The African Elephant (Story by R.C. Peris)

We ran out of money in Los Angeles. Chris pawned his stamps and I sold my graduation ring with the sapphire in it. We continued south to San Diego. Chris signed up with a moving service. Under the table money. They didn’t care he was from Canada. We got a motel room by the beach. A man lived next door. He sat on a metal chair outside smoking cigarettes and watching the seagulls for most of the day.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Rianne.”

He spat on the ground. “Nice name. Where are you from?”

“Victoria. That’s in British Columbia.”

“Is that so?” He puffed his cigarette. “Canada.” He watched a seagull circle overhead. “Why are you here?”

“An adventure.”

“Is that so?”

I heard Chris pull up in the station wagon. I walked to the lot. He showed me cash. Thirty dollars.

“Can we go to the zoo?” I asked. I wanted to see the African elephants. I loved elephants. The zoo in British Columbia didn’t have any. My mom bought me a book when I was seven. All About Elephants.

We went to the zoo in Balboa Park. The animals weren’t in cages. You rode around in little trolleys. I saw the elephants clustered across a grassy field. I got very excited. The trolley dropped us off at the gift shop. I bought a postcard with an elephant on it.

“I should write home,” I told Chris.

Dear Ray and Pam. Those are my parents. I had been calling them Ray and Pam since I was ten. That was the year Chris and I made a pact to drive all around the United States and Canada. Pam was a doctor and she wanted me to go to nursing school in Toronto. Chris’s parents wanted him to be a pharmacist. Truth is, neither of us had any ambition and all we wanted to do was drive around.

I wrote to my parents.

Snow and wind in Washington. Rain and floods in Oregon. Cold and clear in Northern California. Warm and sunny in Southern California. I added we had no problem with gas. So Pam wouldn’t worry.

Someone told Chris there were jobs in Baja Mexico. So we drove south for an hour. I got a job as a hostess at Senor Langosta. They sold five dollar lobster dinners. Chris got a job at a hotel. Waiting and bussing poolside tables.

We got a room between two bars. You could hear thumping music until five in the morning.

I was happy. Chris was happy. But every night I whispered to him that we should go home. Two months later we drove back to the zoo. A single African elephant approached the trolley. It raised its trunk and I cried. I bought the exact same postcard again.

Dear Ray and Pam.

I’m coming home.

I didn’t come home.

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