Eleanor had always loved the circus. The same troupe had been coming to her town every year, taking over the big park for two weeks and providing the most incredible show. They had clowns, acrobats, trapeze acts, jugglers- and lots of animals.
She loved the animal acts the best. They were so clever, so well trained and obedient; almost human.
This year, Eleanor was especially excited about the circus. For the first time, the circus was bringing elephants.
The poster showed them standing up on little red and yellow platforms; a red splash next to them instructed the reader to “Marvel At The Amazing Elephant Dance!”
Eleanor couldn’t wait to see the elephants dance, but even though she had saved up her pocket money for weeks, she couldn’t afford to go until the second week. On the opening night, she crept out of her house while her mother was in the kitchen, and ran down to the park. While everybody was busy around the front entrance, she crept in around the back, and soon found herself wandering through the tents and cages of the circus acts.
She heard shouting from somewhere just ahead, and she crept up behind a big box to listen.
“What do you mean, they won’t dance?”
“Just that, sir. The elephants won’t dance. They won’t do anything!”
“They are the main attraction,” argued the first voice- a voice Eleanor recognised as that of the Ringmaster himself. “They are supposed to be in the ring in twenty minutes. Do something before then, or you’re out- and your useless elephants too!”
She ducked back behind her box as the ringmaster strode past her, and then crept out to where the elephant trainer was sitting on a box with his head in his hands.
“Hello,” she said. “What’s the matter?”
He looked up at her. “You shouldn’t be here, little girl. This is not a place for the audience.”
“I’m not audience, not really. I just wanted to see the elephants,” she said. “I have a ticket for next Thursday but I couldn’t wait to see them dance.”
The man sighed heavily and pointed to the elephant cages. “They won’t dance, little girl. They are too sad to dance.”
The elephants just stood there and stared at Eleanor. They did look terribly sad, with their big dark eyes and their big wrinkly faces.
“Oh, poor things,” Eleanor said. “Why are they sad?”
The man shrugged. “I thought they were homesick, but I tried everything I could to make them feel at home and nothing helps. I think they are just sad for sadness’ sake.”
He sighed again and walked away, leaving Eleanor in front of the cages.
“You shouldn’t be sad,” she said to the elephants. “You’ll make lots of people happy when they see you dancing, I’m sure.”
They looked at her.
“How about some jokes? How do elephants talk to each other?”
They looked at her silently.
“On the elephone!”
There was no reaction from the elephants.
“Who weighs six tons and wears glass slippers? Cinderellaphant!”
She scratched her head as they stared back at her. “Ummm. What do elephants like to do for entertainment?”
One of the elephants shuffled slightly.
There was silence. Obviously jokes weren’t working. She looked at them gravely for a little while, thinking very hard, then ran away as fast as she could.
She ran home, and rummaged through her cupboard until she found what she was looking for. Then, climbing out of the window so her parents wouldn’t notice, she ran back to the circus as fast as she could. She found the elephants still in their cages, still looking sad, with the ringmaster and the elephant trainer nowhere to be seen.
“Well,” she said to the elephants, “Let’s see if you like this.”
She spotted a big wooden board near the cage which would suit her purposes nicely, and she set it down on the ground in front of the middle elephant cage. Then, she sat on the elephant trainer’s box to change her shoes.
“My tutor wouldn’t teach me any more because she said I danced like an elephant and would never get any better,” Eleanor said to the elephants. “So, well, maybe you’ll like it more than she did.”
She stood on the board and looked down intently at her right foot as she tapped out a slow rhythm with her toe and her heel.
She looked up at the elephants for a moment. They were all watching her with their big sad eyes. She shifted her weight and looked down at her left foot.
She looked up in surprise. One of the elephants, the smallest one, waved its trunk at her. She smiled and tried to tap without looking down.
This time two of the elephants joined in, stamping their front feet in response to her taps.
She put her hands up in the air and tapped again.
“Tappity, tappity, tap,” she said in a sing-song voice, trying to keep the rhythm going steadily, “Tappity, tappity, tap!”
The elephants thumped and trumpeted along with her, and she heard footsteps running towards her. She stopped and looked around.
“My gods,” cried the elephant trainer, “You did it! You’ve saved me!”
Eleanor smiled and started dancing again.
“Tappity tappity tap!” THUMP-THUMP-TRUMPET! “Tappity tappity tap!” THUMP-THUMP-TRUMPET!
The elephant trainer gave Eleanor a great big hug. “Little girl, I will give you a ticket for every single night, if you will just come and entertain the elephants first!”
© Kari Fay