Poison ivy never looked so sweet as the day I stood on the porch, drew myself up to my full height, and declared my love for Amy Hitchin.
Admittedly I then fell over and mummy had to pick me up, which rather undercut the grandeur of the moment. And as I’ve not yet entered the holophrastic stage of language acquisition, my heartfelt proclamation came out as little more than a blurted babble. But still, I’d said it, and that was a start.
Amy’s mummy opened the door. She and mummy squealed “Hello!” and hugged each other (mummy only used one hand; the other held onto me). I couldn’t see Amy in the hall, but my search was interrupted by a face looming into mine.
“And who’s this?” Amy’s mummy cooed, although she knew perfectly well who I was. I submitted pliantly to her cheek-tweaks, hair-musses, and fake wonder at my height, reasoning that any obstruction would delay my being brought through to wherever Amy was.
It worked: with an ‘ooourgh’ mummy picked me up and put me over her shoulder, although not before making a somewhat hypocritical comment about my weight. This was not an ideal perspective, as it meant I would not see Amy until I had been set down, and so I would have no time to adjust my approach based on her demeanour. But I had already developed an appreciation of the benefits of delayed gratification, as anyone who had experienced the sudden contents of my nappy would attest. The closed front door bobbed in front of me and grew smaller as I was carried down the hall.
My stomach had started churning from the motion and anticipation, and I supressed a burp for fear of its true nature. Because of my restricted view, I smelt Amy before I saw her: that distinctive tang of talcum powder and disinfectant, with just a hint of mashed apple – Cow & Gate, if I wasn’t mistaken. It was what had first attracted me to her, and I could hardly contain my excitement.
I had wanted to make a good impression on our first playdate, and so had thought carefully about what to wear. Mummy’s first suggestion was dungarees (just no) but she had quickly relented in the face of my spirited, bawling lack of co-operation. Next she tried my ‘Cool Dude’ t-shirt, which I will admit I had given some thought to: while it might seem arrogant, a little braggadocio might not go amiss. But in the end I decided on some humour, a side-smile smirk that both carried an implicit threat of violence with an ironic acknowledgement of the lack of genuine danger. And so it was that when mummy put me down on the mat, Amy saw not only my smile but also a t-shirt rhetorically asking ‘Do I Look Like A Morning Person?’.
We were lain a few inches apart, so it was hard to see her reaction. I hoped she appreciated my careful choice of attire. I tried to shuffle a little closer on the mat, keeping my movements innocuous in case she noticed and I was forced to deny the intent of my wriggling. I was just close enough to consider reaching out a hand to hers when her face pinched inwards in a red scrunch, and she began bawling. I snapped back, and a deep, shamed terror spread through me. My back turned to protect me from the oncoming footsteps that surely brought rebuke. But no angry arms lifted me up, no voice condemned me, and when I dared to turn back Amy had gone.
At first, my horror was tinged with melancholy – she had gone! I was wracked with agony beyond my months, and fought back traitorous tears, until to my delighted amazement she reappeared, in her mummy’s arms, wearing a fresh nappy. There was no time for me to plan my next advance, however, before we were both brought through to the kitchen for lunch. It was a good spread – a beaker of juice, a bowl of carrot and coriander soup, and a rusk. The mummies had some sort of salad and a glass of eggshell-coloured wine apiece. I felt fairly confident now that Amy had not, as I had feared, rejected my overtures, but eager not to risk my potentially still quite precarious position, I ate carefully, getting almost all of each spoonful into my mouth.
I didn’t dare look towards Amy until I heard a clatter from her direction and saw her rusk lying on the wooden floor. I could hardly reach down and pick it up for her, so I did the next most gentlemanly thing and held out my own dry crust to her.
This, predictably, attracted mummy’s attention and in the syrupy voice she appears to think appropriate for conversing with her only son, she simpered “Ooh I think he liiikes her!” I could have died. Amy, to her immense credit, accepted my offering with no indication that she had heard mummy’s embarrassing outburst, although I still felt obliged to scowl across the table.
The rest of lunch thankfully passed without further comment from mummy, and presently it was time to leave. There was no time to say a proper goodbye to Amy, so I made do with a silent personal promise to tell her my true feelings the next time I saw her. Mummy carried me out to the car, over her shoulder as before, and I was pleased to see Amy sitting up in the crook of her mummy’s arm. And then, I could scarcely believe it, her face broke into a smile and she waved a hand towards me. It was not effusive, but it carried with it an unmistakeable shy sincerity, and I smiled in my carseat, knowing that while I will have a great many more months and years ahead of me, it will surely not get better than this.