The Elephant in the Corner

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Just when everyone had successfully managed to ignore it, the elephant sneezed. Rolling our eyes, we looked to the corner of the room where it was seated uncomfortably on a bulging armchair with a Gauloise in its trunk and a tumbler of whisky by its side. “Sorry,” it said, “just ignore me.”

“The thing I never understood,” said Marcie, “is why we got that elephant in the first place.”

“That’s the point, woman. It’s not meant to be there. It’s like, symbolic, get it?”

Marcie didn’t. A star of adult films when she was younger, she didn’t get much these days except the odd STD outbreak whenever she was vexed or the moon was too bright in the sky. The latter was her own diagnosis, admittedly, one which Doctor Loveridge didn’t share, though he was careful not to reveal his skepticism for fear that Marcie would leave and stop revealing her exotic, pneumatic chest arrangement. The third breast had been a masterstroke on Doctor Loveridge’s part, and even Marcie was getting used to it now, although suitable bras were still an issue.

“Run it by me again,” she said.

I shook my head. “Marcie, I’ve explained this to you a hundred times.”

“In one ear and out the other,” said the elephant, waggling his own for emphasis. The lampshade billowed in the breeze, casting odd shadows on the mantelpiece and the stolen Munch paintings on the wall.

“Don’t you diss me, you great lump of gray blubber,” said Marcie, standing on her dignity and getting it dirty.

“Or you’ll what?” said the elephant.

“Hank, shoot it.”

As it happened, I was holding a revolver in my hand — metal, black, with a banana-shaped barrel which Reg the Rat assured me meant the bullets would travel faster.

Maybe they did, but they never hit their target.

Mind you, an elephant was hard to miss. I eyed it speculatively.

“You’d be amazed how far a trunk can reach,” said the elephant, blowing smoke rings and spearing them on its tusks. “And how fast it can move. Drop the gun now, sucker, before I knock your head into yesterday, whenever, wherever.”

I looked up and saw a face in the mirror, Reg the Rat, his whiskers quivering with amusement at my predicament. I didn’t care. What Reg didn’t know was that the elephant was tired of his drug-taking and had hired a hit man — Jackal Jack — to take him out before the end of the week. I held back a smile.

“Take a seat, Reg,” I said. “We’re just debating the elephant.”

“Where ya’ been, Reggie,” said Marcie. “I missed ya’, hon.”

“Afghanistan, babe. Poppy season. Collecting the September harvest. Cold out there, too, I’m telling you.”

“Tell me about it,” said the elephant. “That swine Hannibal made me march through the Khyber pass in the middle of winter.”

“Rubbish,” I said. “That was the Alps, and it was two thousand years ago. You weren’t there. Not even your mummy’s mummy’s mummy’s mummy was there.”

The elephant snorted. Reggie the Rat caught most of the blast, leaving him covered head to toe in greenish-yellow mucus. I’d describe him as a drowned rat but that would be too clichéd. Nonetheless, an oxygen-deprived rodent he certainly was.

“So you think,” said the elephant, “that marching with Hannibal is any more unlikely than me sitting in an armchair in your living room, do you? Get a grip, man.”

Marcie stamped her foot. “Will somebody PLEASE tell me what he’s doing here! I don’t understand.”

Reggie the Rat cleaned his whiskers with a copy of the New York Times and tossed it to the floor. He patted Marcie’s arm, leaving a trail of elephant mucus down it. “The point about the elephant in the corner, Marcie,” he said, “is that it’s something so conspicuous it ought to be talked about, but no one dares mention it.”

“But we have, guys. We’ve been talking about it for the last ten minutes, haven’t we?”

“Ah,” said Reg. An uncomfortable silence settled as we sought a way to contradict her. We couldn’t. Reg looked at Marcie. Marcie looked at me. I looked at the elephant.

And, at that moment, with the most rueful of grins, the elephant vanished.

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George Cunningham

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George Cunningham left the faintest of marks on existence during his forty-two years and twenty-eight days of life. When he died — in about eight minutes’ time — he would be neither mourned nor missed.

He walked down the lane between Friarton and Edgeway, as he had done three-hundred-and-ninety-nine times before. He celebrated his four-hundredth by playing the counting game aloud. It was the most daring thing he had done for eight months and sixteen days.

“One-blackird-four-swallows-three-rabbits-one-fox.”

He spotted a pair of rabbits.

“One-blackird-four-swallows-five-rabbits-one-fox.”

Rabbits always won: it was a flaw in the game. Sometimes, George would play “everything-against-the-rabbits”, which made for closer contests, but was too easy to count: George liked having to remember at least seven figures at a time. His best game, number two-hundred-and-fourteen, had involved thirteen species, and one-hundred-and-forty-three different sightings.

On that occasion, George’s brain had been singing by the time he got home. He had a glass of port in celebration and replayed the game in his head. Irritated to discover he couldn’t remember where he had spotted the third hare — such an easy thing to remember, such a silly thing to forget — he poured the rest of the port away in disgust.

Nineteen-percent proof. Eight too many. George would remember that.

“Two-blackirds-four-swallows-nine-rabbits-one-fox-one-hedgehog.”

“Two-blackirds-five-swallows-ten-rabbits-one-fox-one-hedgehog-fourteen-cows.”

George was never sure whether to count the cows at Broughton Farm. It seemed unfair, because they weren’t random sightings. But it gave the rabbits a target to chase, so sometimes he included them.

As he rounded the sharp bend near Friarton, George wandered into the middle of the road. He didn’t notice the Citroen Xsara coming behind him. George didn’t count cars. He hated people. He tried never to look at them: if he couldn’t see them, they didn’t exist.

He didn’t hear the car horn. He barely felt the impact as he was knocked into the ditch he would occupy for the next three months; where his remains would be gnawed by four foxes and forty-seven crows.

The last thing George Cunningham saw was an owl, staring at him. It had been fifty-three days since he last spotted one. George smiled.

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