Tuesday, January 31

Bad Morning For Andrew

“HOW COMES you’re out?” my brother asked Andrew who had met us on the small patch of grass we called the Green. He never usually came out to play with us.
He all shy—“My mum said I had to get off the computer and go out.”
“Oh,” said my brother, and we all agreed.
The grass on the spot where we stood had worn away. It grew back a little during the winter, when it was trod upon less, but it never really had a chance. The council never reseeded the Green.
“You’re gonna dirty those clothes,” said Craig, nodding at Andrew’s pristine tracksuit bottoms.
“I know. I told her that. She doesn’t care.”
We gathered there every morning. It was where we decided what we were going to do that day. There was always a plan to be made and a day to be had the most out of. It was the spring half-term. It was not quite warm but we had on only t-shirts—except Andrew—and we spent as much time out in the open as we could. There were no real cares; only cheap joy that filled our young bodies. And Andrew, who just wanted to be playing on his computer, I suppose.
“Why haven’t you got the hammer?” Craig asked me.
“I’ll get it later. Don’t you worry.”
“We definitely using that tree?”
“Yeah.”
“Yeah,” echoed my brother.
“What do you need a hammer for?” asked Andrew.
Craig and I rolled our eyes. My brother, Andrew’s classmate, told him that we were building a new den and were really going to town on it. He told him that it was going to be as strong as anything and would stand for years. Andrew was not convinced that anything we could make would last longer than the spring half-term.
My brother did not like Andrew. None of us did, really.
He had run of the whole countryside around us; fields and rivers and green trees and holes dug by badgers and sharp flints and just green righteous green for miles around as far as you could see; but he did not care. He just wanted to be inside with his computer.
We set off for the small woods where the tree was. The small woods lay on the edge of the village and then beyond them were fields sliding down into the valley. These particular fields were lying fallow. The grass in them never really sung past a pale, yellowed green. Down low the grass was greener and dense but forking the air were pale stalks that swayed and made very little of the sunlight.
I pointed out the tree to Andrew.
The tree had been docked heavily. It, like many trees around, looked gnarly and angry with the earth. Its branches were strong. We knew every inch of that tree and we could scale it in a second.
“You be look-out,” I told Andrew and he accepted his lot “while we go and search for good wood.”
“By the time we come back I doubt you’d a-climbed up it, anyway.” Craig laughed.
He put his soft hands on some branches and then tried to lift his feet up. He sighed. Without much hope for him the other three of us smiled and walked out of the woods into the field.
A big tall tree stood in the middle of the field—“I bet there’s some good wood on that tree.”
“I bet, too,” says I.
“And me,” says Craig.
We walked toward it. Our trainers were worn and dirty. They were brown with dirt. We had worn them into the ground. They were our playing-out-trainers and they were worth a lot to us. Into the thick grass they sunk softly, swelling the blades over the laces with every step and picking up late dew as we went along. The grass and weeds were a cushion underneath our adventures.
There was a dead bird but we had seen it before and paused only to study the progress of the rotting. The maggots had not got hold yet.
“He’s almost up,” my brother pointed at the tree Andrew was climbing.
We all laughed.
“He’s such a wimp.”
“He is.”
“Why don’t you guys like him?”
“ ’Cause he’s weird, Craig! He’s no fun.”
We got to the tree and started looking around for good solid bits of wood. If you scratched away a bit of the bark you could tell how wet the wood was and how likely it was to bend. Dry wood was no good; it’d snap before you got the chance to use it. That tree in the middle of the field was something of a mystery to us. It stood alone, of course, but not only that: it was very difficult to climb. No matter how good a climber one was you could never reach the top because of the thin branches. It only shivered in the wind, standing tall and looking down upon you with an air of triumph. So at the foot of it we circled, scouring for wood.
Just then something happened that shook us. It came from nowhere but reverberated off of the woods and the fields. It was so loud, I thought, that people in Canada would be able to hear it. They would look up from their morning Canadian coffee and say—“What was that?” Either way, the three of us all bolted up and looked around. Terror flooded our veins. It was a gunshot. There was no doubt about it. It was a gunshot. It tore through the air and caused our eyelashes to tremble. We were gonners.
“Oh, shit!”
“The Farmer!”
“It’s him! It’s really him!”
Not so far from us stood a man in a green jacket and beige trousers with wellies. His shotgun was pointing at the sky.
“OI!” he shouted “GET OUT OF MY FIELD!”
It made sense now. All the years we had spent on his trees, on his land, rolling around on his hay-bales, ruffling them until they were untidy and rolling them down hills. I imagine he thought us trespassers. He was out for us. He had a thirst for blood. He was near and walking straight for us.
We dropped our bundles of wood and fled, running as fast as we could.
Another gunshot.
My brother and I were faster runners than Craig but not by much. All three of us ran through the grass, careful not to trip or twist our ankles. We could still hear him shout.
I cannot understand why—and may never do—but a smile was cast across my face. It was not a smile of nerves but of sheer delight. As I ran my breath was short and loud. I was a fast runner. He’d never catch me! I even laughed! I had my friend and brother beside me and I noticed they were doing the same; good, brave laughter. There is our enemy, boys, I thought.
Another gunshot. Each seemed to get louder. I had never heard a shotgun go off before. I wondered if, every time a shotgun was fired, the planet moved a little bit off its axis.
The farmer was still hobbling after us but he did not know his fields as well as we did. We knew exactly where the divots were and the rabbit burrows and everything that would slow us down. He did not.
As we broke into the woods, Andrew was climbing down the tree. Very slowly. He climbed down as fast as he could but it was not fast at all. He was sobbing. He was crying.
“Hurry up, Andrew! The farmer’s coming!”
“I KNOW! OK! OK!”
Andrew was in tears. He tried to climb down quickly but he just could not. He did not know the trees and its branches as we did. I watched him for a moment but felt no pity. He was terrified of the farmer and the shotgun he carried. Still, I was smiling.
I caught up with Craig and my brother. They ran past the Green in full flight, with that manic flurry that young legs have going a hundred-miles-an-hour. Through the neighbourhood and its small roads we ran and finally one of us broke into hysterical laughter. The other could not help but to join in. The three of us crouched and rested on our knees, laughing. The quiet houses our of cul-de-sac sat encircled us and we did nothing besides laugh. Not one of us said a word while we caught our breath.
Not long after, Andrew ran around the corner and into the safety of the houses. He was still finishing off his cry. Tears ran down his face. He blubbered before us. While we all breathed heavily and wiped our brows, he simply strode up to his front door, knocked loudly and was let in.

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