A short-story about a father who buys his daughter an elephant for her birthday

It was coming up to Emily’s sixteenth birthday and Alan marvelled at the gift he had bought his daughter. ‘She’s going to love this by a mile’, he thought to himself. Alan jumped up and down with excitement at the size of the elephant and then reminded himself to phone the local Zoo to ask exactly what does a large grey African elephant eat. The elephant shuffled, and moved around. His big floppy ears hung playfully by his head. His tail whisked from side to side.

Alan could hear a car crunch its way up the farmyard drive. Probably a taxi to pick his daughter up. Emily had been leaving the farmhouse more and more recently hanging out with her friends. Going to parties and genuinely growing up. She had mentioned moving in to town to live with her friends before the start of her college-term, and Carol seemed fine with that, although Alan had been concerned about her safety.

Alan walked up the driveway to wave her goodbye and inquired about their cinema date next week. ‘I’ll try my best Dad but I’m just sooo busy at the moment.’ Alan was gutted but he knew these were the last few days of her childhood as she took another step out into the world of adulthood. She waited for her father to arrive before jumping into the cab. ‘Hi Dad.’ ‘Hi Emily.’ Of out with your friends?’ ‘Sure. Just shopping and gossip.’ ‘Don’t forget lunch this Sunday with me and your Mother, and of course I have your birthday gift.’ Emily shrugged her shoulders unconcerned about the gifts she just wanted to hang out with her friends.

‘You don’t have to worry about gifts. As I said before a donation to a charity would make me happy.’ Emily was a rambunctious and self-less girl who had the spirit of a tom-boy with the grace and glamour of an emerging popstar. She worked hard for everything and laughed always. Which is why Alan believed an African elephant would be the perfect gift. She jumped into the taxi and waved good-bye. Alan quickly dialled the local zoo and inquired about the dietary habits of an African elephant.  The elephant gave a loud hoot and Carol walked out of their farm house wondering what the strange noise was.

‘Did you hear that noise? It wasn’t a fox? and certainly not the Geese?’ She walked up to the fence looking as if she was looking for something. She then approached Alan, gave him a warm hug, as she always did, and a kiss on the neck. Alan still had his hands in his pockets pretending to be cool and aloof. ‘Maybe it was just me. I must be going mad.’ She said.

‘Or maybe it was the large African elephant I bought for our daughter’s birthday.’ Alan stood back in surprise mode with hands out splayed acting like an over-aged entertainer.

Carol looked at him with a wry smile knowing that he was joking. Alan was always joking but the wry smile changed into a concerned look as his star hands remained fanned out, and Carol’s smile became more rigid. She remembered the last mini-breakdown when Carol returned home one day to see Alan, Emily and an adopted chimpanzee that he had stolen from the zoo. ‘You always said you wanted another child.’ He said. ‘He’ll change the nappies and cook the food. No more expensive than an au pair.’ Carol’s smile relaxed briefly, comforted in the knowledge, that that, was all behind them, until the next toot from the barn came loud and clear.

‘I’ve yet to name him,’ said Alan. As if that would make her happier. ‘Alan you haven’t gone mad again have you? It sounds like an elephant but of course there is no way you could get an elephant around here.’ Alan’s star-arms dropped quickly into his pockets as Carol walked towards the barn hoping that her hearing was being deceived. ‘It only eats grass.’ thought Alan as he followed Carol to the barn.

Carol opened up the wide-and-high barn doors to see a large grey African elephant. ‘Oh God. Where the fuck did you get that from? Waitrose?’ Alan stood there in the barn, man-child extraordinaire. ‘A zoo. It was surprisingly easy.’ Carol went to walk around the elephant and marvel at its shape and size. She felt its rough texture while it moved from foot to foot as if treading in water. ‘Surely there must have been checks. You can’t just run it through the till.’ ‘No. There are lots of checks but also a company that will handle the checks for a fee.’

Carol looked at Alan. ‘This is wrong, very wrong. We have to take it back.’ Alan looked at the floor and touched the side of the elephant. He felt profoundly grounded by this celestial animal. Felt a surge of gratification running through his body when he was near it. The elephant waved its ears around as a kind of hello to Alan. Maybe the elephant was more for Alan than it was for his daughter?

‘Let’s keep it till Sunday. Just to see the look on her face,’ said Carol. Alan gave a defiant smile. Carol looked at Alan and the light bulb went on. Through Emily the child in him has permission to exist, without her, his playful presence might die, or so he feared. ‘She’s sixteen Alan. She would rather go to a Piff Daddy, or whatever you call it concert, sorry gig. This is about you isn’t it?’ Alan was taken aback but not that far back. ‘No. It’s about her. I’ve bought her a great gift. A moment she will cherish forever. To remind her to keep her child-like side as she goes out into the adult-world.’ This time Carol kept quiet and was reminded of Alan’s clever insight. ‘If only we could all shut up for a brief minute and recognize the playful intelligence at play in all human-beings’, thought the elephant.

The elephant made another loud toot and Carol looked on in dismay. She wondered if Alan was about to have another breakdown. ‘You’re not going wonky again are you Alan?’ Alan looked bemused, uncertain why the purchasing of a large grey African elephant would suggest a loss of sanity. ‘I am more than fine. It’s just an Elephant. She’ll probably play with it for a few weeks and then we can take it back.

‘What does it eat?’ Carol inquired. ‘Shoots and leaves, I believe,’ said Alan. ‘Do you fancy a ride on it?’ Carol burst out laughing, ‘Don’t we need lessons?’ ‘It can’t be that hard, like riding a horse, only larger. Elephants are supposed to be intuitive so maybe he will lead us on a journey.’ Carol being that sort of girl decided to give it a go. They both managed to cajole the elephant out of the barn with large tufts of grass. Alan quickly went in to get some bananas and other pieces of fruit and placed them in a shopping bag. Carol pulled the stepladders down from inside the barn and placed them beside the elephant.

‘Maybe we should talk to it first and introduce ourselves’ suggested Carol who was warming to her earthly divine being. ‘Good idea’ said Alan and they both went to the head of the Elephant and placed their palms on its forehead. The heat from the Elephant’s head rushed into their palms and seemed to warm their souls. Their entire bodies filled with a beautiful warm glow. Carol looked at Alan and Alan looked at Carol, and felt the love that they hadn’t felt for years. Carol looked into Alan’s eyes,’ She’ll always be our little girl you know?’ ‘Of course, I do’ said Alan. Alan knew his daughter was growing up and this meant a certain kind of fun would disappear. The fun of having adventures, and the cinema, and plays in the park. Silly conversations as opposed to serious ones about socialism or the environment.

Alan and Carol climbed onto the elephant and straddled across its thick wide back. It was like sitting on a small earth. The view from the top was stupendous thought Carol. The only thing missing was a glass of Merlot and of course their daughter. She too felt the pangs of separation but just in a physical sense. Alan, being the writer, feared losing that inner-child more than others because that was his engine. They allowed the elephant to amble for a while through the unkempt fields that were left empty because they no longer killed the animals. Alan managed a right turn back to the barn with ease. The elephant walked with ease despite its size. It was a regal animal that transcended the land through which it moved. They slid down from the elephant in an inelegant manner and then coaxed the animal back into the barn where they fed it apples, bananas and grass. Alan closed the doors and said good night and went into the barn excited about the next day and his gift for his daughter.

Carol and Alan went to bed that night and made love. It was a sweet and touching kind of love with lots of fumbles and mistakes, kisses, slurps and gentle tussles from one to another, and then they both fell into a deep pleasant sleep. The next morning the cock did not crow because they didn’t have one and Alan was already up sat in his rocking chair with his laptop typing out a new idea for a story. He was getting used to the idea of his daughter changing and leaving but was also a tad nervous about how she would view her gift. Carol started to wake. Her pyjamas more crumpled than they were used to being.  ‘Morning tiger.’ ‘Morning Hare.’ ‘Oh god’ thought Carol. That fucking elephant.’ ‘Is Emily still in bed.’ ‘I think I heard her getting back in about four this morning.’

He decided to go to Emily’s room and wake her up and did his usual rap on the door that always wound her up. ‘Fuck off Dad.’ Alan winced at this but knew she was just kidding and opened the door to find her sleeping in bed. ‘I’ve got you an amazing 16th birthday gift. It’s very big and needs lots of care and attention.’ Emily was smiling underneath. One of her friends was already taking her driving test and she was thinking of getting some lessons herself but it seems her father was a step ahead. She jumped out of bed and this made Alan feel happy but Carol, who was half-awake, was praying, knowing full well that when Emily sees the elephant she might just go ballistic.

‘What’s it like?’ ‘Well. It’s very large and is the colour grey but moves quite nimbly for its size.’ Emily quickly pulled at her furry boots and grabbed a warm jacket over her pyjamas. ‘Oh well it’s in the barn so let’s just go and see it. Carol are you coming?’ Carol was starting to get ready but decided she would wait for the first scream of oh yes, or oh no. ‘I’ll be there in a jiffy.’ Alan and Emily headed towards the barn, and then Alan got to the barn and just opened it and swung open the right wing of the door.

Emily was in a state of shock her mind not quite processing what she could see. ‘What the fuck Dad! what is it. Am I still dreaming?’ Alan was prepared for a shock response, ‘No you’re not dreaming, I, err, bought you an African elephant. Sort of a parting gift. It’s actually on loan from the Zoo.’

Emily stared at the elephant in disbelief. She felt anger but at the same time the anger was quelled by the absurdity of an elephant in her barn-yard.’ ‘I don’t know what to say. It looks cool but I’d have preferred a mini. I can’t really take it anywhere.’ By now Emily was walking beside the elephant. She was much smaller than her father so the elephant towered above her. In her mind she thought she heard a quiet whisper that brought a warmth rushing all over her body. ‘Touch Me.’ It seemed to say. She placed her hand onto the side of the elephant. ‘Let’s go for a walk Emily.’ It wasn’t her father speaking but the elephant. Not that she could grasp that. ‘Do you want to ride the elephant and then we can take it back. Do you really want a mini?’ spoke Alan in a state of panic.

Emily continued to marvel at this beautiful creature from nature. She was feeling the waves of unconditional love that came from the creature. ‘I told you that I was happy and I don’t really need anything. I love you both as parents and I carry you both in my hearts where ever you are.’ Alan’s heart started to burn. He loved it when his daughter came out with profound statements like that as if she was an older and wiser person.

Again, Emily heard the Elephant say, ‘Let’s go for a walk. Climb up.’ without asking her father Emily grabbed the step ladders and placed them beside the elephant. Carol turned up beside Alan and Emily mouthed the words ‘Is he alright. Not gone mad again?’ ‘Your fathers fine he just wanted you to have some silly fun before you left the world of child-hood behind.’

By now Emily had already climbed on the African elephant and it was now walking out the back of the barn.

‘Be careful Emily’ cried Carol and Alan, and the elephant turned around full circle and once again headed towards the field. It said nothing as Emily was buzzing from being on top of an African Elephant in the English Countryside. It certainly was the biggest surprise she ever expected. She got out her phone and started taking shots. While walking towards the edge of the field the elephant asked, ‘How old are you?’ ‘Emily just thought 16.’ The Elephant continued to walk and then got to the edges of the fields where he kneeled down and allowed Emily to slide of his back. The elephant sat down on its hind legs and Emily took a few more shots then sat down beside the elephant. She placed her hands onto the animal’s side and listened to the sound of its beating heart that shook through her body. She felt as if she was tuning into the heartbeat of the universe.

’16 is still young,’ said the elephant, ‘and the world can be a fabulous but dark place. I think your father wants you to hold onto the child in you and maintain that spark of creativity. You don’t always have to follow the crowd and sometimes it’s better to be boring than to appear cool.’

Emily placed her head and hands on the Elephant’s side such was the pure feeling of contentment that was coming from being beside the elephant. ‘Yes I know. There is such an onslaught of information these day its overwhelming. And so much choice. We’re expected to somehow be older but still stay young. Society ages us to quickly and there is less room for fun. It’s part and parcel of this consumerist society we have created.’ The elephant kind of turned its head. ‘You see,’ said the elephant,’ Very clever but still so young.’

‘That’s from being with my parents. I see through their eyes.’ ‘Well. I’ve seen through their eyes and I understand their concerns. Be graceful as you walk through this world.’

The elephant started to get up and stand back on its four legs. Emily climbed onto its back and the elephant started to head back to the barn. There was no further conversation and when Emily got back she jumped of the elephant and thanked her father for a very unique and beautiful gift.

Emily was buzzing and felt changed by her experience. She hadn’t forgotten her friends and the day of partying ahead. She hugged her mother and father and then jumped in the cab that drove off into the distance. Alan reluctantly took his celestial friend back to the zoo and returned back to his cottage. Man-child intact. Ready to attack the page.

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