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.
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.
Max is caught in the greater goodness, dithering between Pa; fishing, and mummy; holding the world. He is printing his ideas across the warm biscuit sand amongst the fragments of fried bracken that are too sharp and sand dunes full of chewy green grasses and it is an edible day. On the edge of the sea is biscuit dough, and next to that the cold clear waves chew gently on the side, adding a chilling fringe around the banquet. To us watching, drooping in the warmth, who have lately received not one but three grandchildren, he dandles and drives from one to the other, splits his heart fiveways to fit parent and grandparent, all future mishaps and his own cold, delicious feet.
Reading is a sport that can be pursued anywhere. Questing eyes need very little equipment to locate and roll out the print, the mind will hang on behind, and help itself over the top of sentences, words and things not understood. When we read, we are gone. But then we are here because that is where reading deposits us: here.
Noah reads and breathes in a single motion, staring at possibilities and unconcerned with how he views the page. His baby eyes can round up Hairy Maclary at full gallop, he can sample letters and phrases, kick at the dotty full stops, allow the hairy hair of Hairy Maclary to graze his eyes, so deep is the staring. At his back is his dad, sleeping off the night shift and providing solid backup for when an idea is too astounding to continue.
And Hairy Maclary is a banquet of consequence containing, as it does, danger and friendship; the big ships. Noah’s mind and feet continue to map outward and inward, enlarging and layering: he can never return to a time when he did not know about Hairy Maclary, Bottomley Potts and the knotty full stops.
Max is outside, there is much to do. He pushes his baby wheelbarrow, leaning forward into hard work, inside it a pair of secateurs that he isn’t allowed to have, a bone, some gum leaves, an iris blade, a bottle top and a feather; a heavy load of world treasure all of which needs to be banked. He pulls at fragrant plants releasing startled beads of mint, lavender, lemon balm into his senses and Masie, the good kelpie, follows behind, a dignified butler, hoping for the ball which is also in the wheelbarrow, taking stalks and leaves in her mouth from him, as delicate as a surgeon. Max gets caught on hot bricks, cries for rescue, he becomes tangled in ants and cannot move, he knows they sting and he watches them swarm, all 2 of them, across his feet and cries for rescue again. He likes the bees which talk to him at head height, he likes the cat who watches him humourless and hidden. He likes water, grass seeds and old bones. It is early summer and the garden must be a thousand miles deep, yields a mixture of prickles, snails, pea straw, charcoal, an old chain, a tub full of strawberries that must be dug over vigorously and quite ruined, Pa’s boots large enough to fall into. Max tracks around and around and around pursuing the work of ten men, attended by one sheepdog, herding her young.