by Cathy Lennon
‘Ben,’ I say. He has taken his arms out of his coat sleeves, put the hood up and fastened the top popper. ‘Ben.’ Louder this time. He is being a superhero, or a fighter pilot, or a bird of prey. He circles a few times and I stand stock still, hands in my jeans pockets, pierced again by how precious and amazing he is. He comes to a stop beside me, pulls down his hood, wrestles his hands back in his sleeves.
‘What daddy?’ His eyes have the new watchful expression. That dark uncertainty that twists my heart.
‘What does that look like to you?’ I nod at the sculpture, the last along the trail we are exploring because, for once, it isn’t raining. It stands on end, a gleaming copper spiral on the forest floor. It’s more ram’s horn than snail shell and about ten times actual size and I wait to hear what a five year old will make of it. He goes up close and sticks his head into the opening.
‘Helloo!’ he shouts. ‘Can you hear me?’ He looks back at me. ‘I think there is a dragon down there. It lives in a cave under the ground and it breathes fire. Roooaaaarrr.’
He’s seen dragons in everything today. ‘It’s even more exciting than that,’ I smile. ‘It’s an ammonite.’
He repeats the word, mixing up the ‘m’ and the ‘n’ and we make it into a tongue twister until we are both giggling. Then I explain about fossils. About a living thing that died. About sediment and the passing of time. About the preservation of something that still has meaning, just in a different form. When his eyes cloud with bewilderment I stop myself. I ask him if he’s hungry. He asks for nuggets and chips.
On the doorstep Kirsty barely meets my eye. Ben rushes in without a backward glance. ‘Same time next week?’ she says.
I concentrate on geological time as I drive back to the flat. Then I stand with my key in the latch and listen very hard for dragons.