I glance at my watch. 5.30pm. Time to leave the “office” and take myself off to Mr Frog’s house. Tadpole has returned, finally, and it’s time to down tools, scoop up my girl and take her home.
It’s been a tough week. The weather has been unseasonably warm for April but I’ve mostly been indoors, working long days on the manuscript. I was feeling a low, unsure of myself, and it took me a while to realise that the real reason for my despondency was that I missed Tadpole and all the little routines centred around her which give essential structure and purpose to my days. Mornings are no fun when I can’t slip into bed beside her and scratch her back (“not like that, mummy! With les ongles“) or battle over which clothes she should wear (“not a pantalon! Hanna says she is only my friend if I do wear a jupe!”) Without bathtime, bedtime and stories the evenings are formless and dull. I flounder. I skip meals, forget to brush my hair for days on end. Without a little person to care for, I stop caring altogether, least of all for myself.
The cafés on rue de Belleville are overflowing onto the pavements. Girls in spaghetti strap tops, wearing sunglasses, with their shoulders sunburnt. I blink stupidly in the sun. My office looks across a shady courtyard filled with blossoming trees. I am unprepared for the heat, overdressed, I’ve left my sunglasses at home.
“It’s me!” I say brightly into the intercom, my heart doing somersaults in my chest. Mr Frog buzzes me inside, and I race along the corridor to the lift. There is giggling behind the door – Tadpole is no doubt peering at me through the spyhole, in Mr Frog’s arms – then the handle turns, and the door swings open.
At the sight of me, Tadpole’s face falls. “Je veux rester ici” she cries, darting across the room and diving under daddy’s desk, her face flushed and contorted with anger. “I don’t want to go with mummy! I want to stay here, with daddy!“
Her frosty welcome has knocked the stuffing out of me, and tears prick my lowered eyelids, but I sit down quietly on the sofa and accept Mr Frog’s offer of tea. There is a part of me that is so hungry for affection that I want to pick her up and hug her senseless, against her will. But there is nothing for it but to wait until she comes around. She’s had a poor night’s sleep, Mr Frog explains, and a tiring train journey. She’s not being intentionally cruel. However much it can seem that way.
Twenty minutes later, I set down my empty tea cup and gather up her clothes. “They’re all clean,” says Mr Frog. “My mum washed them, to save you the trouble.” I transfer the neatly folded pile from his holdall into a plastic bag, and stoop to fasten the buckles on Tadpole’s shoes. Her tantrum now forgotten, Tadpole is suddenly eager to hit the road.
“Come on mummy,” she says, tugging at my t-shirt. “It’s time to go!”
Outside Mr Frog’s building I pause to assemble the buggy. Tadpole isn’t far off her fourth birthday, and I stopped using it months ago, but Mr Frog insisted on taking it on his trip so since I have it, I figure I might as well stow the bags inside and push them home. Tadpole sits patiently on doorstep, watching me as I flip down the catch with my toe.
I hear a flapping of wings high in the trees above and a viscous green liquid rains down, splattering the front of my dress, the pushchair and both the inside and the outside of the plastic bag containing Tadpole’s (no longer clean) clothes.
I freeze, my expression hovering somewhere between disgust and disbelief. Tadpole claps her hands to her mouth, her eyes wide.
“Ca porte bonheur, il paraît, says an elderly woman as she limps past, leaning heavily on her husband’s arm.
“Easy for you to say,” I mutter darkly, fumbling in my bag for tissues. “You’re not the one covered in pigeon juice.”
I sit down on the step by Tadpole’s side, dabbing gingerly at my dress.
I suppose I should look on the bright side. My daughter is back, and my bloggers block has finally lifted.