Elephant's Footnote

In the wake of my recent post about being a twinless twin, the shades have stirred and many half-forgotten episodes have come home to roost. Puzzling situations, branded in memory at the time, have fallen into context. In a way I can't adequately convey, it's as though the curvature of my life has a clearer perspective and the tapestry so far is filling out. The tension between having and not having, between instinctive completeness and bereavement has been, and still is, an underlying theme in everyday matters as well as prominent events. Perhaps nowhere does this cut to the bone as in the conundrum posed by my first published novel in 1980, Dreams of Gold: 'Were Life and Death two sides of the same coin?'

But let me close by recalling a comic incident whose symbolism will not be lost on the literary-minded.

Around the age of three – I measure the events of those days by the first time I was a bridesmaid – my mother took me to a charity sale in a neighbouring parish. I don't remember much about the room in which it was held, just the criss-crossed forest of supports under the trestle tables piled high with artefacts, clothes, knitting wools, ceramics, which formed an uninviting landscape above my natural sightline. Mother studied the displays, weighed up the merits of this item and that, moved on, debated some more. Meanwhile, I was jostled among the coats of bargain-hunters, ears buzzing with the hum of voices, and grew vexed and bored and couldn't wait for it to be over. Then, like a gift from heaven, a most intriguing shape hove into view. I couldn't take my eyes off it. An elephant! It stood about 18” tall, made of khakhi-coloured tweed, with a soulful leather-button gaze that I could swear was appealing for a home with us. I pointed it out to my mother, but was dismayed to find the animal receding over my shoulder as she pulled me along.

I have never wanted anything so much in my life as I wanted that elephant! What inspired the desire, I can't exactly tell, but the tale of my origins was no secret. It was part of the legend given to relatives. Without buying a thing, Mother made to leave. By now, my distress was tearfully evident. I begged and pleaded for that stuffed toy, inwardly half-resigned to not having it – the bias of child-rearing wisdom was to resist whims and wants for fear of spoiling, and also there wasn't a lot of disposable income around in that decade after the War. What prevailed with her, I will never know. She did have her mellower moods, but was in no sense an indulgent parent. I was conscious even then that the request was too spontaneous, too 'off-the-wall'. But she relented, opened her purse and, joy of joys, 'Edward' was handed over! My tears evaporated. The universe was in equilibrium.There was much hilarity on the bus going home about fares charged for elephants.

Edward let me ride on his back and resided between the sofa and an armchair at the end of play. Eventually, after much pummelling, he became blind and his eyes ended up in Mother's button box, a treasure chest in which I loved to forage among the pearl and glass, ivory and bakelite, brass from her brothers' naval uniforms. Years later, and about to be married, I rediscovered them and sewed them on to the pocket tabs of my new 'going away' a talisman, I guess. We sometimes perform rituals we barely understand in our straining for karma. No, all in the garden wasn't wonderful, but by a miracle of Grace, I have survived intact, with a shining faith in what can transpire from our griefs and reverses. This, surely, is the purpose and meaning of Life as far as we can know it.

I regret that I don't remember the passing of Edward, but I expect our in-depth conversations are recorded somewhere in the ether.

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