HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS
The hills across the valley of the Ebro’ were long and white. On this side
there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of
rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm
shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads,
hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and
the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very
hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It
stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.
“What should we drink?” the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and
put it on the table.
“It’s pretty hot,” the man said.
“Let’s drink beer.”
“Dos cervezas,” the man said into the curtain.
“Big ones?” a woman asked from the doorway.
“Yes. Two big ones.”
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the
felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the
girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun
and the country was brown and dry.
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have
doesn’t prove anything.”
The girl looked at the bead curtain. “They’ve painted something on it,”
she said. “What does it say?”
“Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.”
“Could we try it?”
The man called “Listen” through the curtain. The woman came out
from the bar.
“We want two Anis del Toro.”
“Do you want it with water?”
“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?”
“It’s all right.”
“You want them with water?” asked the woman.
1. River in the north of Spain.
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“Yes, with water.”
“It tastes like licorice,” the girl said and put the glass down.
“That’s the way with everything.”
“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the
things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”
“Oh, cut it out.”
“You started it,” the girl said. “I was being amused. I was having a fine
“Well, let’s try and have a fine time.”
“All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants.
Wasn’t that bright?”
“That was bright.”
“I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things
and try new drinks?”
“I guess so.”
The girl looked across at the hills.
“They’re lovely hills,” she said. “They don’t really look like white ele
phants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.” “Should
we have another drink?”
The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.
“The beer’s nice and cool,” the man said.
“It’s lovely,” the girl said.
“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not
really an operation at all.”
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let
the air in.”
The girl did not say anything.
“I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in
and then it’s all perfectly natural.”
“Then what will we do afterward?”
“We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.”
“What makes you think so?”
“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us
The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of
two of the strings of beads.
“And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.”
“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people
that have done it.”
“So have I,” said the girl. “And afterward they were all so happy.”
“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t
have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”
“And you really want to?”
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“I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you
don’t really want to.”
“And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and
you’ll love me?”
“I love you now. You know I love you.”
“I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like
white elephants, and you’ll like it?”
“I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I
get when I worry.”
“If I do it you won’t ever worry?”
“I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.”
“Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t care about me.”
“Well, I care about you.”
“Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything
will be fine.”
“I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.”
The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the
other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far
away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved
across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.
“And we could have all this,” she said. “And we could have everything
and every day we make it more impossible.”
“What did you say?”
“I said we could have everything.”
“We can have everything.”
“No, we can’t.”
“We can have the whole world.”
“No, we can’t.”
“We can go everywhere.”
“No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.”
“No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.”
“But they haven’t taken it away.”
“We’ll wait and see.”
“Come on back in the shade,” he said. “You mustn’t feel that way.” “I
don’t feel any way,” the girl said. “I just know things.”
“I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do—”
“Nor that isn’t good for me,” she said. “I know. Could we have another
“All right. But you’ve got to realize—”
“I realize,” the girl said. “Can’t we maybe stop talking?”
They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the
dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.
“You’ve got to realize,” he said, “that I don’t want you to do it if you
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don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means any-thing
“Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.”
“Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want any
one else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.”
“Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.”
“It’s all right for you to say that, but I do know it.”
“Would you do something for me now?”
“I’d do anything for you.”
“Would you please please please please please please please stop
He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the
station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent
“But I don’t want you to,” he said, “I don’t care anything about it.”
“I’ll scream,” the girl said.
The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and
put them down on the damp felt pads. “The train comes in five minutes,” she
“What did she say?” asked the girl.
“That the train is coming in five minutes.”
The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.
“I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,” the man
said. She smiled at him.
“All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.”
He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to
the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train.
Coming back, he walked through the barroom, where people waiting for the
train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people.
They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead
curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.
“Do you feel better?” he asked.
“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”