It wasn't the best of weeks. Tissues and temperatures. The dust and dirty clothes ignored, forgotten for another day. We braved a museum, one with aeroplanes and helicopters and bombs laid out like little fat sausages. She didn't understand the associations with war. They made me feel cold. And after circling the hanger several times, sitting in a cockpit - diiiive, pull uuuup - we felt worse; her nose ran, my cheeks flushed. The following day, we sat on the sofa, did nothing, watched the box. It's easier when we're both poorly, no pressure to entertain, permission to flop and eat tinned beans. My biggest achievement was defuzzing a pair of bobbled jumpers. We were supposed to drive over to Cambridge for Younger Dad's actual birthday, a walk in the botanic gardens, afternoon tea. That didn't happen. He came over to us instead... began coughing.
And a bad cold can ferment the worst; raw feeling, a vulnerable heart beat.
'Mummy, I feel sad.'
'I don't have a brother or a sister.'
'There are only three in our family. I want it to be four. Like my cousants.'
How was I supposed to respond? I'm sorry sweetheart but Mummy can't have another one, she would become very ill, and things are better now, normal, and besides, she'd rather push out a novel than suffer the craziness of hell fire hormones and lack of sleep... 'Mummy's tummy is too old to have another baby.'
'But I want four in our family.'
'What if we got a pet? A gerbil? Would that help?'
'Yes, then it would be four.' She carried on playing with a teddy, a grey bunny, mumbling to herself in thought, 'Mummy?'
'Will you be here for ever and ever?'
'I will be here for a very, very long time. When you are grown up and you have children.'
'Can I marry you Mummy?'
'I'm afraid that isn't possible darling. Children don't marry their mummies.'
'I'll marry my best friend Jake instead then.' Abandoning her short-lived game with ted, she made for a nearby plug, switching it on and off.
'You know not to do that, it's dangerous,' I said.
'Mummy, what does electricity look like?'
'Well you can't see it-'
'-does it go straight through you?'
'Can it make you die?'
'Yes. You might stop working, die.'
'Would you miss me if I died?'
Would I miss her if she died!!?? She was asking me to contemplate her death, an impossible world without her. I knelt down before her, placing my hands on her arms, barely focusing for the water collecting in my eyes. 'If you weren't in my world, I would be devastated, my life would mean nothing without you, you are my life Pupkin.'
Her bottom lip wobbled, into my arms she flew, bunny discarded on the floor, both of us sobbing.
'We need a bit of cheering up don't we?'
'Yes we do, I feel so sad Mummy.'
In Cocos, Little A ordered a small hot chocolate layered with soft marshmallows while I had my usual, a detox tea. And we shared a thick wedge of moist red velvet cake. It tasted good. We felt better. The sounds of Little A's pleasure as she peeled away the icing, pronged the sponge onto her fork, so taken aback there was real beetroot in each mouthful. A life affirming cake for a horrid cold. Comfort food in an existential crisis.
And that was one conversation I didn't want repeating again, ever... *sneeze*
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