Picnic in the ParkBy Astrid Holm
“Pour me a vino, Suze,” Rupert said, holding out his glass.
Suzanne leant over and sloshed him a Sauvignon Blanc. “We’ve finished it now, hun,” she said throwing the dead bottle back in the picnic hamper. “Can’t believe the bank holiday’s nearly over,” she added, pushing her Prada sunglasses back up her nose.
Rupert lay back down with a sigh as the late August sun beat against his bare chest. “Don’t think about it yet, babe.”
Suze leant over again, blocking his light. “I wonder what they’re doing over there?”
“What?” Rupert struggled up onto his elbows and grunted as he slopped wine over his hand. He followed her gaze to the corner of Wish Park, where a gang of children and park rangers were ferreting about in the borders.
“Don’t you read the local newsletter?” he said, pulling a face. “They’re making a stag palace.”
“No need to get annoyed with me, babe. I know Brighton and Hove is one of the stag and hen do capitals of the UK, but what’s that got to do with kids wielding spades?” she replied, flicking her long hair and frowning.
“Stag beetles, Suze,” Rupert said and smiled. “Not the human kind.”
Suze giggled. “Oh, ok, smart arse,” she said, opening a packet of smoked salmon and starting to butter a bagel.
Rupert lay down again. The ground was hard against the back of his head. It had been a summer of hot weather and little rain. Wine fizzed and swirled in his blood.
A smattering of other couples and families were picnicking around the edges of the large sports field, making guilty rectangles of burnt grass with their disposable barbeques. “Howzat!” shouted a group of middle-aged men playing cricket in the middle of the park.
“Ooh look! It’s the circus truck,” Suze said, as loud crackly music started up behind them.
“Uumm,” said Rupert.
“Come to Zippos Circus,” commanded a speaker on top of a float attached to the truck. “Last show of the season tonight on Hove Lawns. Don’t miss it.”
Rupert kept his eyes closed. He could hear a distant rumbling, something shifting, breathing far below the ground. Suze popped a strawberry in her mouth and watched the truck crawl along Wish Road and stop by the park. A huge poster of a clown smiled down from a billboard on the float.
“Should we go, Rupes, as an end of summer thing?”
“Whoa!” Suze yelled as the surface of the park suddenly rippled like the sea.
She made a grab for her glass, then shook Rupert on the shoulder. “Did you feel that?”
Rupert sat up. “Yeah. Perhaps it’s an earthquake.”
Now, all around them little islands of picnickers shrugged at each other, wondering what was going on. The cricketers had stopped bowling and stood scratching baldheads.
“Oh my God! What’s that?” Suze yelled. Rupert squinted over, trying to focus on where she was pointing. A huge woman next to a barbeque tray screamed as her sausages flew through the air and landed on her lap. A Labrador snaffled one and ran off.
The freaky circus music blared out behind them as the cricket square churned as if being ploughed from below. Clouds of dust rose into the still air.
“I don’t know, Suze. Bloody hell!” As Rupert stared at the boiling ground a stubbly grey dome erupted. Huge ears shook themselves free. “What the?”
“Come to Zippos Circus, BEFORE ITS TOO LATE! Last show of the season…” The music was unbearably loud now.
Suddenly, a huge trunk broke free and punched like an angry fist towards the sky. “GNEEEEAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” it roared.
The cricketers scuttled away. The children digging in the corner disappeared into the dog poo filled bushes. The beast struggled free from its grave, crawling up the river of dusty clods. Then it paused, panting on its knees, before clambering onto firm ground. It stood whipping its trunk from side to side, flapping the dirt from its ears.
“Fwwwweeehhaarr,” it trumpeted again.
Rupert and Suzanne scrambled to their feet, and stood frozen like sozzled ice cubes. “Can you see it?” he whispered.
“Yeah,” she whispered back.
“Is it real?”
“Looks far too real for me,” she answered.
The elephant swivelled towards them, piggy eyes glinting. Then raising its trunk it charged. Its tonnage undulated towards, and then past the terrified couple. The elephant skidded to a halt in front of the huge clown picture.
“Gneeearrrrrr?” it huffed, reaching out its trunk to gently stroke the smiling face. Then it backed away slightly and with a grunt rose onto its back legs as if performing its favourite trick.
The truck accelerated away in a cloud of diesel fumes, tyres squealing as the elephant came back down onto four legs with a thump. In the distance car horns blared as the truck and float took a nifty left and screeched off down the Kingsway.
The elephant gave a heartbreaking bellow then galloped after the float, trunk stretched longingly towards it, as bereft as an abandoned child.
Rupert and Suze pelted towards the coast road just in time to see the elephant reach the red and yellow big top on the seafront lawns. They stood panting as, for a long moment, the elephant stood outside the tent, shuffling this way and that. People scattered screaming towards the beach.
Again the elephant used its trunk to caress a billboard with the same clown’s face on it. Then it shook its head. Its ears drooped. “Oowwwwwww,” it said quietly. Its trunk curled forlornly towards the ground. Then, like sea spray evaporating on the breeze, it disappeared.
The story of the elephant buried in Wish Park was told to me by Paul, one of the Brighton Council park rangers. My kids were helping him build an eco stag palace in Wish Park just before Christmas. He said he’d heard from a couple of different sources that an elephant had died and was buried in the park when a circus performed there, some time between the wars. I don’t know much more than that, but in a way the lack of hard evidence has been helpful, as I’ve been able to make most of the story up!
This page was amended on 09/04/2014
What a great story, fresh and original, good luck with it.