I didn’t know my neighbours well so I was kind of surprised when they offered to give me a lift to the garage where my car was waiting to be picked up. This was on a Saturday morning and they could do it after dropping their son off at his hockey game. I climbed in the back with him, a 13 year old kid called Luke. His dad, Neil, was already in the car and he had his ipod running through the speakers. It was Wilco singing Heavy Metal Drummer. They were talking about the song when I climbed in and Neil introduced us. “Hi,” said Luke but he seemed pretty shy and a little anxious.
Then the door was opening and his mum, Paula, was getting in. She smelled nice and her hair was still a bit wet from washing. She said, “Oh, I see everyone is waiting for me, as usual.” But it wasn’t quite light-hearted and no one said anything. Neil put the car in reverse but his wife, looking over her shoulder down both sides of the street said, “Wait, there’s something coming.” A car passed and then she said, “OK, you can go now.” And then she got some lipstick out of her bag just after she reached over and turned down the music.
There was silence for a while and then she said over her shoulder to Luke, “Have you got everything, Lukey?”
“Yep,” he said but she went through a list of stuff anyway; shin pads, mouth guard, water. Then she said to Neil, “Why are you going this way?” There was a pause and I heard her husband say, “Because it will take longer” but he said it more like a question. If she noticed this, his wife didn’t acknowledge it. “It’s just that there is a quicker way,” she said.
“Well, this is the way we usually go, isn’t it, Luke?” Luke nodded but he didn’t say anything. We drove on for a few minutes and then I asked, “Do you like Hockey, Luke?” He nodded again and his mother said “He loves it, don’t you, Lukey?” but before he could answer she went on, “The coach says he has to concentrate staying forward of the ball.” She turned again to Neil. “Do you help him out with this stuff?”
“Sure,” Neil answered.
Then Paula turned to me as if I had asked a question, “Neil objects to all this sport on Saturday. He thinks the kids are organised enough during the week. But I think it’s good for Luke; that’s what I did every weekend with my parents.” Then she turned back adding, “Netball.”
Neil said over his shoulder, “I grew up in the country and lived out of town. No organised sports there; we just played all day and swam and stuff.”
“It’s just what you’re used to, I suppose,” Paula said. “Being organised never hurt me.”
“And being free never hurt me,” I heard Neil say but this went unremarked and soon we were pulling into the hockey field. There were parents and kids everywhere. Neil pulled up near the change rooms and Paula said, “Are we parking here?”
There was another pause and Neil said, “Why?”
“Nothing, it’s just not very close to the game.” But she opened the door saying, “Not to worry. Dad always parks in funny places, doesn’t he, Lukey.” Luke climbed out and Paula said, “I love you, darling. Have a great game.” And she kissed him on the forehead.
Neil called out, “See you soon, Luke.”
I watched Luke run across the field that was split down the middle by a big white line. I could see his coach waiting to tell him what to do.