Day 54: Dark Matter

“There are thousands of tiny black things going through you all the time,” the younger announced while she was eating breakfast.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Thousands of tiny black things,” she repeated.

“Do you mean dust?” asked He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved. “Or do you mean cosmic rays or dark matter?”

“That one,” she said, nodding.

“Dark matter?” (We had learned about dark matter at the planetarium.)

“Yes. I can feel it going through me.”

“No. You can’t feel dark matter going through you.”

I can feel it.” She started giggling. “It tickles when it goes through me!”

“I wish I could feel it!” I said.

Later, as we set off for preschool, the younger grabbed my hand.

“Let’s run and chat!” she commanded, in her particular way, at once imperious and kindly.

“So …. ” she prompted me, “…. What shall we chat about?”

“Ummmm … what’s your favorite thing to do?”

“Running,” she answered without hesitation. “Running and eating. Who is the fastest runner in the world?”

“Mo Farah,” I replied without hesitation.

“Can he run faster than anyone?”

“Well, he can run certain distances faster than anyone.”

“Could he run to the airport?”

I paused to consider how far it was from the block we were on to LAX and also why Mo Farah would want to run to LAX from Santa Monica.

“I suppose he could.”

“He could carry lots of specially trained babies who could hold on to him while he was running!”

Now I was totally lost. “Babies? Why would there be babies holding on to him?”

“So they could take a flight with him,” she explained impatiently, as though she were stating the obvious.

While I was contemplating in my mind’s eye the image of Mo Farah running steadily to LAX with several specially trained babies clutching him, the younger let go of my hand and staggered around on the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the road.

“Oh! Oh! I can feel the earth turning! It’s making me dizzy!”

She fell to the grass and plucked a dandelion.

“This is a baby,” she observed, “because it’s yellow.”

She contemplated it.

“Do you need more than one seed to make babies?” she asked. She revised her question: “do you need two seeds to make two babies?”

“Errr …. Hmmm … good question …yes … usually …” It was not entirely clear whether we were discussing dandelions or humans but, assuming the latter, I felt obliged, on behalf of my sex, to dispel the idea that all you needed was a “seed.”

“But you can’t make a baby with just a seed. You also need an egg.”

She looked baffled. “An egg that you eat?” she asked incredulously.

“No, no, an egg that’s inside the mother. And the seed fertilizes the egg.”

“And then you make the baby in that way that you told me about before?”

“Uh … yes?” I replied uncertainly because I didn’t recall specifically what I had told her before. It seemed likely, though, I reasoned, that my past self wouldn’t have grossly misled her.

“So it’s pretty easy to make a baby then?”

I remained doubtful that we both had in mind the same actions.

“Yes. Well. Actually. Not necessarily. [1] It can take a long time. And the baby has to grow inside the mother for nine whole months.”

“Hmmm.” She was losing interest. She dropped the dandelion on the sidewalk.

“I don’t want my flower any more. I don’t want to pick flowers any more,” she continued, as we passed a patch of daisies.

“That’s fine.”

“I used to smell the flowers … when I was with Daddy … when I was young …” she mused, wistfully.

Oh, for Pete’s sake, I thought.

“Uh … you can still smell the flowers with me if you want to.”

“No, I can’t,” she murmured plaintively. “Because at the weekend you’ll be working.”

Now I could feel the dark matter passing through me, with an evil stabbing motion.

“That is not true,” I insisted.

“It is true,” she maintained, “you’ll be writing your book.”

“No I won’t!” I protested. “I finished my book, remember, and I haven’t been working on the weekends any more!”

“Yes, but soon you’ll write another book.”

“But I won’t need to work on this one at the weekends.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t feel like I have to work all the time any more.”

She nodded. “Because … the people from your work won’t know you’re not working at the weekends because they won’t be at our house!”

“Well … I suppose that’s true,” I agreed, “but that’s not exactly what I meant. Do you remember what tenure is?”

“Tenure’s like the MasterChef Junior finale,” she said, nodding sagely.

“Is it?” I asked.

“Yes, she explained, “because Nathan won the trophy and he gets to keep it forever and ever and that’s what tenure is.”

“I suppose it is, sort of.”

“And do you get a trophy?”

“No. Well, I don’t think I do. Nobody mentioned a trophy.”

She looked at me with real pity. “I’ll make you a trophy,” she said.

Notes

[1] A few years ago, at a baby shower (this setting is relevant in a deeply ironical way), I was chatting to another academic in attendance, someone I don’t know well. “And how is … is it a son, you have?” she enquired. “A son and a daughter,” I replied. She looked at me with real astonishment. “You have two children,” she stated slowly, as if the very idea was preposterous. “My goodness,” she added, “you’re very prolific.” Her use of that adjective practically demanded a reply that made reference to publishing, and so I obliged, observing that I wished I could be as prolific in authoring books as birthing children. She looked at me and observed, tartly, “Well, writing books is much harder than having children. To have a child all you have to do is have sex!” And then she turned and walked away.

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