Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
The inventor shop
> It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.
He was born the last of three in the largest city in the world, the only city in the world, for it had long ago eaten all the others, still they called it the largest, but that is not our story. He was born to two parents loving and kind and altogether human, here had a happy childhood though he was often alone. His two sisters, much older than he, had gone away to study and he saw them only in summers when they would take him with their father’s rod and go down to the river, there they would sing to the fish and ask them to bite. They never did catch any fish, for the fish were not so silly as they might seem, but all the life of that area came to listen to these songs. Over time the great trees even leaned their heads to listen to the little songs that these three would make up as they fished unsuccessfully, in turns coaxing and chastising the fish as they sat and waited all the while for what would never come. That they never caught anything seemed hardly matter, and indeed it was the singing which they wished for, this game they played together, and all this with rod and hook a mere pretence.
The boy was happy when his sisters were there, but when they left again he was not prone to despair. They had never been around enough to be expected but were rather received each summer as if a gift. This was a gift he treasured more than anything, as he would often find himself humming one of the silly tunes they’d sung that summer, and yet he was himself sufficient without their company. The city in which they lived for all its size was a quiet place, and for this he had to find things of his own to pass the while. Now the boy’s mother would stay at home, there she sewed, and the father was away, where as a child the boy could only imagine him swimming and diving in rooms full of paper, that the way he spoke of drowning in paperwork and finding files conjured this image, and so the boy imagined that his father would arrive at work each day and put his suitcase and lunchbox in a locker, would slip inside a diving suit and attach to his head the large helmet with a little glass window, to which his assistant would attach a tube for air and then the father would bravely open the door to that room he had so often spoken of with fear at home, the archives, and he would slip into the files for hours on end, returning only with the precious item held high in triumph! This the boy imagined with pleasure, but there was nothing there for him.
He looked around instead and saw upon the floor and in the corners that there were other inhabitants of the house, for his grandmother had given him a little magnifying glass. This he took and wandered around the house, back bent as if he were his grandmother even with her gift, and after several hours of this he would even stretch and groan like her, that they made precisely the same motions, the same way of holding the aching backs, the same sound exactly echoed down the ages here and when his mother first heard this she laughed so hard that she knocked over a potted plant. It was this fortuitous circumstance which led the boy to make his grand discovery, for with the crash he heard outside a yowl which blurred into an uneven scrambling, another crash of something striking tin, and then at last a silence. He rushed outside to see what there might be, and all he saw was the chaos of their metal rubbish can which had been knocked over. There was nothing to be seen now, not any sign of what that pot plant had startled, only the soft noise of his mother sweeping up the mess inside as she chattered on the phone to his grandmother, and he heard her make an exaggerated version of their groan and then laughing just as loud again.
He heard all this, but there was nothing to show what had made that other set of sounds, which had knocked over this bin and caused such a racket. Carefully he moved towards the bin with his magnifying glass up to his eyes, half as if to better see, half to protect himself, and he stepped steadily to approach this bin, then planting his feet leaned himself around the side with magnifying glass in the lead, and as he leaned all of a sudden in the darkness he found himself face to face with a massive eye, it must have been half the size of his face at least, and at this eye he stood frozen, and the only sound he made was a single involuntary gulp. He stared stuck at this eye stiff with terror and the eye stared back equally still, wide and strangely yellow, they stared at one another for what must have been a minute. It was towards the end of this time that the boy remembered the magnifying glass, and at this he carefully moved it away from his face while still keeping it between him and the hovering eye. With this the eye fell away much reduced in size, and he found himself staring at a little grey kitten.
The kitten stared at him and he stared at the kitten, and seeing that it was just as scared as him, he further lowered the magnifying glass slowly between them as if disarming himself, thus rendering them equal. The little boy and the kitten continued to stare, and he noticed that it was in a shabby way, fur stuck with mud and grime and stranger still the way it sat. When his heart had stopped beating quite so fast, when he had forgotten all visions of that vast disembodied eye, only then did his mind began to work again, with this he saw the creature now in new light. The kitten here covered in rubbish, skinny and seeming quite lost. He thought of the little cans of tuna that his father took to work, and first explaining his plan to the kitten he turned and went to fetch one. There he found his mother was still busy with phone pressed to ear by her shoulder talking to his grandmother as he sewed, and she did not even notice the boy mount the little stepladder and take down a single tin of fish.
The boy returned to the rubbish bin with the fish, and he was quite surprised to find that this kitten had seemingly not moved at all, had not even there relaxed. He took the tuna tin and cracked it open, placed it on the ground before this little ball of grey fluff and grime, and so as to give it some space went then to fetch a little saucer of water. When he returned, the kitten had moved only slightly, had tentatively pulled itself forward, but at seeing the boy returned it tried to reverse course with little success, and it was then that the boy saw the reason for the state of this sad little creature, for he saw its back legs were bent unnaturally and appeared more hindrance than help in its movement. Noticing this, the boy thought he might be further help to the little kitten, and again explaining his plan to the creature and even consulting on the details, taking the twitch of its whiskers to indicate any qualms, he picked up the little tin of tuna and carefully placed it before the kittens face.
It was in this way that there came to be a new member of the family, with the father each day saving a little of his tuna and rice for when he returned home, and though he claimed to be irritated by this, huffing and puffing about how he was hungry, the boy could see in his eyes when he returned each evening from this great sacrifice that he loved the little kitten dearly. By now the kitten had come to trust the family, and while it could drag itself around, it had come to accept even being moved, in this way it came to sit the day inside in an old fluffy slipper on the windowsill next to the potted plant whose predecessor had been the cause for his discovery. There the kitten lay cosy in the sun that fell through the window, and as the boy would move around the room the kitten would follow him with its eyes.
When spring came the boy began to play outside again, and he would carry the kitten with him from time to time, but this was difficult for the both of them. Increasingly the child felt that there had to be some solution, with which began some weeks of experimentation in their little garage. The boy would take the kitten there and peer around at objects, discussing their possibilities aloud. The kitten would meow and participate as best he might, and the boy would taken into consideration any comments but tended to reserve to himself the right for final judgment. This was the case for the first method he tried, at which the kitten meowed quite insistently and even hissed his dissent a little. The plan was simple: he would put the kitten into a little toy bus, and then he would tie a rope from the bus to his waist so that the kitten could follow along with him.
He was so confident in this plan that he ignored the kitten’s sternly worded criticisms and that Friday they enacted this in the evening when he went out for an evening walk around the neighbourhood to see what might be found. All went well at first, and the kitten even seemed to relax a little, although it was far from relenting as to its concerns, when at last they came to a slope that led down the bus stop. Here the kitten began to pick up speed, but being pulled behind him the boy at first did not notice. He noticed only when the kitten, meowing loudly as it could, overtook him moving down the hill. The boy ran after the kitten as it accelerated, yet this only allowed the kitten to accelerate also for not being bound by the rope. The two careened madly down the hill until at last they were saved by the good fortune of a well-placed hedge, in the wreckage of which disaster they sat like aside one another for a little while dazed before at last the kitten began to chastise the child. This was precisely what he had expected would happen, what he had warned, and besides, the solution was hardly better than being carried about for it gave him little in the way of freedom! If he had had a little then he might even have been able to stop himself, or at least steer into the grass which might have slowed him. With that the pair picked themselves up, and turning to collect the toy car he noticed that it had broken in the crash, with the metal of the back axle snapping the plastic clips that had held it in place, so he collected the various parts and together they returned to the house.
Disheartened the boy avoided this work for a while, leaving it aside until the next week when he returned to the garage with kitten in hand intent on solving the problem once and for all. This time he listened more carefully to the kitten’s specifications, with the key being that whatever the construction it had to afford him some degree of freedom. The boy looked around, at first was entirely stumped until at last his eyes came upon the broken toy car and the little set of wheels with metal axle between them. With this in mind, and he went to fetch a few things from the house. He took a piece of polystyrene from some packaging and carefully carved it, then he unscrewed one wheel from the axle and pushed it through the polystyrene before screwing the wheel on where it emerged on the other side, then took a piece of elastic that his mother used for her exercises and cut from this a small band. He placed the kitten into the polystyrene slot which had been carved especially to accommodate its hind legs, and then wrapped the little band of elastic around the kitten and fastened it with a clip. With this done he picked up the kitten and contraption whole and placed them together upon the ground, with the wheels at one end and front legs at the other. The kitten stood tentatively, looked suspiciously at him.
Carefully the kitten move one foreleg and then the other, motions familiar to it from having dragged itself around so long, and yet with this it found the whole easier by far. It began to happily pull itself forward with one leg, then the other, until with a burst it tried to run and found itself rolling forward head over heels. There, caught upside down by the little contraption, which the boy thought was good fortune to be made of polystyrene, he found himself trapped as a turtle. With this the boy leaned over and, warning him to be more careful, placed the kitten rightly up. The kitten now tried again, more steadily this time, until it became used to pulling itself with the wheels rolling behind. Here the boy opened the garage door and walked together triumphant behind his charge, watching carefully as the kitten fumbled for a moment to adjust to carpet from the concrete of the garage, before the procession paraded into the living room where his mother and father were sitting together. The boy gleamed with pride and the kitten trotted its way in little circles and figure eights as if to demonstrate to the whole family, and at their laughter and clapping he almost seemed to bow.
The man remembered all this as he sat behind his little desk, the shelves and tables crowded with every sort of object around him. There were wheels and electrical parts and gears and wires and tape and glue and all manner of pieces of wood and plastic and metal and tools aplenty lined walls. He thought back to that garage, the feeling he had first had then, and as he smiled and looked out of the glass shopfront before him, a little grey kitten walked on by.