From the sidelines, I watch him suddenly shining in the swimming pool.
After a faltering start he glides through the water with a captivating confidence and my heart swells, willing him to glance in my direction so that I can acknowledge how proud he makes me in this moment.
At that very second he reaches the edge of the pool and I watch with bated breath. He whips off his goggles and whirls around. Is he searching for me? Our eyes meet and I’m surprised electricity doesn’t bounce across the surface of the water. Our expressions are a mirror image. We say nothing but know exactly what each other’s thinking.
We sit beside each other in the darkness, waiting for the film to start. On his lap is a pile of sugary treats. Suddenly he scrutinises me, his face full of expectation. “Where’s yours?” he says, and I smile and stroke his cheek, explaining that I’m fine. Next, a bag of beloved Jelly Beans is thrust before my face, and he’s so insistent that I ‘take some, a handful, please’ that I know he’ll be offended if I don’t.
The film bores me to tears and at one point I contemplate teaching my boys the art of voting with your feet. I whisper something by way of effort to gauge his interest. He’s rapt, or at least he pretends to be, so I pretend to love it to.
Later we discuss the movie’s merits with Dada. “It was good, wasn’t it,” I say, keen not to rain on their parade.
He shoots me a withering look. “She hated it,” he says, and I laugh out loud.
Crazy little brother makes him play this game all the way home from the movies. It’s called What Would You Rather Be.
A pig or a horse?
(He says a horse, without hesitation.)
A pig with food or a horse with no food?
(Horse with no food. Such is his commitment to his passion.)
A golf club or a sock that belongs to someone with a smelly foot?
(Golf club. Duh.)
Who do you love most, Best Friend or Mum?
(Exasperated sigh. Don’t be ridiculous. Mama, OBVIOUSLY.)
Best Friend or me?
(Pause. *Thinks* Hmm. You.)
In what must be screen overload we are snuggled four to a bed, watching Batman Begins. They delight in telling me that it’s a 12. It’s practically a boast. I stick my fingers in my ears and look at Dada witheringly, who pretends not to notice.
He’s wearing pyjamas two sizes too small just because he loves them so. The fabric is thin and bobbled and he smells like swimming pool and jelly beans.
I hand him a glass of milk, urging ‘two hands please’ but I accidentally spill a drop on him. He teases me and I start laughing, and he threatens to spill more milk unless I stop.
He leans his head on me, snuggling in, and I wish I had the power to pause time.
In being a writer I make choices all the time. What to hide, what to reveal. Where does story-telling end and exploitation begin?
You, the reader, sees so little, really. You don’t see the easy bits, this bond. You’ll never know the words I whisper into tiny ears every single night, nor which part he likes having tickled – the same bit my grandfather would stroke on me when I cuddled up beside him on the sofa.
My bent, my natural truth strays always to the edges. The darker places always draw me in. But I don’t always remember that those are the best places to see the light.
Nothing hurts me more than to think that I might be over-sharing – that writing my dark edges might in some way jeopardise other people’s. I suppose every writer has to walk this path. That, or betray themself by putting down the pen.
Glancing at him, I wonder what pearl of wisdom he might share, were he old enough to understand.
Suddenly, I see exactly what he’d say. How big his heart is, and what forgiveness he so readily extends. He’d get it, I think, and would be at pains to tell me so.
You’re my hero, I say over him, and in his sleep, he smiles.