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My teacher made me submit this horrible work. Ugh. "Ethel".
I never expected much from anyone, as I never was much, myself. I’ve worked at the same zoo, each and every day except for the Sabbath, from seven to seven, for fifty years. Never did retire, but, by golly, I never wanted to. Had to make a’pay somehow; I had to feed my family in this darned depression.
I was sure as Scotch that it’d be just a day was like any other, the day that dear old Edna came to an end; wake up at 5 AM sharp, shower, dress, kiss the woman good bye, and hop into the car, putt out of the driveway, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, and do it all over again. To my dismay, this was not the case ‘tall.
But, this day . . . this day was different. Not just the fact that dear, beautiful Edna was sicker than a dog, but one of the elephants I work for at the zoo was also sick, I found out when I was there.
The door to the habitat creaked and cringed its way opening, enveloping me in a gust of air, ridden with the smell of feed. Ah, I forgot. Feed. I shook my head, closing the door behind me, and made my way to the other side of the zoo, to the staff area where the truck with the elephant feed was stored.
I tapped my foot on the ground and whistled; my breath from walking had finally caught up with me. I was at rest, and now so was it. I pulled out my key ring and flipped through the loop, at least a pint in diameter (I was never good at math). I grasped the silver ring with three ridges, and jammed it into the cracked doorknob. It turned and groaned, allowing me to enter. I looked behind me, doorknob still in hand, and saw the owner.
“Yes, Mr. Hamlin?” Odd day. I was sure he’d be in doing paperwork.
“The doctor rang for you. Said your wife was in the hospital.” My heart sank.
“W-what? Is she all right?”
“Well, Doc’ said he came by to give her her medicine and she had collapsed. He thinks it was a heart attack. She asked for you, though. I told ‘em to tell Edna that you’re out working, and that’d I’d go find you and give you the news.” A ball rolled up and down my throat, making it ache and hard to breathe.
“Thanks for telling me,” I said, not meaning to sound sarcastic.
There was a pause between us.
“Will she be okay?”
“Doc says she might not make it through the night, an’ no visitors are allowed on Sunday.”
“What? So I can’t go see my dying wife?”
“S’pose not. I’m sorry.” My head hung low. I nodded, and turned, staggering to the door.
My feet scraped across the cement floor as I shrugged inside, and to the garage door. I huffed and puffed as I pulled the heavy door open and up, then latched it into place. I huffed and puffed my way back to the old Ford flatbed, jammed in the key, wisped the door open, plopped on the seat, and dug the same key into the ignition. I turned it quickly, not minding to shut the door or to put on my seatbelt. The car revved to life, and then stalled. I tried again. It revved up again, and then stalled. My hand fell flat against the dashboard and I grumped my way out of the truck, I cursed loudly and stamped the door back into place.
My heavy boots pounded the ground as I heaved the heavy foliage and grain into a rather large, and rather heavy wheel borough. Stacked with 20 lb bags of food, five bags high, and still not being enough for two elephants to eat, I groaned and growled my way uphill to the other end of the zoo, and to the elephant exhibit.
I halted at the back door, my breath speeding, and my pulse racing. I hadn’t worked out this hard since my teens. Ah, well. Doc’ says it’s good for my heart. I’ll need the extra minutes in my old age.
I cupped my hands around my mouth and called for Lou and Jack. I unlocked the door and stepped inside the “stable,” or so they call it, and hauled in the lot. I ripped open the sacks and dumped them, one by one, into the trough. Usually when Lou and Jack heard the food, they’d come stamping up together and thank me, then eat. Strangely, today they didn’t. I slipped my fingers into my mouth and whistled, then called their names again.
Jack came trotting up to me, alone: an unusual sight. He was always with Lou when he came. He smiled and stuck his trunk out for me to pat it. I did so, and then he started eating.
Inside of me, a pang of worry stirred. I knew that she would come out after awhile, but I needed to make sure she was okay. I walked down the corridor between the trees, in the outside enclosing, trying to find her. I called her name over and over, whistled, and prayed. I sure hoped she was okay. Even though my arthritis had started acting up, I just kept pushing, wanting to know that she was okay.
I walked for what seemed like hours, calling and calling, until, finally, I heard a loud roar of an elephant in distress. I picked up my feet, rolled my ankles, and jostled through the trees to find her.
I came to a small, leafy clearing between two stones, with trees encasing and leaning inward, the canopy almost touching the other side.
I heard another roar, and heard feet stomping.
“Great,” I muttered to myself, careful not to set a tyrant elephant off. “An outta’ fix brute.” I clamored to the safety of a rock ledge above, flung my chest over the side, and peered down at an elephant looking up at me. The elephant was not Lou, oh, no, not at all.
The infant looked up at me and grinned a brilliant grin, a grin that showed how humble she was.
Her small trunk rose halfway up the cove. I reached down my arm and met her, patting softly. I looked down at her. Her eyes were curiously tracing over mine. We were eye-to-eye, and heart-to-heart. I frowned, remembering Edna, then, sighed.
She was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, that elephant. But, of course, I’ve never had children of my own, so I can’t tell you that sort of beauty, which people see in their young.
I’m sure the beauty I saw in this elephant was the exact same kind. At least, it felt that way to me.
“Ethel,” I whispered softly. “Ethel.” The name came to me like the angels had sent it down from Heaven above, just as they had done for Jesus and Mary. Ethel was surely no Messiah, but she surely had saved me from a rough life ahead without my beloved.
Each and every day for the next forty-two years, I woke up in the morning, showered, dress, looked at the place where Edna sat every morning, sipping her green tea, smelled the air, searching for the taste of lemon and a hint of cinnamon to follow me, and then left, putting down the cobbled road. I would go to the zoo, and meet the little elephant that had grown greatly over time. She would stick her trunk towards me; I would pat it, and then rest my forehead against hers.
On the day of Ethel’s forty- second birthday, and the day of Edna’s decease, something was off. I felt inside of me when I awoke. It was a pang of memory, closure, and truth. Ethel and I were both very old, neither of us being very mobile or sociable any longer.
Ethel never would trot and flounce around like she used to when she was a young’un, and I wouldn’t chase after her. We would both stand and watch the sky, as though if we took our eyes off of it, something would occur and we would miss it. This wasn’t bad at all, seeing as we still got to enjoy each other’s presences and share everything again. It was the fact that our lives were short, ending soon, and there was nothing we could do about it.
I turned towards the elephant as we sat in the clearing that she was born in, piercing the clouds with our sight.
“Ole’ girl,” I patted her side and rose to my toes. She turned her head toward me, her wrinkles getting deeper. Her eyes cringed and hollowed as I placed my forehead against hers. My eyes closed, squeezed tight, becoming shallow in their sockets as the creases became larger. My eyebrows furrowed, and I wrapped my hands around her head.
I kissed Ethel good bye, and that was the end.