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 Joel Fisher 

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The Huge Old Beast

Full of wisdom become commodity; waste-bin feet, satchel-skin, swatch-tail, tickled ivories. Shrunk to a toy, a balloon nudging the bounds of its gigantic, claustrophobic enclosure – a tourist Savannah, where the grey god performs for peanuts. Its leather ears are full of the cries of careless laughter. Its great mass, rippling majesty, sags, with shoulders hunched in a knowing sorrow. Its wisdom then, to know that somewhere, free, beneath the same sun, its brothers trumpet, unpenned and massive. But it is not free, and its heavy trudge pens the rhythm of its slavery; a blues which descends from a trunk downturned, more nimble than fingers, but dull as it traces the dusty earth.

 

The boy sees. The boy senses. The boy walks to the next exhibit. The meerkats absorb his sympathy and they seem happy. They tell each other of his hair, its colour, his clothes and the attention makes him smile. He flattens his hand and rewards them with the food he bought in anticipation.

 

The girl looks too, she knows, her social worker arranged the visit. Earlier, she watched without comment as a tortoise caught and mounted another in slow motion. Now she watches the elephant.

 

Later that day, they hose it together, involuntary fellows, part of a Junior Zoo Keeper Experience. The elephant reduced to an elderly relative. They sluice until its warder calls time, then leads them away, only the girl leaves the gate open.

 

It is dark before the elephant notices. It noses its way through the fence and is free until a morning fraught with cries. The keepers drive it back, it charges, and the crumpled dead do nothing to heighten the feeling which the sedatives they fired cannot make novel.

 

They put it down then.