I had a book when I was little called ‘The Gift from Winkelsea’. In it, these two 1970s kids bought an egg-shaped ornament from the seaside as a present for their mum. It hatched. This fabulous, whiskery, aquatic beast lived with them for a few months. It ate chips from birth. They entered it in a pet show. It got too big eventually though. It leapt the back gate and swum away down the canal. I loved that book. I loved the way their mum glued the broken egg back together and they kept it. I loved it that the kids started saving, hoping for another Gift when they went back to the seaside again. I grew up in a house with a glued egg on the mantelpiece, I suppose. I never knew that was anything other than normal. I thought people always glued their eggs back and went on with the loving.
That’s why I bought the painted egg. You know that, don’t you? I know you’re not in there. I know it on an intellectual level anyway. But I keep it on the south-facing window sill so it will warm. Then I can hold it and imagine the hatching. Would you be a baby? Or a miniature grown-up you? Would your voice come out at full-volume? Or would it be a mouse version – high and quiet? I’d hold my ear right down beside you. I’d be patient if you were hesitant, repetitious, confused. If you were damp I’d rub you gently with a soft flannel. I’d make a hot water bottle and pop you on there. Feed you with a pipette – a drop of warm milk, whiskey and sugar. I’d find one of the baby socks that I kept and you could use it as a sleeping bag for a few days, or weeks, or however long it took for you to grow. You’d grow fast and wild, like Topsy, like the Enormous Turnip, like the Gift from Winkelsea.
We’d fit it all in on fast-forward – like the jerky, flickering lines of a videotape – stopping for a kiss, a moment when we shouted something in unison, balancing too many mugs from the café – only this time I would lean over and rub in that big splash of sun cream on your forehead. And when it was time for you to leap the back gate and disappear, that would be ok. I’d buy some Bostick and spend my days gluing shell on shell. I’d do a job you wouldn’t believe. Then I’d go back to the gift shop and I’d buy another painted egg.