We had a party. It was on our 28th wedding anniversary, and we were celebrating our fiftieth birthdays too. We are both a little anxious – we overthink things. If we are having a party, it must be as convenient as possible for our guests. The garden must be incredibly tidy and beautiful. And we must have an excellent time. It all seemed too much to do, and overwhelmed, we decided to not have a party. And then the bank wrote to us, telling us we’d been overcharged for years, on a monthly basis, so here’s a cheque and soz. So we had a budget. Why not have a party? Tom threw together some invitations, and we started issuing them. We bought a party tent. We had the ivy chopped off the rocks in the garden. We did lots of gardening and looked hopelessly around us, thinking HOW? What have we done?!
And then I hired a street food van that served Sri Lankan food. And a dance floor. And an ice cream van. It became something we were looking forward to, because we had very little to do but welcome our guests, and dance. The day before, Tom and I raised our party marquee. He had a bad back and I had a bad elbow, but we did it. I hauled eight hay bales in and sat them round the fire pit. Our next door neighbour, who likes parties and likes making things lovely, came in with a wheelbarrow of vines and decorated the marquee.
I looked around the garden and picked up the stray flowerpots and years old garbage in the undergrowth for the inevitable trip to the tip. On the skeleton of a cut down Leylandii at the front of the house, there was a rickety old slide which Tom fixed there thirteen years ago. It was held on with one very rusty screw which had to be hammered hard, in order to remove it. It should have been taken away years ago. Its metal had buckled and pushed up the plastic, making it impossible to use. We removed it, and tied it into the car with a piece of string one of the girls had attached to it when they were little.
At the tip, I put everything into the various containers, and put the slide in last. I was walking away, when I realised, suddenly, that I hadn’t said goodbye. I went back. Nearly took it out and brought it home. I stroked it a little. Patted it. Around me, people were racing around on a late summer day, merrily tossing things that crashed into the deep skips. A lady stood next to me and said ‘I’ve just put our pushchair into there.’ We looked at each other sadly, and nodded respectfully to our discarded instruments.
On the way home, I thought of the third birthday when that slide arrived twenty three years ago. We had an Early Learning Centre climbing frame, red and blue and green in the shape of a rocket, which had come for our son’s second birthday, a joint present from the whole family. The slide came the next year – we bought it, because our fortunes had grown a tiny little bit. All four of our children used that climbing frame and slide as their other home. They each sat on top of it for whole summers, reading Asterix and Tintin books, and when a book finished, they’d slip down a side, grabbing at the bar above, and in one movement, land on the top of the slide and slip quickly down, sometimes on their bottoms, sometimes on their feet, running in for the next book, the next apple.
On the night of the party Tom and I danced and laughed and held hands and were photographed, so that we could remember it all: it was really so very wonderful to have so many beautiful friends with us. One was missing, thrown out. Occasionally, I saw its ghost, over there at the far end of the garden.
I could hear the noise that slide made as the feet ran down, echoing to me. I could see its sturdy bounce. It travelled through all our houses, a witness to our hard work and growing fortunes. It served our children well. It was a friend. A household God. Like all Gods, it was quiet in its outcomes, steady in its presence through our years. We’ll buy another, when the grandchildren come. I’d like to hear that noise in our garden again. I will treat it better. Make it last – for the rest of my days, at least. I don’t think I can take another slide to its end. It was very hard.