Max and Noah took a picture, but the camera wouldn’t work. They took seventeen photos because it is impossible to lift a thumb off the camera icon once it is down.
Usually there is another thumb over the camera lens. All they capture is thumb. Still they admire it, ‘Look at this.’
They can’t get their own heads in the frame both at once. When they manage it, they take seventeen photos of thumb. Then they examine each one as if choosing a prize family portrait. And they found one!
Max and Noah are getting on with things. They have their own version of work. It is very intense. Today, the trees need petrol to keep going.
There is a pipe buried at the base of the tree. They place a piece of bark over its lovely mouth and stare at it.
‘Petrol in there.’
They squat, and stare at the piece of bark and the pipe, more thoughtfully.
Suddenly they rise up and go for the hose, drag it, grunting, panting. It is too long; it’s heavy and it knots its stomach and argues with their small feet. But they yank and wrestle it into place, refusing to give up.
Then they place the nozzle into the pipe and it fits. It is not a tree. It is a train.
And the water cooperates, a beautiful cold flood that darkens the ground and makes them briefly examine their feet. They check the bower, check the nozzle, check the fuel, crouch and stare, absorbed in the small heaving fountain. Noah taps the tree on its spindly shin. He says, ‘Done.’
Max agrees, ‘Turn off.’ But they can’t. The work is too important. They can’t leave it, the tap is too far away. They remain with the train, stroking its hot roaring flank, loyal and possessive…
There is a family gathering at the end of summer. The oldest of this bowlful, the great grandparents, look benignly down across everyone. The youngest on the playground, the two year olds, look up in astonishment at everyone.
Noah and Max aim their cousinly flights through two things only. Matchbox cars and slices of bun. There is a tiny digger of monumental value. This is because it is a digger, a tiny yellow plastic digger that they both want. The digger. They can both say digger. This word, for Max and Noah, lives in the cave of their mouths, already there, a solid, tasteful item. Digger. And there is the added delicious conflict that there is only one toy and two of them. This conflict provides enough material to enrich the entire afternoon.
They zone from table to garden and back again. They have stolen a thousand pieces of doughnut and bun. Great Grandma encourages the thefts, she looks on with approval. They are able to carry an entire theft in one fist. Mashed in with the cakes are the digger, the bulldozer and the cement mixer. The cement mixer is full of doughnut.
They have found a patch of garden that contains loose dirt; wealth equal to gold, diamonds or cordial.
Here they sit serving their own version of refreshment by the fistfuls until suddenly they both stare at the digger. There is a lurch and a chase, but they are only two years old and the purpose of the conflict becomes lost in the joy of muscle, movement and a snail.
(Reminders of toilet, safety and manners flick at their ankles and are ignored, lost).
There is another chase that ends suddenly because nobody has the digger now, it is lost. They stand perplexed. Suddenly they forget the toy and there is yet another race, wobbly, wild and scribbling, but the nappies weigh heavily, ballast is out of balance and there is a fall. There is exhaustion and despair and then finally, tears. It is time to go home.
It is time for dinner and the babies must take the high chairs and be contained. There is good food, spaghetti, and bread and cheese and jugs of cold water and noise and the evening heat dusting though the front windows and over the swing and ding of the evening meal.
Nobody listens much to anybody else. Everybody eats, everyone has had a hard day, worse than anybody else’s, that’s for sure.
Noah and Max, lords of cheese, glance about, sighting opportunity, examining small pieces of carrot, spilling anything possible, shout on urgent notes that end before they can think of the exact meaning, kick and become abruptly silent and then swing again at the escaping idea.
Sometimes they unexpectedly notice each other as though from a vast distance even though it is about five cm. Then they join hands, share evidence of their existence which consists tonight of mirth and carrot mostly and also spilled and other edible things. Then they can shriek with triumph, kingly because they still rule the experience, their thistly hair seems to stand on end in amazement.
Later, tidying up, I find a small plastic tractor and a lego block amongst the mess on the floor and I put them in the sink with the rest of the dishes.
Max and Noah are on the edge of the sea and playing in that slice of joy that lies directly where the sea meets the sand. Here they can trot about with competent feet, carry sand in grainy wet loads and roar bravely at the sea. They can enter the water and become caught in the muscular pull of cold weight around their hearts and quickly stop still. Max sniffs the surface and is shocked with salt. They both make squinting eyes. The bay is a lagoon nursing heat and light and small children, beyond them, a dog swims patiently in and out, enclosing his owners in soft ripples, there is no noise, Noah says: doggen.
And they keep playing on, smudged and warm and covered in beach and the dog swims silently by.
Aunty Elsa’s room is a haven of possibilities, treasure and unexpected items that the babies are not allowed to have. The door will not shut because there are three thousand pairs of shoes stored behind it and so the boys always have a guaranteed entry to the forbidden. In this room there are many things but best of all are the snow globes, heavy and cold and breakable. Even a gentle movement will dislodge the magic winter inside each one. They must be magic, and the glass is always worth tasting to find out if such divinity is also edible. But there is more. There are cards and pencils and books and phone chargers, sometimes even a phone itself and that cool slab of glass against an infant ear means important involvement in family concerns. Once there was a bag of lollies, a bag of bliss, and Aunty Elsa did not get there in time to rescue those. Aunty Elsa is 18, she is a Bohemian Rhapsody, kind and colourful, unconventional and unafraid. The cousins drink in the rich world of their Aunt, the books and the ideas and the argument and chaos and year 12 and they eat pita bread with hummus and hear about the importance of regarding the planet and each other with care and they too become richer and enriched and richer…
Max and Noah, who can now pace steadily and productively across all floors, are together before dinner in the library corner and they have found two small horses with riders and lances.
One horse is on the windowsill and the other is caught between a stack of Robert Louis Stevenson and an armchair and this one has been captured. Noah and Max communicate through simple sounds of enthusiasm and query. They share the most significant messages through silence, using unblinking eye contact – a horn sounding out a wordless acknowledgment of awe. Once they have read each other’s faces, they turn to the next page, in this case, the horse itself.
Max can see that the lance and the hand of the knight go together. He puts the end of the lance in his mouth and tastes the problem. Noah holds both hands poised in front of him and feels the problem. They both stare at the radiance of the knight and the lance and the horse.
Noah does a small dance with his feet and they both stare down at Noah’s feet.
The horse falls to the floor. The knight falls behind the books. Only the lance remains. Noah moves his hand toward the lance. Max moves the lance away in alarm and they gaze at each other for a long moment. Once lance, two infants.
They both stare again into the problem of the lance, which has now, in their budding world, become two problems.
But now, suddenly, they are being called to eat, and the lance is abruptly cast aside. The babies launch into a vigorous rocking trot toward the dining table where they arrive within seconds and they breathe loudly to show the vast distance they have just traveled.
It is nearly the last day of our holiday and we are having lunch, by the sea, in summer, in the heat, under cool glass and next to the blue. Morgan and I have chosen mussels, I remember these from a year ago and they made me happy so I have ordered them again, mussels in shells, a thousand of them, too many, whirling in tomato and garlic and other things with chilli, red wine maybe. I am wondering if the chilli will be real and it is because when we lift the lid, the steam comes out angrily and the chillies lie there, amongst the mussels, obscene and arrogant and not knowing their proper place, perfect.
We are elbow deep in mussels and shells and ciabatta bread and there is too much food and too much sky through the windows and the babies are hooting and eating things and Noah is at the end of the table, between his parents, supreme amongst food and family and spoons and forks and garlic bread.
He and his baby cousin Max are hurling things to the floor and gazing open mouthed at the response from family, they are filing away the satisfying response from family.
I cannot eat any more food, but there is still too much food waiting to be eaten. I can only stare at everyone else. Family, ordinary and ordinary but still defying understanding.
Morgan, is gone, lost in the mussel pot, the good cold beer and hunger, and his son, Noah, is leaning back superbly into the armchair of summer, and his parents gaze over at the floor and the scattered food and the toys and they look down at all of this with joy.
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.
Noah watches and listens. Max climbs and bounces. Noah has eyes that can drink in the entire of his world so far, nearly. Max has a voice that can express the entire of his world so far, nearly.
Noah has a rocking swing. Max has more months than Noah and he can lean in and push the swing with his new precarious strength. Sometimes the swing pushes Max and down he goes. He cries and Noah looks on astounded. But there is no injury. Now Max thinks he will taste the swing, that smooth milky bar under Noah’s feet has information that is vital to his tongue. He leans in and tastes the frame with enthusiasm, again he is knocked sideways. Noah looks on in astonishment.
Now Max tastes each toy. He works rapidly, grasping, releasing, panting. Noah watches closely, he connects neatly an eye contact with his young father and offers a complicated sentence of noises, opinion and breath. He turns from side to side, kicks in surprise. There is too much to see. He notes everything that is necessary.
Max has run out of toys, he gives a small scream of rage. The babies look at each other.
Max turns to a new landscape, stands and holds tightly, he dribbles, yearning to taste the shapes and colours that float in front of him. There is too much to say. He says everything that is necessary.
The parents discuss development, milestones, progress. The babies look at each other again, gravely. They exchange the truth.