As storms roll out past the setting sun, the gray clouds brighten at the edges, an orange green lighting the spring grass, twinkling in Noodle’s eyes. He shouts and points with both hands: “Look! Mirror clouds!” I warn him it looks like rain and we might have to take our parade inside if cats and dogs start to fall. He’s not fussed. He sees the cloud for what it is. It’s his first lined in silver.
Earlier in the day he rode his bike down the hill to the park and took it to the empty asphalt lot, formerly a bowling green, which we now call our racetrack. I’m 37 years older than the little guy, and as I stood there watching, shouting encouraging words, daring him to push faster, he ran his balance bike around me, daring back that I pick up my own pace.
When the novelty of running circles wore off and he had rubbed it in enough that he made me look like I was what I was – namely standing still – he took off to the edges of the park where banks of wildflowers dot the ridge with buttercups and white bells. He made bunny ears of two broad-leafed weeds that smelled of torn garlic. “This one is eeewwie!” He crinkled and bristled at the pungence. Then, as if to drive the rank pollen from his sinuses, he skipped over to a daisy, leaned in and pulled it gently to his nose. “Mmmmm” and he took off on his bike again.
Midday we went to a local café that is never crowded and has toys and couches and a hands-off service style that suits my tastes. The coffee’s weak, but I like the space. Though the accent lighting and wall sconces were powered off, the place was bathed in skylight through the main atrium with the espresso machine and Chinese barista. I ordered cappuccino.
While I waited, sunk into a coffee tinted leather couch pushed into a corner, Noodle played with a wire bead abacus, sliding the baubles one at a time from side to side, attending to the device’s devilish details. I was reminded of the morning when he paused at the bottom of the porch steps to clock the pace of a garden snail making its way across the house quite contentedly. I realised I’ve been moving too fast, and I took a few minutes to catalog some details I might otherwise have missed.
Out the chicken wired back windows and through the tin roofed brick alleys, I watched the New Zealand flag, a union jack on blue beside a red southern cross, flitting atop the Esplanade Hotel, across from Victoria Wharf, fueled by a sharp westerly. White fungus grows in the damp on the concrete roof beams across the pop-up shop behind the post office and a shut down butchery. Dodgy dangling wires power motion sensitive security lights that I reckon hardly ever come on, but for the alley cats chasing the alley rats, for whom Devonport was once famous. The alley is lined with freshly burnt orange painted smoke stacks and unsheltered refrigeration compressors in various states of efficiency, extracting the damp and chilling the sea air.
I looked up and Noodle stood in front of me and my cappuccino. I noticed a shred of dried bacon on the window sill behind him and before I could figure how it got there and why, I caught him watching my eyes as he picked up a teaspoon and scraped chocolate foam from the mug, complaining about the texture, celebrating his transgression.
“How about them toys, kiddo?”
Noodle picked up a plastic phone and dialed me. I answered with a thumb and pinky but “No! No! With your black phone!”
I picked up my mobile and rolled my tongue in a ringing sound: “Hello, is that Noodle there?”
“Hi Dad. It’s me.”
“Hey buddy. Where are you calling from?”
“I’m way far away in America.”
“Wow. What are you doing there?”
“I’m having chocolate coffee. I’m eating it with a spoon.”
“Is it good? Do you like it?”
“Yes.” Pause while he takes a lick. “It’s good.” Pause to savor and grin. “Bye Dad. Have a good day. I love you.”
We hung up our phones and I noticed more dried bacon on the baseboard, a dust of wood shavings and chips cracked over it. This place might not always glitter, I thought. But then I stopped searching for reasons. I sipped some coffee and watched my little boy press a couple of blocks into what he told me was a rocket ship we would later fly to the moon, astronaut adventurers from the farthest corner of Earth, and I said aloud, “The kid’s got the right idea.”