At 11.57 a.m. today my daughter was exactly 4 years old. She was also sick of birthday celebrations and even sobbed “I don’t know if I’m actually four or not” because we’ve been celebrating her 4th birthday since Sunday.
I have learned an important lesson about managing the amount of birthday stuff that happens. Although what the alternative is when a birthday falls on a week day I don’t know. I do have friends who manipulate when their child’s birthday is to suit them but, even though I’m not at all adverse to lying to my children, that is one lie I feel I would struggle to maintain.
(I heard a great story about a mother coming a cropper when her child started school and the teachers gave her a card and sang happy birthday when she didn’t know it was on that day.)
Anyway, the birthday is done. We spent the afternoon painting her ‘paint your own tea set’ and scootering around the kitchen. The last present has been given (and it was a great one – a doll that actually swims in water – thank you grandma and grandpa!). Tomorrow begins a new day.
As I write this post I am inhaling the scent of caramelised potatoes and carrots. Not because of some fancy dinner but because I burned the mash while my parents were here. I’m now trying to decide what to cook as well as what on earth I’m going to have happen to Claire this evening as I haven’t done any research today. I think it’s going to have to be something with her new Aussie friend.
I asked my husband last week what should happen to Claire next and he said “surely someone will hit on her?”
He said it with such confidence but I don’t remember anyone ever chatting me up when I travelled around New Zealand. Mind you I was suffering from panic attacks after coming off antidepressants so I probably didn’t give off a come-chat-me-up sort of vibe. I did have an incident with a hitchhiker but I’m saving that story for later on in Claire’s adventures!
My other task for this week is to pull together an electronic version of all the posts for January so I can have it available for people who want to catch up on the story. I’m struggling for a title, if anyone has any ideas. I’m toying with “Two-hundred steps home” because of the 200 YHA hostels and Claire’s journey but it’s a bit vague. I’ve never been any good at coming up with good titles. Any ideas gratefully received!
“Look, there’s Orion, although it’s upside-down of course. His sword’s pointing skyward, if you know what I mean?” Josh chuckled, the sound spilling out from somewhere deep in his throat. Claire didn’t understand his words but the swell of his laughter washed over her, resonating deep in her midriff.
They stood shoulder to shoulder gazing up at the glitter-strewn sky. It reminded Claire of something Sky might produce at school that would turn up in the post to Aunty Claire, dropping blue sparkles all over her cream carpet.
Standing in the freezing night beneath the myriad of stars Claire realised she had never truly seen the night sky before. In Manchester it was barely possible to distinguish the Big Dipper above the persistent glow of streetlights. Here, deep in the Kielder Forest, it was hard to see the dark of Space in between the sparkling specks of light. She felt like a child in awe of the sight above her.
Claire became aware of the gushing words filling her head and gave a mental shake. All this sky is making me poetic. Time for another G&T I think.
She turned to Josh, to tell him that it was time to go. His silence spread to fill the space around him as he gazed, rapt, at the display above his head. Claire shrugged and turned to stand alongside him again. There’s no real hurry I guess. He’s having fun and it took some effort to get here.
She thought about the skidding, spinning Skoda ride up the snow-strewn path and sighed. Halfway up the track she had stopped the car and made Josh drive, as much to stop his constant stream of advice as to soothe her tattered nerves. When they arrived at the Observatory it was to find that Public Viewing was cancelled due to the weather. Thankfully they were still able to access the decked areas and see the stars with the naked eye.
The word naked caught in Claire’s mind and she became aware, as if for the first time, of the man standing slightly too near her for comfort. She could feel Josh’s coat brushing hers, his woollen clad hands near hers on the railings. Her nostrils filled with the scent of cheap deodorant and cigarette smoke. Not smells that would normally have the kind of effect on her knees that they seemed to be having at that moment.
Josh was pointing out the constellations he knew, explaining which ones could be seen in Australia, upside-down of course, and which ones couldn’t.
“Did you know you can’t see the Pole Star if you’re as much as one degree over the equator? Amazing. We don’t have anything that fixed in the Southern Hemisphere although our stars are brighter, especially the Southern Cross.”
Claire turned so she could hear what Josh was saying without taking down her hood. It was freezing up on the observation deck. Josh glanced round at the movement and his words fell from his mouth and lay dead in the snow. He leaned forwards and raised a mitten-clad hand to Claire’s face.
Claire’s heart beat loudly but not as loud as the clamour filling her brain. What the hell? Oh God is he going to kiss me? I barely know him and he reeks of fags and oh crap it’s just too corny to snog the first Australian guy I meet. Isn’t that what all backpackers do?
Josh’s face came nearer, his breath steaming in the cold air, brushing warmth across Claire’s frozen face. Her eyes widened as the monologue shrilled loudly in her head. She was immobile with indecision. It would be awkward to turn away and avoid the kiss, but not as awkward as what might happen after they came together. The thoughts raced on, wondering if they would sleep together, wondering how that happened exactly if you were both staying in dorm rooms.
They don’t shag in dorms do they? With people trying to sleep all around them? Surely they get a double room? She wondered who ‘they’ were. Some alien species of traveling people? That’s me now, I’m a backpacker too.
Josh’s lips were almost at hers and still no plan of action had presented itself in her jumbled mind. His eyes were closed, a fact Claire found slightly disappointing. She couldn’t remember her first kiss with Michael – they were both too drunk – but she had some idea that first kisses were meant to happen with each of the people gazing longingly at the other until the moment when lips touched and fire exploded.
She felt the first brush of Josh’s lips against hers. They were rough and chapped, and his unshaven cheeks scratched her cold skin. His eyes flew open when she didn’t respond and he looked into her face then, his expression rueful but unabashed.
“Ah well, can’t blame a bloke for trying. You are very hot. Taken?”
He pulled away.
Claire remained still for a moment more as she processed events, unsure why she hadn’t responded. She had wanted to. Every part of her body was throbbing with the need to lose herself in someone’s kisses. Her traitorous brain, not for the first time, seemed to have taken over at the crucial moment.
“Um, no, not taken. Er, you just caught me by surprise that’s all.”
Josh grinned. “Ah, so I I’m free to try again at a better moment? Sweet.”
He turned back to face the stars as if they’d been discussing where to meet for lunch. Claire swallowed, her throat dry, and tried to detangle her jumbled thoughts.
Great, that’s all I need, another bloody complication. Oh Michael, where are you?
She turned and faced the night, seeking answers amongst the stars.