art by Tim Stewart
The Elephant Man's Love Child
by Leslie What
Shadows flicker across wall and tin ceiling. The dancing light exaggerates the lines of old Nurse's profile to the chiseled, stony look of a gargoyle. The girl feigns sleep as Nurse walks away. She blows a kiss Nurse will not feel, whispers a goodnight Nurse will not hear. The heavy door swings shut, closing off the candlelight, and Nurse waddles down the hall, her voluminous robes swishing, the floorboards groaning beneath her weight. The girl holds her breath to await the ungraceful thud that indicates the old woman has lowered herself onto the chamber pot. The girl counts twenty before tugging on the sheets to free her limbs from bondage, for Nurse insists on pulling the bedclothes tight.
Silence follows prayers, and the girl counts another twenty before sitting up. She spends her days and nights outsmarting the passage of time. After her next round of twenty counts she hears Nurse signaling day's end with a deep sigh. The girl is free of Nurse's ministrations until tomorrow. Only now does she dare leave her bed. She kneels on the floor and thrusts her hands beneath the feather mattress, feeling for the photograph she has hidden there. It is a photograph of her father, purloined from her mother during their last visit a year ago. The girl dares not look at it during daylight--so great is her fear Nurse will confiscate her one memento of the mysterious fellow known as The Elephant Man.