Elephant Man by Lavinia Ludlow

Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, March 31st, 2016

"I remember all those nights she snuck into my room to prune back my eyelashes..."

lavinia ludlow novel excerpt NAILED Magazine photo by Monty Kaplan


“Elephant Man” is an excerpt from the new novel Single Stroke Seven (Casperian Books, 2016)


I only notice how long and far I’ve roamed when I pull my eyes off the pavement and see street signs for West San Jose: the “better” side of town where I spent the first thirteen years of life living under the tyranny of an emotional terrorist.

A deficit of motivation has always kept me from returning to my mom’s residence, even to TP the shit out of her Italian Cypress trees or douse her black Lexus in nail polish remover. I only return to her house now to see if she’s still camouflaging herself amongst proper society or if she finally abandoned the bedroom community for an abode more fitting of her character like a stalactite-ridden cave or the mist of an uninhabited moor.

As I enter the mouth of her cul-de-sac, I already know she still has her parasitic roots in the neighborhood because her house is still painted puke-green with poo-brown trim and accessorized with a rock garden, immaculately groomed lawn, and chicken wire glass windows. The only things offsetting the eerie barrenness are the garbage cans near the curb and an egg carton squashed against the gutter grate.

I hold my breath as I approach the carton like a bomb squad member, nudging off the lid with my toe and crouching over the brown slurry that seethes with maggots and smells like a combination of Lyz’s farts and limburger cheese. Using my peripheral vision, I plunge my fingers into the muck and salvage half an egg from the depths of the soggy container.

With the shell cradled in my palm like a wounded hatchling, I march over the sidewalk and onto the grass where I dredge in Clydesdale hoof-sized prints with the heels of my DCs. I crank my arm back like a catapult, and as my muscles twitch in famine mode, memories of my mom electrify my brain cells and blind me like a nuclear flash. I remember all those nights she snuck into my room to prune back my eyelashes with a nail clipper, and how she accidentally or intentionally nicked the tender skin around my eyelids and etched permanent v-shaped snippets in my temples. I remember being in kindergarten when she caught me watching the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” music video (the one with Robert Smith in vibrant lipstick, white makeup, and zombie hair, and crawling around like he’s high in some David Bowie psychotropic dream), and she made me eat a Dixie cup full of meds that later had to be pumped from my stomach. I remember being twelve when a neighbor came over crying about how his kid was a crackhead and a thief, and she comforted him by saying, “At least he’s not a drummer.” And I especially remember waking up every Christmas morning locked in my bedroom with copies of her journals and a single piece of cinnamon hard candy shoved under my door, when every other kid on the block woke up to hot breakfast and gifts under a decorated pine tree.

As my vision adjusts, I picture my mom standing on her sterile and plant-less front porch as I scream at her about how she can shove all her prescription meds, hypercriticism, and lectures on how “the liberal arts are for social deadbeats” and “you’re going to die suffocating on the fumes of your toxic ambitions” up her white-collar educated in psychiatry bung-hole since her psychological warfare did nothing to dement me because look at how fucking normal I turned out, and me and all my normal heave the motherfucking egg at her front window with such brute force that I’m surprised that I don’t dislocate my shoulder a second time. The slurry anticlimactically splats against the window and oozes down the glass like gelatinous alien spit peppered with maggots and broken shells.

“Fuck, yeah!” I shout in conjunction with a victorious fist pump. “Fuck, yeah, fuck, yeah, fuck, yeah,” I say, stamping my heels into her grass to the cadence of my words.

I aerate her lawn until the endorphins of triumph dissipate from my blood, and I collapse to my knees, out of breath and a wind draft away from falling against the soft dirt. I look up at my mom’s house that casts a gloomy shadow over the crown of my head and realize that I may have fucked up her lawn and the view out her front window, but I’m just an unemployed, broke, and friendless hobo coming up on the end of her term, and when that apocalyptic day in August tosses dirt over my coffin, the only thing I’ll remember is how even fucking Elephant Man had made a name for himself when he went down at twenty-seven.

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Header image courtesy of Monty Kaplan. Visit him online, here.

Lavinia LudlowLavinia Ludlow is a San Francisco-based musician and writer. Her debut novel, alt.punk (2011), explored the ragged edge of art, society, and sanity, viciously skewering the politics of rebellion. Her sophomore novel, Single Stroke Seven (2016), explores the lives of independent artists coming of age in perilous economic conditions. Her short works have been published in Pear Noir!, Curbside Splendor Semi-Annual Journal, and Molotov Cocktail, and her indie lit reviews have appeared in Small Press Reviews, The Rumpus, The Collagist, The Nervous Breakdown, Entropy Magazine, and American Book Review.

To purchase the full novel, Single Stroke Seven, go here.


Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).