I’m at the kitchen window watching Maki and Tyson who have just screamed and exited the trampoline in the backyard. I don’t know what depression is really and I could never claim to suffer from it but there are regular times in my life where I feel dull, listless, less motivated and more likely to focus on the horrors of the world: terrorism and plague and old age and death.
And from that comes this temporary certainty that I’m lacking some crucial element or running out of time; that I’ve missed my chance somehow, that I should just cut my losses on any personal goals – which are trivial and self-centred when compared to just about anything – and pad the time around family by reading serious books or shaking my head and feigning superiority while viewing award ceremonies featuring dresses made of meat and tiny peach-coloured twerking shorts.
‘Dad,’ Tyson screams, after throwing open the sliding door. ‘There’s a slug on the trampoline.’
‘Oh,’ I say, hitting pause on my Fleetwood Mac CD. ‘Did you get it off?’
‘Can you?’ he says.
‘Daddy!’ Maki says, pointing towards the trampoline, skipping on the spot, two year old eyes filled with terror. ‘Ged it Daddy. Ged it!’
‘It’s okay Maki,’ I say, as I hit play on the CD again and step out on to the porch. ‘It’s just a slug. Slugs can’t hurt you.’
The sun stings and I have to hold up my arm to shield my eyes as ‘Hold Me’ plays out loud and stokes the flame of melancholy inside me. I can see the slug from here. It’s huge. I can even see the reflection of its pointless journey: a mucousy trail leading from one end of the trampoline and pointing towards the other.
Yesterday, Reservoir Mum and I took the boys to Croc’s Play Centre to see if it’d be a good spot for Maki’s third birthday and after crawling through tunnels and shooting foam balls through high-powered air guns and encouraging Maki to head down the largest slide, belly down, feet first, I sat with RM at one of the tables for a cappuccino and said, ‘I can’t believe Maki’s almost three already…’
‘I know,’ she said. ‘He’s been such an easy kid.’
‘He’s amazing. He can climb and jump, run and roll, draw and… people keep saying his language is way better than you’d expect at this age. But it’s just so crazy that everything’d going so fast,’ I said, and for some reason, with my senses cocooned by the echoes of dozens of screaming and hollering children, I remembered this…
I’m sitting on my bed, aged four or five, removing and replacing the knobs on the back of a broken clock Dad had given me, when all of a sudden the hands start moving and I hear it ticking and I hit the ground running to find Dad and tell him I’d fixed it.
When I tried to tell RM about this she smiled, put a hand on my arm and said, ‘I know, you’ve told me about that many times’ and – before I’d had a moment to wonder about why that particular memory keeps repeating on me whenever the dullness rises – I said, ‘I just don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything…’
As I step off the porch and take to the two-runged ladder Tyson’s running alongside, bumping into me for the courage and the close-up excitement of it, only letting me press forward alone once I start climbing through the open zip of the trampoline’s mesh walls.
‘Are you going to throw the slug away Dad?’ he says.
‘I’ll just drop it in the grass, mate,’ I say, as I take to my hands and knees until I’m directly over the top of it, my fingers out like pincers, a little hesitant myself because this creature is truly disgusting.
‘Daaad!’ Maki screams suddenly, so that both Tyson and I look back at him.
‘Daaad!’ he says again, bouncing on the porch, one hand on his cheek, head pulled back and lips peeled.
‘What’s the matter, mate?’ I say.
He’s pointing directly at me and although I’m still seconds away from realising it, his finger is acting as a conduit for the magic of his toddler mentality.
‘Daddy, I’m scared of that flog.’
‘Flog?’ I say, before an explosion of laughter bends me down so that my head and lips are way too close to the slimy mess beneath me; so that Tyson’s crazy peerless booming laughter follows mine. ‘It’s called a slug, Maki.’
‘That flog!’ he says, louder, pointing at me again, dispersing the dullness like a wizard.
When I recover enough to lift the creature between forefinger and thumb I regain a sense of the bizarre and I know I’ve come through again, that I’m going to be okay because this huge unloved disgusting slug with its unappreciated snail-trail art is slow-turning and glistening brightly in the sun as if to say, ‘Fuck what you think, flog. I’m like jewellery.’