I’ve read this story at a couple of alternative Valentine’s shows. It seems to go down well, although I always worry that people will think it’s autobiographical. I promise it isn’t!
Danny’s in love.
He’s writing a letter to Natalie. He says he wants to kiss her at playtime, then at lunchtime he wants to sit with her for a romantic meal.
Danny’s seven, and he’s just learnt the word ‘romantic’.
After finishing his letter Danny gets busy making something out of Lego. While he works he sings about his love for Natalie. The song is very loud, and doesn’t have much of a tune.
To stop him singing I ask what he’s making. He tells me it’s a telescope, but I say it looks more like a periscope, like they have on a submarine.
“That’s right,” he says. “It’s a periscope. So I can look over walls and spy on Natalie.”
“Mmm. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, Danny.”
“Well, I think your letter’s great, but it’s not very nice to spy on someone you love.”
“But I want to know what she’s doing!”
“In that case you could ask her what she’s been doing. That way you don’t need to spy on her, and you’ll have a way of starting up a conversation.”
“Ohh!” cries Danny. He throws the Lego periscope on to the ground, and multi-coloured bricks fly in all directions as it shatters on the wood veneer floor. Danny stomps off upstairs.
I kneel to pick up the bricks, feeling uneasy about the conversation. I feel I’ve offered the right kind of fatherly advice – after all, it’s not very nice to spy on someone you love. But I’m sure we all do it sometimes.
Having just discovered love Danny talks about it all the time.
“I love Natalie,” he tells his brother Joe. “Who do you love?”
“Err… Scooby Doo!”
Joe is four.
Jane comes home from work. As soon as she comes through the door Danny starts bouncing around telling her that he’s in love with Natalie, and about the love letter he’s going to take to school for Natalie tomorrow.
“That’s lovely, Danny!” says Jane. “Can I just take my coat off?”
“Look,” says Danny, showing her the letter. “I’ve drawn kisses all over it!”
“Wow!” says Jane. “Isn’t Natalie a lucky little girl to get all those kisses.”
“Yuk!” says Joe.
“I’m gonna tell her that I think about her all the time, and that I’ve been singing a romantic song about her, and that when she’s not with me I want to make a periscope so I can spy on her. Only Daddy told me not to…”
“I said that it’s not very nice to spy on someone you love.”
“Well, Daddy’s right really,” says Jane, reluctantly. “Even if you think you’re doing it for nice reasons, people don’t like to think they’re being spied on.”
“But why not?”
“They might think you’re doing it for bad reasons,” I say. “They might mistake you for a stalker.”
“What’s a stalker?” asks Danny.
“Very bloody helpful!” says Jane, later, when I make the mistake of joining her in the kitchen to help with the dishes. “You’ve got a seven year old who’s in love for the first time and you start calling him a stalker!”
“I didn’t call him a stalker! I said he might get mistaken for a stalker.”
“That’s a pretty fine distinction, Mike. One that is hardly likely to matter to a seven year old!”
“Come on, Jane. It was just a flippant remark…”
“And one it wasn’t appropriate to make in front of Danny. Christ, they don’t stay innocent for long. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could hold on to his innocence for just a little while?”
When Jane looks at me I notice how the frown lines are becoming etched into her face.
I’m walking home from school with Danny and Joe.
“Natalie says that her mummy doesn’t like you.”
A lurch in my heartbeat. “Does she?”
“Yes.” He pauses. “Why doesn’t Natalie’s mummy like you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it because you’ve been spying on her?”
“Have you been stalking her, then?”
“Why is it, then?”
“I don’t know, Danny.”
I decide it would be inappropriate to tell him about the incident.
When I empty out Danny’s book bag I find his letter to Natalie. I take it through to the living room, where Danny and Joe are munching peanut butter on toast and watching ‘Scooby Doo’.
“Your letter to Natalie’s still here,” I say.
“Yes,” says Danny, his eyes fixed on the TV.
“Why didn’t you give it to her?”
“Mrs McIntyre said I shouldn’t.”
“Oh. Did she say why?”
“She said it was… it was…I’ve forgotten the word.”
Danny stares at the TV for a while. He shows no sign of thinking, but he is.
“What does innapprope…innappropri… what does inapproprat…”
“Yes. What does inapproprihat mean, Daddy?”
“It means something that’s not right at a particular time. Like if I told you off when you’d hurt yourself and you were crying – it would be inappropriate for me to do that. The appropriate thing would be for me to give you a cuddle.”
“I’ve hurt myself, Daddy!” cries Joe, who clearly feels he’s not getting enough attention.
“All right, Joe, just a minute! Why do you ask, Danny?”
“Because that’s what Mrs McIntyre said about my letter to Natalie.”
Jane, once again, is furious.
“Fancy telling Danny his letter was inappropriate!” she says. “What right did Mrs McIntyre have to do that?”
“I guess she was just trying to protect him. You know how kids can be…”
“He only wanted to tell Natalie he loves her. What kind of a world is it where we need to protect children from that?”
It’s coming up to Valentine’s Day. I’m shopping for a present for Jane but I’m thinking about Natalie’s mum, Rebecca. In particular I’m thinking about the incident.
I’m pretty sure that Rebecca and I are the only people who know about the incident. Certainly she can’t have told her husband, Keith, because he’s the kind of bloke who would come straight round and hit me. Keith keeps a baseball bat in the boot of his car.
I don’t want to think about that.
I wonder what Rebecca has said about me to Natalie. Clearly she’s indicated to Natalie that she doesn’t like me. Hopefully she’s just described me as ‘a bit weird’ or something. Lot’s of the mums think that, simply on the grounds that I pick up my kids from school each day while Jane’s out working.
I didn’t mean to start e-mailing her as much as I did, but when you’re at home all day writing – or in my case, failing to write – you start to long for a bit of human contact. And the drinking didn’t help – it just started with a couple of lagers while I caught up on the Sky Sports News at lunchtime, but I did lose control of it for a while.
I stopped when Jane threatened to kick me out. She said my behaviour was inappropriate, especially when I was responsible for collecting Joe from nursery and Danny from school. Fortunately she didn’t know how inappropriate. She didn’t know about the incident…
When Rebecca stopped replying to my e-mails I started feeling like I’d lost all contact with the world. Each time I checked my inbox it was just full of scams and offers for Viagra – which, I hasten to add, I really don’t need. So I decided I needed to get out into the world, and sent Rebecca an e-mail inviting her to lunch at the Swan. She didn’t show up, of course, so I drank a few lagers, added a couple of whisky chasers, then had the good sense to realise I needed to get home. Only I decided to stop at Rebecca’s on the way…
I really wasn’t spying on her when she found me under the hydrangea in her front garden. After all, how can you spy on someone when you’re unconscious? And it wasn’t strictly accurate when she accused me of stalking her, because stalking implies walking and I wasn’t able to do that either.
But I do accept that my behaviour was inappropriate…
I buy Jane a nice card, and some soap in a heart-shaped box from the Body Shop.
Danny draws a picture of himself with a big red heart, which takes up most of his body. Inside the heart he’s written ‘I love you, Natalie’. He’s going to give her the picture tomorrow, for Valentine’s Day. He’s decided not to tell Mrs McIntyre.
The next day he comes running out of school. He’s really excited.
“Esme loves me!” he cries.
“Who’s Esme?” I ask.
“A girl in my class. Look!” He opens his book bag, and takes out a big pink card with a huge red heart drawn on it. “She made me this!”
He opens it up and I read, ‘To Danny, Happy Valintyne’s Day, Love from Esme’.
“Hey, that’s great Danny. But what about Natalie? ”
“Well, when I found out that Esme loves me I gave the picture to her instead.”
“But you’d written it to Natalie…”
“Yes, well I crossed her name out first…”
As we walk across the playground I glance towards Rebecca. A brief shaft of sunshine lights up her golden blonde hair. She is walking hand in hand with Natalie when a little boy runs up. He hands Natalie a bunch of flowers, the first daffodils of spring. Then he skips away again, and Rebecca hugs her daughter and they laugh.