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The Elephant

The day was warm, and we drove to the zoo. It was hard to decide which animal I liked best. It could have been the zebras. Yes, I did like those black-and-white horsey things. There was an orangutan whose hair looked like Papa’s. Most of all, I like the elephant, I guess.

Before I could tell Mama, she screamed.

Papa, I couldn’t see him. Mama’s eyes were wet and her hands, red. Brushing the hair behind my ears, she said it would be OK. She had made us a strawberry cake for after supper.

I got tired.

I’m tired.

No, my boy. Stay right here, in Mama’s lap. Tell me about the animals you saw today.

The sun shone hot, bright burning glitter through the trees while Mama held me, asking if it was the monkeys, or maybe the crocodile that I liked best.

I wanted to tell her it was the elephant I liked, that I wished I could ride him. But Papa came back shaking his head.

Mama cried and told him to go to the hospital anyway.

I shivered once, and then I stopped. My name is Irvin, but now it’s not. I’ve seen elephants, but I’m not sure what more has happened since. I don’t see Mama or Papa, but the sun is still hot, and the trees the same. It’s like summer all the time, as if winter never came. I’m not lonely. I have my elephant.

 

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Dust and Grass

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There was chicken wire instead of a fence. It was nothing more than rusty, twisted wire caging in dust and slouching, fading headstones in the middle of nowhere. All the sparse grass stayed out, as if cast from the perfect deadness of the small cemetery. It lay at the edge of the street of what was left of Baden, Iowa, a town someone in the German branch of my mother’s family had founded some time in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

My father parked in front of a building the same color as the unpaved road. Nothing was painted, and if it had been, it had been a long time since the last touch-up. Mom walked toward the cemetery to look for relatives, and my little brother and I wandered around what looked like a movie set from a Clint Eastwood western. About a half-dozen buildings with false fronts lined both sides of the street, and every one of them seemed emptied of life years before we showed up that summer afternoon.

Although the church wasn’t padlocked, it was vacant and likely without any congregants but a few field mice. The  general store had the only open door we found, but the windows were boarded shut. An old Pepsi machine on the front porch still had working lights, and I hoped we’d be able to get a Coke or Dr. Pepper. Mom didn’t trust how long the cans had been in there, so we left the machine disappointed and walked inside. One man stood behind the counter in a warehouse of dust and junk. Broken toys and tools sat on shelves and in cracked barrels. There were horseshoes and legless ballerinas in music boxes. I wound one and watched her twirl to a lullaby on a dirty pedestal, then closed the case. Continue reading “Dust and Grass”

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