It was a strange summer - glary but sunless, the sky the colour of old white undies. Thunder burbled every afternoon but it never rained. Brains softened to pavlova. Reality was harder to hold in sweaty palms.
Elvis was back, and he was in the front yard.
If a neighbour peered out their window that morning, they'd see two pyjama-clad women, one young, one less so, having a stand-off with a stuffed elephant in a salon chair. Then they would crawl back into bed, amused at the bizarre vision, wondering if last night's seafood had been a bit sketchy.
Edie and Mum kept a wary distance at first. Edie took tentative steps towards Elvis and reached out to stroke his fluffy grey ear. It felt just the same - patchy where she'd gnawed it with her milk teeth, sticky in spots from Zooper Dooper dribble, and worn and soft from years of affection.
"It really is Elvis." Edie said.
There was a red stain around his mouth from his experimentation with lipstick, and a stitch in his side from the time he was mauled by a chihuahua. He was just as she remembered, his droopy ears filled with tufty white hair like an octogenarian's. Those ears had made him the perfect confidant. Beneath glow-in-the-dark stars, Edie had divulged secrets to Elvis in warm toothpaste whispers. He knew her handball nemeses, her secret crushes, her dream to be an elephant too.
"Well, there you go." Mum said, a whimsical quirk to her mouth. "I had a feeling we'd see him again."
"Who ...? How ...?" Edie floundered. "We lost him. We left him on a bus. Years and years ago."
Mum slipped an arm around Edie's waist. "Dad did say he would turn up."
Elvis was a spontaneous gift from Dad to Edie. He came from a crate of identical elephants at the post office, where the pair had gone on an errand. Dad was seized with a sadness that day, a desire to make things last. Edie had a big vulnerable forehead, downy arms, eyelashes that looked wet. Her vocabulary was endlessly expanding - now she could say, "No worries!" and "Why come?" She was wonderful and she deserved an elephant.
Elvis accompanied Edie and her parents on all their adventures. 'Adventure' was a term Mum and Dad used liberally. It applied to trips to the supermarket and the bank. These excursions did have a magic about them: three humans and an elephant against the world.
They caught the bus around town, and Edie would flap Elvis's trunk at people out the window. Some would wave back, laughing.
It was a cheerful world Edie inhabited then, filled with waving strangers. She had existed for seven years and was as fresh as lemon washing powder.
She had two living parents and a best friend with seams.
Once on the 201, Edie was chatting away on Mum's phone. To the uninformed it might've seemed like there was no one on the other end, but she was actually speaking to a secret agent.
Elvis was slumped in the window seat, enjoying a rare moment of rest, while Edie plotted the downfall of all dentists on Earth. Her parents began to collect their groceries, motioning to her as the bus pulled in at their stop.
"We will feed them donuts until they combust," she was saying to her insider, galloping down the aisle behind Mum and Dad.
The bus lurched away from the gutter in a roar of exhaust and disappeared before Edie realised that she hadn't scooped Elvis up with her.
He was gone.
For weeks, Dad and Edie pestered the rotating roster of 201 drivers. Sandra with the peroxide fringe, Neil with the earring, Abdullah with the kind brown eyes who always said, "Sorry, no Elvis today."
They haunted the bus depot, hoping he'd turn up in lost-and-found. There was only ever a pink diamante cowboy hat, which had pathos of its own.
When Steve Irwin was speared by a stingray, Edie had Elvis to cling to as she juddered with hiccupping sobs.
When she planted her hand on a hot iron; when Xavier from school said she looked like a fish; when Granny started to forget who she was.
But she had to go through losing Elvis without Elvis.
Dad sat on the edge of Edie's bed, smoothing her hair down as she streamed tears and snorkelled phlegm. She didn't want Dad to read Paul Jennings to her, because he was Elvis's favourite author. Later, Edie wished she hadn't turned him down. Her Dad had a lovely, animated reading voice, just like Justine from Play School.
"Things come back, darling," Dad said. Privately, he was also thinking of his cancer.
At 20, Edie held Elvis the same way she did when she was small, her arms looped around his belly and her chin tucked on top of his head. The two women, practiced at not understanding things but accepting them anyway, shuffled inside with their old friend.
Edie and Mum took Elvis to Bar Beach that afternoon. The trio huddled together on the sand, Elvis in the middle. The humans shared a cone of chips over the elephant's head, bungling the lyrics to Suspicious Minds and cracking up.
Paragliders floated over the headlands like odd butterflies.
The screams of seagulls sounded choral to Edie. Transcendent, if she cocked her head a certain way. Down the beach, there was a man in a pink diamante cowboy hat practising handstands.
The sun struggled out of nauseous grey clouds and lit them for a moment, made them beautiful.
Edie thought of the magic trick Dad used to do, the one where he plucked a coin out from behind her ear.
Jess Lobb, the author of this piece, is a finalist in the 2022 Newcastle Herald Short Story Competition. Read the full list of finalists in this year's Herald Short Story Competition by visiting the Newcastle Herald website.
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