Four lessons, part four

‘The fourth lesson is on lava,’ he said. He was sitting on the end of the bed with his palms flat to either side of him, as though I’d caught him in the act of something unknowable, something like very still, very silent thought.

‘Yes,’ I said, satisfied that he’d remembered and so everything was in order.

‘I don’t know anything much about lava, so I looked it up.’ He edged backwards so his feet were up on the bed and I sat down in front of him.

‘I thought you were teaching me everything you knew. Not what you don’t know.’

‘Yes, but I made a special exception at my favourite pupil’s request.’

‘It’s okay. Teach me something you know if you like.’ I put my hand on his hand and leaned back against him. I moved the hair on the back of his hand one way and then the other way. His chest pushed against my back when he breathed.

‘Do you know how much I love you?’ he said.


‘How much?’



‘How many is infinity?’

‘It’s if you start counting and never stop.’


‘Never.’ I slotted one leg on top of his. It nearly reached his ankle.

‘When you die do you go into infinity?’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘They said in assembly.’

‘Well, teachers know a lot, but there are some things no-one knows.’

‘No, they said it so it’s true.’


I wondered if the snow had all disappeared inside Dad. As the fat grass had pushed the snow out of the way and the birds had got shouty and the sky had opened startled eyes and grinned and the leaves had thrown their hands into the air, he had got smaller and whiter and more still. His breath now was like the pat pat pat of snowflake on snow.

‘Where does snow go?’

‘It melts back into the ground and feeds the plants.’


‘Lava is made of crystals and gases that live in the centre of the earth. They push their way to the top and burst out like a spot.’

‘Like a spot?’

‘Or like a balloon. No, not quite.  Anyway, it flows like water when it’s hot.  Then it cools down to be like rock. It’s pretty amazing because we’re seeing the inside of the earth.’

‘Its blood.’

‘Exactly. So what are you teaching me today?’

‘Hopscotch. Do you know that? It’s a game where you jump on numbers.’

‘Ah. Tell me more.’

I scrambled onto the floor.

‘You jump like this, one leg then both then one then both. See? Then the next one goes.’

‘Sorry, I’ll just lie down a bit. Carry on.’

‘Do you want to do it?’

‘Maybe tomorrow if I have a little rest today.’

The grass was waterlogged, fat with it like a bath sponge. I experimented with pushing down harder with my toes and then my heels to see if it worked like quicksand.

            ‘Mum. Dad never told me all his lessons.’

‘I think he wrote some down too.’

‘But what if he forgot some?’

‘I don’t think he did.’

‘You don’t know though.’

‘No, that’s true. I don’t.’ Her feet were on the paving stones, not keeping to the lines or the middles but hitting any old spot in a chaotic way. There was a hole in her tights near her ankle about the size of a hamster’s paw; it had small claws reaching out of it, up towards her knee.

‘What if something comes up that he could have taught me but he forgot to or just didn’t?’

‘I don’t know. What do you think?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You’re half Dad, you know.’

‘I know, you already told me that.’

‘So, think about it.’


‘The Dad in you will learn it with you or maybe the Dad in you already knows.’

‘So why did he do his lessons? If that’s true, why did he teach me?’’

‘I think he had the same worries you do now. That what if something came up he hadn’t told you.’

‘Okay. What comes after nine hundred?’

‘Nine hundred and one.’

‘No, I mean what hundred.’

‘A thousand.’

‘What comes after nine thousand?’

‘Ten thousand.’

‘When does it move to the next thing?’

‘A thousand thousand is a million. A thousand million is a billion.’

I moved from the grass onto the paving slabs and started counting. One, two, three. I counted all the way to school and then started keeping count silently in my head, all through learning and play and the way back home and through TV and dinner and bath time and bedtime. I lay there in the central heating mottled dark, mouthing the numbers and tapping my duvet cover gently with my middle finger to keep time.

What he didn’t know was that I’d kept a teaspoon sized ball of snow in the freezer.

Four thousand three hundred and one, four thousand three hundred and two, four thousand three hundred and three.

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