A devil for reading

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I remember this couple. They came from Murray Bridge, and they only visited once.  They spent the whole time telling me about their granddaughter. They laughed so much and they were so proud. That was in 2015, and I never saw them again. I remember they wanted the Tintin books by Herge.

Their granddaughter would be 20 now. If only she knew how they had collapsed in on themselves, silent, pained, because there were no sounds that could carry enough value to ease their contentment at having received her into their quiet road, wooden breakfast table, tomato garden lives.

 

Reading a children’s book slowly and reluctantly

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A lady had bought three children’s books (for grandchildren) and tried to leave. Christmas things to do etc. But she was sabotaged on the way out. The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star on the window shelf stopped her exit. She came back and picked it up. Looked at the cover. Brought it to the counter. Outside, people rushed past. She read it though slowly, thoughtfully. Then she said, ‘Damn.’

We looked at each other understandingly. The book had won. She carried it out, I watched it go.

 

How to play golf

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Find equipment. Divide and separate. Even though there is a good wide acre, every swing will shave a cousin’s ear, which neither will notice. Place hands up, hands down, hands anywhere, and aim delicately.

Ignore parental advice. The white ball is everything. Muscles, feet, dinner and yesterday, all blur.

Noah can imitate a professional stance quite well. They both like the grass. The ball, when hit successfully, makes a rich white click and causes them to stop still and swallow.

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Getting petrol

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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.’

‘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.

‘Watch out.’

‘No’

‘Watch.’

‘Ok.’

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…

 

 

Eating lunch with Noah

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Noah is two years old and he’s like an owl. He sits on his knees, on the chair next to me, leaning his shoulder on mine, chummy and confiding. Turns his head, looks at me sideways. Hoots and sighs and drops bread. Eats fast.

Says, what Nanny? What did you say?

He notices a red dragonfly painted inside the rim of his red bowl. I’d never noticed it before.

He laughs and taps the bowl to show me.  See?

He’s like a clock. Head ticks up and down as he counts the bananas.

Says, I’m cold. Looks around urgently and says he’s not cold.

He leans on elbows, notices everything, breathes through his mouth, blows and sighs, climbs up, climbs down, knocks on the window. He offers me half of his banana, endlessly thoughtful.

Says, I’m a monkey. Calls out, what’s that noise?

He’s like a tugboat. Because when they overbalance and slide from the chair, they take the tablecloth (and everything else) with them, tow everything down in alarm, bringing the entire harbour; plates, cups, spoons, forks, bread, tomatoes and bananas, all to the floor.

Says, sorry Nanny, and patiently picks everything up again.

 

 

Pirates

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People came in off the train today.. Possibly all together but I wasn’t sure. There was a doorway snarl…. shut the door Ern, look at the weather…and an argument over roses…let them be, it’s too late to fiddle with them now

They came in and out, looking for the bakery, needing black coffee, strong, and The Readers Digest Book of Roses, holding the door open for other customers, looking for Bob and Ern who have gone off..

One lady talked and talked in the back room. Her husband, leaning on the counter with his eyes closed, suddenly realized he should have been in there, listening. He rose up magnificently, said, oh Jesus, and powered away from the counter, elbows out and a good balance.

There were more voices, calling, fluting, floating, as groups gathered, changed plans and agreed with each other with narrowed eyes…just do as she says…

A young family burst in, the child shouting, here we are, back for more pirates, I already read book one…so we came back, if we ate all our oranges we were allowed…

There are three couples all safely inside the shop. There is a disappointing lack of Roses, Grown the Natural Way. Ern has been found. Violet should go home. Chris has found a book of possibly good poetry.

We’ll come back when we have more time…. good place, good place. Though…

The child with the pirates is under the table, reading fiercely, unable to get up and leave, a divine three dollars spent, he is on book two, book three is breathing next to him.

His mum says to me in a tired way, not sure why he reads so much, his grandpop is the same.

The child pulls his eyes from the page, outraged.

Mum. Pop’s a pirate. He told me it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tangled in the pram

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It is the winter school holidays and the visitors are regular despite the icy attitude outside.

I like it when grandparents bring their grandchildren in and try to direct the reading choices. Grandchildren are always polite. But also good at directing Pop away from Biggles and onward to the Treehouse books, especially the 117 Storey Treehouse which is newest.

But I don’t have that Treehouse book. Grandchildren are always polite and encouraging, they say, don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s ok, because we like Minecraft Zombie, too.

This time, they have a pram (with nobody in it), too large to get close to the shelves, so they leave it next to me. It holds loaves of bread, a cactus in a pot, a shoe box, a basketball, a bag of carrots and a walking stick, probably Pop’s.

All goes well until it’s time to leave. The four of them are milling and churning, trying to get out and trying to get the money and Nan is mad with Pop because he keeps arguing about everything and now he says, but I don’t think we need to get any tickets today, and Nan turns the pram sharply, Pop is backed up into the biographies (still arguing)…

But the granddaughters are serene. They each have a book. They are eight and ten years old and experienced in school holidays. One holds the door wide and one angles the pram broadside, out of the door and into the beautiful blue, still holding their books, and one girl leaning forward to keep the pram moving (it’s as big as she is) and still talking and talking to each other. Behind goes Nan and Pop, still arguing and stopping and arguing and Pop trying to work out where the pram has gone.

 

The Queen

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There’s a family at the front window of the shop. The child, a granddaughter, presses her nose to the glass, breathing fog. There’s a grandpa who does not want to come in.

There’s a grandma who does. She opens the door part way and says, are these new books do you think? He says, yes, meaning, so let’s not go in.

But she creaks the door a little further. He looms up unhappily behind.

You’ve got enough.

But Grandma indicates their grandchild. I mean for her.

He subsides. The grandchild (the Queen) squeezes between them, through the stone pillars of the family, through the gap, and passes regally into the shop. She asks me for Cat Royal. She is up to volume seventeen. But I only have volumes four and eleven.

Grandpa looks relieved. Let’s go then.

But the Queen has found Goodnight Mr Tom. She won’t budge for now. She repeats the title in a sing song (they have read this at school). She thinks she might read it to Grandpa, because it is about a Grandpa. He is standing near the door but she commands him toward the cane chair next to Gardening. He breathes out, longing for a coffee and one of those cream buns next door, and accustomed to his way. But the Queen slices his power into cubes and leaves them kindly on the floor. She will read and he must listen. He takes the cane chair, organises his enormous outdoor boots out of the way. The book is only some three hundred pages and will not take long. Grandma, in Art, looks at them and turns back to Hans Heysen.  Their granddaughter chooses Mr Tom and Grandpa, stiff with sitting, thanks me kindly, thank you very much, they all read except me, and then they all leave for the bakery, coffee and big cream buns.

 

The matchbox cars

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Matchbox cars are always good. These are old, some sand from a sandpit in the seventies fell out all over the carpet. Digger, trucks, tractors, trailer, the trailer with a sharp edge.

Pa says, watch that trailer, it has a sharp edge. But Max has already assessed the trailer rubbed his thumb across the razy edge of its spine, noted it with interest.

Should file that off! (But doesn’t.) As it’s not been done for three generations.

Max adds noise to the vehicles, amazing that he knows so much engine talk!

Pa dozes next to the car park, the toys were all his, then our kids, now the grandkids. Must be the same play in a different decade, on a chilly evening, Pa snoozing and Nan reading and the dinner not even ready yet.

It’s all right, Nanna

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It’s all right, Nanna, it’s all right, Nanna! A boy was consoling his Nanna in the shop one afternoon. He had a Terry Pratchett, he was grinning at the cover, he said, oh man, I hope this has Vimes in it! But he needed to soothe Nanna who had hoped for other books as well. His sister and brother had Minecraft, The Magic Thief and Inkspell. Pop had A Biography of the Thames. Nanna had the money.
But what about this? She held up a hopeful Treasure Island. But, no, nobody wanted that! The sister had a story (she said) of a purple house on a purple hill. That’s all she wanted. Just that!

Artwork by Paul Steven Bailey