He has learned my name, he says it over and over, calling me, his new playmate, to attention. If my name were the clutch of a car you would smell burning by now. He puts one hand on his hip, like a supermodel who has reached the end of the runway, and thrusts the free arm skywards, finishing with a turn of the hand, a finger flourish worthy of a Simon Biles triple twisting double back dismount off the balance beam. ‘Look,’ he says, ‘look!’ He pulls at my trouser leg, encouraging me to hunker down to his level. Often life is better from low down. My viewpoint – now that of a two and a half year-old – takes in the sky and rooftops, drainpipes that have become the blood veins of houses, and gutters that stretch as high as the clouds. Silently, a few feet away, his mother waves a bubble wand and glistening orbs are birthed and float up to heaven. His little mouth mimics the shape, mine too, in circular gapes to ape these balls of magic. Brisk summer wind, the clouds are scudding, and a shaft of blue sky is widening, and his eyes do the same: open and expand in wonder at the simple spell cast by pulling a loop of soapy water in calligraphed whorls through the air. Crouching down, huddled low, I share his childlike wonder. I’m earthy, rooted, terrestrial and pure awe is tugged from within me, a fresh astonishment loosened to see these weightless bubbles float and drift. I’m watching secrets carried from a fortune teller’s crystal ball and for a second I understand the message. Unstable, they wobble, like a child’s lower lip seconds before it gives way to tears, but then, against all odds, some stabilise and float higher like a songless lark. He calls my name and points. Our eyes are pinned on the same thing: one huge bubble, flashing rainbow colours, has broken and reformed into four, five – no six little bubblings. ‘Wow!’ He steals my thought about the mother breaking apart, dissolving into her offspring, smaller but somehow more robust now, floating above the neighbour’s gable end and towards a gull who shares not our wonder for bubbles. I glance at mum who smiles beatifically. She is Glinda, raining blissful blessings upon us and gifting me the lost eyes of a child as I watch magic dance and shapeshift as it rises into the sky.
Why do we yearn for diamond rings when we can watch bubbles ascend like whispered prayers we dare not speak aloud? Translucent gems all the more enthralling for their seconds-long lifespan. And just as I begin to feel sentimental, nostalgic for the bejewelled bubble that has just burst, he pulls me from my watchful den to chase a new batch of shimmering eggs being laid into air. We chase them, reaching, jumping, poking and clapping, running through the soapy spells because he knows, instinctively, that beauty is impermanent, and the least permanent of all is a bubble. My most profound lesson of the summer has been taught to me by a child: life will burst your bubble, so keep laughing, stay joyous, and dance anyway; all is well.