The Athletics Carnival

I watched nervously from the stands as Luke lined up for his race. Just the day before, I had scoffed at the idea of a four year old being part of a sports carnival, but Caroline had put me firmly in my place.

“It’s part of the school culture Marley.”

“It’s not a school it’s a pre-school.”

“It is not a pre-school! It’s a prep school dear, prep. Very different thing. These children are far too bright to be entertained with finger painting and picture books.”

“But Luke’s never raced at anything before!”

“What are you worried about? Wasn’t your husband some kind of amateur footballer? Even if it was the other code?”

“Yes. He played two matches of first grade rugby league before he blew out his shoulder.”

“Oh yes that’s it. Rugby league.” She continued before I could respond. “And you were a personal trainer? In a gym?”

“I ran a gym.”

“Fair to say he has a pretty good sporting pedigree then?”

“Well, yes, but-“ I didn’t know how to finish the sentence without upsetting Caroline. The truth was, when we moved here I had been completely unprepared for the competitiveness oozing inwards from the imaginary Snobsville borders. It started as a tidal wave in Lower Snobsville, gathered pace towards Snobsville proper and petered out somewhere in South Snobsville.

“But what?”

“Well, the kids are so competitive here. I don’t want Luke to feel bad if he doesn’t do well.” Caroline eyed Luke as he climbed to the top of the playground slide with his scooter in one hand and prepared to scoot down. “Looks to me like he has energy to burn.”

As he sat in the marshalling area, (as still as I’ve ever seen him), and prepared to race I watched him sadly and wondered if these were the last few moments of ignorant bliss. He looked contented, maybe a little nervous, but like a typical four year old soaking up the excitement of a sports carnival. When we moved here I convinced myself it was for him and for Layla, who sat snuggly wrapped around my middle. For their education and future. Now I wasn’t so sure I wanted him to become a little SNOB-bot like poor Kingston, desperate to achieve at all costs, with an army of tutors and a need to be unequivocally better than everyone else. Or worse, I didn’t want his tiny heart to get broken by the other SNOB-bots if he failed to impress.

But I was probably getting ahead of myself. I watched him line up, chat to the other boys and bounce around on the spot. It was the hurdles he had chosen to compete in, and the 100 metre sprint. I was pleasantly surprised as the marshal called ‘On your mark,’ and Luke straightened, looking decidedly focussed.

As the gun went off Caroline whispered in my ear. “Where is Elizabeth? This is Charlton’s favourite race. He’s never lost.”

“How young do these kids start?”

“They start them at two, though it’s a much shorter track. Champers dear?”

“Isn’t it a bit early?”

“Lord no, it’s ten o’clock. Well after champagne breakfast time. Have some seasonal fruit.” The parents around us became increasingly animated, transitioning from neatly crossed arms and legs in the grandstand to waving arms and screeching voices as the boys approached the finish line.

“Well, look at that Marley. Looks like you had nothing to worry about.” A hush fell over the crowd as Luke crossed the line a good two metres ahead of the next boy. Suddenly, Luke was doing some kind of terribly gauche victory dance, and other mother’s behind were whispering quietly behind my back. It appeared they were not impressed that the newcomer had won.

“I’m glad Elizabeth didn’t see it, she’ll be crushed. I wonder where she is.”

Right on cue, Elizabeth huffed up to us in the grandstand carrying a picnic basket and tartan cloth. I somehow knew she planned on not ingesting anything her nanny had prepared, except maybe the bottle of rose perched out the side.

“Oh damn, I missed it! This just seals it, no one has ever had a morning this bad! You won’t believe what I’ve been through today.”

“Well, this should cheer you up – Charlton came second.”

“Oh. Second?” She was a little taken a back. “Well, what did I rush here for?”

“What happened dear?” Brita, Linda and Sarah had been chatting quietly behind us, but Elizabeth’s obvious displeasure had peaked their interest.

“Yes. Aside from Charlton losing. To Luke.” Sarah said it with purpose, and Elizabeth obliged with an icy look in my direction.

“Oh. My BMW broke down. I had to have nanny come and wait for the repair man. And I had to drive her Toyota here!”

Linda was unmoved. “Well, darling, that’s what you get for buying a BMW instead of a Mercedes. We’ll head out shopping this weekend, make you feel better. Maybe we can get you something sleek and red in a shoe – or a new car.”

Elizabeth smiled at her gratefully.

Feeling as though Luke’s victory had somehow marred Elizabeth’s morning, I felt compelled to appease her dissatisfaction. As the next race was being marshalled and the jeering from the crowd began, I asked Elizabeth, “So it looks as though Charlton is in the 200? I need someone to root for!”

“Oh, do you Marley? I forgot you were a hairdresser! Can you do my roots, the blonde is growing out.” Brita, sweet as ever, often appeared to be having a conversation entirely separate to the rest of us.

“Um, I was a personal trainer.”

“Oh, right. I knew it was something in the, um, service industry.”

Sarah rolled her eyes impatiently. “Honestly Marley, who says ‘root’ anymore? You’re not twelve. Or in Neplebean Heights.”

Caroline came swiftly to my defense. “Don’t listen to her Marley. I think it’s very sweet when you use your WOSsy words.”

“What?”

“Oh, it’s what we say when you use those funny words. West of Snobsville. It’s like your own language. Words like bugger and suckey. And root. Did you have your training session this morning Sarah? Because it sounds like you need your roots done too.”

Sarah rolled her eyes again. Brita looked confused. “No Caroline, Sarah’s got dark hair with highlights. No roots.”

“Thanks Brita. And no I haven’t seen my trainer. Seems he’s only training single, unmarried clients these days. One’s that visit Thailand with their middle aged boyfriend’s credit card and come home with new-“

“Oh!’ A light bulb moment dawned on Brita. “You mean that kind of root. I have lots of those. Tonnes actually. Going back years. In Germany, and Poland and Ireland…”

Silence again.

“My grandma is Spanish! I have roots all over Europe” she declared proudly.

Elizabeth watched Charlton out of the corner of her eye and spoke in hushed tones.

“They’re not talking about cultural roots Brita. They’re talking about the horizontal boogie.”

“Waste of time if you ask me. It’s inefficient. I can’t multitask while doing the deed.”

“Linda, no one can multi task while dancing sideways!” Brita giggled.

Caroline ignored her. “I once gave myself a pedicure while we were…dancing. Although we weren’t horizontal at the time.”

Elizabeth spoke up again, her voice stilted, while offering up a plate of antipasto. “If I am to do the…boogie…I expect 16 carats. Or at the very least a Spa week in return.”

As Charlton crossed the finish line in first place Elizabeth jumped out of her seat and cheered a huge throaty cheer.

“Now that makes up for second place. I see Luke didn’t race this time Marley? I suppose it’s no surprise he won if he’s concentrating on just one race. Charlton likes to spread his talents around.”

It was Brita’s turn to roll her eyes. “Jeez Elizabeth give it a rest.” She delicately picked up a piece of salami. “Sounds like you need to get laid.”

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