Elephant

I never should have gone out with Gary Ricter. I told myself, after the divorce, that I was done with all that — dating men. And wearing make-up. And shaving my legs. The whole thing. Forty-eight years old, a failed marriage behind me. Two grown daughters and a grandson. No need to start on a new adventure.

I’m happy with the way things are — well, not happy. But content. No, not content either. Stable: That’s the word I’m looking for. Upended by the divorce for two long years, and now I have finally begun to feel stable again. Able to sit down at the kitchen table and eat an entire meal alone; able to sleep through the night.

But last night, after the date with Gary, I hadn’t slept well at all. And now today, this morning, I don’t feel stable anymore. I feel … restless. 

Saturday, a day I usually scrapbook, but I haven’t even got out my supplies. Instead I dig through the closet and pull out this pair of old jeans. The ones I used to wear when I lugged around post-baby fat.

My husband — my ex-husband — hated these pants. “You’re as big as an elephant in those things,” he’d say. “But they’re so comfortable,” I’d say right back, but without conviction, and then I’d change into something else.

Yet one date with Gary and here I am wearing these pants. It makes me nervous. Unsettled. Not stable at all. Not that the date had been earth-shaking. “What did you do on your big date?” my grandson asked when he called this morning, his mother egging him on in the background. “Not much,” I’d said, which was the truth.

We’d had coffee and pie at Carrow’s after Gary got off work. He was freshly showered, which made me nervous, because to me that meant he had romance in mind. But then explained. “I can’t have you smelling elephants on me,” he said. Elephants again. Me wearing my elephant pants after a night out with a man who worked with elephants. Unsettling.

Not surprising, really, that Gary works with elephants. Back in high school, he wrote an essay about elephants in English Composition and presented it to the class. Funny I should remember that. It didn’t interest me at the time, or anyone else, not even the teacher, but Gary didn’t care; he just rambled on and on about elephants until the bell rang. And now? “They call him the ‘elephant whisperer'” — I heard that more than once at the reunion two weeks ago. Not from him, though. We stood there in the low lights of the ballroom at the Hacienda Inn, Gary and I, and not once did he bring that up. Refreshing, in a way — a man who doesn’t blab about himself; who wants to know about you, and what you’ve been doing the past 30 years. 

He’s losing his hair, that was the first thing I noticed at the reunion, but who am I to criticize? Me with my flabby arms and my sagging everything else. “I’m in the phone book,” I told him when he asked for my number, and wouldn’t you know — he looked me up and called. Who does that these days?

Which led to three all-night phone conversations and then to last night’s date. The one that’s left me unsettled.

But soon Gary will be gone. He told me himself, last night. “I’m flying to Nepal on Friday,” he said — to whisper to more elephants I suppose. “You’d love Nepal,” he added, as the waitress refilled our cups. “I doubt it,” I said, but the restlessness had already arisen. “The elephants there,” he said, a bite of cherry pie half-way to his lips, “beautiful. Gorgeous. Like no other elephants anywhere,” and the light in his eyes sparked like a fuse, and I remembered my eyes sparking like that, back when I belonged to the Guitar Club in high school.

“Do you still play guitar?” he had asked that night at the reunion, and last night, too, on the date, he had asked about my playing, only this time he asked why I didn’t play anymore. ” I don’t know,” I said, not knowing how to explain the lost time, the time I could have spent with my guitar, and he said I would have to take it up again because I played so beautifully in high school, although no one else seemed to remember it.

My guitar. I dug that out of the closet today, too. Restless, restless, restless — all this digging in closets. I hold the guitar near me, and after all these years, it still feels natural: like holding a baby almost, a similar joy. I pluck a few strings. The strings hurt my fingertips, but my fingers move nimbly over the frets.

C — G — D …

What had Gary said to bring on such behavior in me? Me, playing guitar. Me in my comfortable pants. I couldn’t recall one particular thing, but it scared me, all this strange new behavior. All these new possibilities. Which is why, last night, I told him “no” when he asked to see me today. And yet …

C — G — D … C — G — D …

And then I hear the ruckus. Out the front window, I see the neighborhood kids running by, pointing to something down the street. 

Stepping outside I see it: an elephant. Covered in a deep-red cloth, with gold and silver sequins twinkling like dew. 

Gary Ricter is on top of the elephant. He waves and grins, leans forward and whispers something in the elephant’s ear. She trumpets and makes the kids squeal.

And me in my baggy pants, I run toward him, knowing how perfect these pants are for riding elephants. The second thought, though, that’s the one that almost makes me stop. Because I find myself wondering if I can carry my guitar on the airplane. 

Or will I have to check it with my bags?

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Published in Dragonfly Press, January 2015

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