It was Eden’s seventeenth birthday today, which reminds me of the time last spring when the ghost of her two-year old self appeared while I was redecorating the floorboards in the downstairs hallway.
The backstory is this: when we moved house in 2000, we inherited carpet with a pattern so vile it looked like someone had thrown up a Vienetta violently and repeatedly all over the floor, and so we ripped it all up as soon as possible, revealing pine floorboards caked with thirty-odd years of grime and covered in paint spatters from when the house was built. Conscious to establish my credentials as Husband And Father Capable of Manly Labour, I hired one of those big belt sanders and went to work on it – all rolled-up t-shirt sleeves and grunting for tea. What they don’t tell you is that when the sandpaper bites into the wood, the machine more or less pulls itself along by its own power like a carnivorous vacuum cleaner, leaving you (okay, me) reduced to simply hanging on and trying to guide it away from the walls and other people’s feet.
About five minutes in, the sandpaper belt made a horrible noise and shredded apart, and I realised that I should have gone around with a hammer and a nail punch beforehand and made sure that all the floorboard nails were sunk out of harm’s way – so I went and did that. And in this I had a little helper.
Eden followed me with her Bob the Builder Hammer - its handle had been full of sweets, but not for very long – and made sure that I did the job properly. As anyone has seen my DIY will agree, to this day it continues to display the quality control of a two-year old.
I skimped on the edges, basically. The big belt sander wouldn’t go right to the skirting board and I couldn’t be arsed and you wouldn’t have noticed it if you weren’t looking and it took me until last spring to finally get around to doing it. So I waited until TC took the girls to her parents’, cleared out the hall and tidied up the edges with a little detail-sander and some left-over varnish.
Now I’m not going to say that what happened to me was an actual hallucination, in the sense of any weird or otherworldly apparition, but she was there. The intervening fourteen years had folded in on themselves and become paper thin, and she was standing right next to me, two years old, in her rainbow wellies, utterly absorbed in the important task of Helping Daddy. We didn’t say anything to each other, just got on with the work and then she went on her way back to whatever she’d been doing in 2002.
The exact same thing had happened the summer before that with Hope, when I took her for a hike up Mt Snowdon to help her complete an objective for an internet scavenger hunt. At one point I looked at her, and she wasn’t that long-legged teenager but the two-year old walking beside me along Kurrawa Avenue in New South Wales on our way to the corner shop through the tunnel under the road which made great echoes, with her hand gripped tightly to my finger. Time folded in on itself, and we met each other in the margins.
I don’t really believe in ghosts – not the supernatural kind, anyway. But I do believe that we are always with each other in the memories of the times we shared together, and that at the end of the day we’re only haunting ourselves.
What haunts me most about the photo of me and Eden is where the fuck has all my hair gone?