blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Polar Arms

Polar Arms residents had no serious objection to Elephant's presence on the 18th floor. They had small concerns about beams, support work, from time to time envisioned a seven-ton beast crashing through their ceilings, but had been assured by no less than three engineering consultants, paid for at Elephant's expense—"More, if you prefer!"—that the building was safe in this regard.

Mrs. Despardee, 96, who had lived in 1200D ("the best exposure") through five decades, recalled a young elephant bull being on the scene when she and Mr. Despardee—now, alas, sequestered in an afterworld—had moved into the Polar Arms as children of the depression, "with barely a penny in our pockets and only our good name."

Mr. Artois, lapidarist, ret., formerly of Provence, said that he had lived among elephants throughout the years of the African campaigns, and only had good words to say about them. "Gobble up anything green," he said. "Five hundred pounds daily. Slog back fifty gallons of water. Hide two inches thick. Sensitive creatures, mind you."

"Elephant loves snow," added Mrs. Artois, a woman whose inclinations were rooted in the vague.

The Artois view was considered critical, as their apartment sat squarely beneath Elephant's.

Bethlehem Smit, no longer young though still active in theatrical circles (old timer parties), declaring that her hearing fortunately was not so acute as once it had been, confessed that she had momentary misgivings those instances when the building swayed, although she enjoyed saying to startled guests, "It is only our elephant."

Mrs. Artois, who had not accompanied her husband during his African campaigns, admitted that a week ago, asleep in the dead of night, her bones had jumped out of her skin. "Such an explosion!" she gushed. "My first thought is that it was Sept. 11 all over again."

Mr. Artois, patting his wife's hand, explained that Elephant, perhaps a bit lubricated, had fallen out of bed.

"The entire building shook," insisted Mrs. Artois.

"He was thoughtful enough to telephone an apology."

"Yes," said Bethlehem Smit, smiling. "I received flowers."

Mrs. Despardee, Mr. And Mrs. Artois, and Bethlehem Smit, then recounted incidents of a similar nature involving Elephant. Mrs. Despardee said she suspected that Elephant was a bit of an insomniac. "He's getting on, you know."

"They sleepwalk," offered Mrs. Artois, in that vague manner everyone loved.

Vici Nung, 24, said to be in broadcasting, new to the Polar Arms, believed to be in residence on the 28th floor, was asked by the others what she thought.

"About what?" the young woman replied. "Sorry. I wasn't listening."

At this point the elevator halted at the 17th floor, and all except the imperious Ms. Nung alighted.

Mrs. Despardee and Bethlehem Smit had earlier accepted an invitation to join Mr. and Mrs. Artois for "tea and flatbread" (a banana cassava creation picked up during Mr. Artois' African days).

Elephant and Appolonia would be joining them.

The elevator group did not care for cold Vici Nung.
Mrs. Despardee said she found the woman "officious and uppity."

"Snooty-hooty," said Bethlehem Smit.

"Pretty, though," said Mr. Artois, a remark the three women received with upturned noses.


Appolonia was encouraged to recline on the Artois sofa. She was to put her feet up, "think benign thoughts," and "drink oodles of water."

After what you have gone through, everyone meant.

Three evenings ago Appolonia, 44, engagingly single, a fourteen-year tenant of the Polar Arms, immensely rich by routes no one could determine, had been assaulted in the doorway of her penthouse apartment.

In the interim, she had been under the sole care of her rescuer, Elephant.

Elephant, so the understanding went, with his ability to detect tones lower than those available to the human ear, hearing moans, had galloped 36 stories to rescue Appolonia, rumored to be a granddaughter of the legendary impresario Sol Hurok.

"Let's not speak any more of this," Elephant told the assembly. "Poor Appolonia was frightened out of her wits. I recognized the scoundrel right away. It was, as you may know, our old doorman Maurice who, back in '86, became temporarily deranged and terrified all who attempted entering the building. You remember, Miss Smit? We had to buy the rascal out."

"I was in rehab for a year," said Mrs. Artois in her vaguely charming voice, waving about—as though it needed an airing—a cut of her husband's famous flatbread.

Appolonia said, "I truly believe the reprobate meant me no harm."

Mrs. Despardee said, "You are too nice. You think the best of everyone."

Mr. Artois said, "I will sell my flatbread recipe to the highest bidder. Going, going, gone."

Everyone smiled, Mrs. Artois out of embarrassment.

Appolonia sat up, clasping her hands upon her knees. Her eyes were lit with extraordinary glitter. Her slender frame—draped in a red-silk evening gown sent over for approval that very day from Bergdorf-Goodman, effervescent pearls layering her fine throat, dainty feet dignified by silver shoes which were mere slithers of practically nothing—had never looked so splendid. In fact, the ladies had said as much. They had said, in the very first second of this meeting, following the customary embraces, something along these lines: My dear, despite your horrifying experience at the hands of that monster, you have never looked better. Appolonia had replied along these lines: How kind of you. Inasmuch as your remarks are true, all credit should go to our darling Elephant, who has not released me from his sight since the moment he rushed to my rescue.

Which remark had excited the curiosity and teased the imaginations of Mrs. Artois, Mrs Despardee, and Bethlehem Smit—all wanting to hear more—but here had marched club-footed Mr. Artois insisting that Appolonia recline upon the sofa, "think benign thoughts," and "drink oodles of water."

But there she sat, erect as a drum major, the very picture of someone fallen desperately in love, poised now to make the most dramatic announcement.

Even so, it was not to Appolonia that our friends looked. Elephant's ears were flapping most incredibly.

Mr. Artois, with the wisdom of his African days, perhaps alone understood the cause: Elephant was feeling vastly overheated. Thus Mr. Artois immediately jumped to his feet, touched Elephant's trunk, and escorted his guest to the nearest bathroom.

Elephant drank and drank and yet continued to drink. He was immensely touched that Mr. Artois, whom he remembered quite well (and favorably) from the French campaigns in his native country (although they had never spoken of this), had been so thoughtful as to have on hand a bathtub filled to the brim with water. The old gentleman had even strewn about the floor a fair number of bushes and branches, a bed of arugula (a favored delicacy), of greenest freshness.

"Feeling better?"

"Much," said Elephant. "You are a gentleman of the first estate."

"It's love, is it?" said Mr. Artois in a voice of amazing gentleness.

Elephant nodded.

"Reciprocated, I believe."

Elephant blushed.

For some minutes they stood as paired veterans, looking through the leaded window panes at Prince Umbuto's Tabernacle of Faith rising above its neighbors in the distance, the cityscape somewhat beclouded at this hour, a ring of scarlet neon encircling the Temple's ornate steeple, slowly unrolling today's message of hope and salvation for the universe.

They returned to the party, finding the women chattering away, not in the least missing them.

"Where did you get those lovely ferns, Mrs. Artois? Is that a genuine shittah tree? The very kind of wood used in constructing the ark of the covenant? Those old pulque pots over there? From Michoacan? How ancient might they be? These angel sconces on your walls, are they by chance the work of Chucho Reyes?"

Mrs. Artois, in the vague manner of one under a spell, answered these and further questions with a dogged artistry satisfactory to all.

Later on, deep into the evening, Mr. Artois flicked a switch and there all at once, where had been walls, a ceiling, a city revving up for night, were coco palms, banana trees, spectacular waterfalls.

All this of course happened some while ago. I am by no means certain the same could take place now.  

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