I am making a summer fruit flan with my five-year-old granddaughter, nothing complicated – a ready-made sponge flan-case, strawberries already cut in half, raspberries, a packet of Quick-jel – nothing that can hurt her, nothing that can be spoiled under her energetic little hands, so why is the didact inside me so intent on her 'doing it right'?
Put in the strawberry halves cut side down, around the edge, and tightly together, I say. But she doesn’t seem to be listening and drops them anywhere. She leaves gaps that I hurry to fill. And then the raspberries. Choose the small ones first, I tell her, and put them in the spaces between the strawberries. But she chooses any sized ones and squashes them in, their ripe flesh pulping between her fingers and thumb.
When it comes to the Quick-jel, I bring the saucepan over to the kitchen bar, hand her the wooden spoon and say, Stir it gently.
Pink waves break over the side of the pan and I realise she’s not even watching; her eyes have drifted to the other side of the room bewitched by her Granddad unravelling a knotted piece of string.
I cover the fruit with the gel while she climbs down from her stool asking Granddad about the fish, when are they going to call and feed them, and can she go upstairs and open the little door in her bedroom that leads to the roof’s dusty eaves.
Later, in the garden, she cuts the flan and lifts it before I can warn her to Keep the knife flat, slide it out slowly. We eat it upside-down and throw the crumbs to the fish.
When she asks me to tell her a story of when I was a little girl, I tell her how once I polished my mother’s red and green kitchen floor with Cherry Blossom Dark Tan shoe polish. After that, we both run through the orchard, screaming because giants are chasing us up and down the rows of apple trees.
'attic': what I don’t want to say
when she asks, what do you call
the sky in your house?
- Write about doing something wrong.
- Write about not listening.
- Write a list of questions you don't need answers to.
- Write about something you did as a young child.
- Write about the sky, but don’t mention the word 'sky'.
She taught us to count using shiny buttons. I still have three of them, pocketed by an inner jackdaw. St John's crosses that glow dimly in mum's button tin among the plastic and the marbles.
Everyone else had gone to what I now call lunch, but it was dinner then. I knew the way out though, and I walked bravely through the giant stone arch to the main road. A car stopped and I climbed in. Was I told to? I must have said where my house was because the driver took me there. The stranger took me home to my mum.
I have felt the fear from that journey for all of my life. I can reach for it now. A random survival. Not all journeys are safe home.
Thank you, Anonymous, for this memory. The shiny buttons and the stone arch create an amazing juxtaposition - they have fairy tale qualities.