Chimeras have grey bones




According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a chimera is ‘a fire-breathing she-monster in Greek mythology having a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail’ and ‘an imaginary monster compounded of incongruous parts’.

A composite beast that binds together elements not originally meant to coexist: A chimera is one being, but at the same time it is not. It is both singular and plural. A jigsaw creature, fixed in a state that seems unstable. In between being one thing and being another.

If grey was a place, chimeras would probably make their home there. Grey, in itself, is some sort of chimera: It is a paradoxical colour, linking together the two contrary terms of a binary opposition in an apparent state of balance. Neither luminous nor dark, yet both. The colour of what doesn’t fit, of things that can’t be named. An improper colour. Too complex to be pinned down, and too alien to be trusted.
    I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that under their shimmering coats and their multiple layers of skin, chimeras have grey bones.

I started drawing chimeras when I was around eight. I was fascinated with mythology and for someone who loves animals like I do, the fantastic creatures described in legends and old tales were the pinacle of the marvelous. Dragons, cerberus, pegasus, hydras, unicorns, sphinxes, beast-headed gods, giant serpents and gryphons. And of course the chimera. A lion’s body with two heads, one being a goat’s; a snake as a tail and flames pouring from its jaws. A chaotic combination of parts that were always depicted snarling, bleating and hissing, claws out, murderous.
    The lion, the goat and the snake depicted in such illustrations seemed to be arguing, as if they resented one another for their mashed-up state and yearned to finally be freed from it. For some reason, I imagined this conflict was in a way fueling the chimera’s rampage, its outbursts the byproduct of the bitter resentment each part had for the other two. The chimera is both one and three, and apparently suffers from it.  

My chimeras only had one head each. I suppose it might have seemed more right to me at that time. In that way, the puzzle of parts was united under one will, limbs dutifully following the orders of the brain. More heads would have meant conflict and confusion. Who is in charge? Which brain controls what? What if they disagree. My eight-year-old self, in a merciful and not really conscious gesture, chose to spare their creations the anguish of internal struggle.

In a scene from the animated series Fullmetal Alchemist, a chimera, tragically born out of the fusion between a little girl and her dog, looks up at the main protagonist with their empty white eyes. “Big brother, why does it hurt?”

The combination of parts in each one of these creatures I used to draw was thought as an accumulation of positive traits. An improvement. Taking the best from different beings and stitching it together. The instability of my chimeras was not a handicap but an advantage. The head of a wolf, the body of a cheetah and a chameleon’s tail. Being plural made them adaptive and powerful, more capable than singular, regular animals.
    I never thought about the fact that maybe in aiming to combine qualities, there was a risk of piling up flaws at the same time. The wolf can’t stand the heat. The chameleon and the cheetah can’t endure the cold. Where then could this creature possibly live? It turns out these three animals could maybe all survive in a temperate biome. But the wolf needs a pack, and the cheetah is a solitary hunter.

In the same dictionary, it is also indicated that a chimera is an unrealizable dream, an illusion. It doesn’t and can’t tread the firm, solid ground of reality. It can’t be grasped. It beckons, but won’t ever be caught. In French, the saying “courir après des chimères”, chasing chimeras, means pursuing fantasies with no chances of success. But if it was possible to catch a chimera, and if it was even possible to put it in a cage or in any kind of glass case, I don’t think it would survive. Chimeras die in boxes in which they never fit. Just like these very pretty and very sad goldfishes in their minuscule designer tanks. And there is never enough place on the container to put all the labels that would be needed to describe them. They would pile up and the weight of the resulting layers would be enough for the sides of the receptacle to buckle and crush its content. Any tagging attempt is of poor taste.

Chimera is derived from the Greek chimaira, she-goat. Knowing that, it makes sense to assume that the goat-like part of the beast is female. The Greek chimera is described as a ‘she-monster’. But it also has the maned head and body of a male lion.

Just like most kids draw their own pirate ship or their own superhero costume, I had my very own chimera. It was a blue tiger with an alligator’s tail. If it had a name — and it’s very likely that I named it — I don’t remember it. But I do remember drawing it and being very happy with the result. I imagined it big, soft and powerful. A beautiful and dangerous companion that would walk by my side when I went to school or accompany me on imaginary adventures. I would burry my hands in its blue fur, toying with it between my fingers while staring down at the ones daring to defy or threaten me. And it would draw back it’s lips to flash a row of shiny fangs.
    My chimera doesn’t walk me to school anymore. The explanation is probably that I lost interest in it, and just let it slip from my mind. It discreetly made its way out from my vision, through the corner of my eye. Eight-year-old me needed a chimera. Nine-year-old me probably needed something else.

But lately, it came back. Actually, I came back to it. I found it while I was following some of the bizarre tracks left by grey things. That’s my preferred method to explore greyness: I find a grey thing first, then I simply follow it for a while, until I stumble upon another one. I must admit that sometimes, I get lost while trying to retrace the path taken. How the chewing gums on the floor can lead to halftones takes a bit of time to figure out.
    At a turn, my chimera was there, waiting. The blue of its fur had faded a bit as I couldn’t remember the vibrance it once had, but I recognized it instantly. It beckoned and, well, I followed it, down another path winding through grey stuff. Along the way, the other chimeras blinked by, one by one. Some were mine and some were not. I was lead to their den, here among blurry shapes. My chimera stopped. I walked to it and once again I buried my hands in its thick coat. A bit of skin became visible through the hairs as was fiddling in its pelt. Grey skin.

My chimera walked eight-year-old me to school. Now it walks with twenty-five-year-old me on the paths I take when I investigate greyness. I couldn’t wish for a better guide. Chimeras seem to know everything about grey; probably because it is what they are made of.