The Doll’s House

My grandfather, Ben, made me a doll’s house when I was small. It was rough. It was perfect. His work-shed at his house in Richmond had aeroplanes flying over it, low enough to warm your hair and fill your ears with engine and wind.

The shed was dark and warm. The carpet made of wood shavings. Small windows. He made me a merry-go-round with horses made steady with a pearl of glue under each tiny hoof, polishing the circles of wood first with sandpaper and finally with felt made fragrant with talk powder.

He was an alcoholic, miserable in the city after a life in the bush. Then the war. There was nobody to ask if men were ok. There was only the bottle.

He always bought me liquorice.

He polished small disks of wood for me. He made them into mirrors. I tided the shed. I shuffled the tools and the wood about, and he looked on uneasily, thanking me, nodding and nodding, needing eucalypts and space and heat and getting only Adelaide.

He nodded and began the doll’s house. I’d always wanted one. He made it properly, with an attic. He must have heard me say it, ‘an attic’, and he made one, a proper one. I would see him sanding and cutting, his shoulders still wearing the war and heavy with poverty and city.

Now he’s gone.

 I set it out for my grandsons, and they filled its rooms with new knowledge. They piled all the tiny plates and cups into a front end loader. They set up the kitchen with cupboards and beds. They put a tractor in the garage. They put the bath outside. They put the baby’s cot in the tractor. They continued my grandfather, and may they never know war.

The boy turning rocks over

There’s a boy turning rocks over in the bay. I noticed because of the way he balanced himself on two larger rocks and then leaned to pick up smaller ones, one after another. He inspects them with his nose almost on the smooth skin of each stone. The bay he is working in is silent and hot. The child labours on. I can hear the soft click of each rock as he replaces it. Every now and again, the plop of a stone sliding into a rockpool. There’s the horizon, a bar of blue above him, the black spoky jetty to one side, and a row of shacks, oblongs of colour, holding the other side. And him right in the middle.

Being gorillas

No matter how hot it is, they run fast. They make for the mulberry tree, running with gumboots on the wrong feet, intensely aware of their own moving bodies, their faces move and throb with running, their eyes flicker watching the ground drumming under their heels. They are very little.

The mulberry tree is green and attractive but they ignore this. There is a gap and a low, wide branch that is more useful, and they push through and are now gorillas, and they need something intensely which they must think of soon.

They stand on a branch and examine ideas. They make gorilla noises and put bunches of hard infant mulberries to their noses.   

One gorilla holds on and commands the other. He needs some sand. The other gorilla climbs down for sand which he then throws up over both of them, and they are pleased. They climb up. They climb down. They are birds. They are gorillas. They are a fence. They don’t live here. They want chips. They might find a nest. One falls and is gripped within a branch and screams for rescue and is towed to the bottom, and then they climb up and try once more with hopeful mouths the sour toes of the unborn fruit. They spit it out with strong, satisfied mouths.

They are covered in dust and leaves, sunlight and heat, sand, sweat and scratches. When the galahs in neighbouring gumtrees screech they go silent and look at each other. They fold their hands around the branches and test their arms. They make bird noises. They need sand. They want chips.

Noah and Max in the library

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I wrote this two years ago, when the cousins were a year old.

“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 they have captured. The boys communicate using strong sounds of enthusiasm and query. They share the most significant messages this way; sounding out wordless acknowledgments of discovery. Once they have read each other’s faces, they turn back to the horse, itself now an object of great value.

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, and they gaze at each other for a long moment. One lance, two infants.

They both stare again at the lance, which has now, in their budding world, become complicated.

Suddenly they are being called to eat, and the lance is cast aside. They launch into a vigorous rocking trot toward the dining table and they breathe loudly to show the vast distance they have just traveled.”

Max and Noah are now three, and still playing in library corners.

Noah and Max plant daisies and tell me that these WILL grow…

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Autumn, and here we are in the garden, there is stuff to do. Dig.

The difference between a weed and a flower is nothing.

Noah wears only one boot. The other one is gone. They lose their spade. Somebody loses an entire pair of pants. We find a tiny bulldozer, folded into a crunching mud pastry underneath the blackberry. These little boys, my grandsons, roll and stride and fly from one end of the orchard to the other. They find worms. These are treasures. They find weeds. These are treasures. They find snails. These are beyond treasure, there are no words. They lean in over the tender stalk of eyeball that moves underneath their scorching breath and outraged curiosity.

‘What’s his eyes doing?’

What’s him looking for?’

They carry their luggage with them, a pot, a spade, a tiny bulldozer, a scooter with a bead necklace tied to the handlebars, a snail, a plastic dingo, and a piece of wooden train track. They drop everything.

They squabble over the tiny bulldozer. Their small muddy hands must hold that bulldozer.

They arrive at the foot of the old yellow daisy. It is huge, it lives without aid all year round. It finds water for itself. When everything else wilts, it rears in contempt.

They consider the whirring flowers and snip off a few and stand there, looking at the scatter. Then they remember. Planting. It’s easy. They run from here to there, tying the tender stalks to the earth, ungentle and urgent. They step backwards and trample their work. They fall. They sit on their own gardens. They lose each other.

‘Where’s my Noah?’

Finn (the youngest) has taken all the best toys, sits alone and supreme. They don’t realize.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the richness. They rear (with interest). The gumboots thunder past. A small shovel is hurled, no longer needed.

They shout, ‘Finn, not yours.’ Finn (the youngest) sits unperturbed. He grips the tiny bulldozer, prepared.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the rich. They roar (with pleasure).

The Mulberry Tree

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The mulberry tree arrived as an infant. We planted it in the centre of the orchard. It placed its toes in some source of life that we couldn’t see. It grew.

It towered over the cousins from the time they were born. They ate its soft red ideas all through their first two summers and presented themselves, stained and fat at the back steps for cleaning up.

Now they have found it. They climbed it. It has branches placed at cooperative intervals which allows small muscles and hands to leave the ground behind and discover a whole new interval. They become monkeys. They scream a newly minted monkey sound. They hang over a branch, speechless.

They are full of mud and welts. They refuse to come down. They say there is a tiger. There is a good branch close by. They grasp it. They are birds, they are not birds, they are new. They stare at each other. They stretch their mouths open and make no sound. There is no sound sufficient.

Max plays

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Max came today. He’s three; so much to do.

The garden is crawling with autumn. Inside I am vacuuming it up. Outside, Max is spreading it out. There are millipedes under the woodpile. There are slaters. Max collects them up and introduces them to the sandpit. Not for long. Sugared with sand, they all die. Max lies on the bricks. He will also die. This means lying silently for a long time and saying nothing. Then he collects some birdseed. He is a crow. He is a road worker. He is ‘her’.

He spades elm leaves, flakes of gold, into the air. He is hungry.

He says, ‘No’.

He fills a tiny bucket with leaves to help me. It takes half a day. He releases a thousand caterpillars into the front garden. He is covered in sawdust. He says he may turn into a parrot, and I say, ‘Good work”, and he says, ‘Where are the potatoes?, and I say, ‘Gone’, and he says, ‘That’s so funny’.

He drives a lego car around, delivering cactus plants to the places they actually want to be. He exaggerates his shoulders to show strength. He puts a snail into a safer place.

I hang the washing, and Max helps, securing one small face washer with twenty five pegs. It takes twenty satisfying minutes. He is Bob the Builder, and he needs petrol.

He checks a spider’s web.

The day ploughs on; there is only finding and shouting and joy. There is no time for anything else.

 

 

The Trucks

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There’s a dump truck, a trailer, a digger, a dozer, and a roller. Each toy has a precise story, a precise history, and a name.

The stories are lengthy and I don’t hear all of them. But they are complex and detailed and make me realise how much I don’t know about what a two year old is thinking.

The dump truck has to bake biscuits, with sugar. There’s not enough sugar. The trailer is making carrots. The trollers are friends. The bulldozer has been removed from the sandpit along with a feather because they aren’t allowed to be in it.

Max talks into an orange tile and arranges for petrol from Foodland. He clicks a long code of instructions and says “cheese”. He says, “Look at this”, and shows the tile to each of the trucks.

The dump truck is sent to kindy.

A bigger truck with a crane and hook is introduced. This is for bringing in the “fish tank” and is driven by a purple and orange felt doll who has leaves (for wings) and who lives in the tyre shop. The truck also carries bowls of food and trees.

At lunch time, over enormous ham and cheese sandwiches, Max shows me how to mend a broken sandwich and how watermelon is really cold. He says that our cat is always watching us.

 

The Camera

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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!

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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