Read Suder Online

Authors: Percival Everett

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Suder

Suder (13 page)

A light rain is starting to fall as I enter this spic-and-span suburb of Portland called Gresham. There are many small houses that look alike and a lot of yellow-haired children that look alike, riding bicycles with banana seats. As I'm driving by the Gresham Mall I see a big tent and there's a mob of people standing around. The tent looks like the one that was on the waterfront in Seattle. I pull into the parking lot and I'm out of the car, walking toward the tent, and I hear an elephant scream.

I weave through the mob and I push my way into the tent and there's that same elephant. And that same man is barking his carnival line, but he's got a new scam.

“Give it a try! Give it a try!” shouts the man. “See if you've got the brains to master this enormous beast from the jungles of the Dark Continent. If you can make the pachyderm nod his head ‘yes' and shake his head ‘no,' I will give you five hundred dollars, half a grand!”

I stand there for a spell, watching a number of people try to make the elephant move his head. Two boys toss a ball back and forth in front of the elephant without success. This old lady comes bouncing up and down on a pogo stick and the animal's eyes move up and down, but not his head. I turn around and push through the crowd and I walk back to the car.

I unlock the car and I grab my bat and then I return to the tent. I pay two dollars to try with the elephant and I'm standing in line. The man who was shouting walks up to me and smiles.

“That bat won't help you this time,” he says.

I don't say anything.

“What do you say we make a little wager?”

I look at him and nod.

“What'll we bet?”

I look at him for a second, then I look at the elephant. “If I can do it, you give me the elephant.”

His jaw drops and he looks over at the elephant and then back at me. “And if you can't?”

“I'll give you two thousand dollars.”

“Two thousand?”

“Two thousand.”

“It's a bet.” He shakes my hand and then he steps out into the middle of the tent and waves his arms for silence. A hush falls over the crowd and he turns to me and nods.

I walk out in front of the elephant and the tent is dead quiet and the elephant's eyes fall slowly to mine. The silence is really annoying and I swallow. I raise the bat and wave it in the elephant's face. “Remember me?” I ask the elephant. The elephant's head moves up and down. The crowd goes “Ooooooooooo.” I look around and the silence returns. I look back at the elephant. “Do you want me to do what I did last time?” The elephant moves his head from side to side and the mob of people explodes with cheering. I turn to face the carnival man.

The man's head is lowered and he's heaving sighs and then he looks at me with wet eyes. “Do you know how much he eats?” he asks, pointing at the elephant.

I'm silent, petting the animal's trunk.

“This ain't no horse!” the man shouts and then he falls to his knees, crying.

The sounds of the crowd fade and the tent is filled with the crying of the man and I'm standing over him. I feel real bad for this fella, but I really do want the elephant. “Don't cry,” I says to him. “I'll pay you for him.”

He stops crying and looks at me.

“I'll give you two thousand dollars for him.”

He gives me a vacant look.

“Five thousand.”

His eyes open wide.

I look at the elephant and then back to the man. “And ten thousand for that truck you got parked out there.”

He's frowning. “Who are you kidding? What are you going to do? Write me a check?”

“No,” I says and I kneel down beside him. “I got the cash.”

He looks around at all the silent faces and then he whispers, “You got cash?”

I nod.

He stands up and I do, too. “Let's step outside,” he says.

I follow him through the back flap of the tent and we're standing by his truck. I'm looking at the tires.

“You know,” he says, “I'm real attached to that elephant.”

“He got a name?”

“I call him Sabu, sometimes. But like I was saying, I'm real attached—”

“Fifteen thousand,” I says, looking him in the eye.

He looks at the truck and peeks back into the tent at the elephant and then he turns to me. He nods.

Part III

Chapter 16

So, I'm in this truck and I've got an elephant in the back and I'm driving into the Cascade mountain range of Oregon. I'm in the vicinity of Mount Hood and I pass through the little town of Parkdale. I drive about a third of the way up this mountain to Lou's cabin. The cabin is real big and bare and it's got no electricity. The water comes out of a hand pump, but it's inside at least. There are a couple of lanterns and a whole stack of candles. The cabin is filled with stuffed animals—there're a couple of owls hanging from the ceiling and a deer in the corner and a family of squirrels on the windowsill. It's raining, so I leave the elephant in the truck and hit the sack. It's just getting dark.

The next morning the sun is out and the birds are singing and the air is thick with the scent of pine. I get out of bed and scratch and it's real chilly. I walk out and grab a few logs that are stacked and covered with plastic by the front door. I take the wood and start a fire in the potbelly stove in the middle of the cabin. I heat up some water and wash.

When I'm dressed I go and take the elephant out of the truck. I figure that since he's new to the cabin I should tie him to a tree. That's what I do—one end of some rope around an ankle, the other around a tree. I fasten him up and stand there for a second, rubbing his trunk. I put the rest of the hay from the truck down in front of the animal and he looks at me like we both should be aware that more hay is needed. I climb into the truck and drive down to Parkdale.

I walk into this little store and there's this middle-aged fella with buck teeth and a mile of forehead working there.

“You're new round here, ain't you?” he asks, showing his big teeth.

“Yeah, I'm staying up at the Tyler place,” I tell him.

“Uh-hmmmmm.”

I gather some things on the counter—things for cooking, and soap, and like that.

“That it?”

I nod.

He looks at the things on the counter. “Looks like about five dollars' worth.”

I've never done business like this before, but I don't complain. I pay him and he starts putting the stuff in a bag and I ask him where I can get some hay

“How much you need?”

“I don't know. How much you need for a horse?”

He rubs his chin. “Maybe a quarter ton for a month.”

“I need two tons.”

His eyebrows raise up. “Two?” He scratches his head. “For that much hay you'll have to go seventy miles. It's summer.” He looks at me. “How many horses you got up there?”

“I'm going to need some peanuts, too.” I pause. “Fifty … no, a hundred peanuts.”

“What you got up there? An elephant?” He laughs.

I pick up my groceries and leave and I head back up to the cabin. Off the road is a pretty green rolling pasture and in the middle of the pasture is a barn. The barn doors are open and I can see that it's full of hay. I drive on back to the cabin.

I tie the rope around the elephant's neck and start walking through the woods. The elephant is following me pretty closely and I don't have to tug at him at all. So, I untie the animal and he walks right behind me like a dog and I'm just thrilled. We walk up along this ridge and then down and we're by a small lake. I stop at the edge, but the elephant just steps on past me and into the water. The beast is having a grand old time, splashing around and blowing out of his snout. I look across the lake and I see a couple of people pointing at us. “Sabu!” I call. “Come on, boy!” And I turn around and start walking away and the animal follows.

Once back at the cabin, I start to blow on my saxophone, but every time I let out a note Sabu lets out a blast from his trunk. I stop and look at him and then I try again. Same thing. So, I go inside and blow and he's outside and he's still replying. I put my horn away and I cook up some eggs and bacon. As I'm sitting there eating, I keep thinking about all that hay just sitting there in that barn.

Later, when it's dark, I'm driving the truck down the road toward the barn full of hay. I get out of the truck and open the gate and I continue down this winding dirt road to the barn with my headlights off. I back the truck up to the open barn doors and, in the moonlight, I start loading the truck with hay. The horses are blowing and snorting and stepping back and forth in their stalls. I finish loading the hay and leave.

When I get back to the cabin I drop a load of hay in front of the elephant. He snatches some up with his trunk and puts it in his mouth. Sabu, his name sounds in my head. I decide to change his name and my eyes turn up to find the stars and the moon. The elephant should have a French name. Renoir. I rub his trunk and he's chewing and I says, “Renoir, Renoir.” That's a good name. The name of a painter or something, probably a sissy, but it don't matter none. Renoir.

The night is real quiet and I sit on the ground and lean back against a tree. Renoir lets out a blast and it echoes through the woods. My head falls back and the stars are real bright and I pull my arms over my chest to get warm. It seems like the night is pressing down on me and my eyes close. I fall asleep.

It was the middle of the night and I was coming out of the bathroom when I heard my name. Ma said my name again and I stepped toward Ma and Daddy's room and listened.

“It's not the boy's fault.”

“My mother may never rest in peace.”

“You shouldn't have pushed his face down on hers.”

“He was supposed to kiss her,” Ma said. There was the sound of a lamp switch and light came from under the door.

I ran back into my room and listened to the footsteps in the hall. It was Ma and she was coming to my room. I climbed into bed and closed my eyes. Ma came in and sat on the edge of my bed. She placed her hand on my forehead and rolled my face toward her.

“Oh, hello, Ma,” I said.

“Craigie, you were supposed to kiss your grandmother.”

“I know, Ma.”

“What is it?” Martin asked, sitting up in bed.

“Go to sleep!” Ma yelled. She turned to me again. “Craigie, I want you to pray for Grandmama.” She stood up. “Get down here on your knees.”

I got out of bed and onto my knees.

“Now pray!” she commanded.

Then Daddy came in. “Kathy, let the boy get some sleep.”

“He has to pray.”

“Come on, Kathy.”

“Pray!” she screamed at me.

“Dear God,” I said, “please be good to my Grandmama.”

“Tell him to let her in heaven,” Ma said.

“And let her in heaven.”

“Okay,” Daddy said. “Come on, Kathy. Get in bed and go to sleep, Craig.” Daddy took Ma by the arm and ushered her out of the room. I stood up.

“You okay?” Martin asked.

I got into bed. I didn't say anything. I just got into bed.

In the morning Bud and I were walking by the pond. The grass was wet from a shower the night before and the smell of rain was still floating around. We saw a dog sitting by the pond, a kind of German shepherd mix. Bud whistled and approached the dog. The dog limped into the pond.

“He's hurt,” Bud said. We stood at the edge of the pond, calling the dog. Bud looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and stepped into the pond. The water was up to his thighs when he reached the dog.

“Have you got him?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Bud pulled the dog through the water and up onto the bank. “That's a good boy,” Bud said to the dog, examining him. “I can't see anything wrong with his leg.”

“Maybe he sprained it.”

“Maybe.” Bud looked at me. “He ain't got no tags. I'm going to keep him.”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah, and I've got a name for him.”

“What?”

“Django.”

“Django? What kind of name is that?”

“Django Reinhardt is the name of a guitar player. A Gypsy.”

The dog's leg wasn't bothering him so much as he walked with us back to the house. Bud was soaking wet. Bud told me to run into the kitchen and grab a towel and a couple of biscuits. I got the towel and picked some biscuits from a plate on the stove and ran back outside.

“Give those to the dog,” Bud said, taking the towel. “Your name is Django,” he said to the dog as I held a biscuit up for him.

Then Ma came running out of the kitchen in her coat and sneakers. She ran around the house and out into the street. I shook my head.

“She'll be all right,” Bud said and he tossed another biscuit to Django. “You have to ask your father if you can keep him.”

“Why?”

“Well, I can't take him to France with me.”

“Oh.”

“He's a nice dog, huh?” Bud rubbed Django's neck and back with the towel.

Daddy stepped out of the kitchen and saw the dog. He looked at me.

“We found him by the pond,” I told him.

Daddy nodded.

“Can we keep him?”

“We'll see,” he said and walked away.

That night, while we were sitting on the front porch, Django was running all over the front yard.

“He's a frisky little fella,” Daddy said.

“Hey, Doc,” Bud said, “I've got a story for you.”

Daddy sat up, ready to listen.

Bud told the story. “There was this old black man that had a job with the railroad. He was the crossing-tender—he would swing a lantern when the train was coming so people wouldn't drive across the tracks. Well, there was this accident where the train hit a car. The owner of the car sued the railroad and the only witness was this old black man. At the trial the lawyer questioned that old man up and down, but his story stayed the same and the railroad got off. The railroad's lawyer was so pleased that he hugged the old man and found him all sweaty. ‘Why are you so sweaty?' the lawyer wanted to know. And the old man said, ‘I was scared he was going to ask me if that lantern I was swinging was lit.'”

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