I stood in the sun, with life laid out in front of me, bright and strong and noisy. I bared my teeth and my father answered with the same. We circled each other. He made small sudden shifts of his feet like a wrestler, and then dived at me. I was lifted into the air. He shouted and almost dropped me, and I escaped with a gleeful cry. I crouched further off, before I saw that he was hurt.
"You mustn't use your teeth like that."
"I'm sorry, Daddy."
"It's all right. Daddy's always okay really."
He pinned me to the ground and tickled me until I had tears in my eyes. Then he hugged me to him, and I felt the irritation of his stubble on my cheek. I reached down and picked up the miniature toy tiger he had bought me abroad. He took my hand, and his big sad face looked down at me. I would always lose my chatter in the silence that followed him around. I wanted to let him know he was doing fine, so I squeezed his fingers.
"What do you want to do now, Laura?"
"We could play king of the castle. I'll be king."
"Okay. Then what happens?"
"Well ... well ... you can be the monster trying to get me out from the castle."
He jumped into character.
"I'll give you thirty seconds."
I squealed and ran to my tree house, which I knew he couldn't climb. I scrambled up the bits of wood nailed into the tree, and looked around and shouted:
"I'm the king of you, monster!"
My voice echoed uncertainly in the empty woods. There was a wide platform beneath my feet. The sun was weak in the forest and dark shapes jumped at my eye everywhere I looked. The grey birches leaned against each other above the black earth, too thin for birds to sing in. Minutes passed, and stillness settled over everything like dew.
The platform surrounded a tree trunk at its centre, and I walked around to the other side, not certain which way he had come. Fallen trunks lay everywhere, and the wet soil cushioned every sound. I looked up into the branches of the tree above me, with some fearful notion that he was sitting in them watching me. I got on my knees but could not really make out what was beneath me. I imagined him pacing there, his face blurred in darkness, the whites of his eyes looking up at me.
"Come out, I can see you!"
My voice died again under the light filtering through the pale branches of the trees.
"Daddy, I give up!"
I sat down and my lips began to tremble. I hugged my knees and tried to keep from the edges of the platform.
"I want to go in, Daddy, please!"
I was alone, but I didn't feel alone. It was getting close to nighttime. Tears began running down my cheeks. I went over to the edge, took a shuddering breath and stuck a leg onto the first block of wood.
I was pulled from the platform screaming. I shut my eyes tight, and even though I heard his voice I thought it was the monster. I only opened them when I felt the stiff little hairs on my cheeks, and, seeing my father above me, blubbered into his arms for a long while as the evening set around us, cold and hard and deep.