Excerpt of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
(Page 5 of 7)
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He glares at me, his jaw moving back and forth like a cow
chewing cud. Incredible. He's actually eating the stuff.
The old ladies chatter like schoolgirls, blissfully
"They're here until Sunday," says Doris. "Billy stopped
to find out."
"Yes, two shows on Saturday and one on Sunday. Randall
and his girls are taking me tomorrow," says Norma. She turns to me. "Jacob, will
you be going?"
I open my mouth to answer, but before I can Doris blurts
out, "And did you see those horses? My word, they're pretty. We had horses when
I was a girl. Oh, how I loved to ride." She looks into the distance, and for a
split second I can see how lovely she was as a young woman.
"Do you remember when the circus traveled by train?" says
Hazel. "The posters would appear a few days aheadthey'd cover every surface in
town! You couldn't see a brick in between!"
"Golly, yes. I certainly do," Norma says. "They put
posters on the side of our barn one year. The men told Father they used a
special glue that would dissolve two days after the show, but darned if our barn
wasn't still plastered with them months later!" She chuckles, shaking her head.
"Father was fit to be tied!"
"And then a few days later the train would pull in.
Always at the crack of dawn."
"My father used to take us down to the tracks to watch
them unload. Gosh, that was something to see. And then the parade! And the smell
of peanuts roasting"
"And Cracker Jack!"
"And candy apples, and ice cream, and lemonade!"
"And the sawdust! It would get in your nose!"
"I used to carry water for the elephants," says McGuinty.
I drop my fork and look up. He is positively dripping
just waiting for the girls to fawn over him.
"You did not," I say.
There is a beat of silence.
"I beg your pardon?" he says.
"You did not carry water for the elephants."
"Yes, I most certainly did."
"No you didn't."
"Are you calling me a liar?" he says slowly.
"If you say you carried water for elephants, I am."
The girls stare at me with open mouths. My heart's
pounding. I know I shouldn't do this, but somehow I can't help myself.
"How dare you!" McGuinty braces his knobby hands on the
edge of the table. Stringy tendons appear in his forearms.
"Listen pal," I say. "For decades I've heard old coots
like you talk about carrying water for elephants and I'm telling you now, it
"Old coot? Old coot?" McGuinty pushes himself upright,
sending his wheelchair flying backward. He points a gnarled finger at me and
then drops as though felled by dynamite. He vanishes beneath the edge of the
table, his eyes perplexed, his mouth still open.
"Nurse! Oh, Nurse!" cry the old ladies.
There's the familiar patter of crepe-soled shoes and
moments later two nurses haul McGuinty up by the arms. He grumbles, making
feeble attempts to shake them off.
A third nurse, a pneumatic black girl in pale pink,
stands at the end of the table with her hands on her hips. "What on earth is
going on?" she asks.
"That old S-O-B called me a liar, that's what," says
McGuinty, safely restored to his chair. He straightens his shirt, lifts his
grizzled chin, and crosses his arms in front of him. "And an old coot."
"Oh, I'm sure that's not what Mr. Jankowski meant," the
girl in pink says.
"It most certainly is," I say. "And he is, too. Pffffft.
Carried water for the elephants indeed. Do you have any idea how much an
From Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. © 2006 by Sara Gruen. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.