“Is Babar an elephant?”
I looked down to find Lydia standing next to me with her hands neatly folded in front of her.
“I’m sorry, what was that, Sweetheart?” I asked. I had been sitting on my bed contemplating how parenting can so quickly drive a man to madness. I had somehow not even noticed the little girl arrive.
“Babar. Like in the book you got from the library.” She motioned towards the book lying next to me on the bed. “Is he an elephant?”
“Yes, Dear. Babar is an elephant.”
“Okay,” her head began to bob back and forth as she talked, and her eyes roamed around the ceiling and walls. “But he and the other Babars all wear clothes and walk on two legs, and elephants don’t do that. Elephants walk on four legs and do not wear clothes.”
“Yes,” I struggled to stay in her line of vision. “But he’s an elephant. Babar the Elephant.”
She made eye contact finally, “But how does he hold things then?”
“Um…” Now my eyes started wandering around the ceiling and walls. “Okay, he just holds things in his hands like we do. He must have fingers or something I guess.”
“But elephants don’t have fingers,” she wiggled hers in the air. “How can you hold things without fingers?”
“Okay, so he’s an elephant, but he has fingers.”
Her eyes narrowed, “Okay, but you’re SURE he’s an elephant?”
“Yes. I am 100% confident that Babar is an elephant.”
She sighed in relief, “Good! Because Clara said they weren’t elephants. She said that a Babar was a monster that just kind of looked like an elephant.” She moved her hands to look like a trunk and then held them up next to her head like a pair of large ears and made a terrifying face that showed her teeth.
“Well don’t you worry about that, Sweetie. Babar is an elephant.”
She hugged my arm, curtsied politely, and spun out the door.
I smiled after her. And then continued to smile several deep breaths after she had gone. I stared at the door and smiled and tried frantically to ignore the book lying next to me on the bed. A very ancient and mysterious book about an elephantine creature wearing human clothing that walks on two legs. A creature who handles objects with invisible fingers and wears a crown upon his sickly grey head and calls himself a king.
I could hear a scream growing in the distance, somewhere deep in the primal cortex of my feeble mind. And there was a low rumble like a train rounding the corner and charging towards me. The scream grew louder and echoed in my skull. What was a Babar? The deep crashing rumble tremored up my legs and settled in my chest, shaking the dust from my fragile heart. What WAS a Babar? My frozen smile turned to a grimace and without looking away from the door, I reached out with a rattling hand and flipped the book onto the floor, kicking it under the bed where such creatures belong, but where such creatures can never be contained.