On a much earlier part of my timeline our son had a remote controlled car and he took it out into the road by our garage and he played and he jumped and he fell. The movement of the vehicle tripped him up, unexpected and sudden. I was in the lounge, I heard him cry and I was there, you know, like you are when half of your genetic material is entwined and buzzing in another’s form and I held and wiped the tears. It’s what you do.
Sometimes I wonder how much of the joy of repair is in the fact that you can do something to help, that although it appears outwards and all for the other’s sake, that on some level it is for yourself. In the act of wiping tissues around the smallest of noses you are soothed yourself, not just because you take their pain away but because you yourself are soothed by the act of being useful.
We spent many years with a background of usefulness under the sound of peeping engines. The Fat Controller ran an efficient yard and we lived and loved through a variety of scares and disasters but somehow it was always resolved by a Really Useful Engine within the hour or even under ten minutes in the early morning breakfast pre school slots and they were part of our world.
In games and often in life I became Mummy Fat Controller because I made most of the decisions around him and when behaviour needed railing in I would put on my best yorkshire accent and pull him to the sidelines and resolve the situation, kneeling by his side with my virtual top hat and words. We had our favourite engines, he would be Thomas and I would be Percy unless we passed on the stairs. In this precarious manoever we moved up a gear to his guise as Murdoch on the down line which, in turn, made me Spencer on the up line and we peeped to each other and we chuffed in our days.
The wooden replicas have dust on them now, although the odd one can be found, as I did the other day, lost behind a photo frame, a frozen shot of me in my wedding dress, taken just before the reception when friends and family peered out of the windows while I twirled and smiled, and they waited for the photos to finish and they waited for their food. They watched us from the sidelines, observers of our land.
Now this ancient picture masks the old train shunted behind it and I picked it up the other day, a random plastic version with a turning knob on the side. I turned the knob and the wheels whirred for a while, relieved to have purpose after years of being caked in time and they span for a moment and then stopped, clogged up and chocked with dust. The familiar sound of motion, the background radiation of our world.
I put it back behind the photo. The wooden ones live out of sight, a stored story in the waiting, packaged up, narratives for grandchildren down the line.
And I look out. The leaves have all gone from the tree outside our window. The berries are bright almost orange like Murdoch, almost vermillion like James, hundreds of tiny red engines waiting for the beaks to come, to pluck them from the rain.
And I look back.
I think about our home, the first one not far from here and the way I ran to his derailment and the warmth of holding him close, the plasters, the soothing biscuits and the role.
The commitment of being the balm to another, of having purpose and being able to heal. And my wounds are aching, it’s easy to get stones in these old cuts, easy to feel them rub and scrape along the scars and I dab.
I treat my own injuries and I crave. I crave the scrub of the carpet when the hardest thing about the day was the build of the track, when we puzzled over making the pieces fit. And now I sit here, desperate to make his pieces fit, needing to help him build his route. Our derailment, a constant in our narrative and all I want is to scoop him up but I can’t, I want to brush away the gravel and all it would take to stop the tears would be a warm drink and a hug. And my comfort in the primal need to sooth it, to wrap around him and to take away the pain.
But I have no plasters now. The autumn winds blow around the wounds, the train is on its side behind the photo and we make new tracks. Our scar tissue turns to steel as we construct, like when I used to kneel beside him.
And in this autumn, calling winter –
I still do.