The Elephants

The Elephants dragged me down the street yesterday, nominating me mascot for their stampede, wrinkled hides all musty leather curtains. The stampede was scheduled to protest the elimination of their subsidy; several donned special martial headdresses, plumes dyed purple and scarlet. The platform they pulled was constructed from steel and balsa wood. I wore an outfit like a Rockette’s, but with a derby. I could roll the hat down my arm on its brim, flip it into the air with one deft flick of my wrist, and then catch it on my foot. I demonstrated this fact. The Elephants trumpeted their approval, and we plowed on. Tassels and fringes slapped against my thighs. Elaborate sequin spirals wreathed my torso, and I had painted a beauty mark on my cheek.

We came to a river. The older elephants waded in and stood side by side so the chariot could be pulled over on their backs. I removed a banner from my bodice and unfurled it. It said something in Latin that I couldn’t understand. I knew that I was being pretentious, but it made me feel smart, like quoting Erasmus, or Spinoza. A translator appeared at the side of the road.

“What does this mean?” I flapped the banner in his face. “Tell me what it says!”

He gathered his cowl with one hand and mumbled from within its folds, “No, no” — his right palm extended, waving from side to side in protest. “I could translate it, but that doesn’t mean that you’d understand it.”

“Elitist swine!” I declared, leaping from the float to pellet his shins with kicked gravel. “You just don’t want to be bothered! You just don’t want to admit that you don’t understand, that all that is truly meaningful in life completely exceeds the puny reach of your so-called knowledge! Anything real, vital, passionate, is beyond your grasp!”

The translator threw back his hood. It was Shecky Green. “Hey, babe,” he said. “No one has to give you anything. No one owes you anything at all.” He pulled a compass out of his pocket and placed the pin on top of his head, spinning it to measure the circumference of his tonsure. When he removed it, I could see that the pin had punctured the skin on his scalp. There was a tiny spot of red. One elephant flung dust onto its massive shoulders and flapped its ears. Another pulled a Jew’s harp from its ornamented headdress, stuck it in its hairy lips, and began to twang. I think the tune was by Woody Guthrie, something about a guy named Eisler, but I’m not sure.

“This machine kills fascists!” I shouted at the translator. “This machine kills me! This machine kills you! This machine was invented to the express end of destroying all life on earth! This machine will not be content until we are ground to a fine paste beneath its wheels. It is a juggernaut!”

“Yes, but isn’t the brand emblem alluring?” he inquired. “It was designed by a contract agency and incorporates both a statistically approved kelly green and an arcane reference to Shintoism. Will you fill out this survey? You are in the appropriate demographic to be considered for a target market focus group.” I could hear the ripple of the river behind me. The banner hung useless in my hands, its antique phrase a blessing or an admonition.

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