The trust between Darwin and me was like taffy: stretched and stretched between us, the middle sagging into inevitable decay. There was a moment I felt I could have balled it up in my fists, reworked it between my fingers but it passed. I ignored Darwin when he walked beside me, did not pick up the silver plated brush when he placed it in my lap. I answered the phone for all callers. I did not care who it was, or when. Even my cat’s affection for our pachyderm guest cooled until it was a small, half remembered ash.
It was not entirely the lack of smell which turned us away from him, but the combination of all his non-elephantine traits. It was the feel of his skin like smooth plastic, as if Darwin were a toy given life and size and autonomy. It was his lack of sound when surprised or angered, his occasional sneeze, so quick I sometimes though I imagined it, like the echo of a bell. And lastly: the way he would follow me into the kitchen when I awoke in the middle of the night, his eyes shining in the dark like two satellites in geosynchronous orbit.
Thus were the reasons for Darwin’s and my falling out.
I have heard that you do not appreciate a thing until it is gone.
When the first elephants disappeared we breathed great sighs of relief. The teachers at Sacred Heart walked straighter, though the students missed their unofficial sentries. The joggers on the levees claimed to see the elephants go: first at a walk, then a jog, splashing and trumpeting their plunge into the Mississippi river. Down and down they dove until there was not even a ripple signifying their entry.
Darwin disappeared in the space of a breath. He lifted his head as the phone began to ring and watched me as I heard Josh tell me he had found someone else. I blinked and Darwin was gone. There was not even an impression on the rug where he had been sitting.
A few months later at the library I found a support group for those who had had elephants in their home. We all had abandoned them in one form or another, before they abandoned us. One by one we whispered their names as if that would call them back.
Carla, Darwin, Moonshine and Persimmon. Blue Dog, Jimmy, Tulip. Roger, Huey and Louis.
They didn’t return.
The leader of the group, a man named Alfred, said the elephants had been a test. Of what, he wouldn’t specify. I began to suspect that Alfred had never had an elephant, and this group was his way of promoting his self published book on spiritual awakening and I stopped going.
When someone else in the group called me demanding to know whether I had found the answer, I told her no. There was no answer. One day elephants came, another day they left. We could no more trick them into returning than we could go back to the moments where we stopped trusting their presence.
She hung up on me.
Others called: members of the group, a representative of a city commission devoted to ecological issues.
I heard you had an elephant once, he said.
Would you like to talk about it? he said.
Sometimes I think they were never here at all, he said.
Are we sure they were elephants? I said.
He had brown hair that fell into his eyes. He never doubted his elephant’s intentions and kept a key to his apartment hidden where he knew she could find it.
My cat despised him but learned to tolerate him with a complete and total indifference. I told him she had always been a capricious judge of character.
And many years later, when neither of us was expecting it, we found a pile of feathers swept neatly into a pile on our kitchen floor. Buried beneath: two small bees, long dead that smelled faintly of salt and air and plastic.