“Of course you can talk to him, off you go.”
I watch as Daniel sprints away. Head down. Arms pumping. Balance ready to fail him at any given moment. Adrenaline fires my heart as he skids on a pine cone at pitch-forward-and-split-head distance from the wooden bench. I breathe again as he thrusts his hands forward and climbs laughing onto the seat and gives the old man a hug who, in return, as usual, pats my son’s head and continues to stare at the trees lining the park.
“I got a book from the library today it’s about a dog and Charlie wanted it but I got it first and gave it to my teacher and…”
I smile at the faint stream of consciousness that fades from my ears as the breeze turns back to the south. It’ll be cloudy later. Probably rain overnight and then…
My daughter looks at me with as much wrath as a two-year-old can muster. I start pushing the swing once more.
“Up Dadeeeee UP!”
“Into the clouds!” I laugh as she giggles and I push her higher. Such a daredevil. So different from her brother. Must be a second child thing.
My phone buzzes and I fish it out of my pocket while continuing to work the swing with one hand.
Can u pick up some milk on the way back?
On the bench, Daniel has stopped talking and is sitting, staring at the trees with Dennis. Lily has had enough of the swing and fancies a crack at the Witch’s Hat which, for once, is empty. I try to get her to sit but she’s determined to climb up onto the handrail three years earlier than her brother so I give up and give in.
Listening to Lily convinces me there are too many words in the world. There’s something magical about the ability to break communication down into its base elements. Daddy, hand! Daddy, sit! Daddy, book! Maybe if two toddlers stood at opposite ends of an underground Swiss tunnel and yelled with all their might the resultant collision would uncover a literary Bosun-Higgs, and just imagine…
I push. My thoughts marble and scatter. The wind picks up. Lily shouts. Daniel sits. Dennis remains unmoved.
“Time to go my boy. It’s nearly bath time.”
I repeat this another three times before Daniel leans over and hugs Dennis. The old man pats his head and keeps on staring. I gather my protesting daughter into my arms and lower her into the pram. I bribe her into silence with dried apricots and a bottle of water. Daniel tries to steal some as he arrives at a sprint. Lily screams at him on reflex and then offers him some as we walk towards the gate. I wave to the old man.
“So how was Dennis?”
“Not Dennis. Denny.”
“So how was Denny?”
“Fine.” The default five-year-old assessment of the world.
“Did you tell him about the library?”
“Yes. And then we watched Dougie playing.”
“Who’s Dougie? Is he in your class?”
“No, daaaad. He’s Denny’s brother. He’s a big boy like me and he likes to play with trucks and when he talks bubbles come out and it makes Denny sad.”
I stop walking. “Where was he playing Daniel?”
“In the trees daddy.”
I turn to face the park.
“He’s gone away now daddy. It was time for swimming so he ran to his house.”
I watch as the old man shuffles towards the cricket fields. I want to call to him but there is no certainty in my thoughts and the unknown words choke in my throat. A dog bounds up to him and he pats its head and continues on.
“Can we have pasta tonight daddy?”
“Sauce!” says Lily in agreement.
I nod and stroke Daniel’s hair. “Of course. As much as you want.”