Being a circus elephant is no easy business. There is little pity for the beast which casts so long a shadow. Criticism and disdain are magnified for so magnified a presence, and it is not uncommon for an elephant's mind to wander within itself, lapsing morbidly into the same wish and dream for bodily proportionality. Even self-awareness of this tendency does not staunch its recurrence. Psychologists have speculated that this tendency may be to blame for the unseemly proliferation of elephant-type bulimia and anorexia in recent years.
In rehearsal meetings, with the circus staff assembled to plan the show, conspiratorial whispers and frowns are never lost on an elephant's keen hearing, and even the strictest course of hygiene does not spare one a joke about elephant smell. No monkey nor man torments himself to be clean like a circus elephant, and yet they remain the most ready target for derision and slander. Indeed, it is precisely their vulnerability that seals their destiny in this matter, as the sight of an elephant entering the room seems itself enough to permeate a room with an imagined odor. And who can resist the potential for humor and taunting!
There is a well-known circus legend, of an elephantine star who one day snapped under the pressure of the lifestyle and set out to destroy the circus forever. She fed anti-freeze to the glorious lions, set the panther on the ostrich in closed quarters, crushed the bearded lady with her buttocks, and by various infernal machinations dispatched each and every one of the trapezists and clowns in turn. The story has been narrated so many times, and with all storytellers entitled to some creative license, many twists and turns have naturally worked themselves into and out of the yarn over generations, but always the climax remains the same: the big top burns, and the elephant weeps at center stage, eating her own ears.
Because the story often circulates among circus staff, it often becomes a source of secret anxiety for circus elephants, especially those new to the industry. While the story is rather incredible, the credulity with which some circus employees receive its telling often exasperates their pachyderm colleagues. If this evil behavior can be believed of an elephant, what does this say about elephants in general? Oh, how many young elephants have been brought to anger by the myth, and interjected heatedly, only to be confronted with the awkward realization that they've just affirmed the libel! But to hold one's 25-pound tongue, that too seems only silent assent!
The shrill cry of the bearded lady pierced the night. An apocalyptic fire was winning out against the darkness. The ringmaster panicked, the lion tamer wept, and the trapezists were graceless with terror. A clown tried dousing the flames with the flower on his lapel, which contained a hidden spritzer. The bear trainer, stinking wretchedly of scotch, struggled to extricate a bear cub from beneath the bleachers; a zebra circled center stage at peak speed, apparently executing its routine to re-create a sense of normalcy; the head juggler embraced the bearded lady consolingly.
Lawton the Elephant made a beeline to the mermaid pool, where the mermaid had been attempting to drown herself to squelch her fear. His demeanor, and the unusual robustness of his trunk, even by elephant standards, gave her hope, however, and it was not long before hundreds of gallons of mermaid-pure salvation rained out in all directions. Lawton made for a splendid fountain.
When the last cinders smoked tamely, and the sun rose to sate its curiosity, we found Lawton in the center of it all. Even with his favorite blue hat pulled down harshly over his enormous elephant ears, they did what they do, they heard something they did not wish to hear: Don't elephants start fires?
We cannot stop hearing even if we eat our ears. So Lawton did not eat his ears. Somehow, though, whenever he found himself feeling alone in the years to come, Lawton would nibble away at his ears, and indeed it did seem to give him some odd sense of peace.
Ah yes the fire? It was actually a drunken bear, believe it or not. The bear trainer, known to fellow tradesmen as among the hemisphere's most dedicated practitioners of the art, had himself apparently slipped into an unnoticed isolation, a loneliness tempered only by happy evening romps wet with single-malt scotch. That fateful night, he shared the cheering poison with Top-Hat Harry and Ursula Ursus, prompting countless incidents of baffling inanity and hilarity, amongst which shenanigans the alcoholic gift, sparked by love, sparked a killing fire.12