All morning I have been doling out pieces of string.
“How long?” I ask Nick.
“Um…about as big as Juni.”
“That’s about a meter. How’s this?” I say, holding up a length.
I snip it and he disappears upstairs. I wonder what I will find when I look in his room.
His friend Peter appears at the doorway.
“Could I have a liter of string please?”
“How long’s a liter?” I ask him.
He holds his arms out for me to measure. Takes his string and joins Nick.
My daughter walks through the front door, out of the rain, in her pajamas, with her purple polka-dotted wellington boots on the wrong feet. She is holding a full squirt gun. What was she doing out there? She looks at me, kicks her boots off and leaves the room.
It is a wet, English August day. Three odd socks, a handful of stray jigsaw pieces, and the cap to a purple marker are on the table in front of me. My daughter, now dressed, squeals into the room, followed by her brother making light sabre noises and shooting at her with the empty squirt gun.
“Mama,” she says, “I don’t know what to do.” She gets up and runs away, chased by Nick.
Peter reappears, asks for half a liter of string this time. He explains they are making a parachute for my daughter’s stuffed dog. This is the dog that leapt from our car at 60 mph on the B1105 earlier this week in Norfolk. When did that dog jump? How did I not even realize she was flying him out the open window on the end of a three-foot stick? What was I doing? Driving?
My son appears in the doorway holding the squirt gun to the dog’s throat, saying, “Don’t run away, don’t run away, don’t run away.”
Peter looks at Nick solemnly and says, “God is dead.”
“I know,” says Nick. “God is always dead – he’s always in heaven, that’s where he lives.”
“I know,” says Peter. “But I saw a real crocodile yesterday, at the wildlife park.”
“The cheetah is the fastest cat,” says Nick.
“I know,” responds Peter, “But there’s a bird. A bird that is faster than the cheetah and even faster than the gorilla. I forget what it was called. Oh wait, yes, it was the pemelican. Yes, the pemelican is faster than the cheetah and even faster than the gorilla.”
“Oh.” Impressed to silence, Nick follows Peter out of the room.
Ten minutes later they come back downstairs. The dog has hurt his leg, they report. He is poorly.
“What happened?” I ask.
“He parachuted into the light sabre.”
“No, no,” interrupts Peter, “what happened was that Nick swung his light sabre at the dog and it went through his leg and cut the strings on the parachute. He’ll get better, but he’s got to stay in a flying bed.”
Nick tucks the dog under a scrap of blue and black checkerboard fabric and gives him the squirt gun to protect himself. They leave the room.
Oh to be six and seven. When God is dead and truth is optional and expertise is acquired with the wave of an imaginary light sabre and a bit of swagger.