Equal Magic

James Roderick Burns


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NONE OF IT was expected. Not the move to Edinburgh from London, the steady civil service job after years of misery. Not the mildest winter, that first year, as my wife’s stomach grew and the trees shed their coverings, to stand stark as strokes of charcoal on the pocket-sized park. Not cobbles’ orange sheen, screeching gulls, or the sense of freedom as Streatham High Road, and its roiling, dieselly tumbleweeds, finally receded.

By summer, we’d added a third to two, and all bets were off.

After work, the swap: one infant night owl (still flapping happily) and shop-display buggy, for two hours of peace.  Exchanging bowler for beanie, we rode the Meadowbank hills.

Streatham was flat, and stretchy; Edinburgh was a rollercoaster dipped in glue. We skirted the park, peered up at passing terraces. Things cooled as we rose. At the top, where a lone attic bulb illuminated the slick toboggan run of the road, I noticed the first delicate flake and the phone trilled.

“Get to the park!,” she said.

Our daughter nose-pooched the speckled plastic as we descended, sliding along the main road like a runaway sleigh. We wobbled down the ramp, stopped. My wife was taking the stairs, tiny snowsuit in her arms. On the other side, next to the contraption that swallowed footballs, spitting them from random holes, stood a slight young man, a woman in a headscarf. Their limbs were shivering in side thin clothing, but they paid no attention.

From the orange-rimmed sky came a colossal, fluffy downpour.

As we watched, the one-year-old, the couple, lifted their hands to the deluge, letting its glistening cold powder their hair, penetrate collars, melt through lips like an unexpected sigh. I turned to her – to the couple – but in her little piping voice, she got there first.


James Roderick Burns

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.