The Elephant's Downward Trunk
(or, the "unfinished and hauntingly beautiful" self-portrait)
I led Amanda through every room of my house, stating the obvious purpose of each room. Bathroom. Kitchen. Dining room. Living room. She followed me, softly remarking at the intricacies of each room's decor and design. Photographs of my family hung on the walls. The furniture design was consistent throughout the house. Even the colour scheme was unique in every room.
What she did notice was the number of elephant statues. I'd lost count after the first twenty or so. They sat on shelves, adorned side tables, hugged the fine bone china in the kitchen hutch. Not one of them was identical in colour, material, or size, but all depicted an elephant with a downward trunk.
I blamed them for the death of my wife, Meredith, who was killed in a car accident three years earlier.
"So many elephant statues," Amanda muttered. She peered at one made of jade sitting on a table in the bedroom. "Isn't it bad luck for their trunks to be down?"
I'd asked my wife that same question multiple times during our twelve-year marriage. Meredith would usually smirk, or laugh, and say, "No, dear" without offering any explanation. They were hers, after all, and she had always been superstitious. Though I pestered her with the question from time to time - usually after a new addition - I trusted that she knew the significance of the downward trunk.
"Bill?" Amanda stared at me, her hands on her hips and her eyebrows pulled together. "Isn't it bad luck?"
I smiled gently. "No, dear," I answered, feeling my stomach flip at the familiar response to the familiar question.
Something fell, a metal sound clacking onto the tiles of the bathroom. As I walked to the doorway of the bathroom, I saw the curtains and curtain rod that hung above the only window were on the clean, tiled floor.
"That's weird," Amanda said, looking over my shoulder. "Looks like the hooks fell. Might need to screw them in a bit tighter, Bill."
I stepped forward to inspect the window frame where the hooks had been while Amanda went to the kitchen to prepare lunch. I reached out my forefinger, touching the tightly fixed screws on the window frame, and glanced down at the unbroken hooks.
Amanda had only been living with me for two weeks when she took charge of "spicing up the place". I didn't know what she meant by that but it sounded exciting. She was the first serious girlfriend I'd had in three years - serious enough to ask her to move in with me. Most of her belongings had been unpacked: her clothes filling the gaps on Meredith's side of the wardrobe, her cactus plant sitting on the bedside table of Meredith's side of the bed, her computer making its home on the lonely desk in Meredith's craft room.
I had to stop thinking about spaces and objects in this house as "Meredith's", and I hoped that having Amanda here would put an end to the habit.
The first thing Amanda suggested to "spice up the place" was to repaint the walls. We agreed on a pale, cream colour with a soft purple hue called "Pollinate" for the living room to match the fresh white carpet. This colour would replace Meredith's choice of pale blue-ish "Ice Pack" and I struggled to imagine the walls a different colour.
We spent the day painting the living room walls, chatting away like old friends and discussing colour schemes for the remainder of the house. I liked having someone living here who wanted to refresh the atmosphere; Amanda likely wanted to feel as though this house was hers, too, and I encouraged that.
The following morning, I heard Amanda head into the kitchen to prepare breakfast. As I dressed and began walking out of the bedroom, I heard her shriek.
"What's wrong?" I shouted as I ran into the kitchen. In the corner of my eye, I saw her in the living room and I approached her from behind. "What happened?"
She turned to look at me, her face scrunched up and her eyebrows furrowed. "You tell me."
I blinked at her, unsure of what she meant, and she pointed into the living room.
The realisation hit me fast. All the "Pollinate" paint had been scratched off the walls, laying in curls of colour around the edges of the room. Meredith's "Ice Pack" paint coloured the room in a familiar paleness.
"What the hell?" I bent to gently pick up a curl of paint, causing it to flake between my fingers and thumb. "How is that even possible?"
"If you don't want to paint the walls, you could've just said so," Amanda snapped. "I'll get rid of the paint tin."
"I didn't do this, Amanda," I replied. "I don't know how this happened."
She walked to where we had left the paint tin and huffed. "Got rid of it already, did you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't do anything!"
"Come on, Bill. You expect me to believe that the paint tin just grew legs and walked away? Or that the paint on the walls suddenly decided to remove itself?"
How did the paint come off? It was premium paint. And where was the paint tin?
I threw my hands up. "I'm going to get the paper."
I walked to the letterbox and retrieved the newspaper in my bare feet. As I unfolded it and walked to the open front door while looking at its front-page headlines, my toe hit something hard. I let out a grunt and looked down at the culprit.
The paint tin.
Amanda decided to put off painting for a few days after discovering the paint tin had "grown legs and walked away", so I left her to do her freelance website design work for a client. She sat at the desk in Meredith's craft room - or, the craft room - and worked while I washed the dishes and prepared a grocery list.
Since I knew she would be moving in and there'd be a lot of unpacking and reorganising to do, I asked my boss for a few weeks off work. Some of the furniture might have to be sold in order to accommodate Amanda's furniture that was currently in a storage shed.
In the craft room, Meredith had a few interests. Foremost of these was painting and she was a skilled portrait painter. When I lost my grandmother in our fourth year of marriage, Meredith found an old photograph of her and painted an imitation of it. It was such a strikingly lifelike rendition of my grandmother that I chose to hang it in the dining room.
About a week before her untimely demise, Meredith attempted her first and only self-portrait. It sat, unfinished and hauntingly beautiful, on Meredith's easel - half her face coloured, the other half outlined in dark brushstrokes.
Amanda appeared in the living room and began searching through the cupboard, and I asked her what she was looking for.
"My lavender candles," she replied while she searched. "It's creepy in that room and I need something to calm my nerves."
She had commented about Meredith's self-portrait appearing "creepy" when I first showed her the craft room. I knew she didn't like using that room as a study but my house was small and there were no other places to set up a computer. I wasn't sure why she considered it "creepy" because, to me, it was just Meredith's craft room.
Twenty minutes passed. I was in the bathroom scrubbing the shower floor tiles when I heard Amanda scream.
"Amanda?" I shouted as I ran to the craft room.
I found her with her back pinned up against the wall next to the door, staring at Meredith's self-portrait.
"What is it? What happened? Are you okay?" I demanded as soothingly as I could. She was genuinely frightened.
"That painting..." she began, pointing with a shaking hand.
I glanced at Meredith's self-portrait. "What about it?"
"The eyes moved." She hugged her arms around her waist, her eyes never blinking. "I swear, Bill, those eyes moved. Right after the candle blew out."
"After you blew the candle out?"
"No," she answered with force. "I didn't blow it out. She did." She pointed again to Meredith's self-portrait.
I opened my mouth to speak but shut it again. Eyes moving, paintings blowing out candles... I began thinking the lavender-scented candle was causing Amanda to hallucinate.
"I want that painting out of here," Amanda whispered. "I want it gone."
"I don't have anywhere else to put it," I replied gently, placing my hand on her shoulder. "I can cover it. Will that make you feel better?"
She huffed and finally looked at me. "Fine."
Days passed. Amanda and I bickered about petty things. She chose to take a leave of absence from her website design business; though she wouldn't admit it, I believed it was because of Meredith's self-portrait. I had covered it with an old sheet but still, she would not go in that room.
She complained of headaches. Her face became blotchy from sleepless nights. She began wearing old clothes that hung on her. And it didn't matter which room of the house she was in - she would feel uncomfortable, insisting that someone was watching her.
I thought that her hallucination in the craft room had driven her to paranoia, but I kept that thought to myself.
In the early hours one morning, when the darkness outside poured through the cracks of the curtains, I heard Amanda shuffle out of bed. She often brought a bottle of water to bed so that she wouldn't need to go to the kitchen for a drink, but tonight she'd forgotten. As I opened my eyelids just slightly, I saw the whiteness of the flash on her phone.
The craft room was next to the bedroom. Amanda would have to pass the door to walk to the kitchen.
As the light of Amanda's phone gradually dimmed, I closed my eyes to fall back asleep. It was short-lived; I awoke fully to the sound of Amanda's screams. I leapt out of bed, hearing something sliding on the carpet of the craft room.
Amanda ran to the light switch in the kitchen when I reached the doorway of the craft room. She had dropped her phone as she ran, and I picked it up and shone the light into the room.
The old sheet that hid the "creepy", unfinished face of Meredith lay across Amanda's computer. The easel had moved to the centre of the room.
"What the hell?" I said aloud. "Amanda?"
I jogged to the kitchen where I heard objects hitting and breaking against the floorboards. Amanda had opened the hutch and was taking out the elephant statues one at a time and hurling them onto the floor.
"What the hell are you doing?" I shouted, grabbing her arm over her head as she was about to throw one.
"It's the elephants!" she shrieked. "I have to kill these elephants!"
Amanda jerked her arm out of my grip and threw the statue onto the floor. She ran into the living room to destroy more of them, but I held her firmly by her arms behind her back before she could damage them.
"Tell me what the hell is going on right now!" I shouted into her ear.
She suddenly went limp in my grip, her eyes gazing at the doorway between the kitchen and the hallway. Her mouth agape, she began to nod slowly, as though in a trance.
"Amanda? Amanda, what are you looking at?" I asked, my heart beating quickly.
She turned her head to look at me, her body still limp. "Meredith." An unsettling, weak smile crept across her lips as she looked at me without blinking. "Meredith is whispering to me, telling me to get out. Meredith... Meredith..."
I hadn't spoken to Amanda in months. In fact, I hadn't spoken to anyone in months - anyone except Meredith. I was alone in my house once again, but not really alone at all. I had Meredith.
I repaired all the broken elephant statues and placed them in their exact positions. I disposed of the paint tin. I even dressed Meredith's dressmaker mannequin in her wedding dress and stood it beside her self-portrait in her craft room.
People would probably think I'd gone mad if I told them what had happened: how Meredith had scratched away the paint on the walls of the living room and moved the paint tin outside; how Meredith had blown out the lavender candle and, through her self-portrait's eyes, had glared at Amanda; how Meredith had thrown the old sheet over Amanda's computer and pushed the easel into the centre of the room; how Meredith had appeared to Amanda, whispering to her, forcing her out of our house; and how Meredith, on the night that Amanda left, had whispered "William" into my ear.
As I flicked through the pages of a magazine one night, I came across an article that talked about Feng Shui. I discovered that the significance of the elephant in a home meant good luck and prosperity if its trunk was held upward. Contrary to what I - and Amanda - had thought, the elephant's downward trunk did not conversely mean bad luck. It meant longevity, love, fertility.
"Ah," I said, "so that's why all your elephants have their trunks facing down." I looked at the solid silver elephant statue sitting on the end table beside the lounge I sat on. "We're going to be together forever, aren't we?"
The statue turned slightly toward me, and an ethereal hand caressed my cheek.
References for elephant significance in Feng Shui :