Watching the elephants in chains at a zoo, clapping along to their folded paper facsimiles dancing in the hand of sweet Pierrot or laughing at a rotten clown playing the trumpeting fool is a totally different beast to riding on the back of a snow-globe pachyderm with King Pierre sucking on a hookah next to you as you dream some foolish dream. I’m on the road again, and the road is not kind or gentle. The road is not sweet and fine. The road is bumpy and the company often frightful.
The elephant doesn’t care that he is out of place as he treads his solemn march out of the wind and the rain and the snow, and down the road to Here, There and Everywhere. Herds of wild elk chew the cud, while hoards of ghostly antelope hop, skip and jump the fences, streams and ditches, spooking the horses and making the sound of their thousands of tiny delicate hoof-drops echo around the plains. The elephant’s gait sounds like a big bass drum, punctuated by the syncopated beat of the local, smaller wildlife. We are headed for canyon country, that Big Rock cavern that lays beyond the prairies and the plains. The mode of transport just doesn’t feel right, this ancient-curtained howdah, the red and yellow bunting flapping in the breeze, and the opium-eaters haberdashery providing a soft bed to sink into as the entire world rolls around on the back of the beast.
King Pierre leans over and passes the mouthpiece of the hookah to me.
“Gotta be careful what you wish for, Girly. You could have relented and snapped and sat weeping for mercy, but instead you just had to be strong, didn’t you? You just had to find out for yourself. You know what they say about curiosity, Alice? Well you are one cool cat, but do you have nine lives, that is what I want to know.” I connected with the inhaler as Pierre lit the bowl and mimicked a long deep prana breath as if to show me exactly what level of commitment he wanted. The clouds filled my mind and the elephant began to float, fly, drift along, trailing Pierre-Rotten by the thin rope attached to his harness, as Sweet Pierrot made airplane sounds and stretched both his slender arms out wide, slipping and sliding alarmingly on the neck of the Elephant.
It was not that I didn’t want to cough, more that I didn’t dare. After all, though not quite the worst thing in the world, but quite nearly is the experience of being mocked as a lightweight by the King. He would lose all respect, and what is worse, have some fuel for the fire of his tongue. Instead I let the smoke drift out slowly. It created a giant speech bubble with the words “My name is not Alice” suspended within it.
“Allez, ne sois pas vache! I am surprised you don’t moo instead of talk,” I snipped back at him, as he peered into the depths of the half smoked bowl of the hookah. “You didn’t even finish it! Boo hiss! Better luck next time!” He then leant over and kissed the top of my head just to make sure I knew he was only joking. It was either that or to see if I was sweating yet, if I tasted good enough to eat alive . . . if I would flinch, or if I would accept the small sign of affection at face value. King Pierre almost never does something for no reason at all, that is, of course, until he does and then watch out, Chaos is about. Besides my name is not Alice. To lay that trip on me was not fair at all, but fair rarely has anything to do with reality or fantasy, or any other kind or style of living, or dying for that matter.
Pierrot, now facing towards the howdah instead of towards the front of the elephant, leaned towards me. Sweet little clown, cute little fool. He started flicking big fat dates towards my face, hoping I would catch one like a sealion with a fish. King Pierre ignored him, batting away the tree candy with one delicate flick of the wrist, his gloved hand occasionally popping a morsel into his mouth. Pierre-Rotten was now riding the trunk with a wild look in his eyes, rocking back and forth as if on a rocking horse made for children. He shouted up to the King and his sweeter younger brother, enquiring over destinations, times and resting spots.
“I should really be back in my bed, someone will start to miss me,” I opined as carefully as possible.
“Poppycock,” returned Pierre-Rotten, “no one has missed you for at least twenty years. They all gave up on you when you….” He motioned to his temple, made a screwing motion and an odd rising and falling whistling sound with his mouth. “When you, you know, lost your mind and all that.” Pierrot shot him a look of reproach.
“I hardly think it is worth mentioning, you Rotter!” Pierrot hurled another date towards my general position in the howdah. “I mean, what’s done is done, and you can hardly blame her for it. It is not as if she meant to go insane.” King Pierre laughed as he watched me try to stifle a pout.
The three clowns rarely mean any harm. King Pierre might tease and tempt and rebuke out of a kind of sense of gravity, a desire to forge and strengthen, test and develop, but he really is rarely mean for no reason. The Rotter’s general offensiveness is born out of a hammy desire to entertain. Pierrot merely has no self censorship, which is why he prefers to generally be mute and express himself through toys and trinkets, tomfoolery and origami as much as possible. He cannot misunderstood as long as he does say anything, and being misunderstood is a perplexing and tiring state for a sweet clown to be in. However, taking me on a trip upon a magic elephant, trapped in the confines of a snow globe, on a trek across a twisted and topsy turvy America, damn near kidnapping me in the process, and keeping me sweet with dried fruit and the contents of their ancient hookah was possibly a trip too far.
“It’s too late, anyhow,” the King declared. You bought the ticket, and the trip is now yours, for better or worse, sunshine or snow, days or months or even eternity. You started it, you got to see it through, Shagbum. You chose to get on the elephant, and now you have to live with the choice. If they miss ya, they miss ya. That is their look-out, not yours.”
Another smokey speech bubble formed on the tip of my consciousness, it read: “My name is not Shagbum, either!” The clowns laughed in unison.
“Well, what is your name, Missy?” They spoke in unison, a triad so in time it was as if they were reflected back at each other in a three-sectioned boudoir mirror.
I thought. I thought and thought and thought, but no matter how I tried I could not bring it to the front of my mind. I had quite forgotten. My birthday? Gone. My address? Nope. My own name? Absent. Vacant. Rotter started to sing She’s Not There, whilst making zombie-like movements with his hands. “I..I…I don’t quite know.” My voice wavered as I replied.
“It doesn’t really matter, you know,” said Pierrot. “What is in a name anyway? You can be whoever you want out here on the road. You don’t have to be you any more.”
The trouble was I quite wanted to be me. After all, who else was I going to be? The elephant started to lose altitude, and drift down towards a clearing in a thick patch of forest. Giant redwoods rose up from the ground like mushrooms. They spread their vast branches up towards the dying sunlight as the elephant ducked and swerved and dodged leaves, and trunks and foliage.
King Pierre, scrawled a name on a piece of paper and pinned it to my pajamas with a single ruby-topped hatpin. It read Nancy.
“But I don’t like the name Nancy!” I could hear my voice start to show the stress in a high pitched whine. Pierre Rotten patted me on the shoulder. “Come on Nancy, help me start this fire. You might want something more sustaining that a date for supper!”
“She hasn’t been on a supper date for years!” Pierrot interjected. “I don’t think she remembers how!”
The elephant shook its trunk as Pierre Rotten took the howdah off its sturdy back and led it off to chew on whatever it could find in the forest. A large green apple made its way from trunk to mouth, and juice ran down his smiling grey face. I suppose what you can’t remember can’t hurt you.
“Trust me,” said Pierre Rotten, “Nancy is far nicer than the name you had to start with. It will grow on you.”
As I looked up at the sky, which was fading to the deepest blue, and dotted with stars so bright in the emptiness of the wilderness, I saw another flying elephant which trumpeted his call down to the vast beast that had carried us to the forest. The inky blackness could have been space, water or forest. It is all the same in the dark until you either drown, bang your head on something hard or else float off into outer space.
The King looked troubled for a moment, then pulled a guitar out from the trunk that Pierrot had unloaded, and he started to play.