We walk down the street. She dawdles. “Come along now, Ariana,” I say.
She ignores me. Already, at the age of almost two, she has a mind of her own. But then she catches up, and takes my finger in her hand.
It was raining, but it’s stopped now. There are brown, smudgy clouds in the sky. A lowering purple on the horizon. A raw wind chaps my face, stings my eyes.
The houses in this street in the suburb of Kew are old, their gardens richly overgrown. Through a long window I can see inside a room. A piano, someone reading in a chair. It is always interesting to peer into someone else’s life.
We peer through the fence and Ariana comes away with the imprint of the metal railings on her face.
Around the side, there is a gap in a green hedge. There is a garden full of rose bushes, still with roses on them, though gone to seed and scattering their petals.
In the backyard there are two goats with pretty little beards. Tethered by steel chains, they chomp the grass. I squat to look at the goats: Ariana squats.
A dog comes up to us, black and white and bushy‑tailed, a border collie. I pat him, Ariana strokes him.
“Dog,” I say, “Nice.”
Ariana pats the wiry fur. We move on and the dog follows.
We walk across to the park and down beside the long brick wall of the cemetery. Above the wall we can see broken columns and headless angels.
The clouds have parted and the sky, rinsed by recent rain, is the palest shade of eggshell blue. From this high hill we can look down on all the red‑roofed suburbs stretching to the horizon. Fairfield, Heidelberg and Alphington.
We come to the swings. I dry the blue plastic seat of the swing with my handkerchief. The dog follows us still. I put Alice on the seat and kneel beside her, lightly holding the back of her red coat so she does not fall.
The dog brings a stick and drops it. Paws flat on the ground, behind raised in the air, tail wagging, he waits for me to throw it. I fling it backhand with my left hand and he races after it and Ariana roars with laughter, fit to bust her little gut.
We do it over and over again, neither child nor dog tiring of it.
An old woman comes by in slacks and sweater. She lets her dog off the leash and he comes running to join our party. He is a black Doberman, powerful, muscular. When I throw the stick, the black and white dog wisely defers to the Doberman.
The Doberman returns with the stick, but won’t give it up. I tug at it, but he has it clamped in his powerful jaws. Then he drops it, but holds it down with his paw, keeping the other dog off.
We walk down to the playing fields. The oval has a shelving lip down which Ariana delights to run. Then I run down the slope at her and she runs between my legs, laughs.
A solitary man in a tracksuit jogs around the perimeter of the field and there are some boys playing football. A stray kick brings the ball in my direction. I drop-kick it back.
Further down, a couple are playing tennis. Cars and trams race by on High Street, Kew.
We come upon a gum tree which is hollowed out like a cave at the base between its roots. Alice squeezes into the cave. The strong arms of the tree stretch out, white and brown and silver.
There is an adventure playground. They have taken concrete construction pipes and built a hill of earth over them to make a tunnel through which the children can crawl.
Ariana is about to do this when some instinct makes me pull her back, and when I look inside, I see that someone has carefully placed broken glass at the bottom of the tunnel so that any child crawling there will be cut.
I clear the glass out, but there is now something so evil about the place that I can’t bear to stay there anymore and I take Ariana up the hill with me.
We come to the slide. She paddles in her rubber boots in a deep brown puddle. The black and white dog returns with his stick which he drops in front of her, but she won’t touch it. It’s dripping with his spit, all froth and foam.
I climb up the ladder of the slide behind her to catch her if she falls. We slide down together.
People come walking by. There is an old man in a ragged suit, the trousers tied with string around his shanks like gaiters. His lips mumble.
Ariana climbs the slide again, but this time when I try to climb behind her, she pushes me back with her foot.
“Bye‑bye,” she says, “Bye‑bye.”
Bye‑bye indeed! I am afraid she will fall and break something. I watch until she gets to the top then run round to the bottom to catch her, hoping she won’t fall off half way down. Fortunately, the slide is not too slippery and she has to kick to get herself down.
A family goes past, a mother and two little boys. One boy wheels a pram and the other is pulled along by a strong brown and black dog.
The sky is overcast again. It looks like rain. It’s time to go home. When I try to pull her off the slide, she screams. I tempt her, saying, “Dog, goat.”
An old woman passes by with a little dog.
Ariana bends to pat the dog.
“Little dog,” she says.
The old woman smiles. I notice the dog has patches of mange.
Ariana and I walk on. We sing, “Dah, dah, dah.”
The old lady looks around.
The clouds are rent with a sudden shaft of sunlight.
Just as we pass the goats, a fierce winds springs up, scattering rose petals on the ground.
Back at the house, Ariana stands on the kitchen table while I undress her. I take off the rubber boots and the waterproof coat, while she tells her mother of her adventures.
“Dog, dog,” she says.