FICTION: White Elephant by Jacob Parker

You know how it goes. You meet a girl, she’s great, she’s the one for sure. After a few years you move in together, a really cool flat right in the Çihangir area of Istanbul. A few more years pass, you’re having a great time. Then she starts talking about babies. The whole thing feels like someone’s slipped an ice-cube down your back. You try to hide it. You make vaguely positive but non-committal noises. You start telling her you love her more often and being more attentive, thinking that may plug the gap for a while, stop her thinking about it. Then after a time the idea starts to seem less terrifying to you. You even catch yourself thinking about it sometimes, and you’re surprised to find it feels almost exciting. You, who can never figure out what he wants, is coming around to this. So she wins. They always win. And before you know it you’re not, not trying. Six months go by and nothing. But then that’s what it can be like. Then another six months and nothing. Then another. You stop talking to each other about it, how much is there to say? It becomes a silence between you.

Then one day you come home and there’s a small white elephant standing in your living room. I mean a real, living elephant – just a very, very small one. And completely white. Your girlfriend, she says she can explain everything. Please do, you say, still completely stunned, looking at this miniature elephant, about the height of a toilet, spotlessly white, trotting around your living room. Don’t be angry, she says, just hear me out. So you do: She was on her way home, coming down Istiklal and she turned off down the side-street by the Iskender place you go to, and down this side street, sitting in a doorway, she came across it; this little white elephant. Looking so frightened and cold. And lonely – she emphasises the lonely – just sitting in this doorway. Sitting? you say. Yes, sitting, she says, like how elephants sit. You’re having trouble picturing how elephants sit, so she reminds you – like you’ve seen on the nature programmes; with their bum on the ground, back legs spread out open in-front of them and front legs in between, all dejected and exhausted-looking. She can tell your still having trouble with this image. They look a bit like how bears look when they’re sitting, she says. This doesn’t help you much either – you’re not really a great nature documentary watcher, anyway you take her word for it, seeing as there are more pressing issues at hand. So, it was sitting in this doorway, completely abandoned. She emphasises this too: abandoned.

You know this happens all the time in Istanbul, normally with designer dogs. People buy them as status symbols, in a week they’re bored of them, realise this mutt is not going to walk itself or clean up its own shit, so at night they just dump them on the street – problem solved. Maybe this little elephant is a new designer animal, like the miniature pigs you’ve heard about. And you’ve got to admit – it’s pretty cute, this tiny white elephant, with its stumpy legs and its little trunk reaching up to sniff you. Your girlfriend, she says she thinks it’s a sign – a gift in place of the baby you can’t seem to have. What can you possibly say to this? Well, if this is what you want, you say, then you have to be prepared to do the walking and cleaning up. But she’s seen this coming. She’s so clever, at check-mating you, this beautiful girlfriend of yours. If we do this we do it together, she says. I want us to both want it. I want us to think of this as our baby. And you look at this little elephant, now resting its white head on your knee, with its small trunk sort of draped over your legs, and gazing at you through these long dark eyelashes. It is pretty cute you guess. And you think, what the hell. Let’s see how it goes for a week, you say, because you don’t want to be seen to concede so easily.

The beginning is pretty great actually. You find out this little elephant is a she. You’re fine with that. And everyone wants to see her – this small baby elephant of yours. Everyone says she’s so beautiful – she’s so white, like porcelain, and as heavy too, really heavy for a little thing. You notice yourself feeling quite proud. You and your girlfriend start calling her The Sprout. This begins as a kind of affectionate joke, a pet name – you forget how exactly it came about, maybe because of the way she squirts water in the bath like a whale spout, or how she’s popped into your lives, or maybe you liked the way it was so ironically opposite to her white colour – anyway, you can’t remember. But the name sticks. And for some reason it’s always The Sprout, never Sprout.

The Sprout is a real hit in the park as well: the children’s park and the dog park. The other kids love her, they ride on her back and stroke her and squeal with laughter when she squirts them with water. The dogs in the dog park love her too because she’s playful and tough. Quite surprisingly she can run with the fastest – the sheepdogs, the race dogs. And she can wrestle a stick with the strongest – the pitbulls, the rottweilers. You get compliments left, right and centre, from parents, dog owners; how cute and kind she is, how feisty and able to hold her own she is. You feel pretty good about yourself. You like taking her out on your own too, because you’ve realised you get a lot of attention from women when you do this. They just seem to melt over The Sprout. On the trams is the best, the women look from you, to The Sprout, to you again, and they go all adoring and soft-eyed. You would have got one of these little white elephants sooner if you’d known the amount of interest from women you’d get. You like to try and create this impression that you’re a young single parent, that something tragic happened to your wife maybe, where she died suddenly of some terrible disease or accident of some kind, and you are managing on your own, raising this adorable little white elephant yourself, while holding down a job, and just trying to be the best father you can be. And you feel pretty successful in conveying all of this with just a sad but brave look on your face to these women that ogle at you and The Sprout.

The Sprout doesn’t grow at all during the first year. She stays exactly the same height, the height of a toilet seat. You take her to a whole load of specialists, who all say the same thing – she seems to be fully grown. They can’t explain it. But she won’t grow any more they say. And she doesn’t. Soon you move flat – you need more space – to a nicer area across the Bosporus in Kadiköy, where there are more green areas, and private parking. But then the whirlwind of the first year dies down, and you start to feel a little resentful. It builds up in you slowly, like dust in the corners. Your girlfriend pays you less attention, she’s always putting The Sprout first, and you feel excluded, on the side of things. She has more of a connection with The Sprout, an ease with her, that you can’t seem to match. You miss your old flat and the area you lived in and the things you used to do.

It isn’t until after about three years that things really change. And it all happens by complete chance: One night you have this dream – so vivid – a dream that the whole thing with The Sprout wasn’t real after all. In the dream you’re back to your old life as it was before her. You and your girlfriend are living like you used to. You are both aware of The Sprout in the dream, but she’s not there anymore, like something you’ve lost. You wake up and feel panic and in the dark you go very quickly to The Sprout’s room, and you open the door and you need to see her, to see if it is real. And she is there, thank god, she is there, asleep, lying there in the straw you’ve put down, this perfectly white little elephant. Then you go to the bathroom and you curl up on the floor by the toilet and you cry like you haven’t cried for years. You sob and sob. Your body shakes uncontrollably and the tears run down your face. After a while you are quiet and vacant. You get up and go back into The Sprout’s room, and you sit down very quietly next to her in the straw and you touch your hand to her white skin. You watch her sleeping, her stomach rising and then falling, rising and falling. All night you watch her breath.

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Jacob Parker

Jacob Parker lives in London and teaches in a sixth form college. He likes writing short stories in pencil. His work has also appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House, and MIR Online.

If you enjoyed ‘White Elephant’ leave a comment and let Jacob know.

Feature image by Jennifer Lynn

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