The Day Her Elephant Died
When Slo’ Alice called to tell us that her albino
elephant had died from an inverted hoof, I didn’t know
what to say. All of us knew how much she pampered
that elephant, although none of us could figure out
how she got it into her house or what kind of clothes
she bought for it. Stretch pants, said my sometimes
friend, Spiff, who sold hallucinogetics to the old
ladies on Elderberry Street, passing them off as
herbal remedies for constipation. He also sold
firecrackers to veterans who hung out in front
of the Double Derby Barbershop. So Spiff is
driving us to the funeral and I have no idea
how they will fit an elephant into a casket. And
I’m not too sure of the directions. I’m hungry,
says Spiff, and we pull over to a MacDonald’s
and in the parking lot we witness some older kids
picking on a twirp, they call Blondie. For once,
I decide to be brave. After all, I was raised on cheeseburgers
and pop up waffles, a childhood of fast fried love.
When it came to supper, I always gave it up.
“Give him back that ball,” I yell to the leader,
a scrawny kid with rakish eyes, “or I’ll make you
eat it.” Spiff leans against the car, looking at
his worn sneaks. You’re going to get your ass kicked
for sure, I tell myself. Luckily, the kid obeys and
we’re back in Spiff’s old Volvo, about to be
repossessed, the way my ex-girlfriend was, and we’re
taking all these detours and sidestreets that are
not on any map of Grouseland Heights. Spiff decides
to pull over and talk to a girl he says he knew
from the old block, which is now a bloc of abandoned
houses. Spiff, I say, why is it that everytime I’m
trying to get somewhere, you always frustrate me.
Like you want me to be late. Spiff shrugs and adjusts
his sunglasses. He parks and shuts off the motor.
Spiff, I’m saying, we can’t be late to an elephant’s
funeral. They say it’s bad luck. They say that
in the next life you’ll come back as an insect
and get stepped on without really dying. Do you
want to go through your whole life getting stepped on?
Then Spiff tells me how when he was a kid
there was a friendly skunk that would sneak
in his backyard, waddling through his mother’s
garden plants. He says that he killed that skunk
with a slingshot and it’s stayed with him ever since.
I’m trying to tell Spiff that this is different.
Slo’ Alice’s elephant died of natural causes.
But Spiff isn’t listening. I’d be better off
getting out, carrying the goddamn car on my shoulders.
My talisman is a snow globe that I place under a hooker’s pillow. Gaugin caught wind-disease from sleeping with island women who were marked. As a teenager, I recited the litany of backseat madonnas. Why is the best sky always a shade of inkish blue? With a pocketful of change, I always feel lucky on subways. Once a woman kneaded my flesh with her mother’s wispy fingers. It almost hurt in places that said No Trespassing. Did Bluebeard get blue balls? The girl I’m dating keeps a thousand homemade sins under the tongue. When someday, we’re shut in for the winter, I’ll ask her for only the juiciest details. I once met a man who ran on the Progressive Party ticket. He said foremost on his agenda was better shelters for the downsized. I admired a woman once who fingered her vagina like a buttercup. Today, the wind is silent. The figures in my snowglobe stare at me with riddled eyes. In my wallet is a picture of a woman who started losing her flesh. No amount of money could curtail her longing for windchimes.