The sun was shining bright and clean, which was part of it. The warming day felt like memories, not so cold you’d flinch, not so hot you’d ever slow down. Just right, and you squinted as you checked the sky was still blue, and you were a kid so the blue went up and up forever.
Walking with my daughter along the riverbank, our dog pacing nose-low through the uncut grass, and she said “Daddy, let’s play a game.” We held our breath and pretended to dive under the water as we walked. I made the sound of bubbles, enjoying the sight of her unbrushed hair tipping over her forehead as she pretended to swim ahead. And then she surfaced and turned to me with an amazing smile and asked, “Did you see it?”
There was something happening, I could sense it even then as I replied “I think I saw a shark,” and she said “The shark is still far away, but did you see the skeleton? Come and look!” She dived below the surface again.
I followed. And we went down below the water together.
A bridge ahead of us softly hummed the wheel-songs of mid-morning traffic. Alongside us, our dog inspected the long grasses on the bank with one paw lifted and tail stiff. The river calmly tried on new dresses, giving each shimmering gown one moment then discarding it forever.
There was a skeleton in the water. It was deep enough that the colours were all washed out, but still light enough to see. Sand beneath us, and waving long fronds of sea-weed, brown and soft green, and the slow progress of water snails. The skeleton was sitting against a rock, empty eyes gazing out at my diving companion and me.
We surfaced again, and our eyes met. “I saw it,” I said to her, and she told me that the skeleton was probably old, maybe from pirate days and there might be treasure there, but that shark was coming closer so we had to be quick – and I agreed and she took a deep breath and down we went again –
– a long moment, swimming into the shadow of the great bridge. We came up for air again, and she said to me – “we made it”.
And without waiting for any reply she swung ahead of me, skipping to catch up with the dog.
I wanted to stay down there, but the skeleton dissolved into images and my footfall bore my weight again. A child, and a dog, and the big blue sky. I’d felt it.
I remember how it was, to play. On weekday afternoons I look around my old schoolyard, now hers, while I wait for the last bell to ring, and I can sense the ghosts of distant planets and secret tunnels. I remember what we did, and what we said, and how easy it was. But I don’t remember how it felt. Perhaps we have to lose the feeling, as we get older. We start looking too hard at the world, seeing more of it than we once did, but always less as well. And yes we can still choose to imagine, can hurl ourselves into imagination in ever greater ways, but how it felt when we were children – that slips away.
But I’d felt it. Something about the rhythm of it – disappearing into an unknown, silent and separate, and then bursting into the air and telling each other what we’d seen – some barrier fell away. I caught her, just for a moment. And I knew that feeling, I knew it from a long time ago. It was something I’d never expected to feel again. I felt blessed, and uplifted, and calm.
With the dog on a lead, we walked across the bridge to the other side of the river. Cars and trucks passed by, engines raw. I watched my daughter ahead of me, up on her toes to look over the side and down at the river. And I looked down too; down into the water.