Monday, 4 July 2011

Looking forward

'Where is daddy?' At Squirrel's question, Tiger stops chewing, her mouth half-filled with pasty. Her gaze slides uneasily to the empty seat at the kitchen table. Shark swings back on her chair, rolls her eyes and tuts.

Squirrel asks again, 'Is he in London?'

I sigh. I think I do. Maybe it is breathing. I need to tell the difference. I live on this borderline between laughter and tears and how I breathe might unbalance me, and push me over, falling on one side or the other.

'Daddy is in Hong Kong' I say. I try and make that sound out like it's of no consequence; maybe he just popped to retrieve paperwork at the office and will come back in a moment. Two months of a moment before we fly out and join him. I dread the date for what Tiger might put me through again; I dread it for losing England, for the uncertainties of how we live without futures.

'Didn't you know he was in Hong Kong?' Shark drawls out her vowels, treading her fine line between deep sarcasm and her exaggerated demonstration of how patient and kind she can be to her confused sister. The date of return to the island can't come soon enough for her; she will possess beach and rockpool once again.

Squirrel is momentarily lost. She could have been anywhere. She's sitting in the chair she fought for, at the position round the table she made her own and, until her sudden realisation, she could have been flying over Namibia, swimming in Quebec, or digging up the veg patch at the bottom of the garden. She looks like she doesn't know which way to go.

'Can daddy make a horse in Hong Kong?'

She has harboured the idea that daddy might like to power up the magical jigsaw tool that curves and shapes wood. She had grand designs on a horse. With her wide eyes registering her dismay, she knows it's too late. She faces the loss of the only parent who can be manoeuvred into a woodworking session. She's left with the other parent, the one who complains about things that don't matter, like spilled beads on bedroom floors and soil in shirt pockets.

I give Shark a push to ground her four chair legs on the floor and I answer Squirrel with a firm 'No'. Then I ask Tiger, What would you like to do in England? It's already too late. Tiger is plunged deep in dark frowning scowl, and silently takes up her chewing with vengeance on the pasty.

We need to swell out the few weeks with purposes and activities, as many as time can hold. That way, maybe, we can all chart a course until the time is up, and we can all tread firmly on the side of laughter.