My 2019 Sarasota Fiction Writer's Contest Winning Short Story.

One Elephant, Two Elephants, Three Elephants

by Robert Lewis Heron

 

Copyright © 2019 by Robert Lewis Heron. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

My name is Sam Lasla, and today did not start well. I’m sure knowing today is Friday the thirteenth has nothing to do with my problem. Well, as sure as anyone facing the strangest day in a life of boring normality can be.

No clocks striking thirteen, although it is a cold bright April day, and no transformations into a giant insect. Nothing as trite but something as crazy. I’m amazed at being able to sit here to tell my tale, for inside, word by typed word, I am going mad. You see, as I type each word—the one preceding it fades back to white. No outline. No trace. Nada.

My week old boxers and chin stubble are my norm, my reference point, my handle on sanity. But, if I stop typing for ten seconds, just ten seconds, I end up looking at white pristine paper. Ten seconds give or take, approx, not exact. I don’t like exact. Never have, never will. Ten seconds, for a roach to crawl over my Formica table and vanish behind frayed curtains. Ten seconds for Max to eat a moth, a rat, or hard-boiled eggshell bits before coughing up mucus-drenched hairballs. Ten seconds for every typed letter to disappear. My boxers still stink, my stubble remains, but my paper is pristine.

All I want is normal. Normal like Max licking himself after eating food from our bathtub. Max doing what he does every day, and me doing what I do every day, and all to remain sane in a world going insane. What’s wrong with wanting normal?

I’m like some Morse code operator on the Titanic sending out vanishing S.O.S messages begging for someone to send help.

(· · · – – – · · ·)

  · – – – · · ·)

  – · · ·)

 

It started three hours ago, approx. By ‘it’, I mean my aha moment, a proverbial penny drop. Things are different. Not different. Different is way too ordinary a word to explain this freaky thing. Surreal, like dreaming and your crazed imagination explodes without consequence, or payback.  Free, completely free, untethered by natures laws—weird.

I’ve been through crap with shrinks. A long time ago in Belleview. I’m joking— if I don’t I’ll lose it, and I’m trying so, so hard to keep calm.

Count—one elephant—two elephants—three elephants—deep breaths.

So at nine a.m. sanity went a.w.o.l. My introduction to gut churning, gorged by a pit bull with AIDS panic, or, when diagnosed with The Big ‘C’ and only days to live. A moment of mega mental overloaded. Unbalanced. Can’t think straight, nauseous, dizzy—what did you say?—how long? — it’s a mistake?—you’re sure it’s cancer?

This is not my alone realization of panic, not even national. This is global mass hysteria, and I am staying right here in my one hundred and sixty-nine square feet world. Someone has to stay calm and try to explain. Don’t worry about me. I have food in my bath, a Formica table, and Max.

Dr. C will be proud. Me fighting for control by cataloguing my pathetic attempt to avoid, and make sense of madness. Then kaboom. Gut throat gagsville—three years spent writing the great American novel—wasted. Now just a neat cube of four hundred blank white pages. Every word, coma, hand written correction—gone. Many revisions, four rewrites, and three years of creativity—gone. My legs buckle, I slump to a crumpled twisted heap. Both legs tight to chest, knees kissing stubble, fetal under table.

“Help me. Someone. Anyone”.

I’m a beached whale struggling towards an imaginary ocean—deep, dark, safe. I’m safe here, right here. A bomb could drop. Don’t care. I’m safe under my Formica. My stomach cramps. I vomit over rat droppings and a stolen library edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets propping up one leg of my broken table.

(Get up Sam).

No way. Get lost. Get out of my head.

(Get up Sam and save the world).

No.

My six sagging book shelves supported between used gallon paint pots and empty cat food cans look pathetic. Original embossed first edition book spines all blank.

(I told you to look after my books, Sam?)

Sorry, dad. Not my fault.

My collected works of every awe-inspiring writer, thinker, and philosopher—gone. Today’s New York Times is a blank white rectangle beside my typewriter. A typewriter with every ivory key blank, and all makers’ decals, engraved serial numbers—gone.

Sure, I splashed cold water on my face—I am awake. It’s April, it’s cold, I’ve opened my one and only window. A billboard opposite displays burger, fries and coke. But no golden arch, no ninety-nine-cent-breakfast-special proclamation, and no calorific information. A cool breeze wafts warm greasy exhaust up from Danny’s Diner three floors below. I smell eggs, bacon, fear—I AM awake.

Dr. C’s appointment card hangs under my ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ fridge magnet. It no longer displays a handwritten three o’clock scheduled consultation. The card is limp, white, with a bent corner where I flossed. 

    

= : = : =

Dr. C is a bit of a weirdo. He is into Victoriana big time. Goes to all the conventions, collects crap so old, some folks don’t know what his bloody things are for. Wears starched high collars, monocle, even a top hat. I ask you—crazy or what?

Lucky for me C’s office is two blocks south. I limp past people stocking up on stuff. How they recognize what to buy beats me. Suppose remembered packaging of products is all we have—bottle of vinegar, or bottle of water? Time and taste will tell. And what happens when everything is gone, all canned food eaten? At least I have Max.

Two blocks to go.

A little boy stands alone at corner of 2nd and Main singing, “One times one is one, two times two is four, three times three is...”

He looks skyward at an open window two flights above and shouts, “MAW, WHAT’S THREE TIMES THREE? MAW?”

“Can you count?” I ask.

“Yes. One, two...six...MAW, WHAT’S AFTER SIX? MAW?”

No answer came, so I suggested seven.

“Why do you limp, mister?”

“Rat bites.”

He looks at me, turns skywards squealing, “MAW, WHY DO RAT BITES MAKE YOU LIMP? MAW?”

One block to go.

Police everywhere—people appear dazed. Ten to three—plenty time.

A skirmish at a Gas Station. Someone claims they won Lotto, but their ticket is blank. Shop owner shouts they are the fifth claimant today. Crossing 2nd and Main I hear a single gunshot. Can’t stop, got appointment. I cleaned up special. Dr. C’s brown stoop is yards away, feet, inches. Safe.

Dr. C’s receptionist, Edith, is from Cracow. About eighty or ninety, enveloped in a smell of oldness—stale urine. Her head and wrists are her three body extremities visible from a black Victorian dress, white lace collar and cuffs. Her left wrist is bloody from her scratching a rash where once numbers sat tattooed. She is typing a letter. Why? I look—no words, just a white sheet of crisp eighty gram bonded.

“Late again, Mr. Dali,” she says without lifting her head from her blank typewriter keys. Hard to tell if her lack of civility is physical or mental.

“No. My name is Mr. Sam Lasla.”

“Sit,” she hisses. Her spit forms minute globules of floating venom. Her chair rattles. Her tongue darts in and out—forked.

SIT! Sure I’ll sit bitch. My world is crumbling, and you want me to SIT!

To move might be disastrous, for her reception exuded potted plants. A virtual jungle of ferns, hyacinths, and fuchsia, clustered in corners, on shelves, and stands. Doctor C says ‘the language of flowers’ interprets some plants as symbols of devotion, love, sorrow or hope. I ask you, what nonsense to express the horticultural kingdom as analogous to human behavior. As if.

-TING-

“Doctor C is waiting. Follow the white line. Now please hurry along. HURRY!” Edith screamed from her curved letter ‘C’ body pose. From a side view, her thick black support stockings helped morph her into a question mark.

?

 

I don’t get their white line bit. Her reception desk is exactly five feet from Dr. C’s office. There is only one office—his? It’s like a small greenhouse with an overpowering moldy mothball smell. A crystal chandelier hangs dead center so anyone over five foot nine stoops to avoid injury. I wonder how thick his walls are? I don’t want people listening to my personal stuff.

Dr. C is below average height, deep-set eyes and a soft rather effeminate mouth terminating in one corner with a small swastika scar.

“Mr. Dali, sit,” said C wafting an effeminate wrist towards his worn leather recliner. “And how are you today, Salvador?”

“Sam. It’s Sam.”

“Yes, Sam,” he said correcting himself whilst peering over his rimless glasses. “Lost more weight I see, and when did you last change your wrist and ear bandages?”

I move between trailing ivy, a display of rare orchids and slide onto a faded leather-upholstered recliner. Ornate trellises backed by yet more plants gave an impression of furniture engulfed by a jungle. Over many visits his office has become less a room than a thicket. A paperweight inscribed ‘If I Want Your Opinion, I’ll ask you to fill out the necessary paper work’ sits beside a manila file. It says ‘Dali, Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto?’ Why is there writing on his desk? Why has it not vanished?

I ignore answering his questions, and decide to tell him about disappearing letters.

“You say all words have disappeared from books, Salva...eh...Sam, and each typed word disappears? Fascinating.”

 “Yes, and the BBC World Service reports Egyptian pyramids are missing their hieroglyphics.”

“The BBC indeed. Blank pyramids. Fascinating.”

“Have you not heard about the Pope asking everyone to pray?”

“The Pope. World prayers. Fascinating.”

“Someone got shot in a gas station on Second and Main over a lotto ticket.”

“Shot. Lotto Ticket. Fascinating.”

With eyes locked on his yellow pad, he belched, twirled his Parker pen beside his hairy left earlobe, and said, “Look at my pad, Salva...eh...Sam.”

I saw dark blue cursive ink marks dissolve. “Yes I see words disappearing. Can’t you?” I knew right then. So obvious. He is part of this crazy ass thing. His look, his smile, his left foot twitch are all signals from two years ago just before my incarceration in Belleview.

I’m not mad. The BBC, Egyptian pyramids, and the Pope all prove it.

“Please wait here, Salvad...eh...Sam?” said C in a tone you tell a dog to sit, or stay, or roll over. Why don’t cats sit, stay, or roll over?

I’m not mad, and to prove it I’m not about to roll over and wait for antiseptic white gowns to arrive. No incarceration. Think about what happens when all food runs out—cannibalism! Worse, when people get real hungry they’ll eat children. I’m not getting tied to a hospital gurney and force fed children through plastic tubes. I’m outta here—adios, sayonara, arrivederci, au revoir, auf wiedersehen. Not slurping liquefied children—never have, not starting now, and anyway I have Max.

Dr. C’s office has one tiny window overlooking a rat-infested alley. Thirty, perhaps forty seconds after C excused himself, I made a decision. I am not one to make major life changing decisions in such a small passage of time. Yet, left alone contemplating C’s thoughts had an untoward consequence. Angst, fear, and foreboding slither across my psyche. Akin to roaches scurrying over rancid lumps of Gorgonzola. His psychology might have worked except I understood my dire predicament. Run, or get run-over by our State’s well lubricated mental-rehabilitation machine—Belleview.

How easy his two feet by three feet window slid open. No sound, no sticky window frame, so easy. My advantage is my pathetic skin’n’bone demeanor—ninety-eight or ninety-nine pounds approx. Bend, squeeze, lift and ten seconds later I stand outside on a twelve-inch wide sandstone ledge.

I move crablike, one elephant...two elephants...three elephants, and stop. My escape started with a clear plan, but now a vertical drop of fifteen feet, give or take, approx.

No fear, no feeling, nada. My choice—freedom with a high possibility of death. Crazies we can all experience—take everything you own and place it on red at any roulette table of life. Spin a gun barrel with one bullet, and then pull its trigger. Inject poison into an arm. I am free to decide my fate.

Count three elephants and jump. One, two...six...MAW, SHOULD I JUMP? MAW?

... falling

... falling

... falling

= : = : =

Dr. C entered Belleview Hospital psychiatric ward and headed straight for room 101. A flip chart displayed one name—Salvador Dali. Under a heading ‘Aliases’ sat ‘Sam Lasla’. Salvador was now in his seventeenth day as Sam Lasla, and a full four days longer than his last alias.

Dr. C watched Salvador in his wheelchair. His fingers moving as if typing. Now and then turning sideways to talk to an empty space.

Dr. C turned to his ward nurse.

“Has he had today’s medication?”

“Yes, Doctor C,” said day-nurse Eva Braun.

“Did he say anything?”

“I’ve noted everything on page thirty-two. He was talking about words vanishing.”

“Mmmm...same old, same old.”

“He mentioned the BBC, the Pope and Egyptian pyramids again. Perhaps a book might distract him?”

“Nurse Braun, you know he is blind?”

“I know,” she said. “We removed his eyes to stop him painting those terrible scenes of melting clocks. Perhaps I could read to him.”

“I agree about a distraction,” said Dr. C. “It’s such a shame we had to amputate both legs, but his fall into that alley was just bad luck. Twisted rusty bed springs punctured every muscle and bone... read Kafka to him.”

Dr. C made a few hand written notes on page thirty-three of Dali’s flip chart. Sam Lasla appeared below a heading ‘Aliases’, but above Vincent Van Gogh, Sigmund Freud, and Adolf Hitler.

Sam Lasla smiled. A mental metamorphosis started. Vincent beckoned.

The End.