What Is Said About Elephants

By Wendell Mayo

Because you promised Soledad so many times but never went, you resolve to visit her elephants at the zoo, use the senior discount card she’d gotten for you both, though she’d only used it once, before liver dialysis, jaundice eyes, before her passing on. Now a cold, ocherous morning sky follows you all the way to the Tembo Trail, where alone you lean on the icy railing, not sure the elephants will be out, though evidence abounds, elephant snot and mud-smeared Plexiglas, the scent of elephant dung that makes you woozy. But there’s no sign of them, just mounds of sand, and three tall telephone poles rising out the frozen ground, fitted with steel I-beams resembling ribs of an umbrella, over which a dense khaki netting is fastened, dimly reminiscent of yellow fever trees of the Savannah, their silhouettes against a saffron sky, a young Soledad at your side. Alive. You hardly have time to choke back rising grief, to push away from the rail and start home, when Beasley, the trainer, so it says on his nametag, leans in at your elbow like a walking stick, waiting, as young people sometimes wait for recognition.

“It’s said,” Beasley says, “an elephant won’t pass by a dead elephant without casting a branch or some dust on the body.”

“I don’t see any elephants,” you grumble with bilious disinterest.

Beasley leaves, mercifully, and you notice a hole in a stucco portion of the barrier, a feeding portal, you suppose, hinged wire screen covering, then hear the rumble of elephant steps stopping just the other side. You can just see the mountainous slope of the animal’s derriere and its tail whipping back and forth. Then Beasley reappears, right at your elbow.

“There you go, mister,” he says. “Meet Victoria.”

You hear Victoria swat her side of the portal with her trunk like a major-leaguer.

“How can I meet her if I can’t see her?” you ask.

“Right,” Beasley smiles. “Come, Vickie!”

Victoria lumbers into full side view, just inches behind the Plexiglas, too much to take in all at once, so you fix your gaze on her tiny yellow eye at the vortex of her gray, wrinkled sea of swirling flesh, rippled folds of skin that draw you inward, to a doubtful yellow center in which there is no memory, none of Soledad’s jaundice, none of dimly remembered yellow fever trees, and no rising grief, only a pulsing in your neck, an empty feeling in your stomach, the vaguest sound of Victoria snuffling at frozen ground, a swish of air, a throb like distant thunder, sounds muttered more than meant, and yellow, the color yellow, and no other yellow before the everlasting yellow in the eye of the elephant.

You turn to Beasley.

“Kid,” you say, “what else can you tell me about elephants?”

Wendell Mayo is author of three books, including B. Horror and Other Stories, whose title story appears in Monsters: A Collection of Literary Sightings, edited by B. J. Hollars. His short stories have appeared in Yale ReviewHarvard ReviewManoaMissouri ReviewPrism International, and more. He teaches creative writing at Bowling Green State University.