When I was a child, colours in glass meant Christmas, but I don’t know why. I know we lived next to a church with stained glass windows that would have shouted their outrage all through the summer. Colours of boiled lollies. We sat on the smooth wooden pews in church every Sunday morning, already hot, already ready to leave, across the road the sea went on and on and didn’t even care about Christmas. Our bikes leaned against the gate close by because we only lived next door. Once my brother threw a brick into the outside church toilet and busted the porcelain bowl and we sprinted without stopping all the way home which was only ten metres. Because the minister’s kids shouldn’t do stuff like that.
Christmas time was rich and heavy and brilliant with the sea across the road, Santa in a front end loader and it was a real Santa not some bullshit farmer dressed up and riding in their own front end loader. This was a real one and his reindeer were in the old stone barn at the back of the bank. The kids whose dad ran that bank said this was true and I remember that girl, Susan, in my class, had a dragster bike with pink things on the wheels so it was real what she said. Christmas was stained glass and the nativity, a brilliant tranquil story fired though with candles and sheep, lit up at the back with a stained glass window of another entirely different story, set on fire with the summer, threaded through with the last days of school where we made lanterns with green, blue, red, orange, yellow cellophane, the classrooms blazing with tinsel, the final concert where we sang too loud and the infants teacher was tired and said keep calm and that family that lived in the sandhills in a shack that had no electricity and sand going in the front door. And then we ran home fast as anything because if you were outside when the sleigh went over you only got a bag of sand. The green and blue bottles at the window reminded me of all of that.
Noah and Max are under the Christmas tree.
Max emptied the lower branches days ago and Noah gazes through the empty spokes with interest. He accepts an angel to chew. Both babies can now sit on a firm base with no toppling, they have crushed the nativity under their bottoms, they have pulled down the silver tinsel and it is their first Christmas. There is so much to do.
Wrapped gifts are, as yet, dull. Those smooth surfaces offer no angles or handholds, they contain nothing that can be seen and therefore nothing that they want.
An emerald green bauble that hangs from a branch, however, holds movement. And also light and shine that keeps changing. It has a promising surface that can be tasted. There is often an accompanying spoken warning which is predictable and comfortable.
The wooden Santa that contains another Santa inside it and yet another inside that is delightful. One piece can astonishingly go inside of another piece and come out again.
There is a bottle of good milk lying nearby which nobody wants.
It is possible to pull the loop away from every hanging element so that they can no longer hang at all. Max can jolt a decoration downwards with superb strength, it knocks him backwards and he must rebalance each time. Noah sits close by, supporting the work, a team.
It is hot, there are lists of things to do, there is still a week until Christmas, there is complaining and rushing and not enough carparks.
But Noah and Max are travelling Christmas from a stronger position. Willing to be grazed by new ideas, able to breath in colour, calling for contact and exchange, uninterested in efficiency.
Max is discarding each broken and lovely decoration to one side, he is sighting up the tree, reaching for higher profits, still out of reach. Noah is examining each shape consistently and carefully, tasting the edges, processing the contours, understanding the value.
A brother and sister are here in the shop and they are arguing over Dr Who; they are disputing the title. The brother, who is the youngest, says: It’s Dr Stupid Who!
But his sister wants this book, there is an object on the front colour, it is red and she presses one eye to the cover, enchanted with this ruby object. Their father tells them that red is the last colour you see and they both stand still. One of them asks: Do you mean when you die?
The father answers: No, I mean when you look at something. Red is the last colour you see. The children stand still again. They look around hard. They look at everything and test the colour red. But they are not sure.
The brother says: I can’t see anything if red is last or first and his father said: Ah! Well, don’t worry.
The boy says: What else is there that we might see or not?
They are all standing at the counter now with their books, including Dr Stupid Who. The father says: it is up to you, what you see or do not see. Then he says that he has lost his book, a copy of Dune by Frank Herbert and the children find it on the table in front of the biographies and they think this is very funny.
I think that Max has super powers but my mum says that this is nonsense. When she dropped into the shop yesterday I said that Max has survived his first hot summer and she said that this is nonsense. That when she was born in Broken Hill her mum had to put the cot outside in the summer because the corrugated iron house was hotter inside than out. Her mother hung wet nappies around the edges of the cot and then the hot wind became cool. Her mum always put the cot under the pepper trees. She said the dining room table bowed in the heat of those roasting dark little iron rooms.
I said I would like to put that story on facebook and she said that facebook is nonsense, that who on earth would want to read that.
When my mum was 14 years old she made her own dress at school and wore it for a photograph sitting. I have that photograph and it is one of my favourite things. They were very poor and she only ever had one photograph taken. She said her dress was pretty good, probably the best one made and her mum had told her that this was nonsense.
Well, Max, my grandson loves colour. He leans toward colour and frowns with the sensations of colour. His head wobbles with excitement when he catches the purple of my glass necklace in the light. He leans in panting and dribbling, wanting that slab of cool glass in his mouth. But we have coloured glass slabs around the front door, too. These are wine red, mint green, champagne, butter yellow and icy pink. In the fading evening light they change character and jump and quarrel. Max stares into the hot colours and is silent but noisy, busy with breathing, and ingesting colour. Soon the red becomes purple and the greens turn to blue. The yellow turns to cider. The pink fades to clear, cool water. He stares for minute after minute at the thick glass, dripping with afternoon and evening colours.
Then later, his mother says that he won’t go to sleep and I say that this is nonsense.
It is the end of summer and the air is full of that strange, footless summer breathing. Why does my grandson pant in my ear when I hold him? What is he looking at? The oblongs coloured like jewels along the back wall. These are books. The horizontal streaks of the bamboo blinds on the front door framed in lozenges of coloured glass? You sit for one baby minute after another staring at these.
The grape vine, the plum tree, the fragrant basil that froths under the lemon tree. There is too much basil. The died roses, the pegs on the ground, the golden orb webs. We don’t like them, but you do.
Your head wobbles on a stalk not strong enough to hold still. When you have completed your wobbling examination of a thing you grumble slightly. Time to move on. But once you stared thoughtfully at a lemon for nearly three minutes. Drenched in yellow, we could finally move on. Then we are under the wisteria and startled by purple. The whole house is breathing Max: powder, soap and milk, light, shapes and heat.