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Issue number twelve




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Just Super by Mary Szmagaj

The elephant's trunk hangs, like mutant ductwork, from the ceiling. It's a crappy apartment--things are always breaking down this way. I wanted to be out of here last month.

Virginia is on the phone to the super's machine to see what can be done to get the elephant's trunk removed. She paces, fuming, ducking the questing gray appendage each time she crosses the eight-foot square space. I hunt for our copy of the lease.

The superintendent of Casa Blanca Apartments is a coked-up, middle-aged child with a headful of get-rich-quick schemes and half-baked passions. He cares more about where his next score is coming from than he does about the building, but he also thinks Virginia is hot, being particularly taken with her money-green dye job. Maybe we stand a chance.

I drip sweat all over the stack of papers I'm rummaging through. The air conditioning broke sometime in the middle of the night.

"Pick up, you bastard! I know you're there," Virginia snarls into the phone, swatting the elephant's trunk as it fondles her sweaty hair. She stops just out of its reach, in front of the one tiny desk fan that barely moves the air.

"Stop hogging the breeze," I protest. Virginia scowls and punches the redial button. I wish she'd move.

"Now it's busy--see, I knew it!" she crows, half furious, half pleased with herself. "He is there!"

"Come on, moooove," I whine. I'm melting all over last year's income tax returns. Where did I put that goddamn lease?

Virginia stamps hard in annoyance--with me, with the super, with the trickle of green running down the back of her neck, and most of all with the elephant's trunk, which is now plucking avidly at her right bra strap. She slaps it good and hard, like she did me on our first date, and stamps again. Her noise is met with the answering thump-thump-thump of a broom handle on the ceiling of the apartment just below ours.

"Oh, what? What??" Virginia shrieks, flying to the window and flinging it open. She leans out over the street and screams at the window below ours. Mr. Khan sticks his head out.

"Listen, I am having a hard enough time with this great pachyderm's posterior taking up half my flat," he yells back up, "without you people and your bloody racket. I cannot even get into my bathroom to fetch an aspirin!" And he flings a shovelful of reeking brown dung out the window onto the pile already accumulated on the pavement.

"See," I tell Virginia. "Things could always be worse."

The elephant's apparent anatomical incongruity flashes briefly in my head: how is it possible for the trunk to protrude from our ceiling while the opposite end occupies the apartment below? I envision random parts invading every room in the building, willy-nilly--a foot here, a mammoth ear there--blossoming from the fertile soil of cracked tile, stained plaster, and peeling wallpaper. Then Virginia elbows me out of the way only slightly less gently than she hit the elephant's trunk.

"If you won't dig up that fucking lease, I will," she snaps and dives into the piles of paper. I move out of her way and debate the advisability of telling her I've looked everywhere and that I've most likely lost the lease.

Just as I'm about to come clean, the elephant's trunk sidles up and wraps around my neck, nearly choking me as it drags me closer to the nonfunctional air conditioning vent. It presses my head firmly to the grate. My panic evaporates in a cloud of surprise as I hear a familiar voice--a speedy, strung-out, scheming voice desperately in need of some kind of fix--echoing through the ducts.

Somewhere, I know, the elephant's lips are moving.

"Man," it says. "Hey, man, you got any peanuts?"

Mary Szmagaj's crimes against language and literature are the result of her having been raised without healthy, regular access to television. No jury in the land would convict her.

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