When I was three feet shorter and three times wiser, I always hid under tables at family gatherings, weddings and my parents’ dinner parties. I was a ninja and that’s what ninjas do. It’s also what my old cat did and if it was good enough for Spiral, it was good enough for me. Slipping down beneath the table, the world became a forest of legs – both human and wooden – where Spiral and I would listen to adult conversations we couldn’t comprehend. We were useless spies really.
But that forest of legs felt like my own little world; entirely removed from that of the grown-ups and one they rarely took the time to enter. In flagrant defiance of my bedtime – ninjas are not bound by such foolish notions as “bed time” – I sat with Spiral in our dark forest under the table, watching the legs of the adults move in an intricate, cryptic dance. I knew my mother’s legs: always in heels at these events and constantly in motion, ever the hostess. I knew my father’s legs: solid and still, brown brogues and navy pants, rooted to a spot in the floor like a fulcrum as the gathering revolved around him. I studied the other legs too, learning which pair belonged to which voice. Uncle James, my mothers brother, wore plain black shoes that were constantly shuffling in a weird little nervous dance. Our neighbour, Mrs. Moran, had a dark wooden walking stick, like a third leg, which would shake with every booming cough.
I made up stories about them, the owners of these legs, that I would whisper to Spiral with all the authority of a five year old. I told Spiral why my father’s friend, John Daly, had a limp: one of his legs was wooden, having lost his real one in a booby trap set by Russian spies in South America. My old cat seemed unfazed by this story so I explained to him why my cousin Darren’s feet were so big: they got caught in an escalator and were stretched out. Spiral would shrug in that world-weary feline way. It was his disinterest that fueled even more extravagant stories about the owners of the legs. Like Mrs. O’Leary, whose strange blue-veined legs were a sure sign of her true alien identity. Or my mother’s cousin, Marie, whose thick, Oak-tree legs could kill a man – in fact, they had, on several occasions, which is why all the men seemed to stay away from her.
I was safe in that world of mine, under the table. Things were less complicated, even by my 5 year-old standards. There was nothing to the world but Spiral and me and the legs – all of which had stories that were exciting and strange and unbelievable. I relished the security of my hiding place, always convinced that my presence, ninja-like as it was, went completely unnoticed. But every time, just as I was beginning to tire, my mother’s legs would dance across to my father’s and say something indiscernible even to Spiral’s pricked ears. Then my father’s legs would uproot themselves and stride towards the table where he would crouch down and enter my world to heave me into his arms and carry me to bed as Spiral made a quick-dash escape to the kitchen.