Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Excerpt from 'Zoe and May' - new and unpublished

And then every Saturday, his ex brought around May, his five-year-old daughter. He was getting to know her still, after two years when he and Cathy hadn’t spoken, and the only times he’d seen May were through a parked car window, coming out of Cathy’s place on a blustery winter afternoon in a duffle-coat that made her look like Paddingon Bear, or going into the supermarket and emerging again half an hour later, skipping beside her plastic bag-laden mother. He’d watch the house for hours, nothing changing whatsoever except dark drawing in—this was so unhealthy—while inside, his daughter’s childhood was taking place.

Now at last he had her, and didn’t know what to do with her at all, he’d never felt such an oaf. The car door would slam in the street, and there she’d be at the end of the drive, with her overnight case in one hand and Puss-puss, her stuffed toy, dangling from the other. He’d open his arms, and while she ran to him, his eye would be drawn to the dark head in the car, turned his way. The long pause before she turned the ignition and the car slid off.

This mistrust made him defiant, but still he had no idea. When he lifted her up and spun her round he half expected his big dumb hands to be seared by contact with such loveliness. Mayflower, he said, kissing her cheeks. According to the scales she weighed fourteen kilograms, but he could not believe it. She felt light as a kite, only the pulsing imbalance of her kicking legs indicating she had any weight to her at all. What do you do when a butterfly lands on your shoulder? You hold your breath and wait and try not to move so you won’t damage it.

But holding still, he knew, would not save him from harming her, this serious child whose eyes took in everything, like she was swallowing the world whole. If he was not to damage her he would need to act, to decide, to care and nurture, he knew this, but—fathering? He simply didn’t have a clue. He remembered the first day she came, standing in his empty living room—he’d cleaned and vacuumed for the occasion, thinking he was preparing for her, making an effort, but now as she stood there on the bare carpet, like a sad but polite traveller, he understood he’d got it all wrong again.

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