- Dion Wright
Excerpt From "The Elephant", A Novel
"Nothing reveals more about the inner life of a people than their Arts." Diane Ackerman -The Natural History of Love
"Easy to be dedicated if you're a blooming genius. But to go on being dedicated when you're a rotten painter, I tell you, that calls for heroic devotion." John Mortimer -Summer's Lease
"But, Mama," said the child, "The Emperor is naked!" The Emperor's New Clothes
The morning sun shown slightly orange through the polluted air. The residents of Southern California, coughing in their freeway-locked cars, liked to call it "hazy". The vehicles crawled along the concrete ribbons to L.A., where the enraged and frustrated masses spent their compelled hours, but on the beach there were a few places lost in an echo of an earlier and kinder time, where the progress which was swallowing the world moved less overwhelmingly. One of those places was the town of Seaside Beach, where a few individuals continued to live as they had in Southern California's palmier days.
The sky blue room in which The Elephant was waking up on a muggy morning in June was the interior of an asphalt-tile roofed, board-and-bat structure such as real estate salesmen describe as "a charmer". It was a relict of the summer beach bungalows of the 20's, which had mostly been replaced by more modern structures, but which The Elephant liked just the way it was.
The inside of the place was a hodge-podge of Salvation Army furniture, fishnet curtains, and shelves sagging with books, records and the flotsam of the sea - abalone shells, piddock-pierced and tumbled sedimentary rock fragments, the spiny dry carapace of a long-defunct lobster. The walls were filled with an eclectic assemblage of diverse Art works, odd photographs, and clippings from magazines, all spiced intermittently with scraps of paper upon which The Elephant had printed or scribbled such homilies, aphorisms and puns as stuck in his mind out of the constant reflective monologue which filled his head at all times, when he was by himself.
When he happened to be wearing something which had pockets, those pockets were always stuffed with notes, pads, old envelopes, receipts, tissues, pencil stubs and sometimes a ballpoint pen, invariably out of ink. The interior of the beach shack was one big room which had the kitchen on the south, a chaotic studio space in the middle, and a bed among the bookshelves on the north. The whole place was congested and disorderly, but clean. There were no dirty dishes left in The Elephant's sink at any time.
"What is it that all artists might have in common, if anything?" wondered The Elephant for the umpteenth time, as he lay and sweated hugely on his damp sticky bed. He scratched his broad hairy belly and farted loudly.
"All artists fart and scratch, at least," The Elephant mused to himself, "but then, so does everybody."
The Elephant rolled over onto his side and saw before his grey eyes the painting he was just then creating on the surface of a hollowcore door. His experimental pigments were mustard and peanut butter. The Elephant noted with vexation that the mustard was sliding slowly off the surface of the door. Muttering irritably, he swung his great body into a sitting position with surprising agility for one so massive, adroitly ducking his head to one side as he arose, avoiding being hit in the face by a jockstrap which hung from a nail overhead.
His feet hit the boards of the floor with a thud which made them creak. He ruefully rubbed his big red hand over the few blonde hairs which yet wispfully arose from his fleshy scalp. His head rested almost neckless between his furry shoulders like a pink bowling ball. The Elephant squinted at his painting and shook his head; squinted again, and jumped to his feet with the light of inspiration flooding his brain. He crossed the room in three behemoth strides, the wooden floor shrieking in protest at each mighty pace, as The Elephant's bulk forced itself downward against old joists and nails.
The Elephant was huge, but not fat. He filled his volumes more in the way of a killer whale than an elephant. He had earned the name "Elephant" when he was a teenager working one summer loading fifty-five gallon barrels of toxic waste onto flatbed trucks. When The Boys saw him singlehandedly lifting the steel barrels off of the ground and onto the truck with tireless zeal, and rolling them up the ramp two at a time, they started calling him "Elephant", and it had stuck with him into this, his forty-somethingth year.
The Elephant reached his kitchen table and grabbed a dozen slices of Wonder Bread from a loaf that lay open and staling there. He stuffed one slice into his mouth and carried the rest over to the door he was painting on. He began to slap the slices of white bread against the goopier areas of wet mustard. The Elephant was liking the resulting effect, but he was getting distracted by the slice of Wonder Bread he was chewing on, which had turned into a glutenous mass of dough pasted to the roof of his mouth. He opened his refrigerator and took out a quart of Colt 45 from a dozen there. He unscrewed the cap, and raising the bottle to his lips, fired the musilaginous bolus of the baker's art into the depths of his stomach ahead of a downward cascade of cold malt licquor.
"Yum," said The Elephant.
Removing a heavy book about East Indian Tantric Art from the top of his record player, The Elephant slapped Cookin' With the Miles Davis Quintet onto the turntable and set the music going.
The Elephant returned his attention to his painting, thoughtfully adjusting the slices of Wonder Bread this way and that, and squishing each one against the surface of the door with the beefy heel of his hand as it reached its appointed station. When they were all composed according to his wishes, The Elephant rumbled with satisfaction, and went to his front door to check out what kind of a day it was.
When The Elephant opened his front door, this is what he saw: the cobalt horizon of the sea, a cloudless sky, an expanse of sand, a line of surf, and, ambling down the beach into his line of vision, his next-door neighbors, a couple of Bulgarian lesbians and their Great Dane. The Great Dane barked and wagged its tail.
"Hi, Elephant," the two women chorused, one of them adding, "Nice suit you got."
The Elephant remembered that he had neglected to dress, and with a loud but neutral grunt he thudded back into his house to pull on some enormous baggy swim trunks, once red, now bleached almost white in places. He picked up his painted door and carried it out into the morning sun to bake flat on the sand, unperturbed by worrisome gravity. Gravity was operational on the moving waters of the shoreline, he observed, and The Elephant gauged the situation as worthwhile enough for him to venture into the waves with his surfboard. A four foot swell lifted a little by an offshore zephyr made it marginal, but enticing. The Elephant was a sight to see, on a surfboard, and he now trotted into the sea to balance his mighty mass in the fluid mathematics of the waves.
After a while The Elephant trotted back out of the surf to be greeted warmly by several neighborhood dogs. All dogs immediately regarded The Elephant as a lifelong friend, and Leader of the Pack. Suddenly he burst into an impetuous roaring charge, and rushed up the beach, wildly waving his surfboard over his head and bellowing loudly. Several unimpressed seagulls rose calmly into the air before his advance, from the meal they had been making of The Elephant's Art work.
"Doesn't look too damaged," thought The Elephant, "In fact those beak holes in the bread sort of add a random dimension to it. I like it. I think I'll take it over to Carson's place and hear what he has to say about it."
He went back inside of his house and stepped out of his gargantuan wet trunks, which he then threw back out through the door onto his patio where they would bleach a little more in the hot afternnon sun. He climbed into a pair of frayed jeans and slipped on an extra extra extra large T-shirt extolling a restaurant chain on the front of it.
He looked in the mirror and decided to run a razor across his ample chin, wishing as usual in passing that he still needed a comb for his dome. Judging himself to be presentable, he finished off the warm remains of the quart of Colt 45, picked up his painted door, and went out the back door, which was really in the front, if the front is the side facing the street.
The Elephant threaded his way through his large fenced yard, which was piled high with a jumble of maritime paraphernalia. He opened his gate and leaned the painting against the side of an unlovely blue pickup truck that was imprecisely parked outside. There was a pile of rope and a defunct outboard motor in the bed of it. The Elephant chucked the rope out of the truck and over the fence to make a flat place for the improbable door to rest, and lugged the dead motor through his gate and leaned it against a barrel full of water, in which he ran outboards while working on them. Then he went back into the street and scrunched himself into the pickup's cab behind the steering wheel, and chugged off toward the hillside home of his friend and mentor, Carson Eldersmith.
© 2015 by Dion Wright