She turned to her pere, a questioning look on her face. He nodded.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, for despite its alien appearance it was a nice-looking creature, she thought – a friendly one. My pere made this, she thought, and felt a warm rush of pride. “What is it?” she said.
“To be honest, I don’t know.”
“Oh. Did you make it up?”
“No. Turn it over. There’s a button.”
She found the button between the creature’s forelegs; when she pressed it the ears began to flap and the nose curled upwards and extended out and retracted again, as if it was reaching to take something from a high shelf. The effect was extremely lifelike.
“Why thank you darling,” Joe Carmichael said, looking pleased. “But we’d better finish it off and put it away before your mere sees it.” He gave Carmen a conspiratorial wink and rose from the armchair.
He showed her how to dab glue on the ends of each horn, and which horn was the left and which the right. She pushed them into place.
“What are they made from?” she said.
“Something your grandmere had lying around. It looks like bone. She – insisted that I use it.” His brow furrowed. “But it seems to suit it, don’t you think?” The sudden brightness in his voice sounded forced. “She calls it avory. She says her pere left it for her. It’s very old.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Carmen said. She was often blunt, but the truth was that she couldn’t stand her pere’s feigned brightness.
He didn’t appear to have heard her at first. He swept sawdust off the workbench onto the floor using a banister brush. When it was clean he tapped the brush on the edge of the bench and motes of dust swirled off into the lamplight. Finally, he looked up at her. “There’s an old belief – nobody’s quite sure where it came from – about a strange wild land away across the sea. Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness, flows through it. It was once said that we drank from this river in our dreams. And that people like your Grandmere were drowning in the waters of Lethe.”