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

The Digger

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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.

Heat

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Thursday is too hot to open the shop. I stay home and Max comes to visit and although the heat floats around the house in soft, ticking waves he is unconcerned, he enters the drift delighted and he will find the tap, the hose, the sand, the stones, the buckets, regardless of advice. And so we sit out in it, enfolded and silent and the garden is falling, losing its height under the staggering weight of heat. Even the galahs, normally rummaging through noise and conflict, sit in lax groups, speechless, their black eyes stare down at us in amazement.
Max has made a pond with a peg and three shells and cold water. The hose, which was a melting length of green confectionary is now cooled. The tap, its head and mouth tipped with boiling metal is now tranquil. The bricks leading to the sandpit, slabs of unconcerned strength, are now watered and calm. Max has a tiny horse, a tractor and half a tennis ball and he works on in the shadows, mixing water with his treasure, adding cold cakes of wet sand, squatting beneath the shimmering surface of the morning, blending bliss with heat and altering my definition of the day.

Brother to brother

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Noah has a full agenda at the moment: it is summer, he is nearly two, his eyes and mind are booked up from wake to sleep with things to consider. But baby Finn is still unhooked. He gazes and grazes and dozes and every so often, Noah’s divine features swim into his view and slide into focus. The intensity of this experience organises itself across his face; his eyes widen and climb toward Noah’s eyes, the baby muscles of his face stretch to allow the new happiness a way out, his teeth are not yet hatched, there is just a line of pink gums. His feet expand and point toward heaven, which is Noah.

Noah leaps off the earth

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Noah is up on the big bed. When he arrived up on this new exhilarating surface that dips and falls and floats mountains all about him, his muscles suddenly grew eyes. The first dive plunged him a possible ten miles and the cushioned landing told him that he might now fly. So he did.

Gravity stepped kindly to one side and allowed him to drop and leap, spin and swim in a flightless, effortless baby way for which had had no words except “bang”. He tackled pillows and cushions head on, fell backwards, lunged up from his back to his feet and forward in a delicate, balanced arc, exploring the physics of his own weight, correctly predicting the next fall and timing it accurately with a shout: bang.

There is a collision of head and elbow and Noah rises with one hand held out, acknowledging the grandparent injury and then already wading forward into the next operation, arms raised, his bones warm with cooperation and his fingertips feeling the edges of the air and informing his shoulders of the next plan.

But then, eventually,  it is time to get down.  He surrenders his feet to the old rules of hard floors once again, walking stoutly, rolling slightly because he is not yet two, lifting his feet at shadows, printing the ground with care and precision because he is not yet two and staring down at his new knees and his new feet that are no longer buoyant and that are not yet two.