“Dad says that you used to have a little girl,” said The Child. “But she died,” it added, conversationally.
“I did. She did,” said Helena.
“He said that you might get sad, and then I have to Give You Space and Listen To Aunty Mykes,” went on The Child, then pointed — “That girl has a backpack like my backpack!”
“So she does,” confirmed Helena, “With a princess on it. I expect her monstrously large eyes are due to some enchantment. She probably said the wrong thing to a very wicked woman.”
“It’s Rapunzel,” explained The Child. “If you get sad you can just go for one of your walks. Like when you come and stay with us.”
“Well then. Perhaps I shall.”
The Child eyed her shrewdly for a moment. “You’re not really mad. You’re just pretending,” it decided.
Helena looked back toward the food court for Myka.
“What was your little girl’s name?” asked The Child, inevitably.
“Christina,” said Helena, facing forward again and fixing her eyes on a taxiing aeroplane.
“How old was she? Was she as old as me?”
“She wasn’t as old as you, no. Not quite”
“What color was her hair? And what did she like to do?”
“Her hair was black, like mine.”
It considered her hair. “You have white in your hair now.”
“Yes. But lots more black,” it said reassuringly. “it’s mostly black. Aunty Mykes’ hair,” it confided, “goes orange sometimes. In the sun.”
“Aunty Mykes has been dying her hair since she was thirty,” said Helena maliciously.
But The Child had decided the topic of hair had been exhausted. “What did Christina like to do?”
“She liked to do all sorts of things.”
The Child rolled its eyes, “What sorts of things?”
“Well.” Helena thought. “She would come on my walks with me.”
“Really? That’s what she liked?”
“Not always,” admitted Helena. “Sometimes, though.”
“I don’t like to go for walks. Mom makes us. But the baby won’t be able to go for walks will he?”
“He’ll probably sit in a pram. And your mother will push it. Or your father. When you go for walks.”
“Sometimes Dad carries me home. But he says I’m getting too big now, even for him.” The Child had twisted right around in its chair and was staring back at the tiny shopping centre. “Can I get a magazine to read?”
“You already have a magazine.”
“I’ve looked at it. Well, most of it. Did Christina read magazines?”
“She did. She was a good reader, like you. She had a subscription to a children’s magazine. And at Christmas she would get annuals and try and save them up. But they’d all be read by the end of January.”
This puzzled The Child. “Annuals like… like in gardening?” it guessed unexpectedly.
“No, they were like bigger versions of the magazines with lots more pages, and hard-covered like a book,” Helena paused. “I have no idea if they still exist. If they do I will buy you one. Possibly”
“Oh.” This seemed to interest The Child and it had a think. Helena looked around for Myka again.
“Did Christina live in Britain with you? In London?”
“Sometimes. We lived in Kent for a long time. And in France.”
“I’ve been to London. We went to the zoo. Look, that baby is trying to eat off the floor.”
Helena obediently looked at the toddler eating off the floor.
“It’ll get germs,” observed The Child with a superior air.
“Good,” said Helena ruthlessly, “A few germs will probably do it the world of good. You people these days live such sterile—”
“YAHTZEE!” shouted The Child, and laughed. “Dad says we have to shout Yahtzee whenever you say ‘You people these days’ now,” it explained. “He says it’s not rude, we’re helping you.”
“Does he,” said Helena.
“Yes. What else did Christina do? What did she do when she went on holiday?”
Helena thought. “We went to Scotland one summer. Well, I say ‘summer’… Apparently no-one had thought to inform Scotland of the fact. I think it rained every day. We made paper dolls.”
“You can still go swimming in the rain,” The Child informed her gravely. “Well, not if you’re a baby. Did you look for the Loch Ness Monster?”
“We had never heard of the Loch Ness Monster,” said Helena.
This was beyond comprehension. “WHAT?!” spluttered The Child, “HOW CAN YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THE LOCH NESS MONSTER.”
“I think your father was the first person to tell me about the Loch Ness Monster,” remembered Helena. “He was appalled as well. And bigfoot, and… mothman?… I don’t remember the others.”
“YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW BIGFOOT?”
“No. I’d heard of the Yeti,” offered Helena. “I had travelled through Thibet, and—”
“The yeti is okay,” said The Child kindly, “Those people have balloons.”
“I think they’re meeting someone.” Helena squinted (perhaps more than she had once needed to?): “They’re meeting ‘Michelle’. They have a sign.”
“It would be funny if someone met us in San Francisco with a sign! And we didn’t know them! And we were the wrong people! But it was still all of our names.”
“So they took us home, and chatted happily about Great Aunt Agnes and Cousin Wendel and an entire pantheon of beloved relatives we didn’t know,” continued Helena, “And when we tried to tell them we were the wrong people they all laughed and said ‘What wonderful jokers Kit and H.G. and Myka are! (well, perhaps not Myka) The wrong people indeed!’ and they slapped their thighs with mirth, and then went back to discussing Second-Cousin Clarabelle’s operation and What Went Wrong.”
The Child giggled. “What happens to their Kit and H.G. and Mykes?”
“W—ell,” thought Helena, “I expect that once they realise they aren’t being collected at the airport they run away, intoxicated with the thought of freedom and of never hearing about Second-Cousin Clarabelle’s operation; and become lighthouse keepers. And keep goats. And meanwhile you have to share a bedroom with Great-Aunt Agnes. Who snores.”
The Child thought this over. “Aunty Mykes wouldn’t let any of that happen,” it announced, firmly.
“No, she wouldn’t,” agreed Helena, “but nevertheless, we love her.”
“Okay,” said Myka, appearing balancing several paper bags and a tray of drinks, and making Helena jump, “I got a white-chocolate raspberry muffin for Kit, a chocolate muffin for H.G, and a bran muffin for Aunty Mykes who cares about nutrition. And hot chocolates.”
“Thank-you-Aunty-Mykes,” recited The Child, reaching for its muffin. “Did Christina like muffins?”
“Uh,” said Myka.
“She did. But not ones like these.”
“Right, we’re doing this apparently, good, okay,” said Myka, and sat down.
Helena examined her chocolate muffin critically. “These are like little cakes. They’re quite tasty. But real muffins are flat and unsweetened and made of thick bread. And we would toast them on a griddle. Or buy them in the street. And Christina would have hers with lots of butter. And honey. Or jam, if we had jam.”
“Could we make some when we get to your house?”
“I suppose we could,” said Helena doubtfully. “Yes, we will,” she decided. “And we’ll have pikelets another day. With jam, because we have jam.”
“And go to the science center. Aunty Mykes said you’d come too,” reminded The Child.
“Possibly we shouldn’t combine the two activities. We’d get the apparatuses all sticky. However, I’m sure your aunt already has the week’s activities planned out for us. And printed neatly on a sheet of A4 paper.”
“I do,” said Myka evenly. “To both statements. I’m going to put it on the fridge, Kit, so you can see what we’re doing each day.”
“Sometimes you make me feel exhausted, did you know that?” said Helena.
“I make the woman who works thirty-six hour days when ‘the muse has struck darling’ exhausted?”
“Sometimes it will just be you and me though, right Aunty Mykes? When H.G. has to work,” interrupted The Child.
Myka made an affirming noise. “But we’ll drag her out anyway, when we can, and she can follow us around with her hands in her pockets and make Comments.”
“I should enjoy that,” said Helena.
They ate their muffins and watched people.
“That boy has a Charizard,” pointed out Myka, and The Child looked with interest.
“My favourite is Relicanth. And Marshadow. Aunty Mykes’ favourite," it informed Helena with weighty disapproval, "is Magikarp.”
“Magikarp is the best Pokémon,” said Myka cheerfully. “If it works hard it becomes a giant sea serpent.”
“That must be of great comfort to it,” said Helena.
“It turns into Gyarados. The baby won’t have a favourite Pokémon yet,” reflected The Child, “Maybe not for years.”
“We can go through your book when we get home,” suggested Myka. “Make a list of possibilities. And then a short list of the best ones.” She caught and held Helena’s eye. “And we can add pictures," she went on in a slightly defiant tone, "And then we will print it out. Neatly. And your dad can put it up by the baby’s crib, so he has a head start on his Pokémon.”
Helena opened her mouth to say that she feared it was Now All Too Late for The Child’s father to have any sort of real head start in anything, but The Child was already saying that it had finished its little-tasty-cake, and could it have its hot chocolate.
Myka passed it over. “Hot!” she warned, then sat back and sipped her own drink. She reached out behind The Child with her left hand, absently brushing it down Helena’s shoulder until it rested on the back of her chair. Helena quietly exhaled and lent back into her. “When we finish we’d better go over to Departures so we can get on our plane,” Myka said as they watched another aeroplane descend.
As they picked up their bags and deposited their rubbish A Second Child, perhaps only five or six, appeared and regarded The Child silently. “Hello,” said The Child.
“I go to school,” revealed The Second Child after a moment of indecision.
“Oh. That’s good. So do I. I’m on holiday now though,” said The Child, and then apparently thinking that more ought to be said, “I’m Kit. I’m going to San Francisco with my Aunty Mykes and H.G.”
It reached out and held Helena’s hand demonstratively.
As they walked down the corridor towards their flight The Child squeezed Helena’s hand.
“You really will come out with Aunty Mykes and me sometimes, though, right? When you’re not working?” it asked Helena.
Helena gave their joined hands a tentative swing.
“I might,” she said. “Let’s see how I go.”