h2>Dating : The Elephant
Alexander woke to the sound of his phone alarm going off across the room. It was the same alarm that he heard every weekday. It was named “seaside” but to him it was a melody with the annoying ability to drag his body out from under the soft warmth of his bed and over to his dresser to turn off the piercing noise. Alexander usually went back to his bed for a few minutes before fully waking, and he did so again this Friday morning. He fell asleep for a moment or two before being shocked awake by something in his head that told him “don’t fall asleep again or you’ll be late for work!”.
Eventually, Alex got out of bed and looked down at his wriggling white bony feet and deliberately placed them on the hardwood floor of his bedroom. He stood up slowly and stretched his body left and right and up and down. He walked over to the mirror on the far wall of his small bedroom and went right up to it so that his nose was only a few inches from the mirror. He could see his dark green eyes and the bruise purple bags under them that were accentuated by his pale white skin and blonde hair. He ran his hands — while yawning — through his halfway formed facial hair that was much darker than the hair on his head, but still only light brown. He noticed now that his hair was very messy, so he went to the bathroom down the hallway to wet it and reshape it so that it was presentable, albeit still quite messy.
After completing his morning routine of changing into his work clothes, which were a simple white t-shirt and navy blue shorts, he ate a solid breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese, 2 eggs and 2 slices of fried bacon. Alex lived by himself in an apartment that he had recently started renting. He had always thought, and now knew, that the relationship with his parents was stronger and more beneficial to him (and them) when he did not live at home. Alex ate his breakfast and brushed his teeth and went to his car, beginning the 45-minute commute he had to his job as a zookeeper.
Alex had gone to school to study biology. He genuinely enjoyed this subject, and his understanding of it had shaped his understanding of the world tremendously. He also understood that he was affected by his studies in this way, and how others might be led in other directions depending on things they had done or learned. This thought and it’s tangents occupied him for most of his drive, and when he arrived at the zoo he was in a good mood and smiled and said good morning to every one of his colleagues as he passed by them on the way to his desk in the main office. He arrived at his small and messy desk where he found his laptop and a book outlining the basics of lion feeding in captivity. He had found this book on a shelf in the next room and read it occasionally so that everyone else would think he was busy when in fact he rarely was. The fact that his office seemed to be busy all day long amazed him. It was a complete mystery to him how he could easily finish something in a few hours that would take others a day or longer to finish.
He had been working at this zoo for the past 6 months as head zookeeper and he liked the job. That is, he had no reason to dislike it. It paid him a decent salary, the work wasn’t too demanding, and he enjoyed working with the animals most of the time. Alex started his day by doing his usual rounds of the zoo and inspecting the place for any obvious problems before it opened to the public at 9am, it was 8:30 now. He saw a few small things out of order and fixed or adjusted them as he wandered along the stone pathways between the chimpanzee cages and the lions’ den, inside of which a female lion was just waking up, yawning, and nudging her cubs to do the same. He heard the distant trumpeting of the large female elephant Lucy from across the zoo and went to see how she was doing.
Arriving at the elephant enclosure, Alex entered the gates and closed them behind him. He felt at ease with them, and they felt comfortable with him in their space. He walked up to a large, powerful elephant named Lucy and moved his hand along her trunk, feeling her thick leathery skin and hearing the air flow through it back and forth as she breathed slowly. Lucy was his favorite. She seemed to him to have a personality that meshed with his own, he felt that a common understanding somehow flowed between the two of them. Lucy was found by national park rangers 16 years ago in Tanzania with both of her tusks removed and barely alive. From what Alex understood, poachers had shot her in hopes to kill her for her ivory but had not succeeded. She was found badly injured and cut all over her face and around her tusks and mouth. The Park Rangers must have seen an opportunity to make a bit of money too, because they captured her and sold her to the zoo.
In the beginning it took a while for the two to become comfortable with each other, Lucy was skittish whenever she met a new handler and did not trust humans in general. There had been a few times where zoo employees had refused to work with Lucy because she was so uncooperative and seemed to sabotage their efforts to help her. Because of her difficult nature, she often refused to eat and would kick and destroy things that were left in her enclosure. Despite hearing about this “crazy elephant” when he started working at the zoo, he had made it his personal challenge to win her over. At first, Lucy was not pleased with Alex’s persistence and rejected his offers of tasty food and toys as she had done to other trainers before him. But after a while the elephant grew more and more calm in his presence. Alex noticed that she began to walk slower and more timidly when he was around. He sensed an inner change in her that had slowly grown over the past months, but he could not say when or how this change had occurred. The elephant began to trust him and became playful with him only. Alex would come into the enclosure to find her behind a tree much thinner than her massive body, as if hiding from him, and then run towards him at full speed only to go straight past him and circle around him a few times while making her trumpeting noises. Lucy was always happy to see Alex, and his heart always swelled when he saw her too.
After seeing to Lucy and the other elephants, Alex returned to his office to answer a few emails that had accumulated overnight. One of the security guards had quit and Alex now had to replace him, another message was about a parrot that had apparently learned some choice phrases and was causing awkward situations with couples. Alex made a few phone calls and replied to the emails that he could at the time before going to grab a snack from the staff fridge down the hall. He came back with a big homemade chocolate chip cookie held between his teeth and saw another email that had just come up on his screen. The cookie dropped out of his mouth onto the floor when he read it.
The email was from the owner of the zoo, with whom he did not have a personal relationship with and knew only through phone calls and messages. It read:
“I am sure that you’re aware of the complaints we have been getting about Lucy from our patrons and other employees at the zoo, so you of all people realize that something has to be done about this wild animal. I have decided that Lucy needs to be put down, this will allow you to focus your time on more important things. Also, I will be coming to visit the zoo Monday morning, so please have this issue taken care of by the time I arrive, it will serve to make our first meeting that much more pleasant.”
Alex was in shock at first and read the email over multiple time before really realizing that it was real. The first thought that came to his mind was to simply let Lucy out of her cage to roam freely around the city, but this idea seemed to create more problems than it solved. In a nervous state, he phoned the owner with no real plan other than the odd chance that that he might somehow be able to change his mind. The phone call lasted less than a minute and consisted of small talk about the owner’s upcoming visit and whether or not Alex was enjoying his week. After ending the phone call, Alex sat in his chair and stared into space for the good part of an hour, unable to do anything. A thick fog separating him from the world.
In his mind, he was left with two options. First, he could do as he was told and kill the elephant that he cared about so much and thought of as a friend. This would be very hard for him to do and the thought of it made him feel sick, but it would allow him to keep his job and nobody would think badly of him for making this decision. It might even allow him to make a good first impression on the owner. Second, he could simply refuse to kill the elephant. This idea gave him a flash of excitement, but he realized that even if he refused, the owner would just tell someone else to put her down. And to top it all off it would look very bad on him to refuse to do something that was expected of him, it could even make him lose his job. He felt trapped.
Alex tried to not think about Lucy at all. He went about his duties of feeding the animals and checking on other employees to make sure that everything was running smoothly. He spent the morning away from the animals altogether and distracted himself with paperwork at his desk. After lunch, he had to go outside to meet with a recently hired girl who wanted to ask him something about the snakes. On his way back from talking with her he heard Lucy’s trumpet from across the stone walkway and it gave him a sickening feeling. In his heart he wanted to quit his job and take Lucy with him, any other outcome would be unbearable. He passionately, wholly entertained this idea, but he did not let it affect his actions.
Alex walked into his office with nervous, short steps, he was hyper aware of his breathing and his movements as he walked towards the safe where the gun was kept. The code to the safe was 45–22–16, and had been playing over and over in his head like a broken record for the last 10 minutes. 45–22–16, 45–22–16, 45–22–16… He turned the dial forwards, backwards, and forwards again with nervous fingers and heard a click. He opened the door and grabbed the large rifle that felt heavier than ever in his shaky hands. There was ammunition in the top shelf of the safe; Alex grabbed a single bullet and slipped it into his pocket. He closed the door to the safe and composed himself for a moment but tried to appear under control since there were others in the office with him now. One of them asked,
“So which one are you getting rid of today Alex?”. This caught him off guard but also seemed to shock him back down to reality.
He answered, “Lucy, the owner wants her dead by Monday morning so I’m just going get it out of the way now.”
The employee, a senior one who had been at the zoo for at least 10 years working in the office looked completely confused, “Now?? Aren’t you going to wait until the place is closed? Nobody wants to see an animal get shot! They’ll probably all be taking pictures of you doing it too”.
It was 2:00 now, and at 5:30 everyone would be out of the zoo, which gave him a few hours more to think about his decision of whether or not to shoot Lucy. He replied to the senior employee, “Oh yeah that’s true, (Alex laughed and scratched the back of his neck) I guess I’ve been so worried about having to shoot her that I haven’t been paying attention to things today…”
The man sighed, “Ahh I know Alex, it can be hard to kill an animal, I’ve had to do it a bunch of times myself and it never gets any easier, but you just have to do it. And try not to think about it too much, she’s just an elephant”
Alex nodded in agreement with the employee, although not quite agreeing with him in his mind “Yeah you’re right, I don’t even know why this is so hard for me. I’ll just wait until the park closes and put a bullet in her head, it’ll be fast and easy that way.”
The man patted him on the shoulder and smiled, “There we go! We’ll turn you into a proper zookeeper in no time!” and walked away towards the front door to step outside for a smoke. Alex was still holding the gun and laid it on the ground next to his desk but kept the bullet in his pocket. He was genuinely feeling better now, seeing this attachment he had for Lucy as a trivial thing that would fade as soon as she was dead. He began to think of the positives that would come from putting Lucy down. Without her, he would be able to care more for the other animals in the zoo that he must have been neglecting by spending so much time with Lucy. He might grow to like one of them even better! It again occurred to him that it would make him look professional in the eyes of the people he worked with. In reality though, he knew that he didn’t care.
“Ah! Everything will turn out in the end, I’ll shoot her and move on with things,” Alex thought to himself, and was satisfied enough to be able to continue his work for the rest of the afternoon uninterrupted by any more anxiety.
Around 4:30 there was a problem at the front entrance. A frantic family of 5 with three young children had been trying to enter for free since it was so close to closing time, but had been refused on the grounds that it was not fair to let them in for free while making everyone else pay, regardless of the circumstance. The scene was hilarious but one that is seen so often that we are usually annoyed by it. The three young children were fighting among themselves, one having stolen another’s toy and wouldn’t give it back, the wronged child complaining to the mother who is also arguing with the security guard to “just let them in” without giving any solid reason why they should. The third child is off looking at the cotton candy and is now yelling at her father that she wants some. The father meanwhile is on his cell phone making a seemingly important call and is so crushed with stress when he hears his daughter yelling for cotton candy that he simply hands her a wad of cash. This causes a smug look of victory for the daughter and inflames the other two, ending the argument over the toy.
Alex could not help but feel bad for all of them, he didn’t think that any of them even wanted to be here. Nonetheless, he went over to smooth things out with the family saying, “I’m sorry but we cannot let you in for free, if you come back next week we are having a special dolphin show every day at 11:00 am that I’m sure you would enjoy.” This didn’t seem to satisfy the mother, who looked as though she had been done a terrible injustice by not being given special treatment. The family soon left, and Alex had a quick chat with the security guard about how crazy the mother was. The security guard told him a few of the more ridiculous things she said and they both agreed on how stupid she was for trying to get in for free. They both laughed. This particular security guard Alex really liked, and if they had met in another setting they would have been good friends. They went out for drinks after work a few times here and there but they had no other friends in common, and neither of them had thought it appropriate to bring the other into his own group. On Alex’s part this was because he didn’t feel very satisfied with his group of friends, and felt that introducing someone new would be a wasted effort.
Alex now made his way back to the office with a weakly concealed grin on his face from his talk with the security guard. Maybe he would invite him to go for a beer again this weekend, maybe tonight after work? Alex genuinely wanted to get to know him better as a friend, and this encounter bolstered that feeling and lifted his spirits in general.
Sitting down, he was again reminded of Lucy by the gun that way on the ground next to his desk right where he had left it. By now he had grown less anxious. The thought no longer filled him with the same dread it had this morning. He had come to believe that Lucy was inevitably going to die and that there was no more that could be done about it.
Alex said goodbye to his co-workers and straightened out a few things around his office so that he would not be left with a mess on Monday morning. He checked his email one last time to discover a message from the zoo owner letting him know that there would be an animal removal truck and crew arriving soon to remove the elephant and bring her to wherever it was that her body would end up. This was an obvious necessity that didn’t cross Alex’s mind before, but it made him feel even more comfortable with his task. Seeing as this was completely normal, another aspect of the business. It would be weird if he didn’t want to put her down.
Just after the last customers had left the zoo and the rest of the employees had gone home, a large flatbed truck rumbled into the dusty back driveway of the zoo and backed up to the elephant enclosure. All the noise and exhaust from the truck spooked Lucy and some of the younger elephants who started trumpeting and running around the enclosure. They had never seen a truck this big or this loud.
The two men that came out of the truck were rough looking guys with big steel toed boots on their feet. One of them was full of aggressive energy, short and stocky with a thick black beard and no hair on his head. The other was much taller, but was clean shaven, calm and subordinate to the short man judging by the way he stood next to him. The short man got out of the driver’s seat of the truck, left it running and walked over to Alex in the office. He walked right in and demanded his attention, “We’re here to get that elephant out of here, we’ve got the truck backed up and the crane is ready to go.” He stared Alex straight in the eyes with a sharp gaze.
“Ok, let me just grab my gun and I’ll be right out there.” He felt in my pockets for the bullet, picked up the rifle and followed the stocky man out towards Lucy.
“So I hear from your Boss that this elephant has been a real pain in the ass eh? Says that he got a bunch of complaints from people sayin’ that it was goin’ crazy and runnin’ all over the place. Fuck if I was you I’d have done something about this a long time ago. Must have been hard to deal with so long, but I guess you animal guys like these things more than I do… You must be happy we’re here to haul this thing away… Nick over there’s got a hot date tonight with a girl he met down at the strip joint Wednesday, says to me on the way here he thinks she’s different from all the others hahahahaha… I told him right away he’s lost his fuckin’ mind but he’s stickin’ to the story… Either way, he thinks he’s gonna get somethin’ tonight, better than I can say that’s for sure. Anyways we’re kinda in a hurry so if you’ve got that gun loaded I’m sure he’d like you to make it quick.”
Alex didn’t say much to this bearded man, adding the odd “yeah, true” or quick laugh to complement his monologue. He was growing nervous again and felt outside of himself. Once they got to the enclosure. Lucy saw Alex and started trumpeting again and making excited noises that she always made when he came to visit since it usually meant she was going to get a treat or play hide and seek. This time she thought was no different, Lucy ran away from Alex to the skinny tree at the back of the enclosure that she always tried to hide behind. She was at least 5 times wider than the tree but nevertheless squirmed behind it and stole quick peeks around it trying to see if Alex was watching her.
“Damn Nick look at this this thing, its tryna hide from him, must know what’s coming to it.” The bearded man said with an indulgent smile.
Alex had the gun hidden behind his back so that Lucy wouldn’t see it, and she started running towards him at full force until the last minute when she veered to the side and ran around him in circles making triumphant noises; thinking that her only friend had come to visit her once again. But she noticed something different about Alex this time, he was not excited to see her, something was off about him. She stopped running around and looked at him more closely with her big black eyes. He was now only a few inches from her and he whispered to her quietly and patted her thick trunk with his hand, “I’m sorry Lucy, but I have to do this.” He closed his eyes and soaked up the last few moments with Lucy.
The bearded man yelled from the sidelines, “Well do you need a real man to show you how it’s done or what Alex? We ain’t got all night here!”
This shocked Alex back to reality, he slowly pulled the gun from behind his back and began to load it with the bullet from his pocket. At this sight Lucy went crazy. She let out a horrendous cry and lifted her front legs high into the air, her ears were flapping back and forth in fear. This frenzy went on, and the three men watched in silence as she returned to the calm state she was in before Alex had produced the gun. Lucy walked back up to Alex and looked him in the eyes again. The gun was in plain sight, loaded and ready to fire. Alex looked at Lucy with the same tenderness that he had felt for her that morning, and really did not want to shoot her now. He felt her big trunk, and understood from her eyes that she trusted him even while holding a rifle. She made no attempts to run away, but bent down and moved closer to him to rub her face against his shoulder.
“HEY, BUDDY, lets get MOVIN’!” came the bearded man’s voice from across the enclosure again.
Alex lifted the rifle and placed the end of it against the thick wrinkly skin between her eyes. She trusted him completely, he knew it. With trembling fingers and tears in his eyes, Alex pulled the trigger, and Lucy’s enormous body crumbled to the ground.