Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Part II

The little elephant tries not to cry.

Although he cannot understand what they’re saying, he knows that they’re arguing about him, over something he’s done.

One of the chipmunks, the taller one with the dark nose, chatters furiously. His squeaks and shrieks have attracted a small crowd to this particular oak tree. They stare up greedily with their vacant eyes, and their fingertips are broken and ripped from trying to climb the hard, ungiving bark.

Every now and then the angry chipmunk jumps up and down to relay a particular point, and occasionally he points toward the hole in the tree trunk, the hole that had contained all those delicious peanuts.

The smaller chipmunk, the one with the sleepy eyes, nods shamefully. He cannot bear to look at his companion. He isn’t saying much, either, though when he’d first crossed the elephant’s path, his voice was so soothing and silly that it was clear he was a friend.

But that had been before. Now that the elephant’s done Something Very Bad, they’re sure to turn him out, much like he’d been turned out, so long ago, by the other citizens of the circus.

“I’m sorry!” the elephant would say if he knew how to speak. He didn’t realize the peanuts were for all of them. He’d only known that he was hungry, hungry and lost, after finding himself in the midst of this unfamiliar park.

And surely he’d have perished if the friendly chipmunk hadn’t been come along and comforted him and led him to this sturdy, tall, isolated sanctuary.

And how had the little elephant repaid such a kindness? By eating all their food, that’s how. That’s what has angered the chief chipmunk so. Who knows how long those peanuts would’ve fed two chipmunks? Forever, perhaps. But with an elephant, even a tiny baby, eating from the trove, their treasure is almost depleted.

And now the taller chipmunk points its accusing paw down toward the dead ones. For now they’re just harmless people, but what will they do when a cat comes? Or a bird?

At least the two chipmunks have some camouflage amidst the leaves and in the knot of this oak, but an elephant sitting on a branch, especially one dressed absurdly as a clown, how long before the entire park of corpses is clustered around this tree? What then?

And still, the sleepy-eyed chipmunk has no answer. Feebly, he tries to explain, and brings his arms to his ears to demonstrate the elephant’s wondrous abilities, but his companion is unfazed and unbelieving. What use is such a curiosity in a harsh world like this?

And still, the little elephant tries not to cry.

Now the chipmunk waves an angry paw to the east, and the little elephant sees an overturned peanut cart, painted in the gay colors of red and white. Circus colors.

Far away, such a far and treacherous journey for a chipmunk in a hostile and threatening park. How many journeys had it taken, perhaps two or three peanuts at a time, to build up their supply. And how many are even left?

The chipmunk points once more at the ever-growing mob of people. How can they continue to scavenge with all those hungry eyes watching them? How will they survive now that the little elephant’s ruined everything?

And then the oak tree creaks heavily, as its most solid branch is relieved of such a ponderous weight. With his ears flapping slowly, solidly, the little elephant lifts himself into the air, and flies away to the east.

As one, the crowd turns their attention toward the fleeing prey. Arms and hands skyward, they stumble after the elephant.

But he’s already reached the peanut cart. It is heavy, perhaps as heavy as him, and though his trunk is strong and nimble, it isn’t used to carrying such a weight, let alone while flying.

He sinks to the ground, trunk entwined in the spokes of a wheel, and he flaps his ears, harder and harder, as the mob comes ever closer and closer.

The chipmunks stop in the midst of their argument and stare, dumbfounded, at the little elephant’s suicidal flight.

His billowing ears catch and push at the wind relentlessly. The people’s hands reach and grab and rip in anticipation, moments away from the gray living flesh. And then the elephant is in the air once more, the peanut cart pulling painfully at his trunk. The creatures reach helplessly, but their battered fingers cannot find a hold on the smooth cart.

There is a peculiar crash of metal on wood as the little elephant drops the peanut cart on the stout oak branch.

The chipmunks are still speechless. They hop toward him, but he does not land, he continues flying, flying away from the park, back over the dead ones so they will follow him, and only when he is out of sight of the chipmunks does he allow himself to cry, his tears falling, unseen and unheard, upon the uncaring dead.