“Daddy, you look funny. Are you feeling okay?”
Nick looked at his daughter, looking back at him. Her eyes were wide and caring and she wore a quizzical frown. She tilted her head slightly and the sunshine lit up her fair hair. Her arms were by her side and her fists were balled, but not tightly.
She was demanding a response. He had seen the pose before and guessed that it would remain a constant as she grew into a bigger, little girl. Maybe even into her teens and on into adulthood.
Nick had been sitting in the shade of an oak tree, watching his daughter idly practise handstands while his mind filled with a host of new sensations and ideas. He was wearing blue jeans, black boots, a black shirt and a black fedora that Rose had leant him. It was the first day of the summer holidays and warm and the park was alive with families and groups of kids playing football, throwing frisbees and having picnics. He knew he looked faintly ridiculous given the weather, but needs must.
Nick smiled: “Actually, Sally, I feel a little bit funny. Sorry, honey.” He was almost telling the truth. Yes, he felt strange, but he also felt incredible: strong; alert; euphoric. It was as if he had been pumped full of the greatest synthetic drug imaginable, but with none of the downsides. He remained in total control, although he felt the temptation to take off and soar high keenly.
It had only been a few hours since the change. That morning he woke in bed with Rose by his side and his life had altered irreversibly overnight. His life had stopped. Blood no longer flowed through his veins, his heart was still. He would never sweat or visit a barber or attend a doctor’s appointment ever again. As he was, just in that moment, he would remain forever. Twenty four hours earlier he had said goodbye to his Year 9 class and wished them a fantastic summer. He had been looking forward to a night out and a low-key Saturday, nursing nothing stronger than a mild hangover.
Now, sitting in the park, he felt every slight change in atmosphere acutely. He could hear the clouds drifting by. If he focused, he could see an insect on a tree a hundred yards away as if looking through a microscope. It was a lot to take in.
He also sensed that he had failed to shower his daughter with the praise she had hoped for when executing – and holding – the perfect handstand.
“Are you sick?”
“I think something weird just came over me, but I’m starting to feel a little bit better already. That last handstand was brilliant, by the way. Will you do another?”
“No. Bored of handstands now.”
“Okay, well, what would you like to do instead?”
“Great, cool. But I’m a little bit rusty. Will you show me how to make one, please?”
Satisfied, Sally nodded enthusiastically. She ambled over to her dad, stopping to snaffle clumps of daisies en route. She sat in his lap and dumped the bunches of ripped-up flora on the ground between her legs. Nick picked up a daisy in each hand. “Now what to I do?”
“It’s easy. Make a hole in one of the stems with your fingernail and then push the other stem through the hole.”
Sally took her dad’s hand and watched as he slit the stem with his thumbnail. “Your hands are very cold, daddy. Are you sure you’re not sick?”
“Cold hands, warm heart,” said Nick.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that people with cold hands are often very kind people.”
“So everybody who has very cold hands are very nice?”
“No, honey. Not everybody. Definitely not everybody.” His voice was suddenly serious and he pushed the stem through the dying flower, starting the chain.