You see, we have another invisible creature in our house.
Some time ago (and still now, once in a while,) Ruby's big sister Ava introduced us to her invisible kitten. It was a bit of a handful, and it was useless at doing anything cat-like (ridding us of vermin, for example). But to be fair, at least it didn't poo over the living room carpet. Well it might have done I suppose, but if it did, it pooed invisible poos that needed no cleaning up.
The new invisible creature is less courteous. Every so often, over the last few weeks, I've come into the living room to find a silvery trail all over the floor. Sparkly, dried-up-slimey evidence that, when I'm not looking, some outrageously rude slug is taking the liberty of squelching itself all over my carpet.
My first thought, when I saw it, was 'why on EARTH' would a slug want to come into my living room? Doesn't the carpet feel a bit itchy underfoot? Slugs don't eat bits of discarded (and lost) toast do they?!
I Googled it and found many people have this problem – most in agreement that, for some baffling reason, occasionally a slug will become partial to a bit of central heating and shag pile and somehow manage to squeeze himself in through an air brick.
"Best to turn all the lights off and pounce on 'em in the dark, when they're not expecting it, and waste 'em" was one very useful (but horrendous) suggestion. I did try a couple of times, as it goes – I snuck in to the lounge and pinged the lights on to find... nothing. Never mind, I thought, I'll keep trying.
But then Ruby started messing with my mind.
It began one early evening, when she and Ava had come back from nursery and we were in the living room waiting for the highlight of the evening: daddy. Suddenly, Ruby pointed and said: "Look, mummy! Iss snail!"
'Eurgh!' I thought and looked to where she was gesturing, but there was nothing there. No trail. And no snail.
"Iss snail!" she said again.
"Where, darling? Where can you see a snail?"
"Iss there, mummy!" Her hand remained aloft.
"I can't see it!" I said.
But she kept saying it, and she kept pointing, at seemingly nothing.
This continued for days, weeks. Not just in the lounge, but in the kitchen and in the hall. I could not for the life of me see this damned snail, but Ruby was convinced it was there. It was terribly confusing. Even a fairly fat slug could probably squeeze through an air brick and find its way past the pipes and up above the floorboards. But a snail? With that bloody great thing on its back? How?!
Did we have a snail permanently living inside the house? I wondered if perhaps Ru knew more than she was letting on. She loves snails when she finds them in the garden, she thinks it's hysterical how she can make them pop back into their shells by roaring at them. Might she have secreted some terrified mollusc indoors? Was it lost? Hiding all day and feeling its way round in the darkness of night, desperately trying to find its way out to the garden?
I spent weeks feeling baffled by it all. Just when I was thinking 'hooray, no snail!' because I hadn't seen any slime for a few days, a new patch of slime would show up. And all the while, on an almost daily basis, Ruby was pointing, and saying (siiiiigh): "Look, mummy! Iss snail!"
I had almost given up, almost conceded that a further little drop of sanity had leaked from me. We had an invisible bloody snail (well, invisible to everyone bar Ru), who left yucky and very visible snail marks.
A ghost snail?!
Pass the wine.
But then... all became clear. Well, not all, but most.
Several days ago, as Ruby was pointing at and talking about the mostly invisible snail, and I was doing my best to ignore her and not to scream, I saw her do something which I hadn't seen her do before during these moments of absurdity.
Just in the corner of my eye, I saw her touch it!
As she repeatedly said: "Look, iss snail!" she touched the goddam thing. The 'thing' being, not a snail, but the tiny little piece of keratin on her tiny little fingertip.
She had not been pointing. She had, for all that time, simply been trying to show me that she knew what a fingernail was (they'd been learning about body parts at nursery, it turned out). It's no wonder Ru sometimes looks at me with an expression that seems to say 'Er, are you all there?'.
Please don't laugh at me. It is cruel to mock the afflicted... and we do still have an invisible slug, apparently.
Have you ever totally misunderstood what your poor child was trying to tell you?