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  • David Mathews

The Dawdler


'Daddy goes slow when he takes us, but you make us go fast, Mummy.'

Fast? Really? The complaint had been issued by a six-year-old creeping with her mother and big brother towards a bridge over the railway and the primary school beyond. Poor Mummy, suffering such comparison with her spouse. I bet she makes them clean their teeth too.

After I had passed my loiterers, I wondered what lay behind Daddy's lack of pace. No obvious distractions to explain it, for there are no ducks to feed en route, no Italian coffee joint to tempt a chap with an espresso. There are trains to cheer on, certainly, but neither child turned a hair when one whizzed past.

Might it be that Daddy uses a wheelchair? I doubt that that would make him a laggard; wheelchair users around these parts are rather brisk. More likely is that Daddy gives in to the sluggishness of his children, the business of taking them to school being for him a novelty rather than the routine preliminary to the day it has become for their mother.

There again, what if Daddy is a big cheese in finance, pausing to arrange multi-million dollar deals over his phone with hotshots in Singapore, Hong Kong or some place further into its working day than Bath at 0825 on a Thursday? That would slow you down, I imagine.

Wait though. Between the path and the railway are tall iron railings, about up to my shoulders. When I was maybe eight or nine, I would pass a stretch of grey, weathered, wooden fencing on my walk to school. I developed the habit of touching every board, and if I missed one, doubling back to start again. No reason. Nothing bad would happen if I failed to do this; it just made me content. I can feel that wood now, rough but reassuring. Maybe Daddy enjoys some mild OCD with the railings, thereby giving his children time to to stop and smell the flowers.

There are 249 along that stretch, railings I mean, not flowers.


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