The youngest and the dad strolled on the concrete path that led through the carefully maintained swamp-like Florida flora. To their left grand wooden holiday lodges, the white paint brilliant in the sunshine and to their right pools of unknown - but obviously shallow - depth sprouted skinny, grey-barked tree trunks, which rose high to support a canopy that gave welcome shade on the hot concrete path.
Or was it a sidewalk? The dad wasn’t sure.
He and the youngest slipped through the pools of sun and lingered in the areas of shade, like rubbish British vampires who felt like they had to apologise for their photosensitivity.
The youngest stared at the trees, the lodges, the blue, blue, really, really blue sky and finally at the dad. ‘Dad?’ he asked.
‘Yes?’ the dad replied.
‘Can I have Fanta every day?’ the youngest asked.
‘Yep,’ the dad replied.
‘Can I have ice cream?’
The youngest’s eyes widened with anticipated pleasure. ‘Chips?’
‘Yep. But ask for fries; chips are crisps over here.’
The dad shrugged. ‘It’s what they call them here.’ He looked down at the youngest and added, in his best attempt at an American accent, ‘Chipped potatoes.’
The youngest laughed and they walked on.
A gust of wind brought a scrabbling of death-dry, darkly colourless leaves and twigs down from the trees and across the concrete path.
‘Is it autumn here?’ the youngest asked. His foot crunched on a dead leaf, crushing it loudly against the path.
The dad smiled. ‘No. Just a different kind of summer. And they call autumn ‘fall’.’
The youngest stopped himself from asking why. ‘Because the leaves fall from the trees?’ he asked instead.
The dad nodded. They walked on past a sign that warned of alligators. The youngest reached his hand up to the dad who met it and folded it into his palm.
‘Will the alligators get us?’ the youngest asked.
‘No,’ the dad replied, ‘the sign will be just to keep people out of the water.’
The youngest stared at the shallow water. It was perfectly still. ‘But how do you know?’ he asked. ‘How do you know an alligator isn’t going to just charge us on this path and chase us until we can’t run anymore and then we’ll just get eaten?’
‘Because the holiday people wouldn’t put their guests at risk. No one would come here if they thought they might get eaten by alligators.’
The youngest nodded, albeit a little doubtfully, and he walked on with the dad, the whole time scanning the trees and the flat waters. Turning to the dad, he whispered, ‘What if the alligators get the boys?’
The dad looked down at the scared little boy, genuine worry for the middle and eldest etched into his face. ‘Fingers crossed,’ the dad said. He smiled as he said it and the youngest nodded, grateful for a little fatherly reassurance.
Then he stopped. The sun was hot but not hot enough to stop his thoughts or the need to get those thoughts out. ‘Wait,’ he said. The dad, having walked on a couple of steps, turned to him. ‘Do you mean ‘fingers crossed’ they don’t get eaten,’ the youngest continued, ‘or ‘fingers crossed’ they do get eaten?'
The dad smiled and the youngest giggled. They walked past the swimming pool and the shouting, laughing holiday makers, and onto their room, the youngest’s arms held out so his hands could snap together alligator-style.