Image by Christine Renney
He is, she concedes, a singular child. When his father decided it was time to take away the stuffed animals and the cuddly toys he didn’t protest or hold out for a particular teddy bear. Instead, he was happily steered toward the building blocks and the giant jigsaws. He didn’t try to force these toys into his mouth or push them into a corner or against a wall. By working out what they could do he played constructively and contentedly. He didn’t crave for encouragement or interaction of any kind.
Watching him closely she is more than a little unnerved at his rapid progress. And the clumsy blocks and colourful shapes are soon replaced with far more intricate building materials. Lego and Meccano enable the boy to express himself and, as his models become increasingly more elaborate, she is impressed from afar. A medieval fortress and an oil rig and a space station like something from a science fiction film. Although he can only have seen these things on the television here they are, albeit briefly, for no sooner has he completed a piece he begins to dismantle it, eager to start on the next.
He breaks from play for the nursery rhymes. As she slips the record from its sleeve, she watches the hairs rise on his neck and his back arch in anticipation. He stands beside her as she places the record on the turntable and sets it going. It is old and scratchy and somehow has survived from her own childhood. When she first played it for him he had been just a baby and she had bounced him on her knee. She wonders if he remembers but doesn’t ask, doesn’t want to confuse what she hopes will be his earliest memory. They neither of them as much as shuffle in their seats but sit stock still and listen to the simple rhymes.
She moves around him and feels heavy, like a lead weight, like part of the furniture. She sits on the sofa to watch him at work and is astounded by the speed at which he transforms the pile of interconnecting pieces again and again.
Is that the supermarket at the end of the street? Yes, and that derelict factory and the unusual looking office block that they pass on the bus. Is that a power station or an old gas works with its chimney stacks? She kneels down beside him and is tempted to reach out and knock it over. And why not? Why shouldn’t they enjoy it crashing? But already he is taking it apart, breaking it down and beginning afresh. He concentrates now on constructing smaller buildings in order to create something altogether grander – a cityscape. She stands and, looking down, sees that it resembles one of those developer’s models of the proposed plans for a new town centre. Shiny and unreachable in its glass case. She steps away, attempting to take it in. But it is all too much and is changing far too quickly. She feels giddy and, nursing her head, she turns around. They are back to back now and she tries to picture them like this, but has to work at getting it right.
There isn’t a wild flurry in the corner, no turmoil, nothing to contain. Just a boy playing quietly with his Lego.