Think #10: The Fifty-Five Elephants
This story was inspired by one of the “Thinks” proposed by Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Thinks You Can Think!”. If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I’ll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the “Thinks” in the book. Enjoy!
“Think!” the man in the red coat said with a flourish of his arm. The spotlight bathed him in a harsh bluish light, his eyes wild, his pointed dyed-white beard giving his face a devilish shape framed in shadows. “Think and wonder!” he said with a flourish of his other hand.
He stood on a platform before an enormous stage with curtains drawn. His platform extended out into the crowd so that he towered over the crowd, nearly level with those sitting in the theater-style seating. He was perched above them, the tiny tea light candles on their tables twinkled like he was speaking to all of space and god himself.
“Wonder and think!” he said leaning out from the platform to the crowd. There was silence – not even the sound of forks or knives cutting food. He could feel the crowd rapt in anticipation, sitting still at their tables, glasses of wine, short and tall glasses of brown and clear spirits, and fruity concoctions sitting on the tables. They waited and they held on his words.
“How much water can fifty-five elephants drink!?” he screamed out raising both arms in the air as the curtains pulled up. Music filled the air as warm light began filling the stage. The performers’ voices began singing, rich and full. The sound of the fountains rushed to life with a roar. The deep thunder of jets of water falling into deep pools. The women sang and their voices filled the room and the audience began clapping and whistling, not just the men, but their wives and girlfriends as well.
Staring out into the audience, the stage lights now revealed shadowed faces, smiling broadly, lipsticked lips and white smiles peeking from the darkness. The tea lights twinkled as the clapping and ovation stirred the air around the tables and he peered out now at god’s face and his angels who applauded his work.
The man turned to the stage.
He watched fifty-five scantily-clad, morbidly obese women dancing in and around sparkling pools of blue water, jets firing into the air to the sound of strings and horns and drumming beats. A six-tiered stage with pools on each tier showcased the women, each brightly lit, lights flashing and spinning. The light was horribly unflattering, their faces were painted in pale white, their smiles were broad and lipstick highlighted lips that looked like they were smiling even if it was a scowl. The women danced around the pools, some graceful, some not, but the crowd roared nonetheless.
He grabbed his scepter and extended it into the air, turning back to the audience. With his back turned, he could see the faces – the faces of the people who came to the show. They came and they ate, and they drank and they talked, but when the show started their conversations silenced and instead they clapped and they laughed and they cheered.
But when he looked back over his shoulder he saw the women prancing around the stage, their bodies were painfully exposed as the lingerie covered next to nothing. The fabric disappeared into their dimpled flesh. He could see mottling of skin tones, splotches, and blemishes that covered all humans – but these seemed more on display than on other women in other shows in other places. The more human it made them, the less human they felt… except to him. To him their flesh mirrored part of him.
He turned back to the crowed and smiled, highlighting his devilish face.
The jets of water turned to spray falling upon the singing women.
Their voices clear even with water across their lips, or hair across their mouths.
It was part of the show.
All part of the show.
“The Elephants of the Fifty-Five!” he sang out to the crowd and the crowd jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering.
He had no need to look back, he knew that as he raised his hands facing the crowd, the women would do the same. It was part of the choreography – raised arms let the breasts of a woman this large slide down, upper arms formed skin rolls, and the women’s necks would look larger than they were.
It was all part of the show.
It was part of his show.
His show was one of the nation’s most popular shows.
“The Man Who Changed The Face of Beauty In America,” was the title that was chosen for his first national article. It was the article that took his show from a little known burlesque show to a national statement on beauty.
“You’ve changed how people see beauty,” a very thin woman who was fake from head to soul said to him putting a microphone in his face. He smiled at the camera, and couldn’t remember what he said, but the woman laughed and she felt better about who she was for being so considerate and open-speaking about these women.
“You took a slur and took away its power,” one man dressed in button down, powder-blue shirt, his whitened teeth flashing out. “It’s brilliant really,” the man said smiling, “because no one can call these woman elephants, or ‘fat’ or anything like that,” the man said, fake tan casting an orangish glow around his eyes, “The Elephants Fifty-Five – absolutely brilliant.”
That was him, brilliant.
Calling fat women fat.
And staring out into the faces from the darkness, the twinkling stars looking back at him, he felt his brilliance and it burned into his back.
“You’ve made Fifty-five beautifulwomen, stars,” a well known star well past her prime said, her face barely able to move, “and these women really are beautiful.” She said it in the way that everyone knew exactly what she was saying. Her face didn’t have to move to read her meaning.
The brilliant light from behind him burned into his back, the roaring thunder of water filling his ears. The women weren’t singing, their recorded voices were blaring out from speakers set well back in the stage and it fooled no one. Everyone knew what they were hearing wasn’t real, but they fooled themselves that it was OK that these beautiful women weren’t singing. They could certainly sing, it was their voices, just not right then.
He had to turn at this part of the show and highlight the various stages. He had to turn his face to these nearly-nude women who he chose to put on display this way. He chose the lighting, he worked with the choreography. He knew.
And he hated looking at them because of it. He hated looking at the very flesh that was making him famous – not because he thought them unattractive because of their weight, but because he was repulsed.
Not by them.
But he turned nevertheless, dropping his scepter perfectly and raised his hands to the high left stage and clapped. A spotlight tore through the darkness and lit the women who sat in a pool of water that splashed at the edges. The largest woman sat on a chaise in a raised platform in the pool. She was eating grapes and pretending to sing.
The spotlight formed shadows all over her body. It was harsh, but the crowd cheered, and as he turned away to go to the right stage, he was pretty sure he saw them cursing him through tears, but it might have just been the water.
He made his eyes blurry and slept walked through the routine, going stage by stage noticing that the crowd cheered more and more. They loved it.
“These are our beautifulladies!” he said on cue.
And when he was able to turn away back to the crowd he stared back out into the crowd, eyes still blurry and all he could see were the twinkling stars of space, stars that sat before god, between him and god, but not between him and this show.
He sat between the Fifty-five women he put on the stage for the pleasure and good feelings of a nation, and a god far away that knew why people loved this show.
“Am I right that your show was once a burlesque?”
“Oh, when we first started, yes,” he said. It was a story he told often. How he had changed. How America had changed. These women weren’t ‘fat’ they were beautiful. ‘Aren’t they beautiful?’ the talk show hosts loved to ask the crowd. The crowds would smile and cheer and laugh and feel good about themselves for being so open and accepting.
“And when did it change?
He learned long ago to hide the lie. It wasn’t fidgeting, or arm crossing that gave away a lie. He was a performer! There was never a need to hide his arms or movements. He sold himself and his show. But it was the eyes that sold the lie. It was his eyes that required a portion of his soul, and each time he gave it he fooled himself into believing it got easier. But it was easy to feed the hungry, and the world was hungry. The world was so, so hungry.
“It isn’t about excess, is it?” the woman with fake breasts and toes she could no longer feel asked. She shoved her feet into shoes that weren’t made for the human form and asked about these women feeling beautiful in who they were. “It isn’t about body type, it is about self image, isn’t it?”
Like a circus showman should answer that question.
For the middle part of the show, he walked down from his platform and sat on a stool by the stage, clapping and cheering, not for the women, but for the crowd. From here the women looked ridiculous with their makeup smeared, their smiles tired, the shame numb at this point.
This show wasn’t about acceptance of these women, or who they were, it was about people feeling better about their own horrid, ugly, hated selves. These weren’t women to the audience here, or the people on the other side of the TV, or devices with articles and images and videos. These were a token expression of acceptance.
And he knew it.
He stood and clapped and gestured to them, smiling for the crowd, smiling into the twinkling stars.
Near the end of the show, he began climbing back up the stairs of his platform, walking out into the stars, the women behind him standing tall, water running off their bodies, their arms raised, the necks high. He had taught them to move their heads back and forth as they sang, it made their entire form shift and shake. “It is a natural part of your beauty” he told them, “it is what the human body does.”
Stepping back atop the platform he hated who he was and his goddamned show. He smiled though, the crowed clapped, and they cheered.
“Why you? Why this show?” one of the morning show interviewers asked. He leaned forward and looked so earnest. His interview followed one about healthy eating and before a story about a hollywood starlet who lost her beauty to heroin. “What makes a showman the person to change America’s view on beauty?”
“I think the time had come for America to move on,” had been the words he said, but that wasn’t the truth and it wasn’t what the truth god saw in his soul as he stared out at him night after night.
“The Elephants of Fifty-five!” he said raising his arms and mouthing the words to the end of the song, the blaring speakers playing out the final chords, the audience cheering and clapping, a rhythm falling into it like god’s heart was pounding from far away.
He turned to look at the ladies of his show. He looked at them and saw the people there. There bodies weren’t beautiful in in classic sense. No one had accepted anything about the women before them. This show wasn’t a burlesque anymore, it was something far uglier. People saw these women as they always had. Nothing had changed. These women were ugly, fat cows. They were lazy, unattractive women. Women who got lucky that people wanted to pay to see them. A fetish for some, a hilarious joke for others. People would still talk and laugh and comment on how they shook, or how their arms were this big, or their necks were this or that.
His show didn’t make it OK to be these women, it made it OK for America to feel better about hating it. It wasn’t about being yourself anymore, or liking a person for who they are – it was about being more enlightened than the next person. It was about having and accepting friends who were fat – it was OK to say it because the world didn’t think it was a bad word anymore
Look at me, how enlightened I am!
When the curtain dropped and the music stopped and there was the split second that the spotlight was still on, the heart beat of god hammering around him, the angels’ faces disappearing behind the stars, he could feel god looking at him.
Look at me…
Look at me…
Look at me…
Reggie is a writer of this and that out of CLT. Known for great hair, jet skis and gold chains, and Twitter lurking for purposes of humor. Inbred Southerner who is more English than 95% of Britain. Vocal advocate for Tourette’s and ADHD sufferers and parents of kids with challenges. A Tourette’s non-barker who likes to point out you can’t fire him for profanity. His wife, two boys, and dog tolerate his foolishness and fits of writing. He’s also a Leo wrapped in all kinds of awesome.