What is This?

About six months ago, the tunnel courier delivered to me a series of "comedies" written by Ephraim P. Noble from 1968-1974. Maybe there is an older meaning to the word "comedies" that I'm not familiar with, because they seem nothing like comedies to me. In any case, I have scanned the covers of each of these very short stories, and hope to post them here on a regular basis.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Stalled Rhino

"A Stalled Rhino"

The taxidermied rhino was one of two objects left behind by the former tenant of my apartment. Did I tell you that that rhino had saved me more than once? It must have been a baby rhino, or maybe just a runt. It wasn’t very big: about six-feet long (including the tusk or horn) and about four feet high. The fur was as rough as wire. The insides of its ears still smelled like Africa. It was stuffed with straw or sawdust, and was easy to move around. At one point, the rhino must have been glued to a wooden platform, and there was some damage to the bottom of its feet where it had been removed.

The rhino and the oversized coat: those were the only objects left behind in the small, two-room apartment that I took in March 1969 on Atherton Avenue at Penn State. As I said, the Rhino had saved me before, but not this time.

I had had a bitter falling out with the radical student group RADIANT UNION, whom I had sponsored—in what ended up being a career-ending move—and registered as an official student organization at Penn State. As I’ve said, I was a newly hired professor of English, teaching American literature. I was both loathed and worshipped by my students. They came to classes unbathed and in robes and sandals. Their brains sloshed with the blood from the war in Asia. My own mind had slid into anarchy. I chose the wrong side. The institution expelled me. I was made an example of.

But the RADIANT UNION students persisted, believing I still had something to offer them, a certain way into the Establishment. Of course, by the time the disciplinary hearings had begun, presided over by an alarmingly beautiful woman who despised me, I had nothing left to offer them. But RADIANT UNION was blinded by ideology—to this day I don’t blame them—and “seized control” of the apartment building, firing tear gas they had stolen from a local police precinct.

I heard them shattering through the lobby doors and clambering up the stairs; I bolted the apartment door. I positioned the rhino for maximum effect, placing a small, bare-bulbed lamp beneath it, casting the creature in 100-watt weird reverse shadows, hoping that the initial sight of it would stall them and give me just enough time to slide past them and down the stairs and out of the apartment. But it was the rhino who stalled. They beat on my door, those pacifists, those RADIANT UNIONists, and with bare feet kicked it in.

With such fury, they entered, knocking over the rhino as if they had expected to see it there all along, taking me by the scruff of my collar, dragging me down the dark stairwells, out into the back courtyard, the night screaming with insects, at least three of them wearing black capes with stupid insignias, and the leader holding some sort of weapon I had never seen before, violently shaped and glowing, while the others began stoning me, and it was Biblical, the pain, I can tell you, and on my knees, then on my side, curled into fetus position, the stones wrecking me until the sirens came, I swear I heard the earthworms moving beneath me.

No comments:

Post a Comment