole herd of koalas to eat all the leaves that had gone missing.
"What else eats leaves?" she asked.
"Oh, deer and goats and cows. . ."
"Do any really big animals eat leaves?" Claire interrupted.
"Don't interrupt, Claire, but yes, I believe elephants do."
Claire had seen an elephant that summer at the circus. It was pretty big, but the tree was even bigger. To reach the leaves at the very top it would have had to stand on its back legs. It probably would break the tree right in half. Someone would notice.
"What about tall animals?" she asked.
"Yes, giraffes are the tallest animals on earth and they eat leaves," said Mommy. "Sometimes from the tip top of the trees."
"Perfect," said Claire.
"Perfect," said Claire.
From that time on, whenever Claire went out she kept and eye open for signs of giraffes. Unfortunately, sidewalks were lousy for animal prints. She asked her mommy for help.
"Claire, honey," her mommy said, "Giraffes live on the African plains and in zoos. They don't live in cities like ours. It's too cold."
"Maybe it is wearing a coat," Claire pointed out. She thought for a moment then added, "and about twenty scarves."
The next day Claire tried to bait a giraffe trap with her mommy's scarf, but Mommy made her bring it back.
The problem was, in the city, there were so many things a giraffe could hide behind. On the African plains they stood out and in the zoo they were hard to miss (there was even an arrow pointing straight to their cage), but in the city all the buildings were taller than the average giraffe. For all Claire knew there could be two. . .or three. . . . or a whole herd of them.
All Autumn she watched and waited, but the giraffe never showed up. They ate all the leaves, though, soon there was not a leaf on any tree in the city. Claire began to lose hope.
"I'll never see a giraffe," she said sadly.
"Would you like to go to the zoo today?" her mommy asked.
When they got to the zoo, Claire hurried her Mommy straight to the giraffes. There they were, tall enough to reach the very tip top of any tree in the playground. It was so obvious that they were behind the disappearing leaves.
"Do you want to go see the polar bears?" Mommy asked after a bit.
"No, I just want to watch the giraffes," said Claire.
Claire and the giraffes watched each other for a long time.
"You know," said Claire, "I'm glad there are giraffes in my park."
"It's time to go, Claire," said Mommy.
Claire followed Mommy out but when Mommy wasn't looking she left behind her scarf, just in case the giraffe got cold.