‘Marshmallow or Candy Floss’ by Jo Barker Scott
The week Dad went to clip the clouds we watched him climb the mountain from the garden.
(‘No, the mountain was miles away,’ my sister says, reading over my shoulder. ‘We couldn’t have seen him on it.’)
But we imagined that we could, a little black ant with brown glasses and a moustache. We sat under the umbrella tree all day, my sister and I, and stared at the mountain where our father was. Today he is toiling up the scrubby brown lower slopes, thumping up dust with the olivewood stick he cut and smoothed and oiled before he left. Today he will slice an opening through the ring of cloud with his pocketknife, and push through the white mass for the final slog up to the summit. There he is, on top of the crag that looks like a tooth, waving to us, like he promised! Now he is beginning his journey home. On the way down the mountain he will cut off a piece of the cloud to bring back for us.
(‘How could he bring us a piece of cloud?’ snorts my sister. ‘It was snow he promised to bring back for us. We’d never seen snow.’)
The day he returned, rumpled and sunburned the colour of buffalo blood, my sister and I were beside ourselves. ‘Did you get it? Where is it? Where is it?’ He laughed, and unshouldered his pack to dig out the tartan vacuum flask.
‘Is it in there? Can we eat it? Did you eat it? What does it taste like? Is it marshmallow, or candy floss?’
Kenya didn’t have marshmallows or candy floss. It had sugar cane, which was only for special treats because it made your teeth go black and fall out.
Mum fetched a saucer, and Dad unscrewed the lid of the flask. Gently, carefully, he upended it, gave it a little shake…
…and a trickle of water ran out, not even enough to fill the little indentation in the saucer.
‘I promise you, I stuffed it to the top,’ he said. ‘Let me just get my boots off, and we’ll talk about the amazing properties of water…’
But we were too angry to listen. All the way to the top of Mount Kenya, for these paltry drops!
‘I don’t think he really climbed the mountain,’ I whispered to my sister that night. ‘He made it up. It isn’t true. How can water be snow and cloud and water all at the same time?’
‘I just wanted to taste it,’ my sister said. ‘It would have been delicious.’
‘Maybe Nana will send us a Mars Bar in her next parcel,’ I said. But it was marshmallow we craved. Or candy floss.