We live on a dead-end. At the end of the road is a park. Three federation workers cottages, built-in 1905, border the grassy reserve where the council has planted paper barks, and then tried to kill them repeatedly by ring barking their base with rampant whipper snippering. They struggle on. The houses have seen many young lives grow within. The wide jarrah boards of the hallways have been indoor cricket pitches. The verandahs have been taken off and put back on again. There is a limestone wall and beyond that the playing fields. There are drunks and homeless, dog walkers and legitimate park users. Over the years the park has seen a lot too – a murder even and much fornication. But we have the mown lawn in front of our houses mostly to ourselves. It is the playground of our children and our hounds. Murphy snorts amongst the fallen fig tree leaves. In the winter I find the last of the sun and sit in it while Jasper kicks the football to himself. The paper barks are his goal posts. He is Ablett, Ballantyne, Betts. Always kicking the winning goal in the dying seconds of the game.
We are awaiting the arrival of other children back from school. Keep a look out Mum, Jasper suggests to me. They will be meandering slowly down the hill.
For the children of our neighbours have become a tribe. Three boys and three girls, including a baby who knows not what she is in for yet.
We are the neighbours. Four couples. Some are nudging forty, others closer to fifty. We all work but some like it less, and do as little as possible. There seems a lot of time for ukulele, banjo, Mad Men, coffee bean roasting, Breaking Bad, foreign language lessons, Pilates class, cervical disc extrusion surgery, banana bread making, vegetable growing and the deep and discerning discussion of the pros and cons of all of the above. At the end of the weekend we converge in the shared space of the red cement driveway. The last house on Shuffrey is part of our tribe. In its front yard it grows the vegetables. Corn has been replaced by Broad Beans. In the summer the large Lemon Scented gum provides shade. Now we seek out the winter sun and try to stay out of the wind. Men are pulled away from their cleaning car meditation and women emerge from the house. No-knead bread has been left to rise. A thermomix is making the béchamel sauce, without the need for stirring. School clothes are flapping on the lines. The mini has been detailed with stickers since her paint job. She now has her Mayfair title back above her bumper. The late seventies BMW 635 is being prettied for sale. The dogs are let out. Stan and Murph have some rambunctious play-fighting to do. I have returned from work in a strikingly unpolished and dirty Subaru. Sometimes there is tea and cake. More often there is beer and wine. A high chair in the driveway; and the baby can be fed spag bog here too.
Sally is arriving home after the young girls’ ballet class. From the cavernous insides of a Prado peel two giggling soft pink prima ballerinas. They have ballet flats and leotards and each has a sparkle on their cheek for their good pas de deux today. Marshmallow pink tutus. Their different shades of blonde are pulled back into identical pony tails. Boys erupt from around the side of the house. They have shooting equipment. Numerous Nerfs. Jasper is the eldest of the tribe, at ten years old, and the ages flow down from there. It is as if he has five younger siblings. He has a younger brother, three years below, and then the twin sisters and another younger brother and finally the baby, crawling. Jasper is the one making up the games, climbing the walls, jettisoning the missiles, putting the tennis racket on the car port roof. The next boy is not far behind. The girls form a tight bond. They like to draw and create. They like to change outfits and help their mothers. The boys are busy spying on them, hiding from them, escaping from them, teasing them, making them cry. The smallest boy, finger nails painted sky blue, would like to keep up with the bigger boys, but they are often too fast for him and sometimes he is left standing in the driveway, wondering which way they went, holding his well loved Tiger and pondering if perhaps he should play with the girls, who after all, are closer in age and not as quick. It is his dilemma.
For us – the parents of the single, oldest boy, we are gifted a bigger family. Jasper has siblings. Almost. He has someone to kick with, to boss, to look out for, to take care of, to be bossed by, to trade with, to be burdened by. He has someone under the duvet with him on the couch as they all watch Robots into the night. Someone snuggling up, someone pushing a bare foot into his ribs. It helps assuage the guilt over not providing him with siblings of his own. He has the neighbours…and the very best of dogs.