As High as an Elephant’s Eye ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is a revised version of a short story I posted a while back.)
We’re in my parents’ old green Pontiac. Mother is driving and grandma is in the front seat with her. In the back seat, I can’t see out the window when I’m sitting down, so I stand up and hold onto the back of the seat, something the mean old mister won’t let me do when he’s driving. I’m excited because we’re going to the store and I can probably get my mother to buy me something.
Mother pulls onto the enormous parking lot of Champ’s Supermarket. (Shop Like a Champ at Champ’s.) She has trouble finding a place to park and when she finds one it’s all the way on the far side of the lot away from the store.
“I don’t know why it’s so crowded today,” she says.
I’m all ready to get out of the car and go in with her, but she tells me I have to wait with grandma.
“I want to go!” I say.
“Well, you can’t.”
“Bring me some Blackjack gum.”
“If they have it.”
“I know they have it! It’s right where you stand in line to pay.”
“I have a lot on my mind. I can’t guarantee I’ll remember a small thing like gum.”
“Bring me some clove gum, too.”
“You’re not greedy, are you?”
“Either one or the other. You can’t have both.”
“Well, then, if I can only have one, I want the clove. No, I want the Blackjack. No, make it the clove. No, I want the Blackjack.”
“You’ll be lucky to get any.”
“I never heard of clove gum,” grandma says.
“It’s good,” I say. “It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.”
“It’ll rot your teeth.”
“No, it won’t! It’s good for your teeth!”
“Oh, dear!” mother sighs. “This is going to take a while, I can see. They’re so crowded today and I have prescriptions to get filled.”
“Drop them off at the drug counter and pick them up when you’re finished with everything else,” grandma says.
“Yeah, I guess that’s what I’ll do.”
“Do you want me to go in with you?”
“No, then we’ll all have to go because I don’t want Buster Brown staying in the car by himself.”
“I don’t mind,” I say.
“Somebody might come along and kidnap you.”
“No, they won’t!”
“Kidnapping is a serious thing,” grandma says, and I can hardly keep from laughing.
I think about being kidnapped and try to decide if I would like it. If it kept me from having to go to school, I’d like it all right, if whoever kidnapped me didn’t slap me in the face and treated me the way I’d want to be treated.
Mother gets out of the car and disappears into the maze of parked cars. I’m starting to feel hot because the afternoon sun is shining on my right side so I roll down the window all the way and stick my head out.
“There’s more people right here than live in the whole town,” I say.
“I don’t know where they all come from,” grandma says. “Everybody must have a lot of money except us.”
“She sure has been gone a long time,” I say.
“Two minutes,” grandma says. “You have to learn to be patient.”
“No, I don’t! I don’t want to be patient!”
“You have to sit and wait and not complain about it no matter how long it takes.”
“I brought my connect-the-dots book,” I say.
“I have my magazine,” she says. “See, that’s what being patient is.”
I open my connect-the-dots book to a page on which is obviously a cowboy on a horse, but you’re not supposed to know it’s a cowboy on a horse until you’ve connected all the dots. I can tell what it is, though, even before I connect the dots.
I don’t like drawing in my book so I use my number-three pencil that’s worn down to a nub and connect a few dots very lightly so I can go back later and erase them with a big green eraser I have at home in my desk.
Grandma is reading an article in her magazine about “getting older.” It doesn’t mean going from sixth to seventh grade. It means going from forty to fifty.
“Life begins at forty,” she says.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that by the time you’re forty you should have all your problems straightened out and your kids raised, and you should be able to enjoy life the way you’re supposed to.”
“I’m not ever having any kids,” I say.
“I don’t like babies. They’re nasty and they scream all the time.”
“You’ll change your mind when you grow up and meet a lovely young girl and want to get married.”
“That won’t ever happen to me.”
“You’ll be lonely if you don’t get married.”
“No, I won’t. I’ll have plenty of cats and a few chickens and I’ll live in a big house and I won’t let anybody else come in.”
I connect a few more dots and soon I grow tired of waiting. I want my Blackjack or clove gum and I want to leave Champ’s lot. I put the book aside and put my head back and close my eyes, smelling hot cars and gasoline and feeling the sun on my head and arms.
“Do you think she’ll get me the clove gum or the Blackjack?” I asked.
“She’ll be lucky to get what she came for,” grandma says. “A pack of gum is not important.”
“To me it is.”
In a little while I’m aware of a commotion in the corner of the parking lot, not far from where we are. I hear voices and laughing and I see some kids headed over that way. It’s probably just a stupid clown or something, but I want to go see what it is so I open the door and start to get out.
“Where do you think you’re going?” grandma asks.
“I want to go over there and see what’s going on.”
“You stay in the car! You don’t want to keep your mother waiting.”
“I won’t. I’ll just be gone a minute.”
“Don’t make me have to come and get you.”
“And watch out for cars.”
As I walk over that way, I see an elephant over the tops of the cars. An elephant is something you don’t ordinarily see in this town. A crowd of people has gathered and they’re looking at the elephant as if it’s something that just came down from Mars.
The elephant is to advertise a circus that’s coming to town. A man is leading the elephant around by a leash in a fenced-in enclosure. A little girl with fuzzy blonde hair is sitting on the elephant’s neck; she looks like she’s hanging on for dear life, making snorting sounds and swiveling her head around for somebody to help her. I think she’s very silly. She screams and starts to slide off and the handler eases her down to the ground and she runs off into the crowd.
The handler holds his arm up over his head and shouts, “Anybody want a ride? Only twenty-five cents!”
He points at me and I shake my head because I don’t have any money. Since he doesn’t have any other takers at the moment, he leans over and picks me up like I’m a sack of feathers. I think he’s going to put me on the elephant’s neck where the fuzzy-headed blonde girl had been, but he just holds me up, his hot hands on my ribs, to where my face is only a few inches from the elephant’s eye.
“Did you ever see an elephant up this close?” he asks me. I shake my head and the people laugh.
I don’t know what else to do, so I reach out and put my hand on the elephant’s face right underneath his eye. He blinks three times as if he is thinking about me, studying what I look like so he’ll remember me if he sees me later. I am charmed to make his acquaintance.
The handler sets me down on the ground and I’m quickly forgotten because a different girl with a funny-looking red thing on her head is holding up a quarter, demanding that she be put on the elephant’s neck. The handler takes the money from the girl and picks her up.
When I get back to the car, mother is still in the store.
“What’s going on over there?” grandma asks.
“They’re giving rides on an elephant.”
“Did you ride?” she asks.
“It costs a quarter.”
“I think we could have scraped together a quarter if you had wanted to ride.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “I got to see the elephant’s eye up close and it didn’t cost anything.”
Before grandma can ask me any more questions, mother comes back. She’s carrying two small bags; not a very impressive showing for as long as she was gone.
“Did you get my gum?” I ask.
She reaches into the bag and hands the Blackjack gum over the seat.
“Where’s the clove gum?” I ask. “I wanted both.”
“We seldom get what we ask for in life,” mother says, and I know the subject is closed.
“All right. Just checking.”
She starts the car and pulls out of the spot, but the cars are lined up to get off the lot, so we have to wait a while. I get a piece of the gum unwrapped and into my mouth as fast as I can. Yes, Blackjack is definitely my favorite flavor, with clove a close second.
“Can we go to the circus?” I ask.
“What circus?” mother asks.
“There’s going to be a circus.”
“We’ll go only if you can pay for it.”
“I don’t have any money,” I say.
“Same old sad story,” she says.
I know she’s teasing, but I think I can get her to agree to get her to go if I keep harping on the subject long enough.
We finally make it through the jam of cars waiting to get off the lot and mother pulls onto the highway with a squeal of tires. There’s a huge puddle right there and I feel a couple drops from it splash onto my arm as we drive through.
I wipe the water off my arm with my left hand and turn and look out the side window. I see the elephant’s head way over there on the corner of the parking lot over the tops of the cars and I know he can see me too.
“I’d like to own my own elephant,” I say.
“Other kids want a pony,” mother says, “but I don’t think you’ll be getting either one in the very near future.”
“When I’m grown up I’ll have whatever I want,” I say. “Life begins at forty.”
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp