My Mentor | James Gering

Shine bright like popcorn in the sky

My Mentor

By James Gering

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


Hello, welcome! my mentor says as she clomps into the living room, a red cast on her left leg, a blue one on the right, stretching out those tendons, 8-years-old.
Red, blue, red, blue, where are you going my lovely?
Jing, she says.
What is ‘jing’?
Onwards she roves, practicing her bird calls, wolf howls and arfs of the sea lion.
The days of ferrying her in a pram are over; so too hauling her in a Weebo cart in my bicycle’s wake. Faster, faster, she used to say as I towed her jouncing carriage. I gulped for air and pedalled on, despite myself.

At the sea life sanctuary she sprawls face up in the transparent tunnel that curves into the marine world.
Fish, fish, she declares, waving at the schools of colour gliding in to greet her.
Two fish perform their ritual, one stationary but trembling, the other rubbing his flank along hers. Now a stingray moves in, oddly two-dimensional, its nose and mouth mere slits under its creamy kite, and there the sting, flick, flicking.

Before the mentorship took hold, venturing out with Honey Girl could slay me. In a café once, she ambled over to a family.
Hello, welcome! she said, launching a gooey hand at the dad’s pate.
Dad parried.
Honey Girl harpooned a chunk of his cake.
I pleaded with the floor to swallow me.

My mentor and I have seesaws to ride, Play-dough to shape, errands to run. We jump in the car.
Music, she says.
The playlist delivers Justine, singing Dinosaur Roar.
My mentor burbles with joy.
Gunjie, Gunjie! she says: ‘so very pleasing!’
From her school bag, a certificate declares her student of the week.
Hooray for Honey girl! We celebrate with a sushi spread.
Bedtime nears. The Owl and the Pussycat ready their pea-green boat for the night voyage.
Tomorrow after school, Honey Girl visits the occupational therapist. The next day is speech.

Book, book, she says, clomping into the living room, Wonky Donkey clamped under her arm.
Hee-haw, I say and she chirrups twice.
I was walking down the road and I saw a donkey. There was a honky tonky winky wonky lanky donkey.
Faster, she says.
Slower, she says.

Hooray! Honey Girl’s casts are off!
We head for the water park. We climb the tower to the source of the slippery slides. Together we hurtle down the chutes, around bends and fly into the landing pool. After one slide down, my mentor appears doll-like, limp in the shallow water.
Oh please, no, I say.
I heave her out and draw her face close to mine.
She blinks water out of her eyes.
More slide, she says, and I can breathe again.
In the change rooms she asks for help. I guide her body into clothes, feet into socks and shoes. One day, the therapist says, Honey Girl will dress herself.

At the beach she approaches the semi-clad with hello-s and welcome-s.
How are you? they say.
Good, good, she says.
We build aqueducts and avenues in the sand to rival those of Rome’s children.
Waves!, Honey Girl sings out and she romps into the wide sea, this child I am coming to adore, who nudges me from two dimensions into three.

My mentor careens down the hallway.
You go girl!
What’s this? she asks, staring at the contraption in her room.
A walking machine, Mum says, squeezing her daughter’s plump cheek. It comes with Peppa Pig and Wiggles on its screen, but only when you walk – no walking, no wiggling.
Eee, my mentor says: ‘You gotta be joking.’
On the contrary, Mum says.
Faster, faster, I say, merrily ramping up the dial.
Eeee eee! my mentor says: ‘You seriously gotta be joking!’ Yet she draws deep and learns to jog along.
In the garden, we bounce on the trampoline, her hands in my hands, heads close, an A-frame of mutual support. Then we lie on our backs and take in the fragrant air. My mentor points to the clouds.
Popcorn, she says.
Sheep, I say, baaa.
No, she says, her eyes grave.

All aboard, all aboard! I announce.
My mentor, equipped with two biscuits and a tetra pack of milk, climbs into our pod swing. I shut the door and wave hello through the screen. She is curled up inside ready for take-off. I send her arcing high.
Higher! she calls, my adrenalin-junky step-daughter, bent on a singular journey.
After, she pauses on the garden path. What’s this? she asks, picking up a feather.
I flap my arms, she flaps hers.
Wings, she says and us co-pilots fly clear of the land and chart our way through the drifts of popcorn.