Yvonne Kiddle is doing a doctorate in Early Modern studies and, in any left over moments, slowly bringing to a close the novel she has been working on for some time.
They were walking along the quiet evening road that ran its way beneath the light-house, the child exclaiming, gesturing with his long, brown arms, the boyish arms of summer. A lone gull flew above them, stalking its early shadow over the strange-haired grass. She adjusted her hat against the falling sun, looked at the line of trees on the sole hill on the horizon, then coughed, as something inexplicable caught in her throat. She remembered what he had told her:
This was an island. Just an island.
The child, reeling with the glorious ineffability of youth, ran ahead, now here, now there, picking at tiny shells that the years had dropped in passing, rejoicing over flowers starring white in the fray of dusk, encompassing everything – the air, the deepening silence, the slight and silvered moon, the company of a bat as it twisted and turned, quick as a glance on the heel of the horizon. She looked at the figure of the child and said to herself, crossing her fingers:
I just want this moment to last.
They rounded a corner, and the eerie, mournful, lake presented itself, frilled along the edge with tiny bubbles. The bubbles frothed up and caught themselves against her dress, teasing at the child’s quick imagination. “I’m a giant,” he cried out, “in a giant bath of bubbles!” Then he turned, “Giselle,” he said, tipping his head curiously to one side as children do. “Why are there all these bubbles?”
She had to think on this. The directness of his question both bemused and startled her. She had lived in the world all this time, yet there were still so many things that she herself didn’t know. Why this lake, for instance, with its manic calamity of bubbles? Was it something to do with the arcane workings of biology perhaps? What would the experts call it? An “algal bloom”?
She suggested such a thing to the child, but he just turned and beamed an awkward smile, cradling the folding bubbles in his arms.
“There, there,” he murmured quietly, from his childish room of covert science; with the ego of a child, he had moved on.
Well, she mused, consoling herself: in the thousand questions which flew to him. Did it really matter that a few remained unanswered? She held her hand out to him, and he brushed the bubbles off his clothes (“icky, sticky, bubbles – yah!”) and he took it with the child’s art, ingenuously. Yes, she could see, he really didn’t mind. He was the sweetest child in the world with his great, blue eyes, and gangling legs and his ready storehouse of unqualified forgiveness. She loved him more than life itself, and yet here she was, entangled in this mess of things that she wanted desperately to say to him, but couldn’t. She couldn’t ever find that certain gleaming moment and yet, looking at the shining earnestness of his face, how could she possibly resist?
He caught her and he drew her to him and he whispered:
“I have a secret life –”
She drew her breath in sharply, as if it almost hurt, this startling, burning overture of a confidence. She straightened her arms against the clamoured beating of her heart. Some deep, unnamed emotion –
A vehicle came tearing round the corner. Tyres screeched on the snaking road. The birds screamed and the mood ran, and the moment left, as quickly as it had arrived. The boy raced ahead of her, undeterred, laughing:
“Look, Sally!” he cried out, using the name that he once gave to her in the artless petals of a gift, “The bubbles have all gone flying – see?”
And he ran and danced away in front of her, caught against the callous net of the evening breeze.
She breathed out. And so they had – of course! Why, look, my darling! The bubbles were floating up against the pale white rise of the early moon. Some deep, unnameable grief entered then, into the chambers of her heart, beating there with aimless, fractured wings into the distance of a question to which she would never have the answer. She knew that now. It floated away, right out beyond the lighthouse, beyond the anguished harbour, beyond the lost labyrinth of a child’s indiscreet indulgence, evicted now to flight. Its twining wake welled up inside her (some deep, unnamed emotion), drew its shining shadow in the heart.