How to be stung

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Words have shapes. The word naked has a spike in the middle. This causes my three year old grandsons to freeze and lighthouse my face. They have heard the word and have become uncertain. I say naked. Naked? I plant the k firmly in the ground because it is important, and they rock about, filling their mouths with two year old laughter, powerful with innocence.
Cereal. Difficult because the r wants more attention that it needs. Ce-re-ral. Difficult because it is uttered so early in the morning, hungry, and hoping for exciting ce-re-ral, the stuff I buy because my mother never allowed me to have it.
I can’t write Australia without an error amongst the vowels.
I can’t type possibly because the y won’t appear.
I can’t say minimalist without losing a shoe and having to go back.
Bum. This is a satisfying word, like a stone thrown into a deep pond. Ripples. Causes hilarity for three year olds.

Mine. Powerful and causes consternation. Different powers according to where it is uttered. And who hears it.
The word freezing is nice to say. The grandsons linger amongst the long sounds and stretch the word, reining in sympathy and attention. Squirted is hilarious but tricky, the t softening into a d, and parents lurking in the car park, saying ‘Are you being rude?’
Bursted. Many things are bursted. A powerful and rich word that describes the world of the three year old more than what it is actually applied to. ‘What happened to the snail? It bursted.’
Sour is puzzling because it is a bit abstract. But is easily learned because of the accompanying flair of lips away from teeth. Three year olds are quick to utilize these performances. Anything can be sour, including vegetables, the sun or a library book.
Biscuit is buttery, baked, soft with kindness, and breaks up in the teeth amongst the actual sentence. Biscuit can stop a runner making for the back of the orchard with a toy truck they have taken from someone else.
Broken has authority. My three year old grandsons use it to blame, condemn, weep, console, manipulate and explain.
Spicy is abstract and unusual, but useful if you have accidentally tasted a chilli. It is immensely satisfying to linger twice amongst the tender skin of the ssss sounds, remembering the burn.

Yellow is simply too difficult. There is too much information thrown by the experience of yellow to waste time forcing the tongue. So, lello fills in, like a relief worker paid a lot but not really part of the plan. Lollies is always managed with skill, precision and desperation.
Buttons is exciting and authoritative and causes things to happen, such as the reprimand, ‘Did you press that?’
Max tried out Mr Archimedes, remembering the story, the bath, the wombat, the spilt hot water, the mop. He managed Mr Medes. It will do. He climbs over the words and continues with the story, ‘The water went all on the floor.’
I said monumental to someone in a thin fussy tone. Noah said, ‘Yeah,’ in hot agreement, the three year old taking part in family affairs, already reading politics with alarming accuracy.
Chippies is flinty and nice, salty and comforting, and rectangular, ‘We went to the shop and got some chippies with mummy.’ Devastation that at the time of the memory, there are no chippies anywhere.
Sting. This is rich and alarming. The s is loud and sharp, a warning. It is freighted with memories of stings. Toys are put down. Little boys gather to talk. ‘Did Noah get stinged? Where did the bee go? Once I got stinged on my thumb.’ The speaker holds up his foot as he says ‘thumb’. They stare at each other, concerned.

They keep on playing, talking, arguing, shouting –  squeezing and pushing at bits of language, every word a biscuit, a rich drench, a sting.

You are not having the keys.

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A mother says: You are not having the keys. You are not having my keys. And the baby gazes back, tranquil. She speaks to a young girl who has come into the shop with her: Will you read this do you think? No, the girl shakes her head.

“He still wants the keys.” They both gaze down at the baby who is sitting on the floor.

The older girl has found two books and is holding tightly to them: Bulfinch’s Mythology and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Her mother offers her The Silver Brumby and then The Fault in Our Stars. The girl shakes her head.

The baby has the keys; he shakes them over and over again with his head bent to one side. He drops them, picks them up, drops them and leans over, he puts his small ear directly onto the keys.

The mother says: well, you should not be having my keys. They both look at the baby again. The mother leans back in the chair and closes her eyes. The baby shakes the keys, clenches his eyes, enchanted by the noise, the sounds, the music.

The young girl holds her books up in the air and away at a distance and regards the covers. She herself is away at a distance. She eventually drifts over to the counter and tells me that she is going to bring her dad here. Her mother stands up and follows; she tells me that she has no time to read anymore, you know how it is.

The girl asks me for Brave New World and the mother announces that she might wait in the car and the young girl turns back to the shelves, she holds the chosen books in front of her, both arms tightly around them, she gazes up at Samuel Pepys and Vikram Chandra.

Outside in the street the baby hurls the keys across the footpath.

 

Photography by Ryan Holloway