Some people keep their elephants in the living room. We found ours at the playground.
Yesterday afternoon Mike had to work — you’ve got to love the animation industry — so, while others were at the beach, at BBQ’s, or stuck in Memorial Day traffic, we were at our local park.
We got there around three-ish. The place was empty. Of course. It was Memorial Day. Who goes to a playground on Memorial Day? Feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I walked MJ to the sandbox. Gazing disconsolately across the expanse of hot sand, I spotted something out of the ordinary. Under the monkey bars, amongst stray twigs, a plastic elephant stuck out of the sand. Four or five inches high, it had a raised trunk and cute little tusks. Its ears were flayed, one foot lifted. You could tell it was well-made.
Now, toys are left behind at the playground all the time. No big deal. Usually they’re not good ones, like this, but still. Whatever the quality, the protocol is always the same: you leave them, in case their original owners show up looking for them.
So that is what I did. At first.
The afternoon wore on. A few other kids and parents straggled into the playground. None of them were regulars, but at least I had people to talk to. As for the elephant, well, people noticed him. He was hard not to notice. Every child who entered the playground went straight up to him. But their parents all said the same thing: “he’s not yours. Leave him.”
And they did. Everyone left him alone.
Occasionally, as I played with MJ, my eye would drift over to the stranded pachyderm. He looked lonely. It was a shame, really, that an elephant like that should be abandoned. One might almost say that its owners were negligent. It’s one thing to leave an old yellow shovel in the sand, or half of a plastic egg (you should have seen the place after Easter!), but an animal of this quality? An owner should be more careful.
So when Myra-Jean asked — again — if she could play with him, I relented. Why not? We weren’t doing any harm. It was late in the day, and his owner certainly wasn’t going to show up at this point. Everyone else had gone home.
Myra-Jean was thrilled. Immediately she buried the elephant in the sand.
“Look! All you can see is his trunk!” she cried.
She pulled him out, grinned in sheer delight, and commenced to bury him again. And again, and again, and again. In no time at all he had gained a name, (“Eddie”), and a voice (squeaky). Next thing I knew, MJ was “bathing” him in the water fountain. My daughter is pretty ritualistic when it comes to bathing her animals. It’s an act of devotion. Kind of like baptism, but secular.
As far as she was concerned, in other words, Eddie was now hers.
It was five o’clock. Witching hour, in kidland. We had to get home for dinner.
“Five more minutes,” I told Myra-Jean, “and then it’s time to go.”
MJ turned and looked at me, her eyes clear and blue. Eddie hung dripping from her hands. “Is my elephant coming with me?”
I cocked my head and pursed my lips regretfully. “Sorry, honey, he’s not ours.”
“Oh,” she said. Looking down, she fingered his trunk with her fingers. Then she looked up. Her eyes were more limpid still, brightened with hope and affection. “Can I sleep with him tonight?”
Aw, shit. How can you say no? Why should you? I thought.
So Eddie came home with us. He had dinner. He had a bath — much needed, I might add. Finally, he was placed in the position of honor, next to my daughter in her crib.
As I prepared to sing to her, though, I had a pang of guilt.
“You know, honey,” I said, fussing with her blankets, “Eddie really belongs to someone else. I think Mommy may have been wrong to let you bring him back home. Sometimes mommy makes mistakes. I think we should’ve left him at the park…”
MJ looked pensively at me. Wow. Had she actually gotten all of that?
“Yes, my love.”
“Tomorrow we should go to Trader Joe’s and buy more fiber bars.”
With that she rolled over and cuddled up against Eddie.
When Mike came home, later that night, I ran the situation past him. Telling him about the park, my depressed mood, MJ’s infatuation with the newfound elephant, and our eventual abduction of said creature, I ended by explaining that I was feeling terribly guilty.
“Of course you are,” said Mike. “He’s not ours.”
I sighed. “Should I bring him back? He’ll probably just be stolen by some other kid. Someone –” my voice lowered, embarrassed about what it was about to utter — “less deserving.”
Mike just stared at me.
So I had an idea. And this morning, I executed it. Taking some printer paper and crayons, I wrote out signs saying an elephant had been found. I have hung them in the playground. We are waiting to see if he is claimed.
I hope he isn’t, for obvious reasons. But I also sort of hope he is. Either way I feel better. At least I’ve done the right thing, albeit belatedly.
If he is claimed, though, his owners will have to wait until after naptime to retrieve him. Because right now he’s buried in blankets in his place of honor — somewhere in my daughter’s crib.