‘It’ll be like this candle.’ My daughter picks up the orange and cinnamon-scented candle from the table. The candle is contained in a glass a little bigger than one you might drink a shot from. ‘You’re the wick, and mummy and I are at the bottom.’ She touches the charred wick and then the underside of the glass, to which the barcode remains attached. We bought this candle together at the pottery for her mother’s last birthday. More of a Christmas than a birthday candle, it was the one with the smell which most appealed to her. ‘All we have to do is light the candle, and the wax will melt, and you’ll be with us again.’ See, I told you, next she would master metaphor. I truly am the wick. I feel charred, old, every inch my age. To mix my metaphors, I wish I could be the wet new butterfly I watched emerge from a chrysalis all those years ago at school. When I was small and innocent and (I like to think) necessarily good. I watched it open and fill and flood with life. I wish like it I could be new again, freshly minted, at once green and all the colours of the rainbow. Like my daughter is, with everything still ahead of her. But of course if I were, then she would not (yet) exist.
We’ve been talking about my being away from home for a few days. It’s for work, and I don’t really want to go, because what I’m doing will be dry and tiring and very possibly not worth the considerable effort and expense. But I’m signed up for it and I’ve got to do it, so we talk about how much I’d prefer to stay and not go.
‘Would you rather take me to E-Z-P-Z?’ E-Z-P-Z is an indoor play area with aircraft hangar acoustics that magnify the hullaballoo from the kids and the easy-peasiest of ways of making a father feel his age should he be foolish enough to be swayed by supplication into entering the play structure, there to test the inflexibility of both his back and all the joints in his legs.
‘Much, much more,’ I say.
‘If we went to the zoo and we saw a camel and it bit you, would you even prefer that to going on your course?’
‘How hard would the camel bite me?’
‘Just a nip. Maybe there would be a bit of blood.’
‘Hmmm. I’ve never been bitten by a camel before. It might be quite interesting to be bitten by one, if it won’t take any of my fingers off; and if that were the only bad thing to happen in the day, well, I’d definitely go for that over my course too.’ She seems satisfied with my answers and we turn back to the bracelet she is making.
Now I am back from the course and it was… endurable. This weekend it’ll be a toss-up between the toe-blistering and feet-murdering experience of ice-skating, or a close encounter with a camel, in which case this might be the last eight-fingered entry in these annals. But that’s a sacrifice I will make willingly, and happily.