My nephew and I had a conversation about death. He is seven.
His teachers have said, apparently, he talks about Papa all the time. So I said, I was crying my eyes out today. Because I’m so sad about Papa.
I know, he said. I can’t go to sleep because Papa comes to me in my dreams.
We gazed soberly at each other.
The night Papa died, I said, I lay awake all night. Just staring into the darkness with my eyes open.
Me too, he said.
In the week of our father’s death my brother was inconsolable. So this little son made him a present of a roll of paper taped along one side with a circle of pink paper taped across one end. It’s a telescope. You put your eye to it and it shows, on the circle of pink, a tiny drawing of Papa, standing with his stick. “So that you can look up,” he said to my brother, “and see Papa any time you want.”
Now we began, at his instigation, to speculate on what happens to us when we die. We were sitting in a couch piled high with cushions, after every single pillow from every single chair was mounted up here by him and his three year old sister. She sat at the end, staring thoughtfully, and our three little heads sprouted from the mountains of cushions like a shared bubble bath.
“If we wanted to believe they still exist,” he said, “we would have to have god, or some kind of magic.”
Yes, I said.
“Some people have heaven,” he said. “So that they can meet the person again.”
I said, “Yes. But I suspect that is more so that they can comfort themselves.”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “But if there was another life, maybe Nana would become Papa and then Papa could be Nana. And then Nana would be famous! And Papa would be…”
He hesitated, realising he was just about to insult my mother. “Papa would be… not quite exactly so famous,” he said.
I said, “You know… I’m not really convinced that Papa was actually all that famous.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, kindly. “We went to Churchie and he came tenth in the state. He’s on a plaque.”
He is the middle child of a middle child. When our father died all the children were asked if they wanted to write a letter to Papa, to be burnt in the fire with him. His letter said, Dear Papa, I hope you are okay. Because I still want you.