The garden is longer than it is wide, with a path running up the right hand side. A weeping willow fills most of the left hand fence, the branches dangling down, tempting the children to Tarzan swing and maypole dance. It is gone four o’clock, already most of the grass is in shadow, but there is a small dappled place under the apple tree where Julie spreads out the blanket.
The blanket is a small orange rectangle. Moggy and bobbled, it has gone through two of her children already and was handed down even before that, but it is cosy and warm and that’s what matters.
She reaches into the black shell of the car seat and lifts out her baby daughter, who is curled and rounded like a pudgy kitten, her shock of dark hair soft and fluffy. She looks like a baby Elvis, with her spikey quiff and sideburns, as well as a cleft in her chin, a dimple, which some say is lucky.
The baby lies on her back, happily gazing up at the sky and curving round to grab hold of the toes of her babygro. She has only recently discovered her feet and crows with satisfaction as she caterpillars her way off the edge of the blanket. Her tummy muscles are not quite strong enough for her to make it onto her front, so she lies casually on one side, fixing the dog with a stern stare as he wanders past.
He gives her face a sly lick and settles on the blanket next to her. Clearly this has been laid out for him. His coat is white, black and tan. His ears and tail are down but they prick at the slightest twitch or ruffle in the trees around. He is the guardian of this patch. He knows what he has to do to protect this space and all the people in it. At the moment this little blob presents no annoyance to him, but it won’t be long before she is grabbing handfuls of ear and tail. He has seen it all before and will suffer it again with goodwill and patience.