With the tide right out the three boys made their first rectangle on the flat, hard sand, near the water line.
“Wider,” said Stone.
“We’re playing seven rounds,” said Cog.
Rabbits looked at where Cog was on the beach. “Yeah, wider,” he said.
Cog shrugged and went further away from the water with his bike helmet.
Four corners. Two helmets because Cog and Rabbits had ridden from Belmont, and two corner flags—Stone’s dad had got them for him—that were as tall as the ones used in the holes at a golf course.
The field marked, the boys came together near halfway, Stone spinning the white adidas from one hand to the other.
“Perfect conditions, mate,” went Rabbits, with an Australian sports commentator’s twang.
“Not much of a crowd,” followed Cog.
Most of the people on the beach were joggers or dog walkers. Out towards Rangitoto, heading for the channel, a man in jeans waded the shallows with a surfcaster. Up the beach, near the big pōhutukawa and the outdoor shower, a man and woman were settling on the sand.
“C’mon then fuckers,” said Stone.
Stone whose house was just there—big, fancy, spaceship grey—with first its low wire fence and sign that said Security Sensors Operating and next with this broad, close-cut lawn, where little robot-type sprinklers were already showering water around the place.
“Who’s kick off?” said Rabbits.
He and Cog were neighbours, them and their mums taking up the first two of a three-unit brick setup just back from the Belmont shops.
“Mine,” said Stone.
With him bigger and a year ahead of them at high school, the way they always played was Stone vs Cog and Rabbits.
Cog and Rabbits who now backed away from halfway, spreading out.
Cog acted casual about beach rugby—like it was cool and that, but also like there were other places it would be equally cool to be. Really though, he’d slept in his board shorts, crying in frustration earlier in the night when their shitty internet had fritzed, leaving him unable to double-check the tides and forecast.
“Watch the short one,” he now said, as Stone feinted to drop short, but then hoisted a high up-and-under towards Rabbits.
Rabbits was tall and skinny—underfed Cog’s mum said—but he was a brave fucker, and he went high and made the catch, landing as Stone arrived and tackled him back onto the sand.
“One,” said Stone, standing, cutting his eyes at Cog.
They called it beach rugby, but it was closer to league. Five tackles and then the kick. No lineouts—the other team/player just got the ball—and no scrums—again, just a handover. For Cog and Rabbits, the tackled player had to tap and then pass and that’s what Rabbits did now to Cog, who went straight at Stone.
Stone who was in a singlet and Sonny-Bill haircut, Stone who grabbed him ball-and-all, swivelled, and took them off their feet, slamming Cog onto the beach.
“Two,” said Cog, getting up just as fast as Stone, tapping the ball with the soft inside of his foot and spiralling it wide to Rabbits.
At maybe seven metres this would be their widest field. As they tired, they shrank the field’s width, but it was only ever five tries to win. Skill did come into it—especially the end-of-set grubbers and the passing/offloading between Cog and Rabbits—but mostly it was about the collisions. That was why they were there, that was what they liked.
“Three,” said Cog.
Taking the pass, Rabbits had swerved for the sideline, making Stone dive around his ankles.
“Out,” said Stone, getting up.
Rabbits stayed down, looking. “Cog?” he said.
Cog went over and checked down the sideline towards a helmet, then at Rabbits and the divots his body had made in the sand. “Nah,” he said. “Not out.”
What Cog said in these situations was law. For some reason, on beach rugby days, he was the boss. Not at school, fuck no, there Stone was as far from him and Rabbits as you could get. Stone with his fades and good clothes, with his name always up at assembly for the rep teams he’d made.
Tackle four and Cog took the pass from Rabbits, slowed, and then burst forward, hard into Stone, raising his ball-carrying arm high, trying to drop the ball off to Rabbits who saw the move coming and went fast off Cog’s right shoulder, but though Cog got the ball free their timing was just off, or maybe Stone did enough with the tackle…anyway the ball landed on the sand as Stone lifted one of Cog’s legs and drove him back.
“Fucker,” said Cog, as Stone let him go.
It was the word the boys around school were using most.
Dribbling the ball with his feet, Stone went back past Cog, holding his hand hip-height for Cog to slap. Like he’d seen All Blacks do after a mistake, Cog put his hands on his hips, looked up at the blue sky, turned slowly, and spat. Rabbits was bent, looking at something in the sand, then he stood and skimmed a white shell into the shallows. Out by the channel, the man was casting.
“Trying for kingies,” said Stone, in a way that suggested he knew all about fish and fishing.
Rabbits came back, indicating Next time bro by also slapping Cog’s hand.
“Sashimi, boy—that’s the way to eat ‘em,” said Stone, flicking the ball back and up into his hands with his foot.
Rabbits dropped into the crouched, wide-armed position he always adopted on defence. Then he looked over at Cog and winked.
“What?” said Stone.
“Nothing,” said Cog, drying his palms with a handful of sand.
“Don’t you know about protein and electrolytes and shit?”
Cog smiled, but didn’t say anything. He knew Rabbits would be wearing the same face. They’d been best mates, neighbours, and in the same class for so many years that they had this instinctive understanding. Not just at beach rugby, but when they were in class, or, like now, when they were all together and Stone was being this know-all dick.
Stone who now spun the ball in his hands, looking.
He knew about their understanding—you could tell—and you could tell he knew he’d just shown off his other life. But despite his raw fish lunches, and North Shore Under 15s, despite his always hanging at the school’s Marble Wall with the other cool kids—their haircuts and headphones—Cog reckoned Stone would have liked to spend lunchtimes with him and Rabbits, playing fives or force back.
Not that it—the thing between Cog and Rabbits—didn’t piss Stone off, and now he tapped, exploding towards the gap between them.
Rabbits went low—unless a try was threatened he always did—while Cog stayed high, grabbing Stone’s fending arm, jumping in front and clattering with him into the sand.
“Nice technique,” sneered Stone, getting up, sniffing, and checking his nose for blood.
Cog stayed quiet, just backed away the required metre. Nothing he did was pretty, but usually it worked.
“One,” said Rabbits.
Stone tapped, faked a grubber, and then tried to swerve around Rabbits who went off his feet, wrapping Stone’s knees and then ankles, spinning out like a sheet tied behind a bike.
“Two,” said Rabbits, bouncing up off the sand onto his feet, and then holding out his arm as if there were a line of defenders and attackers. As if this was AMI Stadium or Eden Park, not just Cheltenham Beach on an already hot teacher’s-only-Thursday.
With his size and strength, Stone usually won most of the early games, but as the day went on endurance came into it and, if Cog and Rabbits had been smart, they could start getting games back. Holding him down in tackles, getting Rabbits running wide—the idea was to slowly drain Stone’s muscles and lungs. Between games—they always went swimming—Cog would keep at it, encouraging Stone to see how long he could hold his breath and how far he could swim underwater. If Stone wasn’t buggered for the later games, with the narrow sidelines, he’d go right over the top of them, and then they’d not only lose, but they might get hurt.
“Three,” said Stone.
He’d again tried to swerve Rabbits—it was like Stone could never fully accept that Rabbits was just as fast as him—who’d again dived and brought him down.
“Raisin’s here,” said Rabbits, staying in his low defensive crouch.
Up by Stone’s place, a woman was standing in a bikini, and the thing about raw fish and Stone being pissed off with Cog left on the breeze off the Gulf as the boys came together. She was old with this decent blonde hair and a toned, totally tanned body. According to Stone she sunbathed every sunny day in the same spot.
Hoping to get a laugh, Cog waggled his finger, talking in the way of Mr Ross, the vice principal, “SunSmart, men.”
“Her cunt the same colour as the rest of her?” said Rabbits.
Stone laughed through his nose.
“Boys,” said a man in a cap, passing with two little dogs on long white leads.
“Morning,” said Stone.
“No school?” said the man, stopping and looking over the top of his sunglasses at Rabbits as if he’d heard the joke and didn’t like it.
Girls at school said Rabbits stank. Some called him Pantene as sort of a joke about his long hair. But that didn’t stop Rabbits being funny or fast. Not that he ever entered the sprints on athletics day or made his jokes around anyone but Stone and Cog—really, Rabbits kept a low profile at school, hardly doing anything that got him noticed.
“Teachers only day, sir,” went Stone.
He had this arse-licking way with grown-ups. But it worked, and now the man smiled like he’d just helped with something and went away.
“Where were we, ladies?” said Stone.
Maybe Rabbits did smell a bit off at times, plus he had these burn scars on his face that made it look like he’d been mucking around with Sellotape, but shit he could be funny. As much for the way he said things as what he said. If Cog thought about having either one of them as a brother—which he did—he’d have chosen Rabbits over Stone. Not that it wasn’t close.
“Four,” said Rabbits.
“Bullshit, three,” said Stone.
“Come on fucker,” said Cog, as Stone tapped and went straight at him, holding the ball in one hand.
Not even for cricket were they allowed on Stone’s lawn. Not even for tiddlywinks was how Stone put it. His dad was a big-shot lawyer and Stone joked Cog saw more of his dad—who was dead—than he did. And at least at Cog’s place there were places to sit, and there was a fridge with actual food and drink. At Stone’s place—Cog had only been in once—there was all this space. Like burglars had been, and forget getting a drink. “No way,” Rabbits would say, “Stone’s mum wouldn’t let us drink from the toilet.”
Anyway, sometimes it felt like Stone was playing a different game, like he could score when he wanted.
“One nil,” he now said, having gone straight over Cog; Cog who, despite having had the lower part of his body strong and stable with his head in a safe place—and therefore his shoulder in the right place—had been steamrolled like he was no more than long grass. Long-Grass-Cog who was now getting more sand to dry his hands, while Rabbits held the ball ready to kick off.
Weirdly, at the northern end of the beach, where the pastel houses were, lots of people—they all looked like women—were sitting, listening to a person who, like a ninja, was dressed all in black. Sat in the shallows, the boys had watched the gathering for a bit, and then gone back to comparing the sizes of their feet. From the house next to Stone’s came the smell of meat cooking.
Rabbits worked his nose like someone in a cartoon. “Fucker somewhere barbecuing.”
Heat shimmered. Birds flew in and out of the pōhutukawa. White and high, a helicopter crossed towards the city. Cicadas seed and sawed. If he looked, Cog knew he’d see the different ferries—Kawau, Tiritiri Matangi (his class had been recently), Waiheke—working the Gulf. Cog found a pipi in the soft sand with his fingers. Plucking it, he held it up and then dropped it back over his shoulder. Up the beach you couldn’t tell the woman from the man they were lying so close. Further along you could make out the hump Raisin made. The tide ate away at the beach. Half the field they’d played that first game on was now harbour.
Stone rolled onto his front, looking out to sea, sipping and then spitting the salty water.
He was ahead two games to nothing. Cog had tried to get him into a swimming race with Rabbits, but Stone wasn’t interested. Stone was going to play Super Rugby while at the same time studying to be a doctor. Adults asked all the time, but Cog didn’t know. When he was real young he apparently used to say fireman, so that’s what he still said. A fart surgeon, Rabbits would say, doing the thing he’d just done with his nose. An arsehole cleaner.
Cog copied Stone’s move, digging his fingers deep into the soft sand. Their warm shoulders touched for a moment as Cog got settled. Salt dried in the dark stubble of the eyebrows Stone obviously shaped with a razor.
Lately, there’d been rumours that Stone had fingered a girl on the Devonport Ferry.
“Fishing man’s called it a day,” said Stone.
He was coming towards them with his rod, lifting his knees high, splashing sparkling water up in front like he was in a hurry.
“Two more games before Stone buys lunch at the bakery,” said Rabbits.
He’d stayed facing shore, piling wet sand on the knee he’d raised out of the water.
Wheelbarrowing around, facing up towards the couple, Stone licked surface water. “Those two up to?” he said.
Cog had turned too. “Same thing you did with Nina,” he blurted.
Stone looked at him, but didn’t speak. Feeling stupid, blushing, Cog wheeled back to watch the fisherman, but Rabbits must have seen. “Two more games,” he crowed, “and then I do a big shit in Stone’s dad’s shower.”
Stone did his nose laugh and then stood, clearing one nostril after the other.
Like with the way he played, you sometimes got the feeling Stone was more adult than kid. More like one of the student teachers who came and played touch at lunchtime, then went off after school on a scooter to meet his girlfriend at the Viaduct or SkyCity.
Rabbits stood now too, so it was only Cog watching the fisherman. He had a knife on his belt and one of those giant hole-making rings in his ear, and he was looking right at Cog, not smiling, but sort of staring in a way that got Cog looking away and then standing and turning to face in the same direction as his friends.
“Catch anything bro?” said Stone.
The man turned and smiled, not at Stone, but at Cog—he wore one of those hats with the flap down the back—and he didn’t say anything, just kept kicking through the water.
“S.L.F.,” said Rabbits.
“Strange looking fucker,” said Stone, in a voice that was loud and carried, and Cog’s heart went up, worried the man might have heard, but if he did, he didn’t react, just kicked out of the water, up the beach, and past where they’d made a pile of their helmets, corner flags, and rugby ball.
“Game three, then,” said Rabbits, following after Stone who was already heading out of the water.
Stone won that one too, the most memorable of his tries coming from a Rieko Ioane style chip, chase, regather, and dive. With the narrower field the rest were hard grind. Rabbits almost scored, but Cog ruled him held up, and on the next set Rabbits got a bleeding nose bouncing off Stone’s shoulder when he and Cog both went high. Stone had said that proved Cog’s ruling was right, that it was karma, which was something Cog had heard Grant Nisbett say on Sky once in a similar situation.
Anyway, karma or not, the fact was in three games Cog and Rabbits had only scored two tries, and now, getting ready for the fourth game, Rabbits said what Cog had been thinking.
“If we can’t beat him or at least get some tries, he won’t want to play with us.”
He had his face up behind the ball, the way Beauden Barrett did when calling a back move.
Cog nodded, like it was some special defence formation they were planning.
“He’ll spend all his time on Fullers, fingering year tens,” continued Rabbits, which made Cog laugh, causing Stone to stand straight and say, “C’mon fuckers.”
The field was now as narrow and long as the corridors at school.
“C’mon then fuckers!” said Rabbits, pirouetting and directing a little up and under towards Cog’s purple bike helmet, Cog who was already off—it was the way Rabbits had said then that let him know the type of kick off—as Stone closed in too slow and Cog went up—AFL style, like he was trying to catch the sun—and took the ball, landed, cantered across the sand, planted the ball, and then kept on running in a wide arc, over the sand, back through the shallows, past the shells and clumps of rust-coloured weed to where Rabbits held his fist ready for congratulations.
Stone was smiling too and now he did the thing he did with his eyebrows—for him the ultimate sign of respect—and said, “The new Jeff Wilson.”
Stone watched and talked about the old games as a way—he’d told Cog this straight up—of getting his old man to notice him.
It started a good run for Cog and Rabbits and with some good offloads—a backhanded one from Cog, an around Stone’s back, miracle-one from Rabbits—and some luck—“The ball’s doing funny things,” Rabbits had shouted—the younger boys won the fourth game.
They were having lunch. Stone had taken Rabbits’ bike and ridden to a bakery on Lake Road, coming back with a loaf of bread, a drink, two Paddle Pops, a block of Dairy Milk.
Chewing chocolate, Cog had some Sprite.
Rabbits was burying his ice cream stick in the sand. He and Cog were on their tummies, drying out having swum in the water that was closer in. Cog burped, strung brown saliva from his mouth, and then sucked hard, re-mouthing the spit that lip-flicked like spaghetti.
Stone was sitting, looking out at Rangitoto. A breeze was up and, along the beach to the north, three women were unpacking kite surfing sails. Beyond them, near the pastel coloured houses built into the rock at the end of the beach, the people—now they were all dressed in black—were organising themselves into different formations: long lines like at primary school, a huge circle, something, that from above, might have looked like a snowflake.
Rabbits moved to get more bread. Wearing Stone’s sunglasses, he was hollowing out the loaf and rolling the bread into pills he’d then wash back without chewing. Stone yawned, took something from a plastic bag in his pocket, and ate it. He’d had some of the Sprite, but none of the other food he’d bought. The young couple came back. The girl was in a short denim skirt and a singlet. She was tanned, but not crazily. They had ice creams and were laughing as they took off their jandals. Cog watched the girl—the different shapes her body made as she moved—and ground his dick into the sand that was soft and wet from his swim.
“Ready then fuckers?” went Stone.
Now Cog wanted to piss, but he didn’t think Stone would like it if he did. If Rabbits pissed, Stone would laugh, but that would be because of the way Rabbits handled it, the way he’d chase them with the pine cone of urine-hard sand, and the horrible/hilarious shit he’d say when he did. Cog went back to watching the girl. Then he looked at the seagulls. They had come in when Stone arrived with the food, and still they stood, red-beaked and white. The feeling Cog had was that after the last two games, after he had a swim with them, Stone would leave. That he’d touch hands with them and then go, past Raisin, up onto the lawn, into his house.
Rabbits nudged Cog, who held out his hand thinking he was being offered the Sprite, but the bottle was still on the sand and when Cog looked in the direction Rabbits’ nose was pointing, it was obvious what had got his attention. The girl—the one with the ice cream—she’d sat with her legs pointed down this way, and what you could see was this white cotton triangle up the top of her brown legs. And then, even better, she laughed and rolled her right leg out a little showing the creamy skin to the side of her undies.
Air went out of Cog, same with Rabbits, who recovered faster with a wolf’s, “A-ooohhh,” choking a bit at the end of his howl.
The man looked, but the view didn’t change, and so Rabbits went again, this time keeping the noise going—high and then higher and then low—for long enough to get even Raisin rising off her towel, her big glasses the windows of a skyscraper, her hand, pale palmed, waving—she was lapping it up—and that got Cog giggling, giggling and digging his hard-on into the sand.
Like Cog wasn’t giggling and Rabbits wasn’t being a wolf, Stone said, “Well? Are we going to play?”
The worst thing Cog could imagine was Rabbits shifting. The next worst was Stone ignoring them. That thought stopped him and he had one more look between the girl’s legs and then started to get up, but now, like he was giving into something, Stone rolled, flopped between them, took his sunglasses from Rabbits, and grabbed some chocolate.
The couple were still at their ice creams—the view basically unchanged—and when Rabbits drew an arrow in the sand and wrote P U S S Y, Stone must have finally seen, because he went, “Oh, fuuck mate,” in a decent rendition of Rabbits’ Aussie commentator thing, and that was it for Cog, who rolled like a dinghy into his mate’s shoulder, laughing so hard Sprite leaked out his nose.
Now, in from where the boys had been looking at their feet, the fisherman was swimming. No longer in his T-shirt, still wearing his jeans and his belt with the knife, he was sealing around on his hands, probably getting pipi, but he had no collecting bag, and the feeling Cog had was that he’d gone back out there to watch them. Not that Cog was saying anything—he didn’t want to sound scared.
It was three-all now and they’d just measured the last field. It would be like playing in a lift—one of the bigger type ones they have at hospital for transporting people in beds—so kicking couldn’t come into it. In the case of a seventh game—they weren’t common and, as Cog said, it was an occasion to be respected—they played first to seven tries, rather than first to five.
Stone had a cut on his wrist from when he’d gone hard into the sand tackling Rabbits at the end of the sixth game. He was rinsing it down in the water and the man was further out, looking through Stone’s legs at Cog who was reminding Rabbits about not kicking.
“There’s no room, we won’t risk it.”
“Yeah,” said Rabbits. “I’ll tackle high.”
“And hard, mate,” said Cog.
Rabbits took him behind the neck and brought his forehead in close so they were touching. On Sky, when the players did it, it looked staunch and sort of aggressive, but here it felt close—more like the hongi they’d sometimes practised back in their primary days.
“We’re brick walls,” said Rabbits, bunting Cog lightly.
Cog stepped back, nodding. He was down to his bare chest and the Quiksilver boardies Stone had handed down to him last year. He knew he was skinny—especially his upper half—but still, this was Stone Rapahana they were three-all with.
“C’mon fucker,” he said, to Stone’s back, this time glaring at the fisherman.
But Stone just kept doing whatever he was doing, and the fisherman didn’t seem to notice, and trying to stop the confidence squeak out, Cog turned and whistled a flat spiral pass into Rabbits’ chest.
A towel draped over their middle parts, the couple were back to lying down, and maybe it was the heat moving the air, but it looked like they were vibrating, sort of in time with what the cicadas were still doing. Standing, Raisin waved—she did now, every time she stood and went through some yoga stuff and then changed the place on her body the sun was hitting—and, smiling back, like she was an important part of all their lives, and he was letting her know they were all still here and okay, Rabbits held up the ball and waved.
Down the beach the kite surfers had packed all the gear they didn’t need into two shiny saveloy-shaped bags that glowed under the sun. Beyond them, the crowd—they were all women—were coming slowly towards them.
“Lady zombies,” said Rabbits.
Coming up the beach, standing beside them, Stone went, “The fuck?”
“They protesting something?” said Cog.
People were filming with phones. One person on the sea-side of the group had a larger camera. There was a helicopter too, but it was high so it was hard to know what it was looking over.
“Protesting what? The summer?” went Rabbits.
They had no placards or whatever and they were dead quiet, so you wouldn’t know what it was they wanted to change. And they were getting closer, but only very slowly; it was the way they were walking, raising their feet and then carefully placing them down on the sand like it was a blanket of drawing pins they were on.
“More like an ad for something,” said Stone, “the Coke guys were here last summer,” then, as if it was somehow related, he said, “And this will be my last game boys.”
Rabbits flicked him the ball. “Game seven,” he said.
But Stone had said something else, Cog could tell by the way he brought the sweat off his face and plastered down his hair.
“Eh?” said Cog.
Blood from the cut ran down Stone’s forearm, forming a drip at his elbow. He looked at Cog. “Coach doesn’t even want us playing casual touch—I got to take care of myself.”
Cog turned, looking for Rabbits who’d backed up as far as the try line, waiting on the kick, and then, just as fast, like something caught in a storm, he flicked back to Stone and said, babyish and panicked, “This is your last game?”
Stone dropped the ball onto the bridge of his foot, balancing it, and then flicked it back up into his hands. That done, he looked at Cog and raised his eyebrows sadly. Yes, this was his last game.
As if in response, one of the kite surfers cried with pleasure as she took flight, scudding across the water.
Cog turned away. Shitting your pants, having a bone during swimming sports, having a sister who somehow ended up in online porn, even wearing like, a skirt to school, was way better than crying.
Rabbits came up, not touching, but standing close.
“This is his last game,” said Cog, looking at Rabbits, then out again at the man—he was closer in now and still watching them—like it was his fault.
Rabbits nodded as if Stone had told him already. “Then let’s beat him,” he said, not in any sort of funny voice.
Cog turned back to Stone who glistened like a statue, the only moving part of him the blood now dripping to the sand.
Cog sniffed back snot and tried to seem tough by spitting, but it was no good, tears leaked down his cheeks. And what about Rabbits? Pretty recently, he’d said his mum kept going on about shifting somewhere cheaper, like Waikato or something.
“Ready?” said Stone.
Crouching over so the tears went straight down, Cog got some sand.
With men by themselves—like the fisherman—Cog sometimes imagined they were his dad reincarnated or whatever. He dreamed they’d come up—like in the movies—with a message from the other side: Hold the line, Be strong in your loyalty. When, what was more likely, was the fisherman coming to their unit late at night and raping and killing him or, worse, doing in his mum. And then where would he be?
“Ready?” said Stone again. Not in a hard way, but in a way that said, Getting this last game going is probably the best thing, bro.
When Cog had thought that ‘hold the line’ crap through and tried to use it—for exams say or situations like this—he realised it didn’t come from Dad, but from the test rugby promotions you saw on Sky. So, what Cog thought of now was his mum telling him how crying was good, how it at least kept your eyes clean and how, really, with his farting, they were probably better off without Dad, and this always got Cog feeling lighter and more aware of whatever it was he was doing, which, right now, was watching the ball Stone held up and out from his body like a waiter with a tray.
Reacting to the blood, or the way the ball was being held, a seagull flew across their game, and then soared on an updraft, looking with its reptile eye as Stone planted his left foot and kicked, an incredible up and under, travelling only a few metres forward, but going so high as to cause the bird to flicker its left wing casually before swooping towards the city.
At sand level, forgetting everything, Cog stepped back, calling, “Mine!”
He had to catch this ball. Stone wouldn’t let him have it easy like he had that other kick off. Despite the tears, Stone would do anything to win this last game. With such a small field first possession would be crucial.
The ball reached the highest point of its trajectory and started to bomb down as, silently, the women in black arrived, surrounding the field like ants around a rain drop, blanking Raisin, the couple, and the fisherman, providing the biggest crowd ever, as Cog went forward hard at Rabbits—who’d come in to act as blocker—and leapt, floating his knees.
Stone came on too as Rabbits turtled his head and bowed—facing Stone—and Cog’s knees flowed up Rabbits’ body, contracting at the highest point, pushing off Rabbits’ back the way a gymnast pushes off the horse, and flying Cog—like that gull fucker—into the air, soaring above Stone, plucking the ball two-handed—SMACK—and going over Stone, brushing that neat hairdo with his arse, falling hard to the sand, grovelling forward a metre, and planting the ball on the line.
“TRY—WHAT A FUCKING TRY. TRY FUCKER! TRY!”
When they were much older, when it was just Rabbits and Cog left, they talked about it as the time Cog shat on the great Stone Rapahana; later still, when it was just Cog, the way he remembered it, the marchers weren’t marchers, they were a flock of black birds he was flying over.