Tom Offland

Supraoccipital bone

What in god’s name is that, cried Cara, opening her front door.

Cara had heard the door bell ringing from the playroom upstairs where she had crouched over her little boy and kissed his head and pressed rounded wooden building blocks gently into his hands and told him he could be an architect or an engineer when he was older and he had held them loosely and looked at her as though he were a fish or a full grown man sleeping with his eyes open.

Morris was in the doorway holding an elephant skull by its tusks.

It’s an elephant skull, Cara, I’ve found an elephant skull, he breathed, backing in through the house.

Parietal bone

That’s the spot, said Morris, taking a sip of his cup of tea.

Morris had moved the coffee table into the kitchen and unrolled a beach towel and placed the elephant skull in the centre of the living room. There were teeth missing in its yellow mouth and patches of soil and pinches of grass and dandelion leaves clinging to its sides and it looked as though it had spent its life lying upside down and gaping at the sky.

Cara was sitting opposite Morris, staring at the elephant skull.

Where did you find it, she said.

Frontal Bone

Must be worth something, Morris said. Must be worth a bit.

Earlier, he had sat with the telephone directory open on his lap and the house phone in his hand and had dialled a series of auctioneers and taxidermists and rag and bone men, enquiring on the probable price of an elephant skull. Cara had hovered nearby, watching him and cutting a carrot into finger length slices and feeding them to her little boy.

I don’t like it, said Cara. What if it is illegitimate, she said, whispering the word.

It’s not, said Morris and he knocked on the elephant skull with his fists as if to prove it.

Cara frowned.

Lacrimal bone

Cara held her hot water bottle against her belly. Morris lay beside her.

Promise me you will look for work tomorrow, said Cara.

Morris reached over and turned off the lamp.

I promise, he said.

Nasal bone

Cara crept around the living room, folding laundry into a hamper. Watching the elephant skull as if it might move.

It was bigger than a dog and it smelled like an abattoir and it was the colour of frozen vanilla yoghurt and cotton buds and recycled paper. It had two tiny eye sockets and two long tusks and a great, gaping hole in its head where its trunk should be.

Cara threw a pair of socks at the elephant skull and screamed a little in desperation.

Morris, she said. Morris.

Later, covering her eyes, she reached inside the elephant skull and fetched the socks out.


Morris crouched in the hallway undoing his shoelaces. Cara was walking down the stairs. Once she had slipped all the way to the bottom. Landing on her back. Lying in her stockings. Breathing forcefully as though giving birth.

What’s that, Cara asked.

It’s a bone, said Morris. It’s an elephant’s thigh bone.

Cara could see the notches and scratches in the bone where it had been cut with a knife.

Cara touched Morris’s face.

What do you think, he said.


Cara lifted the mirror in front of her little boy.

They had spent the morning in his bedroom, shining the spring light across the walls and watching themselves in the mirror as though they were on television.

Who is that, said Cara and her little boy moved his mouth and made the sounds a human mouth makes before it is confident making words, the same sounds his wordless ancestors made pounding baobab rot into gruel and lighting wild fires on the plains.

Who is that, said Cara.


Cara held onto the elephant’s tusks and tried to edge the skull across the room. It was as heavy as a wardrobe.

When the elephant had been alive it had carried its skull unknowingly. It had been something hidden, something lifelong and secret and it had taken starvation or heart disease or ivory poachers or famished French soldiers or veterinary malpractice or African lions or poisoned oat feed or foul diseases to uncover it.

Morris had carried the elephant skull into the house easily. How he had carried Cara into the house after their honeymoon. How Cara had held her breath and turned white and rigid from the humiliation of it.


Cara stayed up late waiting for Morris to come home. Cara and her little boy and the elephant skull.

Earlier, Cara had turned off the lights and sunk into the bath, her long hair floating on the hot water, her legs piercing the bath foam like tusks. She had laid there half sleeping, feeling sacred.

Cara stayed up past midnight worrying and waiting and praying and writing a list of reasons why she shouldn’t stay up late hoping for Morris to come home.

In the morning there was an elephant’s ribcage occupying the majority of the living room.

There was a note on the fridge saying sorry.

Aveolar process

Cara slept all day on her little boy’s bedroom floor.

She dreamt that she lived with a group of grizzly bears in a hole in the ground and that the bears brought back recycling bins and attack victims and open bags of clinical waste and that she spent every moment of every day pretending to be a bear and being terrified that the bears would discover she was a human.

Squamosal jugal

I’m not killing them Cara, said Morris. I’m not.

Morris stood in the doorway, holding an armful of elephant bones. His shoes were black with mud.

The baby monitor crackled and Cara walked through the bones in the living room to lift it up.

Sometimes it picked up radio stations or air traffic controllers or pirate broadcasts or taxi-cab conversations and it would sound as though there were crowds of people in her little boy’s bedroom.

I’m just finding them, said Morris, calling after Cara as she tied her dressing gown shut and climbed the stairs.

Morris left the bones with the others.

He slept beside them on the sofa bed.

Zygomatic arch

Morris awoke in the night to Cara standing over him.

I don’t want my little boy growing up in bones, she said.

That’s not something I want, she said.

Ethmoid bone

Cara looped her scarf and jangled her keys and buttoned her coat. Morris searched for his boots.

Can’t we bring him, said Cara.

It’s only an hour, said Morris.

The two of them had stayed awake talking, they had pleaded and debated and negotiated until winter birds were singing in the garden. Until dawn light was creeping through the windows.

Morris let Cara leave first and then he locked the door behind him.

Coronal suture

Upstairs, in the empty house, Cara’s little boy marched around his toys.

Downstairs, the elephant bones made a sort of monument in the centre of the room.

Sphenoid bone

Morris burst through the door and rolled over on the hallway carpet in laughter. Cara followed, clutching her fists, smiling maniacally. She leapt on him.

Let me see, she said. Morris. Let me see.

Later, Morris would open his cupped hands cautiously as though he were hiding diamonds or dynamite or butterflies and Cara would reach into his hands and touch the three delicate bones he was holding and ask him in wonder what they were.

They’re ear bones, he would say.

Tom Offland lives in London. He keeps a blog here.