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Elephants on the Moon is Copyright © 2000 by Ralph Robert Moore. All Rights Reserved.

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elephants on the moon
a short story by ralph robert moore

You force yourself awake from loud dreams.

Your face is cold. Your pajamas hot and sweaty.

Beside you, she sleeps on, nose laid against the pillow, blonde eyebrows raised.

Your stomach is swollen. You place your palms on the roundness of it. Nausea, that sixteen-legged thing always under the heart, starts to crawl.

Clicking a light on would wake her, so you feel with your feet across the dark carpet, quietly closing the narrow door behind you, shutting yourself in the small darkness of the bathroom, flipping on the light.

A haggard you, hair mussed, face hanging, in the wide silver mirror.

Zigging your pajamas down to your ankles, you settle unhappily over the big, white hole of the toilet seat.

As you stare straight ahead in the after midnight quiet, your asshole widens on its own, accommodating the big, brown sputter down out of you, the thick downwards squirt of noisy liquid, pops and farts. Let your breath out, and another round of hot brown liquid bursts straight down, bubbling the toilet water surface. You hold onto your shins, head hanging between your knees.

Mouth wide open to the vinyl floor, breathing in air, blinking at your feet.

And it passes.

Is this the faintest breath of what death is like, alone in a bathroom late at night?

What does it remind you of? That time in high school, when you locked yourself into a grey stall between bells because you had to, letting your pants drop, peeling your underpants down your hairy legs, hurriedly covering the white-painted horseshoe of the toilet seat with pulled-out squares of paper, glancing over your shoulder to make sure you sat down right over the hole, face cold and sweaty, letting it all fall out of you then, forgotten in a cubicle while the boys' room door kept banging open, sitting on the toilet with your pants down, eavesdropping on the world, the pisses at the urinal, the anonymous hand washings, the loud, boastful voices, the hurry as the ringing of the bell got nearer, the fear when it did ring, all the feet fleeing to be wherever the bell wanted them to be, you still with your pants down around your ankles. There'd be embarrassment showing up late, having to give an excuse to the teacher in front of the class, but right then, sitting on the toilet long after the attack had passed you felt….what? Freedom. I'm outside.

The pain isn't so bad now. In fact, you sit upright on the toilet, stomach and sides thinner. In fact, you feel kind of good now. You fart, and this time it comes out only as a noise.

You wait a few more minutes on the toilet seat to be sure, then reach for the toilet paper, unrolling more than you need.

Out again into the darkened bedroom. She's still sleeping, most of the bed coverings gathered around her, your side of the bed embossed with your absence. You hear her exhales.

Your feet walk you away from the bed, past its bottom posts, over to the French doors. Beyond the panes the yard is as dark as the sky, but the longer you look, the more you see.

Your hand pulls up on the brass lever. Opening the door to a slant, you breathe this wetter air, this smell of the world.

Go outside? Don't? Just for a moment?

Your bare soles pad slowly across the still-warm flagstones. At the edge of the terrace, the garden spreads before you, the night spreads above you.

You turn around and around at the edge, naked, listening to the ten thousand noises of the night, wondering how many are voices, whether made with throats, side-holes or leg-rubbings. Are they all, now, stopping what they had been doing, to watch you? Talk about you?

And you feel…what? Fear. Fear you're going to be bitten, or stung, or touched, or crawled up into.

Go back inside?

Leaving your left foot on the flagstone, you move your right foot forward, until it's superimposed over the dark green of the grass. What would it be like to touch that grass with your bare sole? To let your foot's weight sink down into that endlessly criss-crossing soft thatch, where all sorts of things might be?

You lower your foot experimentally, big toe touching the tops of the blades, feeling their tickle, letting the toe glide down through until it's greenly covered, until all five toes are covered, sinking, feeling for solid ground.

Your foot touches down on a bumpy moisture. Swinging your left leg, you lower its foot alongside the right.

You're off the terrace. You're standing naked in your back yard at three o'clock in the morning.

You look down. The grass comes up to your ankles. Ants may be down there, spiders or worms, or mice, or snakes or murderers. But it feels soothing. A touch you haven't felt since childhood, the touch of the world slowly revolving below you, felt with your soles.

It's a short walk across the wet grass to where the garden begins, with its junipers and redbuds and peach trees and lantanna and gardenias and verburnum and zinnia and johnny jump-ups and cosmos. As you pass quietly between two hollies, your face snags on a large spiderweb. It stretches forward under the momentum of your step, staying around your forehead, eyes, nose and lips as you stop in it.

Your eyes switch left. Your eyes switch right.

To your right, a foot away on the swayed diamonds of the web, a long-legged black- and gold-banded spider the size of your mouth swings two of its legs forward, plucking up at the dewy threads of its web, detecting the immense presence of your face.

You watch its front end. Because it has no face, you can't tell what it's thinking.

Eyes still swung to the right, watching the spider let go its threads, you open your mouth, letting your red tongue out, poking it against the white web, tasting it.

So that's what spider webs taste like.

Or at least this spider's web.

The black-and gold-banded spider, large as it is, stays still, as if not knowing what to do. You realize you mean it no harm. You realize it means you no harm.

You step backwards out of the web, diagonals peeling off your face. The spider fidgets down to where you were, testing tensile strength.

You go the other way around the hollies, to the small, dim clearing where your telescope is set up on its gunmetal tripod.

Out so long in the night now, your eyes have adjusted, allowing you to see the white phosphorescence above, the dark green-blue of the foliage crowding around. Suspended at the center of the foliage, in the telescope's eyepiece, floats the brightly illuminated greys and whites of the moon, magnified.

Bending over the eyepiece brings the magnification closer to you, swells it until all you can see is the glass world of the moon surface.

You want to see what the elephants are up to.

Right hand feeling along the controls on the tube, you twirl the ridged round edge of the focus, increasing magnification, the image of the moon rising and spreading in your eye, like lowering yourself to the white and grey surface.

And there they are, two of them this time, seen from above, the tops of their dusty backs shambling side by side, walking on the moon.

How hard it was for this world to believe at first, how easy to dispute. But as the popularity of telescopes spread, nearly every home having at least one, more and more eyes looking up by looking down at a lens, no longer thousands of scientists, but now millions of people, how little time it took for the first sighting, then the second, the hundredth, ten-thousandth, until the papers one day put it on their front page in the biggest, blackest type: ELEPHANTS ON THE MOON.

How do they breathe, what do they eat, where do they go to die?

I hope we stay off the moon, you think.

In the morning, when you wake her, you'll ask her if she wants to call in sick today. There'll be the surprise, the bent head filled with quick thoughts, eyes switching, the happy realization you and she can do this.

A small herd of them pass slowly through the magnification, the long, fleshy backs, seen from above, like unhurried fish.

And again you wish, just once, to be able to see them not from above, but from the surface itself, to stand amid their slowness, their hugeness; to be able to look up, not down at them, to stand on the moon and watch their huge grey feet lift and lower in the moon dust, to stand in front of their trunks, and tusks, and extravagant ears: to be slowly approached, and passed by, the elephants on the moon.

background on the story

Elephants on the Moon was an attempt to push my idea of story as daydream further, to where two different elements in a story seem separate from each other, but eventually, recollected, merge into one narrative, like the ping pong ball dribbled with a lowering paddle on a table until paddle and table vibrate into unity. For the longest time, I've wanted to write about intestinal distress in the middle of the night, because it's a loneliness we all go through occasionally, smelling our own mortality, the moon in every window. Elephants is probably the most unpublishable story I've ever written. I plan to write even more.