Reading Aloud: Kipling’s “Elephant’s Child”

I have read Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child quite a number of times in recent days for my 92-year-old mother who has Alzheimer’s. While Kipling’s work certainly is dated – with inherent racism, constant spankings and all-out revenge as major themes – it does have surprising merits, beyond the fact that my mother still remembers this story exceptionally well.

For one, there is the phrase ‘satiable curtiosity’, repeated throughout. A mash-up of courtesy and curiosity, it’s the Elephant’s Child’s ‘satiable curtiosity that gets him his trunk and makes him the envy of the jungle.

There is also Kipling’s idiosyncratic notes to his illustrations – mocking his own work – that provides, as they say, meta perspective on the work. But most intriguing of all is the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, a sinister character to be sure, which beats and tricks our hero, but in the end actually saves the Elephant’s Child from being eaten by the crocodile. He also teaches him what an effective tool his trunk actually is – even if it is to go home and beat up his abusive family…all very odd, something to ponder, when I read it once again.

Pictures of Paris with Nani

Davis visited his Nani when he came back from his summer in Paris. She marveled at his pictures, asking again and again where they were from.

“It’s Paris, Nani.” Phone 119“You were in Paris?”

“Yes, I was in Paris.”

“Oh, I’ve never been there.”

“You were there on your honeymoon.”

“Oh, I was?”

“Yes, Nani. You’ve been there many times.”

“Oh dear. I don’t remember that at all. I remember nothing.” She bent toward Davis and whispered. “I’m losing my memory.”

“That’s okay, Nani. Don’t worry about it.”

She turned to a picture of Ellen sitting on a tiny balcony with a wrought iron railing. “And who’s this? Is this me?”

“No. that’s Ellen, my girlfriend.”

“Ellen? I don’t know her.”

“She visited in the spring. We live together at school.”

“Oh, I see. She’s very pretty.” She looked at it again. “And where is this?”

“Paris, Nani.”

“Oh.” She turned to the next picture, Ellen completely naked on the bed.

The blood drained from Davis’ face as he reached over involuntarily. He had forgotten to take those ones out.

“Who is that?”

“Well…” He took the stack gently from her and sifted the next three images out – each more graphic than the next – and returned the remainder to his grandmother.

She considered Davis with her drifting, vacant eyes and then squinted at the images in her lap. “What’s this?”

“This is from a boat tour on the Seine.” Phone 130“Oh.” She peered at the picture of Ellen smiling, the Pont Neuf behind her. “And where is this?”


“You were in Paris?”

“Yes, for a few weeks.”

“I’ve never been there.”

“Yes, you have, Nani. You’ve been there many times.”

“I don’t remember that at all.”

“That’s okay.” He turned to the next picture.

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

Davis nodded. “Okay.”

“You have to help me.”

“I can do that.” He stood. “Ready? One, two, three.” He pulled her up from the couch.

She clung to him a moment, her head against his chest, and then peered into his face. “There’s no dignity in getting old. You just have to forget about that.”

Watching My Mother Descend

My mother and I were never the best of companions. She had certain expectations of me which I never fulfilled, and I was demanding, stupid and selfish. In short, she wasn’t the best at mothering and neither was I at being mothered.  20150820_163948This said, I always had great respect for her sharp mind and nature, both of which she has now lost.

She has devolved into an acquiescent woman with little to say because she can’t remember much of anything beyond the weather and my name. And as difficult as the process is, it’s not like I can’t cope; it’s just that I dislike watching the installments.20150820_162547She didn’t want to die like this; she was most emphatic about that. But that’s what happens when you beat cancer twice. The worst things get you in the end.