Monday, April 22, 2013

The best thing

It's the day after Frederique's 10th birthday.

I have been playing the game. You know the game? This one:

This time ten years ago, it was an uncharacteristically warm late April, the sun was like syrup thick in the trees, and the air smelt of the changing colour of the European trees in Fitzroy gardens, across the road from the hospital.

This time ten years ago I was still in hospital, caught in suspended animation between before and after in the perpetual muted twilight of the birth centre.

This time ten years ago, I looked down at this complicated thing, bundle of limbs, this puzzle. Did I know her then? Did I see the first glimpses of who she is becoming? The expanding infinity of her?

Or: I did not know her then, what makes me think I know her now?

Or: do I know her the best I am ever going to know her? The pure dark whorl of her id inflating to block out all other sources of light and information. She hasn't yet learned the complete art of hiding the wildness of desire. She is hungry, but for what? She feels, all jangling nerve ends, all raw appetite. As time passes and she slowly perfects the skills of concealing, delaying, fabricating, will I know her less and less. As she solves the riddle of herself, will she become more and more a puzzle to me?

Last night she gave me a hug before going to bed. 'What's the best thing about being alive so far?' I asked her. She thought for the briefest moment and in that moment the tangled mess of her seemed just below the surface and I thought it would be a question she wouldn't be able to answer. But she surprised me.

'Books,' she said. 'I couldn't live without books.'