ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Elephant Stomps", a short story by Salvatore Difalco

Yogi Berger offered danish for beauties in Eastwood Park one day, down near the baseball diamond where we played marbles. Che Che and Brillo told him to beat it. But I liked danish and asked Yogi what kind.

“Cherry,” he said. “Nice icing, too.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“Bakery next to the brewery,” he said.

They made good danish there. I offered him a red beauty marble and a sapphire one for it. He wanted a black one, too. I hesitated. I proposed a yellow pee-wee instead and he accepted. But I knew I’d win them back. Yogi sucked at marbles. His fingers shook and he couldn’t shoot straight. With his screwy blonde hair and crazy eyes he looked a little like Harpo Marx, which is why some people picked on him. But he could go Loony Tunes, too. My mother said he was nervoso. Rumor had that back in Deutschland his father used to run with Nazis and that he beat Yogi and his brother Karl with a leather strop from the SS.

I don’t know how much of that was true, but for sure Yogi wasn’t all there. He said crazy things all the time. Like, he used to tell people he had killed a hobo down by the docks. “I strangled him,” he’d say and he’d make a pantomime of it with clawed hands. He couldn’t fight worth a shit but when he lost his temper he was all arms and legs and teeth and no one went near him, not even the bullies and hulks in the hood. “Fuck Yogi,” they’d say. “He belongs in a rubber room.”

Anyway, I gave him the three beauties and took the danish. I ate it right there and it was fresh and delicious. Che Che and Brillo eyed me with envy. Che Che asked for a bite. I told him to blow me. I finished the danish and readied to play marbles.

“Knuckle down, boys,” I said, “and no bombies.”

Within five minutes Yogi had lost all his beauties to Che Che.

“Get me a danish and you can have them back,” Che Che said.

Yogi reddened and started shaking. I thought he was going to have a seizure like Robbie, my neighbour Lucy Spock’s boyfriend, an epileptic who now and again would do his thing in the street, twitching and foaming at the mouth. Awful to watch. And it was awful to watch Yogi about to lose his shit.

I told Che Che to back off.

“What?” he said. “I won fair and square. Can’t help it if he sucks at marbles.”

Taller than us, Che Che had big legs and hands. He was a big chicken but had ugly power. Once again he made Yogi the offer. Yogi spun around like the Tasmanian Devil and started yelling at the top of his lungs. I think he was screaming in German. He stomped our marbles into the dirt.

“What a dick,” Che Che said as he stooped to dig out the marbles—a mistake.

Yogi jumped on Che Che’s back like a wild cat and scratched up his face. We pulled Yogi off and held him down until he cooled off. Leaking blood from his cheek, Che Che wanted to kill him. But when Yogi started bawling like a baby we let him go. Guy was messed up.

We watched him lope across Eastwood—head down, stoop-shouldered, hands in pockets—and cross the street to his house, distinguished by its chintzy insulbrick and dug up front lawn. Yogi’s dog Rex had done most of the digging. A large, snarling German shepherd, they kept Rex a thick chain—regular leashes were useless. Rex was an angry dog. A dog who hated children especially. And Yogi rarely walked him during daylight hours—he’d attack anything that moved, man, woman, child, dog, cat, squirrel—even skunks couldn’t blunt his viciousness. Rumor had it, Rex had killed and half-devoured Mrs. Fingernagel’s big orange Tom, who until then had ruled the neighbourhood alleyways.       

“Hey,” Che Che said, “look.” He pointed toward the insulbrick house. Yogi had exited the side door. He had a companion.

“Rex,” Brillo said.

“Is he bringing him here?” Che Che asked.

We all knew that if Yogi crossed the street into the park and unchained Rex, he’d surely chase one of us down. Two of us would likely make good our escape across the park’s expanse, but one of us would not.

Che Che and Brillo took off simultaneously, at first in the same direction, but then realizing the folly of that maneuver, Che Che split off from Brillo and charged, heavy-legged, toward the armory backing the park. Not a wise move, I thought.

As for me, long familiar with Eastwood’s trees, I simply walked to the nearest stand and selected a thick oak I’d climbed a thousand times. I shimmied up to a big bough and perched there. I had a good view of Rex bolting from Yogi and galloping, as I’d anticipated, directly for Che Che, who seemed to be fatiguing well short of the armory’s barbed wire fence. What would he do even if he reached the fence? I thought.

Rex ran like a thoroughbred colt, accelerating to the point of blurriness. Then I saw Yogi running in Che Che’s direction, pulling up his falling trousers, hair electrified, eyes bugging, his chaotic spirit let loose. I held my flattened hand to my forehead and tracked Che Che down by the armory fence, hands on his knees, shoulders rising and falling.

And I felt a great sadness for him as Rex closed the gap. Looked like curtains for my friend. But at the last moment, a shout came from the direction of Yogi’s insulbrick house. I swung around on the bough and saw Yogi’s father on his front porch: tall, square-jawed, his yellow hair cropped close, hands framing his mouth.

“Komm nach Hause, Yogi!” he cried. “Komm nach Hause!”

I turned and watched Yogi freeze and look toward his house, his shoulders rigid. His father didn’t need to repeat the command. Yogi called off Rex just as he was about to pounce on a panicked Che Che. As evil as he was, Rex halted his attack. Then he trotted back to Yogi who leashed him and hugged his head before heading home. Relief washed over me.

Che Che remained at the fence, sitting down with his back to it, his head bowed. And I remained in the tree for a time, thinking with a chuckle that as scary as all this had been, I would never forget it. 

Sicilian Canadian author Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto, Canada. His work has recently appeared in RHINO PoetryCafe Irreal and Heavy Feather Review.

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