Cynthia was four when her light went out.
‘Where has my light gone?’ she asked.
‘Lord knows,’ her mother said. ‘But it’s all right. You’ll get used to it. It happens with everyone.’
Looking around her she knew this to be true. She had never yet met an adult with a light in their eyes, but she also knew this transition had happened earlier for her than most.
‘That makes you extra special,’ her mother said, and she laughed when she said it. She was drinking white wine at the time.
Cynthia didn’t feel special. Retracing her thoughts and the preceding events, she could understand how her light had been lost, but this realisation brought no comfort. She felt cold and alone, like the ground she stood on was flooded and she was sinking. She felt so sinky that she decided to wear flippers to school.
[An aside: she was actually looking for a swim ring or, failing that, arm floaties, however there were none in the spider-webbed box of summer things in the shed. ‘Don’t you remember? You popped them,’ her mother said, without trying to get to the bottom of why she might want them in the first place.]
Her father tried to pull the flippers off her feet, and her mother watched and jeered. Until Cynthia started to scream.
‘You’re too much,’ her mother said. ‘Your teacher can deal with you now.’
And those words cast the little girl adrift.
Luckily for Cynthia, she still wore her flippers.