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Essence and Attribute

Fernando Sorrentino
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On July 25, as I tried to hit letter A, I noticed a slight wart on the pinky of my left hand. On the 27th it seemed considerably larger. On the third of August, with the help of a jeweler’s loupe, I was able to discern its shape. It was a sort of diminutive elephant: the world’s smallest elephant, yes, but an elephant complete down to the smallest detail. It was attached to my finger at the end of its little tail. So that, while it was my pinky finger’s prisoner, it nevertheless enjoyed freedom of movement except that its locomotion completely depended on my will.

Proudly, fearfully, hesitatingly I exhibited him to my friends. They were revolted, they said it couldn’t be good to have an elephant on one’s pinky, they advised me to consult a dermatologist. I scorned their words, I consulted with no one, I had nothing further to do with them, I gave myself over entirely to studying the evolution of the elephant.

Toward the end of August it was already a handsome little gray elephant the length of my pinky although quite a bit thicker. I played with him all day. At times I was pleased, to annoy him, to tickle him, to teach him to do somersaults and to jump over tiny obstacles: a match box, a pencil sharpener, an eraser.

At that time it seemed appropriate to christen him. I thought of several silly, and apparently traditional, names worthy of an elephant: Dumbo, Jumbo, Yumbo..., Finally, I ascetically decided to call him just plain Elephant.

I loved to feed Elephant. I scattered over the table bread crumbs, lettuce leaves, bits of grass. And out there at the edge, a piece of chocolate. Then Elephant would struggle to get to his treat. But if I held my hand tight, Elephant never could reach it. In this way I confirmed the fact that Elephant was only a part—the weakest part—of myself.

A short time later—when Elephant had acquired the size of a rat, let us say—I could no longer control him so easily. My pinky was too puny to withstand his impetuousness.

At that time I still was under the misapprehension that the phenomenon consisted solely of Elephant’s growth. I was disabused of this idea when Elephant reached the size of a lamb: on that day I too was the size of a lamb.

That night—and a few others too—I slept on my stomach with my left hand protruding from the bed: on the floor beside me slept Elephant. Afterwards I had to sleep—face down, my head on his croup, my feet on his back—on top of Elephant. Almost immediately I found just a portion of his haunch to be sufficient. Afterward, his tail. Afterward, the very tip of his tail, where I was only a small wart, totally imperceptible.

At that time I was afraid I might disappear, cease to be me, be a mere millimeter of Elephant’s tail. Later I lost that fear, I regained my appetite. I learned to feed myself with leftover crumbs, with grains of birdseed, with bits of grass, with almost microscopic insects.

Of course this was before. Now I have come to occupy once again a more worthy space on Elephant’s tail. True, I am still aleatory. But I can now get hold of an entire biscuit and watch—invisibly, inexpugnably—the visitors to the Zoo.

At this stage of the game I am very optimistic. I know that Elephant has begun to shrink. As a result, I am filled with an anticipated feeling of superiority by the unconcerned passers-by who toss biscuits to us, believing only in the obvious Elephant they have before them without suspecting that he is no more than a future attribute of the latent essence which still lies in wait.

Translation: Clark M. Zlotchew
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Copyright ©Fernando Sorrentino, 1982
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Date of publicationSeptember 2005
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