Frieda and the Friendly Elephant

The sun was but a fable he had once heard from the mouth of a gypsy, and the moon, a light which shone on Frieda’s face. There were nights where the moon was so white the elephant could see the stain on Frieda’s plump face, which looked like she had been clout; a rose coloured slap that played upon her cheek as it danced in the light of the moon. Frieda’s skin was reminiscent of the palest of goat’s milk, and as bright as the moon and the stars in the sky. Her hair was scarlet; cropped close to her head for the lice that ravage her. Once upon a time, Frieda’s hair was long and thick like soft velvet ropes. It would fall over her back like a winter coat, while the wind would pick it up to lick the air in summer, much like the flames licked the crest of an inglenook, when fires burned at their most searing. When the ringmaster snatched Frieda from the orphanage, after he had her milk the cows until her fingers were raw, he had her hair shorn, and with that, no longer could she hide from view her rose coloured slap. And so Frieda had a rose coloured scalp and a rose coloured slap. She had been pushed and pulled out of her mother’s womb with that red mark of a hand across her milky face, and every morning at three thirty seven, the moment when her betrothed mother willed her daughter out of her raw and bloodied canal, Frieda would feel the burn on her cheek. She’d raise her hand to touch it—to salve where it ached the most—her hand itself an unguent to the smouldering beneath her cheek.

Though there were the nights when the elephant couldn’t see anything at all; not even the outline of his own trunk, let lone the shadow of Frieda’s body. The elephant’s belly had been spared the wrinkles and coarse hair that came with his ilk, so each night he would lay on his side—his weary leviathan frame, flattening hay and mounds of wood chips—and Frieda would concertina to the ground for sleep, where the narrow camber of her back swathed against the hearth of his soft underbelly. Never had she been so near to anybody since she was held so heavily and unwanted in her mother’s swollen womb. She would burrow into the warp and weft of the elephant, for his plump belly soothed Frieda, as did his odour. Peculiarly, the elephant was pleasant smelling, unlike the other animals of the circus. Frieda would forever marvel at how he smelled of neroli. And so, each day was just as it had been the day before, save for the nights that were sprinkled with stardust and scattered with powder from the moon.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

The circus. It was a home where misery burrowed itself into the oddest of places. A garland of rusty bells would hang from the elephant’s neck, tied together with threadbare ribbons with some strange intention of embellishing his furrowed trunk. The tin bells would clang and clink, and were more suited to a jersey cow than a circus elephant. The peasants would clap and cheer as he balanced one foot on a rotting wooden stool, head up facing the top of the tent in mock pride, trunk gathered so taut that he ached from the thick of his neck to his drooping jowls. The ringmaster would crack his whip, signalling the elephant to shake his head from side to side and up and down so the bells would spin and clang. The peasants believed the elephant to be a ferocious beast, and one to be feared when he shook his head about so violently. The louder the bells and dismally made carillons clanged, the more the peasants clapped and cheered. The more the peasants clapped and cheered, the sharper the whip that lashed at his hind.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

One fair day in autumn, the village was buzzing with talk that Princess Lahfayelle was to call upon the circus. Why she was to call on Saul’s pitiable circus was a mystery. There was talk in the taverns, parley in the parlours, and even the monastery had not escaped, as prayers were paused to wonder aloud as to when and why the princess was visiting Saul, the filthy ringmaster.

Princess Lahfayelle was notorious throughout the kingdom for reputedly being the unkindest and greediest of princesses any kingdom had ever known. Saul had received a telegram from the Royal palace, requesting Saul’s elephant in exchange for two tigers. Two tigers the ringmaster did not have. Two tigers the ringmaster coveted.
‘She can ‘ave whatever she pleases. Who needs an elephant when I can ‘ave two tigers or lions, or whatevah the ‘ell she’s givin’ me?’
‘No, you won’t give him to the princess … you can’t!’ cried Frieda.
‘This is none of your bizness, you ‘lil wench!’
And with that, Saul dragged Frieda along the gravel to where the tigers would be caged. Hastily he unlocked the cage, picked Frieda up, threw her in and locked the enclosure.
‘I’ll not ‘eer a peep outta you or I’ll throw you to the tigers when I get ‘em!’ he spat, then;
‘You’ll always be ugly,’ and he laughed wickedly, echoing so loudly through her body that she thought she might break. Snap like a pine needle underfoot.
Frieda knotted herself into a corner, so faint that she would never see her elephant again she did not know her knees were a mixture of blood and dirt.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

Saul scrubbed the dirt off his face and hands for the impending arrival of Princess Lahfayelle. He had never seen her, but had heard many stories about her beauty. From her shining black hair, to her bee stung lips, Saul was eager to meet her in person, and he planned to draw as many pennies from it as he possibly could. He’d charge the villagers one by one to tell them the story about the day the princess came to see his circus, and buy his finest elephant.

It was common knowledge amongst the villagers that Princess Lahfayelle was infatuated with youth. She had a Swiss alchemist under her employ who made potions and tonics to drink, ointments and balms for her to rub on her face and polish her body with. She bathed in goat’s milk and rubbed gold dust on her cheeks. Queen Marguerithe, a kind woman who had governed an enchanted kingdom had died many years ago, and the princess remained a princess, for she despised the mere thought of being called a queen, for kings and queens were old, and she was not, nor ever would be.

It was in the afternoon, when the air was fresh and the trees were flailing in the wind that Princess Lahfayelle and her consorts arrived. The princess was carefully guided out of the carriage, and once the chief consort had laid out a square of the finest silk for her to stand on, move she did not.
‘Welcome to the greatest show on …’
‘Show me the beast at once! I’ve no time for idle chitter-chatter,’ she said tartly.
‘He’s the finest elephant I ‘ave, milady.’
‘He’s the only elephant you’ve got, you dimwit!’
‘Of course, milady. Right this way, milady,’ Saul gestured.
‘Ahem. Milady will not be going anywhere. You will bring the beast to her,’ said a servant in starched pantaloons, holding a parasol over the princess.
‘Of course. I’ll go get ‘im,’ said Saul, bowing as he went.
‘I’m sure they’re fine tigers, but they’re eating all of my pheasants, and I’ll not have that. And besides, I want the beast so it can carry me around the grounds of the castle. I have these…’ she said, her neck jerking towards her hollow-looking consorts, ‘but they’re too unsteady. And they’re rough. They have no idea of how to carry a princess.’
‘Of course, milady. And you can ‘ave peace of mind that the only thing this ‘un eats is ‘ay. No pheasants for ‘im.’
‘Well, that’s settled. I shall have the tigers brought to you as soon as I have the beast.’
‘Thank-you, milady, thank-you,’ and he gestured and bowed countless times until she was steered into her grand coach, the parasol snapped shut and the coach door closed. Saul curtsied until the princess and her courtiers had disappeared into the dense back wood from whence they came.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

By the afternoon, the elephant was restlessly walking around his darkened quarters, knowing that something was terribly wrong, for Frieda had not come to see him. Suddenly the ringmaster was upon him, circling him like prey, the shadows under his eyes like black crescent moons, fierce with envy; alive with madness.
‘Fancy that, eh? Livin’ the rest of your days out with a princess, lucky bastard of a beast. Stupid ‘lil girlie’ll miss ya though, won’t she now?’ he laughed. ‘She’ll be locked up in ‘ere all by her ‘lil self, just like the wench deserves!’
The ringmaster turned his back and walked away, the sound of his wicked laughter echoing in the elephant’s droopy ears—ears Frieda would stroke after his macabre circus act had come to an end for the peasants, drunks and gypsies who drifted in and out of the village.

Once the ringmaster’s laughter could no longer be heard, the elephant began to circle the pen in fury. He swished his trunk from side to side and stamped his feet, hoping Frieda would feel the vibrations, so she would know that he was coming for her; to take her away from the torment of the circus.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

As the sun sank below the mountains and the moon rose in the sky, climbing just high enough so he could see, the elephant drove himself through the tent, splitting the canvas. He trotted heavily through the circus, squashing everything in his path, until he saw he tiger’s cage. The steel pen gleamed under the light of the moon and Frieda jumped to her feet.
‘What are we to do? What will become of us?’ she whispered, salty tears trickling down her cheeks. ‘What will the princess do with you?’ she asked, and with that the elephant wrapped his trunk around the bars and began to pull, his body lurching backwards and forwards as he tried to pry the bars apart, he body so strong and his will, so loyal.
‘Harder, harder! You must pull as hard as you can!’ cried Frieda.
‘What the ‘ell’s goin’ on ‘ere?’
It was the ringmaster, his face beet red with anger.
The iron rods on the cage were beginning to bend and soon, all there was to see was a gaping hole and en empty cage. With his trunk, the elephant whisked Frieda up onto his wide back, and he turned to see Saul standing on his own and seething. The elephant approached and saw that the ringmaster had his whip wrapped around his soiled hand.
‘Run, run!’ cried Frieda, and that is what the elephant did, trampling Saul, the devil himself, as they dashed out away from the canvas tents. The evil ringmaster was dead.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

They walked for days; perhaps it had been a week. They would never know. They would rest on grassy knolls and lush hummocks where the undergrowth was so soft, Frieda found herself wondering if this was what it felt like to sleep on the finest of goose down. Afterward, they would walk some more—sometimes Frieda would walk close to the elephant; so close they almost touched, for she was afraid of being captured by the evil ringmaster, so she never ambled too far away. With the soles of her shoes paper thin the elephant would carry her on his back; her fragile body swaying back and forth, back and forth as they travelled onward.

With Frieda on the elephant’s broad hind—so lofty like standing at the top of a tower—she could easily catch sight of where their next stop would be, which was for the most part, waterholes.
‘Over the ridge,’ Frieda pointed; ‘just past that thick patch of elderberry trees!’ she would squeal with joy. Once they arrived at a waterhole, she would slide down the elephant’s trunk, always minding to keep her legs straight as planks so she would not clip his tusks. Frieda would use her hands as a cup, while with his trunk, the elephant drew in what seemed to be pails of water with which he would spray himself and Frieda with delight, only after he had quenched his thirst and rolled around in the mud on the sodden banks of the waterhole.

The elephant trumpeted only when he could be certain that he and Frieda were safe from harm; far away enough from the madding peasants and the evil princess and her legion of soldiers and servants, who would fuss and founder, cuss and quarrel over her every whim. Many years ago, the elephant had believed princesses were kind and beautiful. To many, Princess Lahfayelle was beautiful. To the elephant, she was the ugliest woman he had ever seen, because she was as such on the inside.

Meandering through the moors and thickets, with untrodden leaves, pine needles and brushwood crackling beneath the aching heaviness of his feet, without a word, Frieda and the elephant would dream of lands full of juniper and magnolia trees, flowers, birds and butterflies and a kingdom where water would fall from cliffs into clear ponds below.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

One day, as Frieda was plucking daisies from their stems and crushing lavender between her soft fingers, they came upon a shallow river. The elephant and Frieda heard laughter. They could also hear trumpeting sounds.
‘It couldn’t be, could it?’ asked Frieda, looking at the elephant. She dropped her daises and lavender and clambered up onto the elephant’s trunk so he could hoist her onto his back. With her hands still sweet-smelling from the lavender, they crossed the river, quickly setting out form the water as soon as the elephant’s giant feet touched dry land. From where she sat aloft the elephant, Frieda had to rub her eyes for she could not believe what she was seeing.

Hundreds of little girls with hundreds of elephants. And not just any elephants – pink elephants! Suddenly, Frieda felt something on top of her head stirring and before she had time to bring her hand to her head, up sprouted scarlet coloured hair! Each second, an inch would spring from her bald crown. Frieda waved her head around, feeling the long lost man of hair across her back. Soft like silk, she ran her fingers through it. Then to her utmost surprise, when Frieda went to slide down the elephant’s trunk, she looked down and saw that he had turned pink!

‘If only you could see yourself! You’ve gone and turned all pink! Really, you have!’ she chirped as she glided down his trunk. The elephant had noticed something different about Frieda, too. The ambled over to a pond so clear they could see their reflections. Frieda gasped, for her rose coloured slap was nowhere to be seen.
‘It’s gone … completely disappeared,’ she said, ‘and you’re pink. And … I have my hair again.’

Indeed the elephant was pink. He rested his trunk on top of the water and it gently rippled across the pond, making mirrors of the two friends. And that is when he knew he and Frieda had found their home. They turned toward the other little girls and elephants and saw that the girls were dancing the maypole. Dancing in the wonderland where all girls have faces like cloudless skies. No rose coloured slaps. Just milky faces and pink elephants.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

Frieda and the Friendly Elephant

Carly-Jay Metcalfe

Joined December 2007

  • Artist

Artist's Description

A fairytale I wrote for my best friend’s birthday a few years ago.



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