You are unborn. You are minus one day old. You jostle for a place in the future. Half-sleeping, without thinking, you become. You are one. A day. You are. We don’t know. You have dreams of being and opening your hands, tiny, to the mysteries of everyday life. You dream of picking a dandelion clock and learning to splash and making up words of your own. You dream of capturing and forgetting faeries, of being afraid, of naming your teddies one by one and blowing out candles on a birthday cake. You dream of having a grandad and a dog and being alone.
You are two days old. Eight cells. You tremble and cling.
You are three, four. Two days later, you stumble into my imagination. And fall.
You are unborn.
And so you wait.
You come and go before you are. This time, though, you are real.
You are one. You don’t understand clocks or time or the workings of the sun. You reach out to discover the world and grasp a jelly-filled stem and snap it off. The gel sticks to your new fingers and you grimace.
You brandish the clock, fluffy and exploding, and as the seeds disperse, time passes. You are two days old. You are five. Seven. Seventeen. You quiver but hang on. You are only a number and my imagination. You are thirty-five days old. You have curly hair and haven’t learned to stand. We plonk you gently in the sink filled with soft, warm water and teach you to splash. You are mesmerised by the ripples and sounds of the chrome aquatic world and resist the invasion of a giant yellow rubber duck. You are thirty-six days old, and we know about you.
You are real, and real in our minds. You are forty-two days old. We know and we are scared of you. We don’t know what you mean. Secretly, you are inventing a devious language of your own, which will take us years to decipher.
You are forty-three days old when we undo you. In a sudden gush, you are unborn and swallow your imaginings and beginnings and wait again.
Every morning, we swim out to an island where no one lives. The island plays tricks on us, and time slows and speeds and swirls and is and isn’t, until one morning we say, You know, I think it’s time.
You aren’t angry. Because you aren’t. But somehow, we feel you hold it against us. We feel it anyway. The guilt is real, even if you are not.
And we try. Sometimes you are one, and then none. Two, three days, slipping away, again and again. We miss you and yearn for you and imagine you babbling in a language we can’t understand.
Suddenly, you are. One. Five, twenty-three, forty-six. You begin to be. We see you, captured in time, captured in black and white. We hold our breath. But you are. You are fifty, you are fifty-seven, sixty-seven. Ninety. You are in the garden, gathering damp moss and piling it inside a small structure of twigs you have been working on all morning. Deftly, you place pinecones and daisies and a snail shell inside and place a dock leaf over the opening. Suddenly, the whole construction wobbles and tumbles to the ground. You falter but remain.
You are one-hundred-and-twenty days old. We are counting days. Your teddy bears help you blow out the two fluttering candles on your cake. You are one-hundred-and-twenty-three.
You are and we wait. You are two hundred.
You go on a trip with your grandad. You eat ice-cream and find feathers and are pushed on a swing that creaks as it flies forward. You curve higher and higher, and the chains loosen and jolt, and you hang on and close your eyes. Yet you are. You are two-hundred-and-thirty, -forty, -forty-five.
You are two-hundred-and-fifty-nine days old, and you are feeding your dog digestive biscuits when no one is looking. You are two-hundred-and-sixty. The dog hears a thrush in the garden outside and bounds out the door. You scamper and toddle after it into the garden, and through the neighbour’s garden, and beyond that. You are two-hundred-and-seventy-one. You lose sight of the dog and topple down into a patch of dock leaves and ragwort. You look up at the pink sky and big drops of rain splash onto your nose and cheeks. You are two-hundred-and-seventy-eight days old.
For the first time you are alone.
We look everywhere.
We scream your name.
We have lost you.
Suddenly, we see your tiny head poking out from the yellow flowers. You reach out and we lift you up.
You are born.