I still remember that day. How I carried him to my bed, an hour old. How he tucked himself into the crook of my arm. It was like we’d known each other for a lifetime. I knew how to carry him. He knew how to fit.
Four years later and he still sleeps like a kitten by my side.
When he wakes we have our ritual.
There is the outstretched paw, softly nudging my shoulder.
Then both paws encircle me. His warm little toes press against my legs.
I start the words.
“Good morning, I love you”. Followed by, “How are you, beautiful boy?”
He nods his head and smiles. “Good”.
I nuzzle into his ginger blonde mane and I’m in heaven. I never tire of it, his soft hair. I place kisses all over his head.
Then I say, “Can you hear the little black bird outside the window?”
So we listen and wait. Sometimes I lift the blind and the bird flutters in the half-light. We love that bird.
And then he takes my hand. “Is this the hurt one?” he says as he lightly pats the wrist where I carry the injury.
“Yes, yes it is.” I say.
“Did I make it better now?”
“Yes, yes you did.” Knowing that every time he does this my heart heals more than the hand.
We cuddle some more. And then I ask “Who are you?” A reminder that his imaginary world awaits. The one where he becomes a different animal or character every day.
This morning, much like many mornings before, I say, “Are you Mutt Dog?” It’s a favourite book. The question almost always leads to the boy barking like a dog all day. And it always, yes always, leads to a request for the story to be retold.
And so I do. Starting from when the lady finds Mutt Dog in the city to when she brings him home to her family. And how they give him his first bath, and brush out his matted knots. How they give him a bone, and think up names for him. And then I say the final words: “Mutt Dog is brave, and fast, and smart…. He’s gentle and loyal…. And each night when he goes to sleep….he knows where he belongs”.
To my surprise, the boy doesn’t become Mutt Dog. There is no barking this morning. Instead he burrows into my neck, purring like a lion cub.
And then I squeeze him tight, because life is unbearably short, and I whisper into his ear, “You belong”.
Little lion looks up with his big cat eyes and taps my chest and says, “To you.”