Gone

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Scraping softly across the top of the soil, they found it. The worm. They gazed down at it in astonishment.

Worm.

Noah, see.

Worm.

Where Pa?

Worm.

Worm. He’s in here.

No. Not.

They shuffled and dug and lost the worm. Great Grandma came out.

They said, Worm.

She said, Is there? That’s good.

They dug and pushed and piled things up. They breathed in garden, worm and disappointment.

Worm gone.

Great Grandma went past the other way.

They said, Worm gone.

She said, Oh well, there’ll be another.

They watched her go up the path and along the veranda.

Pa went past.

Max pointed downwards. Pa said, Good work!

They squatted down and inspected the soil. They put their noses down to the surface (just in case). Noah laid his head flat to the ground, ready for any possibility.

They waited.

 

 

Lemons

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The neighbour’s kids up our road have made a street stall, a real market stall and they have invited us to come across to examine the goods, perhaps even make a purchase. It is a hot day, the street is silent except for the usual galahs, peering down across the stall, nosy and rude, black eyes on the lip balms (only one dollar each) in a criticising parroty kind of way.
They have arranged and re arranged the tables, written out prices and labels, created a display, argued over stock, placed a till, made a cash float, agreed on bargains. We buy a lemon, $1 each or 3 for $10. When we have made the purchase, we are handed a Free Lemon and so the exchange is a win for everyone. Later we return to purchase two red matchbox cars and a stone that has been painted (with nail polish) with mysterious symbols and could possibly be of extreme value.
Then we all go slowly home, leaving them to the afternoon rush, to continue adding goods and commodities, to discuss supply, demand and marketing strategies. The day continues warm, the sunlight drops kindly over the enterprise, the air is full of golden summer dust and brilliant, joyful ideas.

The whole day, full of day

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On the last day of the holiday to Port Vincent, the family is packing up and packing in and running for the deadline of vacate the property by eleven am etc. but the boys, who are not quite two, and a bit more than two, have found a garden bed that apparently wasn’t there before.
In it is an attractive collection of wet bark chips and curly wood shavings that were not there before. There is also, underneath, a bed of earth that was not there before. There is also a level lovely plank to stand on, lean on, climb on, balance over, fly from, that was not there before. From this lofty height they watch the packing up, watch the potty as it is carried past to be repacked and they watch it with narrowed eyes. They will defeat it. They will not use it.
There are parent warnings but these are always there. These are signals of caution, dull, predictable and vital to measure the importance of one’s existence. The existence of Max and Noah is paramount and so they are surrounded with concerns and reminders, cautions and nags, the watch and the overwatch, fuelled by love and by its necessity which is love.
Noah and Max climb and clamour and ignore the warnings, scale the heights and run onto the road outrageously, ignorant, unheeding of parent agony, not giving a shit for the correct rules. They do not even use the potty with precision.

One day they will be 17 and they will say for fuck’s sake and so will pierce safety with the correct rage and anger because one time long ago they were adored and told repeatedly to get off the fence.

The Evening Meal

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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.

Noah Vacuums the Shop

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Noah came to visit on a really hot day. But the heat does not cause a toddler to slow his breathing or his intentions. The heat does not exist when there is a task to do. In my shop there is a vacuum cleaner and it is outrageously sitting idle. Noah knows what to do with idleness and he immediately puts the pieces together, provides the engine with his own heart and the voice of the machine with his own throat and he vacuums furiously here and there and all round his feet and all around his world.
He rebuked me soundly when I shortened the pole for his own shortness because he is not short and because this was wrong. He does not need ill-informed assistance from me; what he needs is the floor of my bookshop, a machine and an opportunity. And then, while he laboured across the small estate of my bookshop his small face was both alive with intention and lit with approval.

Pontoon

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All our kids jumped off that pontoon.
And it’s still there, moored in the middle of the bay, animated during the day, motionless across the evening when all the kids have logged off and gone back to the caravan park.

The pontoon was heavy, the water was green and cold and deep, and the games had no form, the platform had no rules; it was just get out of the deep, get on to the float and then get off spectacularly. It was about hurling muscle and energy and seawater into smoky, bubbling patterns. To get up, there was a metal ladder, to get off there was just the edge- then the plunge into the marine and someone else’s foot giving you a blood nose and everyone saying it wasn’t even them.
All the parents sat on the shore and wondered if they should get in, wondered if they would make it out to the pontoon, wondered if there was still ice in the esky, wondered if it was too early for a beer, wondered where the sunscreen was. They were just realizing that the days were starting to go fast, never realizing that these kids would have their kids and bring those kids to the same bay, that same pontoon, that life buoy still nodding generously for the next version of campers, parents and kids and eskies.

Photography by Paul Cullen ( thanks Paul, for this great photo of all our kids! )

 
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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.

Max Plants Nothing

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I have made a garden with a fountain and a solar pump and tubs with seeds – useful things like chives and oregano and sage. But I left one pot empty for the players.

Max discovers this pot of smooth, soothing soil, seemingly empty, and aching to be disturbed. When he stares down at the square, he dribbles softly, a habit from infancy when a new discovery would override the signal to swallow, which, compared to a pot of good dirt is hardly important.

He begins his work immediately.

It is winter, but it is not cold. Indeed, the winter garden is inattentive, already putting out tiny leaves, believing spring is near although it is not. The earth is soft and obedient.

Max works silently, tasting the earth with his hands, sifting and moving it to where it should be. He moves a pinch to the left and stares down into the planet. Overhead the galahs slide from one quarrel to another, but he is not interested, the sound of the dirt moving and shifting, the texture of particles is too deafening.

He listens to the depth, handles the value, his baby hands clutch and pinch and hover over an overwhelming landscape caught within a pot and shrieking possibilities. He does not want to leave the pot.

There is a bark chip nearby that is annoying. He picks it up and throws it hard into the pot. He looks across at his young mother who is watching him, thinking he might find some information about the bark. His mother is watching him closely and he receives this information, that he has both of her eyes on him, and so he takes flight, replenished, and continues on, tending his tiny potted acre. He makes a decision and flings the bark chip away.

 

I can remember

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A little boy asked me this morning if I remembered him coming in before with his mum and dad and getting a book called Dr Zeus and also getting a book about a cat. He reminded me with a certain joy that I took a photo of them standing there with their books, him and his brother. He reminded me that his brother does not read that many books now as he plays cricket. He is pretty good at cricket. He is a fast man.
I did remember. It was a long time ago. Those small boys lined up next to each other at the counter, their eyes were lamps, their books certain tiles of gold spread carefully in front of me so that I was aware of the incoming joy.
This time they chose different books, after all they were older now, grown up almost, they were reading about dinosaurs and cricket and Star Wars. They brought the books to the counter and their eyes were like lamps and I was aware of the incoming joy.

Max Stacks

 

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There is always work to do in the realms of gold.

And Max is always in arrears with the work; the number of shelves that need to be unshelved is relentless and the books clamouring to be loaded cause him untold frustration and joy.
Each day, many times a day, Max works patiently, carrying paperbacks, one at a time across acres of living room to another place, clearly a better place. He surveys each fresh cargo seriously, standing in silence, giving a benediction. Then he returns, the toddler ship, to the shelf, which will soon be another empty harbor.

Sometimes, from somewhere, he will receive new orders and be forced to stop at sea. It is time to stack.
This is an apprenticeship that he has embraced and practiced since he could crawl and when his infant services of carry, balance and freight were precarious at best. Now he is master tradesman, stern with assistance, moving the wrong book aside without courtesy or comment, uninterested in advice.
His baby brain is noticing that dimensions make a difference. He can pack paperbacks with precision. It is appropriate to sandwich classics between Hairy Maclary and Schiller’s Poems and Plays. Once I saw him stack The Father Brown Stories beneath Simone de Beauvoir and on top of her, a small plastic truck.

The prevailing stack is lively. Colin Thiele is a mere slice underneath Cooking with Copha, Manning Clark’s History of Australia has been re dealt, only three of the volumes are necessary and these are decked on top of Hilary Clinton, A History of Persian Architecture and three Viragos. Max stares at Footrot Flats and allows himself to dribble on the cover. He recognises the kitty. He presses the souls of his feet into Asterix. The Britannica Greats are too heavy, Freud, also too heavy, ponderous and creaking along with Dickens, Butler, Proust, Trollope, all the males in heavy sensible shoes that cannot be lifted with one hand. The Russians are no better, the whole set is the same, they talk too much and do not cooperate. Twilight, Breaking Dawn are light and pleasing but they are not placed well, they cannot hold their own weight, they are limp in the sun, they allow Greek Mythology and the Bullfinch to lean and fall. The north corner of the wall is weak, Wolf Hall, although working brilliantly is flung calmly aside as if it was the one that caused the limp.
A History of the World in 100 Objects and Blinky Bill are auditioned.
The Lord of the Rings leans against the window, smoking a pipe, calm, watching.
There is a copy of The Stories of Edith Wharton, once again poked into an odd place between armchairs, its dust cover gently removed, (once I found next to it, a disrespectful and small piece of toast). The dust cover is always found, unharmed, slid between 500 Cabinets and Rocks and Minerals for Young Readers. This book does not get a go at the wall.
Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat has taken the top of the stack.
On the Banks of Plum Creek is sliced on top of Gobbo.
Teddy Goes on a Picnic is the flag, placed carefully on top of a Somerset Maugham.
But then it is lunchtime and there is a calling and a cajoling from the kitchen and the stack is abruptly forgotten and abandoned, its inhabitants left rocking in the warmth of the choosing and the building and the heights and the taking part of library life, in life.

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