If you’ve known me for a while, you have some idea of my love for nonsense. I have an inordinate fondness for things that make no sense whatsoever and refuse to justify themselves but still, somehow, work. This story from Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer is a delightful bit of nonsense.
Becky squats and gets both her hands underneath the overhead rack in a perfect weight lifter position. She frowns, her tiny biceps bulge (I feel a moment of envy at how ripped she is) and she lifts the rack to the height of her armpits and pushes it up against the driver’s controls. The rack shifts and bends under her pressure and then slides easily, perfectly marrying to the control panel and turning into a series of buttons and one long lever.
“I’m building,” says Becky, primly.
I press my hand against my head. If the parts are malleable and contain as many hidden pockets as the letters, the variables are infinite. How will I piece it together if even the pieces lie to me? I brace myself against the console and try not to throw up. How much of my train is a lie?
“Bulgaria,” says Becky. “Belarus. Beirut. Boston. Beijing. Birmingham. Berlin.”
“Do you know what this train is for, Becky?” My voice is unpleasantly shrill. “Are you guessing at the places my sister might be?”
“Bora–Bora,” she continues, oblivious. “Bristol, but that’s an extra twenty dollars.”
“Can you take me to my sister?”
Becky’s patter suddenly stops. “Take?”
“Drive? Transport? Navigate? Operate this train?”
Becky shakes her head, bewildered.
“Becky! Are you bothering your friend?” Stacy’s playtime–is–over voice winds up through the metal housing.
“No, mummy,” pipes up Becky. “I’m boggling her.”
I squeeze my head between both hands, trying to think of a B word that means travel.
“It’s all right, Stacy.” I say, “Becky’s just showing me where she thinks some of the parts go.”
“She’s not breaking anything, is she?”
“No, it’s perfectly fine.” What can I do to buy more time, what do parents like? “Would you like to come up and see? I think you’d enjoy some of the new additions. Could I get you some tea?”
“Thanks, but we have to get dinner ready. Becky! Come down. I need you to help me with the beef and broccoli.”
“Broccoli?” says Becky. “Yay!
“Can you bus the train, Becky?” I whisper urgently as she twirls around in preparation to leave. “Broom, broom?”
Becky jumps down the ladder, ignoring me.
“Broccoli is a brassica!” she chants as she bounces into the house.
Once she is gone, the engine room feels empty and drained of color. I wonder what sort of kids my sister would have had if she’d had the chance. I would have made a good auntie. I wonder if I will ever get the chance.
I sit hunched against the wall of the engine room for a long time, trying to see what Becky saw.