I drive with the windows down and we can hear the kids playing before we see them. I pass by the side of the school, the buildings flat and then tall, and the loose gravel crunches under the van’s tires. A whistle screams in the distance and I pull onto the sidewalk near the fields. Julie and I climb out.
She heads for the canteen at the front of the shed at the bottom of the slope. I slide the doors at the back of the van open and haul out the first of the boxes. The door slams shut and I carry my load down towards the fields. I pass by the canteen as Julie slips behind the counter. She sells soft drinks and hot food to the children too young to play.
The fields host two teams each. Forty-four children playing football to varying degrees of success. A ball goes wide past the net ahead of me and the goalkeeper dawdles out to fetch it. I nod at him as I pass by. Behind me, he collects the ball and throws it to number 14 to kick from the box. The ball goes straight out.
I rest the first of the boxes in the grass on the far left of the fields. The hill reaches up away behind me and I look up to the parking lot. A family passes the van and their youngest child wonders aloud if I can park there. I can’t hear him but I know the body language of children coming to understand the rules of belonging. His family tugs him along. A whistle from each field and the groan of a young captain.
I walk back up to the van, keeping an eye on the box near the fields, and begin to unload the smaller crates.
Julie stands by the side of the canteen as I walk past. “Someone was having a look over the big box,” she says, pointing. I look past her finger and see only the box surrounded by green. I notice the white lines of the pitch when a midfielder clears the ball from halfway. The linesman waves his yellow flag away from the box.
I look down between the two fields, to the two columns of various families lined up around an imaginary centre aisle. Children run up and down and around the aisle in the afternoon sun. I begin to feel the early summer sweat. Julie turns back to the shed and slips through the side door. I hear her emerge into the canteen. “Can I help anyone?”
The fireworks business on the Southside is small and there are only a few of us. We work together quite often on the bigger events, on the stuff the State Government has to regulate, and last year’s New Year’s Eve took all of us. It’s been steady business since. I am told we ‘trended’ online. Thousands of clicks do not help me carry these boxes and Julie wants to keep the business in the family. “The two of us are enough,” she says. A boy runs past me as I rest the boxes for a moment. His Coke can shakes and his fizzes in his hand. The sharp blow of a whistle, then another. The match on the field closest to me ends and the goalkeepers at the tails of the teams shake hands.
I kneel and scoop the boxes up, balancing two on each arm against my chest, and carry them to the bigger box. A thin player from the losing team opens a can of Coke. It explodes down his jersey and his teammates laugh. Away amongst the family crowds, the young boy who passed me hides behind his mother.
I jog back to the unlocked van. The match on the right hand field plays on.
I hoist the bag for the detonators and wires over my shoulder and lock the van. The sun slips towards the horizon. Julie tells me I arrive too early but I professionally disagree. By the boxes, I zip the bag open, unspool the wires, and begin to slot detonators into rockets.
Tonight’s display is preprogrammed. I will find it familiar but to the families and friends of the South District Football Association it will be marvellous. Julie will scold me for being lazy. I will tell her the small rockets are never lazy and that I am always, always safe. She says the Durry brothers will find out.
I shift the empty boxes to the bottom of the hill, far away from the site of the fireworks. I spike the rockets into the ground in a simple pattern and catch myself entangled in wondering which teams I saw play. To what club did the tired goalkeeper and his aimless number eleven belong? I slide the last of the rockets into the earth and meander back to beside the boxes. A whistle from the right hand match. Two players shove another. The ball before the goal. I consider moving the van.
Julie pops out from the canteen and jogs down to the field. The linesman gives her the time and she hurries back to the shed. The canteen shutters slide closed but the side door stays open. A scrawny father carries the first tray of sausages. Not long after, a cheer. The ball in the back of the far net. A whistle. I smell sizzling. Julie hard at work.
I rest my switchbox on the grass beside the boxes, my work with the rockets complete, and I approach the canteen.
A whistle and a cheer. I turn and see eleven dancing players. Two substitutes and a coach rush onto the field as the other team slink off. Passionate mothers peek from the shed’s side door at their disappointed sons. An angry captain kicks the ball from midfield. It sails by the referee.
In the event of a firework emergency, the best choice is always to run. I heard the ball land but I did not see it. It must have hit the switchbox, flicking up a green toggle. I hear the whistle of the first rocket. The sizzling stops.
It shoots straight into the front goal of the left hand pitch and catches the net alight. Everyone meets in the carpark and the captain of the Rusthill Devils runs to me in tears and apologises. Most of the rockets crash into the fields, burning colourful spot fires. A big rocket slams into the side of the van and explodes cherry red. Everyone meets in the carpark and the captain of the Rusthill Devils runs to me in tears and apologises.
It happens in this business if you’re not careful, and the Durry brothers will call me to laugh.