Polar Arms residents had no serious objection to Elephant's presence on the 18th floor. They had small concerns about beams, support work, from time to time envisioned a seven-ton beast crashing through their ceilings, but had been assured by no less than three engineering consultants, paid for at Elephant's expense"More, if you prefer!"that the building was safe in this regard.
Mrs. Despardee, 96, who had lived in 1200D ("the best exposure") through five decades, recalled a young elephant bull being on the scene when she and Mr. Despardeenow, alas, sequestered in an afterworldhad moved into the Polar Arms as children of the depression, "with barely a penny in our pockets and only our good name."
Mr. Artois, lapidarist, ret., formerly of Provence, said that he had lived among elephants throughout the years of the African campaigns, and only had good words to say about them. "Gobble up anything green," he said. "Five hundred pounds daily. Slog back fifty gallons of water. Hide two inches thick. Sensitive creatures, mind you."
"Elephant loves snow," added Mrs. Artois, a woman whose inclinations were rooted in the vague.
The Artois view was considered critical, as
their apartment sat squarely beneath Elephant's.
Mr. Artois, patting his wife's hand, explained that
Elephant, perhaps a bit lubricated, had fallen out of bed.
"About what?" the young woman replied.
"Sorry. I wasn't listening."
Mrs. Despardee and Bethlehem Smit had earlier accepted an invitation to join Mr. and Mrs. Artois for "tea and flatbread" (a banana cassava creation picked up during Mr. Artois' African days).
Elephant and Appolonia would be joining them.
The elevator group did not care for cold Vici Nung.
"Snooty-hooty," said Bethlehem Smit.
"Pretty, though," said Mr. Artois, a remark the three women received with upturned noses.
Appolonia was encouraged to recline on the Artois sofa. She was to put her feet up, "think benign thoughts," and "drink oodles of water."
After what you have gone through, everyone meant.
Three evenings ago Appolonia, 44, engagingly
single, a fourteen-year tenant of the Polar Arms, immensely rich by routes
no one could determine, had been assaulted in the doorway of her penthouse
Elephant, so the understanding went, with his ability to detect tones lower than those available to the human ear, hearing moans, had galloped 36 stories to rescue Appolonia, rumored to be a granddaughter of the legendary impresario Sol Hurok.
"Let's not speak any more of this," Elephant told the assembly. "Poor Appolonia was frightened out of her wits. I recognized the scoundrel right away. It was, as you may know, our old doorman Maurice who, back in '86, became temporarily deranged and terrified all who attempted entering the building. You remember, Miss Smit? We had to buy the rascal out."
"I was in rehab for a year," said Mrs. Artois in her vaguely charming voice, waving aboutas though it needed an airinga cut of her husband's famous flatbread.
Appolonia said, "I truly believe the reprobate meant me no harm."
Mrs. Despardee said, "You are too nice. You think the best of everyone."
Mr. Artois said, "I will sell my flatbread recipe to the highest bidder. Going, going, gone."
Everyone smiled, Mrs. Artois out of embarrassment.
Appolonia sat up, clasping her hands upon her knees. Her eyes were lit with extraordinary glitter. Her slender framedraped in a red-silk evening gown sent over for approval that very day from Bergdorf-Goodman, effervescent pearls layering her fine throat, dainty feet dignified by silver shoes which were mere slithers of practically nothinghad never looked so splendid. In fact, the ladies had said as much. They had said, in the very first second of this meeting, following the customary embraces, something along these lines: My dear, despite your horrifying experience at the hands of that monster, you have never looked better. Appolonia had replied along these lines: How kind of you. Inasmuch as your remarks are true, all credit should go to our darling Elephant, who has not released me from his sight since the moment he rushed to my rescue.
Which remark had excited the curiosity and teased
the imaginations of Mrs. Artois, Mrs Despardee, and Bethlehem Smitall
wanting to hear morebut here had marched club-footed Mr. Artois
insisting that Appolonia recline upon the sofa, "think benign thoughts,"
and "drink oodles of water."
Even so, it was not to Appolonia that our friends looked. Elephant's ears were flapping most incredibly.
Mr. Artois, with the wisdom of his African
days, perhaps alone understood the cause: Elephant was feeling vastly
overheated. Thus Mr. Artois immediately jumped to his feet, touched Elephant's
trunk, and escorted his guest to the nearest bathroom.
"Much," said Elephant. "You are a gentleman of the first estate."
"It's love, is it?" said Mr. Artois in a voice of amazing gentleness.
"Reciprocated, I believe."
For some minutes they stood as paired veterans,
looking through the leaded window panes at Prince Umbuto's Tabernacle
of Faith rising above its neighbors in the distance, the cityscape somewhat
beclouded at this hour, a ring of scarlet neon encircling the Temple's
ornate steeple, slowly unrolling today's message of hope and salvation
for the universe.
All this of course happened some while ago. I am by no means certain the same could take place now.