Seven year olds will always ask, at some stage when you are least ready for it, the mermaid question.
Granddad, Tina asks me, how do mermaids go to the toilet?
While you are grappling with this one, they ask another, THE BIG KAHUNA of questions, usually in the car while you are driving them to or from some event:
Grandad, where would I be if you and grandma never got married?
It’s the sort of question you need to pull over the side of the road for, but I kept on driving, hoping an apt answer would ‘pop’ into my head. Where’s the Muse when you need her? Surely she’d good for things other than poetry.
I don’t know what you would have done? I mean, how do you answer a question like that? There’s an obvious answer but that might depress the hell out of her, Who wants to be confronted at that age with self obliteration? And there’s the ontological answer but she wouldn’t get it.
I thought I’d go with the mermaid answer. That’d be the easier of the two …. maybe.
I’m getting my haircut. I see it all in the mirror.
Simon’s his usual self: brash, bold, bloody stupid, He lisps some errant remark.
Alec drops what he’s doing, reaches for the fly swatter and chases Simon down the street.
It’s like a well rehearsed routine.
A month later I go back.. Simon doesn’t look so good. His eyes are puffy, his face a little swollen, his hare lip is bleeding.
What happened? George says, one of the assistants. Your girl friend beat you up again?
Simon blubbers out an obscenity. Alec reaches for the fly swatter and the chase is on again.
Simon is a sad sack, the world’s punching bag but he does have one trick up his sleeve. His dad is Lord Mayor of Mars. No one else can claim that.
How he got there long before Elon Musk is not explained but Simon basks in his glory. On Mars International Day — yes, there is one —Simon comes in, wearing his red skivvy and breaks into the Mars National anthem till he is chased out by Alec’s furious flyswatter.
One day Simon slumps in. Dad is not well. Dad needs Simon to take over. How will he get there? Everyone knows by now that Simon has a rocket ship tucked in a corner of his bedroom at the ready. But Simon as Lord Mayor? Would those Martians treat him seriously?
Simon doesn’t appear the next month nor the one after that.
Why aren’t you laughing? I ask the laughing kookaburra.
What’s there to laugh about? he says.
Well, I begin, there’s the …. and the ….
Exactly, he says. Nothing. Zero, Zippo. Zilch. Where will I begin? Lockdown? Coronavirus? visitors with hang-dog faces? zoo keepers worried about their jobs? and the Bad News Bears blathering on TV in the office next door.
Well, you’re supposed to be ‘the laughing kookaburra’.
Maybe, he snaps, but I’m no ninny. I’m allowed to be morose if I want to.
Okay, Okay, I get it, I say as I shuffle on, shoulders slumped, head on my chest, rummaging in my pocket for the Lifeline number.