Dawn Raffel

The Big Book of Elephants

The ele­phant keep­er sat out­side the ele­phant enclo­sure read­ing The Big Book of Elephants. The weath­er was per­fect for such an endeav­or, breezy, and not too warm, with a slight scent of ele­phant and hay. Given the three dif­fer­ent species of Elephantidae, the ele­phant keep­er had much to learn. The Big Book of Elephants was print­ed on glossy, over­sized pages and had many illus­tra­tions of the species of ele­phant who live in the bush and in the forests of Africa and Asia as well as on mid­ways and also in zoos and in oth­er enclo­sures, such as the one that he, the ele­phant keep­er, was guard­ing while eat­ing a large bag of peanuts. The ele­phant keep­er wore an ivory ring. He had a com­fort­able seat. He had a tall glass with ice. So deeply immersed was the ele­phant keep­er in read­ing The Big Book of Elephants cov­er to cov­er, trunk to tail, that evening fell and the ele­phant keeper’s glass was dry and his beard grew in and his nails grew long and his kids grew up and his wife ran off and his neigh­bors were round­ed up and killed and his city’s name was changed and the ele­phant enclo­sure was emp­ty, all of which he failed to notice. He sat and read (with great plea­sure), a moun­tain of shells at his feet.


Dawn Raffel is the author of five books, most recent­ly The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, which NPR cit­ed as one of the great reads of 2018Her sto­ries have appeared in BOMB; O, The Oprah Magazine; NOON; Conjunctions; The Mississippi Review; The Iowa Review; New Letters; Big Other, and in the antholo­gies Best Small FictionsNew American Short StoriesNew MicroOrpheus XO, and Short, among oth­ers. She is the recip­i­ent of a 2019 Christopher Award and has been cit­ed in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies.