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An excerpt from

Going to See the Elephant

By
Rodes Fishburne

Excerpted from Going to See the Elephant by Rodes


Fishburne Copyright © 2008 by Rodes Fishburne. Excerpted
by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may
be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from
the publisher.

Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License.

A free excerpt courtesy of Bantam Dell

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Chapter Five

The first thing Slater Brown did upon exiting the Trumpet
building was to throw his hat high in the air. Next he stomped
out what passed for an Irish jig as the stream of pedestrians
adjusted their flow around him.
A story! They want me to go find a story! How hard could it be
to find a story? Stories are everywhere in a place like this. All you
have to do is walk down the street and look and LISTEN.
The greatest unknown writer in the history of the world
tilted his head. Hemingway had started out as a newspaper-
man. So had Orwell. And Dickens. And Balzac. The list went
on and on. Newspapers were where writers of promise found
their footing.
As long as you shine, what does it matter which lantern you
use? he wrote in his yellow notebook.
Even if the lantern is a Trumpet!
Looking around the main thoroughfare, he caught sight of
the afternoon light. It stopped him cold. In a trance he
stepped into Market Street to get a better look.

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54 | rodes fis hburne


It was four o’clock in the afternoon and Market Street was
bathed in a peculiar end-of-the-world light known only to
San Francisco. All up and down the boulevard the afternoon
sun fell in heavy angled columns that cast the buildings in a
bronze glow and caused the trolley rails to shine like silver
tears.
Anyone who has been in San Francisco for longer than a
day recognizes the light is different. Some think it’s because
she is a north-facing city, and some think it’s because of the
salt mist in the air, which clings to everything, even the light,
and gives it a texture, and some more mystical minds think
the light is different because the city itself is straddling two
worlds: the visible world of stars and sun, water and edges,
and the invisible world, which can only be felt. The light
from these two spheres mixes in San Francisco, they say, the
way an eddy in a great river mixes not only water, but also
fish.
Sunbeams with a curious texture, wrote Slater in his yellow
notebook, just as the first car swerved to miss him, the words
“muuther foooker” hurled out the window as it sped past.
The next car slammed on its brakes, resulting in a slow-
motion domino effect down Market Street, past the Civic
Center, the Hibernia Bank, the San Francisco Sun, the curb-
side chess games, the Sun of San Francisco, a conclave of
pogo-stickers, the Farmers’ Market, until it had caused a traf-
fic backup all the way to the intersection of Van Ness Avenue.
Slater Brown was unconscious of his impact on the traffic.
For a moment the city had become timeless, like a photo-
graph that moved, even as he slipped into it, walking around
her streets, dancing down her marble stairs, across her glassy
surface. He stared at the movement around him, thinking

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going to see the elephant | 55


“That, I want to capture that.” It didn’t really matter if he did
it in a book, or story, or newspaper. It wasn’t so much what
was happening—although goodness knows the what was
interesting—but it was the movement that enchanted him.
Without movement a city would be nothing but a yellowing
photograph. It was the living, breathing city he loved. Like a
woman he loved her. Like a sister and a mother and a beauti-
ful girl all wrapped into one. And she had her eyes on him, of
that much he was certain. Her voice called out to him, vibrat-
ing up from beneath the pavement.
At the very moment he was about to be run over by a beer
delivery truck, a human sacrifice in the name of commerce, a
heaving monolith whooshed to a stop across the street. A
fleshy black face appeared, framed in the driver’s window.
“Child, you best be removing yourself from this thor-
oughfare.” He looked up at her. In his glassy eyes was the re-
flection of the invisible world.
“C’mon now, don’t be a heartache tonight.”
The honking cars heckled him all the way across the street,
until he’d stepped onto the sidewalk, and the bus, lowering
itself to the curb with a pneumatic wheeze, folded its doors
open, like a beckoning hand.

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