Saturday 26 June 2021

'Suspended Animation' by Rachel Swabey

Two days into lockdown, the children burst in, eyes shining, talking over each other.

“We found something, in the woods!”

“We rescued it. It would have DIED!”

“Shh! Don’t give it away!”

In unison: “Come and see!”

Giggling, they grab me with grubby hands and drag me into the garden. I follow, swept up in their commotion. Behind the greenhouse they squat around a grey bucket full of sludge and gaze up.


As spring melts into summer, we take small daily pilgrimages to our bucket pond, sometimes together, chattering, sometimes alone and silent. We peer into murky water, searching for life, for change, for hope.

We draw life cycle diagrams to show their teachers, with arrows and labels.

In real life, things happen slowly. Each day seems much like the day before, but somehow, as we watch but without us seeing, jelly blobs turn to black darting specks propelled by tiny tails. Then the specks grow fatter, skin mottling brown and green.

They’re the size of a fingernail now, bumps where limbs will be, and strong, fat tails. What marvels they’ve managed. But we know more is coming, that the great metamorphosis—from small, silent swimming thing to great ribbiting hopper, with arms, legs, eyes, lungs—still awaits us. We’re only two-thirds of the way around the circle. One more arrow to go.

Every day, they lurk in the bottom of the bucket, stopping my heart with their stillness. Then they dart up, break the surface, and I breathe again. Small hands clutch at my sleeve, wide eyes search for mine, to see their anticipation reflected, for reassurance that, if we wait patiently, in our own suspended animation, we’ll get to watch the great change we yearn for unfold, to see life win, to witness an ordinary miracle.

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