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as long as: photo of a small Ganesh staue on a blue towel at the beach. the water in the background glitters with the sunlight

12 Short Stories – As long as

Part 6 of my “12 Short Stories” – Challenge

Based on a prompt by Mia from deadlinesforwriters.com

Conditioned

Helen lay dozing in her hammock on a warm July afternoon, when she heard a strange chomping sound from about three feet away. She was wide awake instantly. Paul had left for a business trip, and the neighbours did not usually turn up unannounced. Even if they did, they would call for Paul and Helen instead of go munching on the vegetation.

Okay, just stay low and take in only very shallow and quiet breaths. Do not make a sound and hopefully it will aaall go away by itself. Oh, God…

Unfortunately, the chomping did not go away. From the sounds of it, its source moved even closer to her cocoon of cream-coloured cotton. Torn between panic and curiosity, Helen lifted her head just enough so she could peek over the edge of the hammock. To her surprise, there was an elephant in her garden. An elephant. In her garden. It was close enough to her that she could see the wrinkles in the dark grey skin. She imagined she could even feel the warmth radiating from this unexpected intruder. It was quite small, so it fit in relatively well between the shrubs. But not so small that Helen felt totally safe with the situation. Very slowly and very quietly she withdrew again, her thoughts racing.

Okay, this is what an elephant looks like from up close. I like elephants. In theory. Right, shallow breaths, shallow breaths. Oh God, I need some oxygen. Hope it hasn’t seen me. It looked quite preoccupied with my plants. Aaaw, the plants! And they were starting to look just like I had wanted them. All the digging and grooming and the patience. And I am not exactly good at patience! Please, let it at least not eat the roses!

The urgent need for more detailed information outgrew her sense of doom and eventually Helen gave in and ventured another look at the animal, which seemed to be absolutely relaxed and happy to sniff at the leaves of the plants around it. I bet they have excellent hearing with those ears, Helen thought at the same moment as the elephant turned around and looked directly at her.

Don’t move. Stay very quiet. How good is their eyesight again? Those eyes look pretty small, don’t they? Wait, elephants are vegetarians, but I think I read something about attacks on humans. How dangerous can they be? Really? What do you have to do to make an elephant attack you? Does it depend on their general mood? This one looks pretty chill to me.

Helen realised her phone was on the table nearby. She had placed the hammock so that she could swing a bit, should she feel like it. This meant that the phone was probably just about out of reach. Helen and the elephant stayed locked in a weirdly calm staring contest for what felt like another minute, then it turned away again to pluck some petals off the rose bushes.

There go the roses. What a shame.

Neither Helen nor Paul had the greenest of thumbs. They tried, however, and the garden was the one thing they were tenacious with. Through the years they had managed to get the combination of shapes, colours and textures just right. Since their garden had a lot of shade from the neighbours’ tree, they had chosen mostly brightly coloured flowers: Creamy roses, white and light green hydrangeas, pink begonias, light blue violas. All of them easy to spot even in the shade. Even if your eyesight was not excellent. Maybe the dark red cherries were safe. They grew on the small tree near the hedge at the back end of the garden. The hedge with a brand new entrance, roughly the width of a medium-sized elephant.

Helen somehow gathered the courage to lean slowly over towards the table, her eyes not leaving her visitor for a second. When her hand was just a few inches away from the table, the elephant looked at her again and blinked. She froze, wondering if she should pull back her arm slowly or quickly. Eventually she went for slowly and hid again behind the cotton wall.

Should I call the police? The responsible thing would be to let someone know, right? We can’t have a wild animal running around in the neighbourhood. Why did it chooseour garden anyway? Why didn’t I hear it? What is going to happen, when all the flowers and shrubs are gone? When it eats something it doesn’t like?

A grey trunk reached over the edge of the hammock, ruffled and sniffed Helen’s hair. It began probing her left ear, which to a person whose only plan had been to lie in the shade in peace and quiet turned out to be unpleasantly loud. The trunk felt like it was all muscle, mainly because it was. The tip was a bit wet and left a trail of snot behind. It pulled at her shirt for a bit, prodded her feet, and eventually disappeared again. This did not seem to be too dangerous after all, even if a bit yucky. At this point, Helen remembered where the animal was most likely to have come from.

Oh yeah, those posters advertising the bloody circus all over town. Poor little creature, I wouldn’t want to be in your place. Dance like they tell you and there will be no trouble. Let people drag you up and down the country and parade you in front of others who see you as nothing but entertainment. Judging and punishing you for what they think of as misbehaving. I can kind of relate, you know.

Feeling more sympathetic than scared by now, Helen sat up so she could look at the animal again. It really did not seem to want to cause any trouble, just chew up her flowers. That seemed kind of fair, even though Paul would not love the new look of their hedge. Or how their pond got a thorough stirring around right now. Good thing they had decided not to put any fish in there.

I don’t blame you, Helen thought, anyone would try to escape that kind of life. I hate when people assume their expectations are more important than what others need. You know, society in general: As soon as you are a bit bigger than people would like or whenever anyone decides to trumpet a bit differently than the rest, things can get ugly so quickly.Okay, I admit that my problems don’t exactly compare to yours.It’s just, a lot of the time I feel like I could do more or be more if I did not hold back so much. Or if I maybe decided some decisions are not really mine to make and worry over. If I didn’t get into knots over nothing.

The elephant had started on the cherries by now. It was plucking them slowly, one by one from the branches, really savouring them with its eyes closed.

“So what is your name? Your real name? I wish you could tell me about your life and what you would want to do, if it was up to you. Apart from eating my cherries.”

The elephant did not answer, but it paused and stared into Helen’s eyes again for a long few seconds. It appeared to sigh and went back to the cherries.

“I know I should alert the authorities somehow. It’s the adult thing to do in a situation like this, right? Not that I have ever been in a situation like this one before. But what if I don’t? Would I be responsible for any damage you do elsewhere? You could stay in my garden for a while. Until all the edible plants are gone, I guess, but still. You would just have to keep the noise down. And I don’t know how much water you require. That might be a problem, because I would really like to keep the pond the way it is. Or, you know, there is a beach nearby. If you go back through the hedge and turn left, you just walk straight on for about a mile. Can’t miss it, and it’s just lovely. The sand is so soft and the water is quite warm this time of year. I bet you would like the beach.”

Suddenly, there was music coming from the table: “I don’t care who you are …” Helen leaned over and this time managed to grab the phone. “Where you’re from…” In all the excitement she had forgotten that she had set the alarm, in case she fell asleep. “What you do …” She hit the button to stop the music and switched on her browser. She half-heartedly searched the internet for information on who to call in case of a surprise visit by exotic animals.

“Is it okay, if I take a couple of pictures? Paul is never going to believe this otherwise. Well, he is going to believe that something happened to our plants, but this? Probably not.”

The elephant seemed to realise what Helen was about to do and lifted its trunk in an arc above its head. As if it was posing. Then it began a little pirouette. Helen winced.

“No, not like this! Stop! Just go back to doing what you did before! You don’t have to dance for me!”

The animal froze and made a small trumpeting noise. It seemed to shrug into a more natural stance, then remembered there were more of those nice little red things to eat.

Helen took a few photos. And there it was. Looking at the scene on the display, she saw this living creature as if for the first time. Without thinking about the why or the how or the why not. Without rational thought in general, just taking in how the elephant got this much joy from the simple yet perfect activity of eating fresh fruit from a cherry tree. Without negotiating or waiting for things to meet any requirements. Helen took a deep breath and decided to deliberately not make a decision and instead to just watch and wait. The lack of guilt she felt made her strangely happy with herself.

When the tree was finally devoid of any fruit, the elephant gave it a couple of shakes to check for stray cherries it might have missed, then sniffed and trumpeted once more, a bit louder than before. It trotted over to the hammock to spread some more snot onto Helen’s outstretched hand before it turned and walked towards the back of the garden. It waved its trunk as it squeezed through the new exit in the hedge, then turned left and stomped away. Helen hoped it was going to love the beach as much as she did.


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