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The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1961]


page 87


— You're not scared? the boy said.

— No.

— You sure?

— Yes.

— I think you are, the boy said. I think you are really.

The girl said nothing. They squatted on the needled pine-forest floor. Near them lay a sugar bag, slack and emptied, and strewn articles of clothing, various foods, and several blankets. One of the blankets was spread flat. At the centre of it, where they had just eaten, there was a scatter of crumbs and an uncorked thermos-flask.

— You're not fair, the girl said finally.

She was young, perhaps thirteen, and dark; from her long tangled hair a blue ribbon hung loosened. Her white print frock fanned over the dark needles, splotching bright in the twilight.

This time the boy was silent. He would have been near her age, younger or older; the difference imperceptible. But for his pale legs, arms and face, his body merged into the gloom : heavy dark school shirt and shorts clung tightly to his chunky body; his hair, dark too, fell unclipped round his ears.

Before them, framed elaborately by young pine-trunks, the land dropped sharply away to a small creek which, though they could hear it splashing, was hidden from their view. The land rose again to reveal unkempt paddocks with ragged perimeters of manuka, fern and blackberry; here and there, still showing in the fading light, were faint sprinkles of yellow gorse. Then grew the hills, gaunt pyramids broken with limestone outcrop and erosion, healing in the blue night; winding down between them was the white road. It descended towards the forest, twisted uncertainly between the paddocks, and then curled past them on a parallel with the vivid horizon.

Perhaps neither would have admitted to watching the road. But they did not turn their eyes from it.

Sharp notes of thinning birdsong wheedled through the silence. The girl shifted slightly.

— I'm not scared, she said. I've never been scared. Right from the start.

— Yes you have. I know. You been scared all the time.

— No.

The girl set her face stubbornly; they did not look at each other.

The boy started at a distant sound : presently an articulated timber-truck crawled down from the hills, jerked round the corners, and lumbered past the forest; fine white dust sprayed behind the bumping wheels.

— It's you who's scared, the girl said.

— I'm not scared of anything, the boy said.

—Anything, he repeated.

But she had the advantage.

— Not of that truck ? she said. I saw you jump.

— Not of anything. He sounded angry.

page 88

— Not of your father?

— No.

— Not of your mother?

— No. Not of anything.

— Not even if we get caught?

— No.

But he seemed angry. He twisted round to glare at her : she seemed, for the moment, to float white and solitary among the darkening trees.

— Why don't you shut up?

His voice must have been louder than he expected, for he appeared startled by its violence. She did not speak for some time. Then her voice was faint and hurt.

—I wish I didn't come now.

— You wanted to come. You said you wanted to come.

She didn't answer.

— You told me you used to think of running away lots of times.

— That was different, she said.

— How was it different?

— Because I was going to run away by myself.

— I don't see what's different about that.

— It is different. You know that.

— How? he persisted.

— Because —

She faltered a second.

— Because I wasn't going to run away with a boy, she said. A girl running away with a boy is different.

—I don't see any difference, he insisted. It's just running away.

— It is different. You're just being stupid.

— You're just being scared.

— I'm not, she said.

— Not of your father ? he taunted. Not of your mother?

— Not of anyone.

She hesitated.

— I'm not as scared as you anyhow, she added.

— There, he said with satisfaction. I knew you were scared.

Again they were silent. They looked out through the pines. All colour was lost now : hills, paddocks, scrub, gorse, road — all washed with the same thickening dark. Above them, where the thin pine-tops pricked at the sky, the stars had begun to shine through. A bird, in final voice, uttered the one piercing call.

She moved nearer him.

— I'm sorry, she said. I wish we didn't fight.

— You are scared then? he said, unrelenting.

— Just a little bit.

— You still wish you didn't come?

— No. I'm glad I came. I'm glad we —

page 89

— And you don't want to go back? Ever?

— I don't want ever to go back.

— Ever, she repeated firmly.

— And you still hate them like you said you did?

— I still hate them. If you hate yours, I hate mine. I don't ever want to go back. I'm glad I ran away with you.

He did not look at her; she moved still nearer him.

— What about you? she said. Are you glad you came with me?

— I don't want to go back, he said. I don't ever want to go home again. I hate them.

— But are you glad you came with me ? she persisted.

— I'm glad.

She seemed unconvinced; she darted quick glances at him. But his eyes were still fixed ahead, apparently towards where the road had retreated into the calm and cooling night.

— It's cold, she said presently.

But she made no move towards the blankets.

— Aren't you cold? she said.

He didn't answer.

— I'm tired, she said.

There was a plaintive note in her voice. She still made no move to the blankets.

— Go to bed then, he said.

He didn't move; he didn't look at her.

— Aren't you tired ? she said. Don't you want to go to bed?

— Not yet.

She seemed to become aware of something new. She looked at him shrewdly.

— I know, she said. You're scared of me.

— Why should I be scared of you ? he said with contempt; but he still did not look at her.

— You are, though.

— Go to bed if you're tired, he said.

— Fancy a boy being frightened of a girl, she taunted.

— Go to bed if you're tired, Leave me alone.

— I didn't know boys were frightened of girls.

She laughed. He jerked to his feet, rushed at her and pushed her over. They began wrestling. She scratched his face and then he pinned her arms. She began to cry. He rose and went back to where he had been before. Presently the girl stopped crying and eased herself from the ground.

— Aren't you sorry ? she demanded. Aren't you sorry for hurting me?

— I'm not sorry for anything, the boy said. Not if you're not sorry for saying I was scared of you.

— I'm sorry then, she said.

He hesitated.

— Aren't you sorry? she said. You said you would be if I said I was.

— All right, he said. Fm sorry.

page 90

They fell silent. It was colder: yet the girl still ignored the blankets. They both looked out through the trees again.

They had not long to wait now. Presently a faint glow grew brighter in the sky and then the pairs of headlamps swung over the hills : one, two, three cars. The head-lamps raked from side to side as the cars began the winding descent : they moved slowly, close together.

—I told you, the boy said. I told you they'd look for us here. I told you we shouldn't have hid in this place.

—I got tired, the girl said. I couldn't have walked any more on that road.

—I bet that farmer on the horse seen us and told on us. I told you we should have hid when we seen him.

The girl seemed to wake suddenly: she darted to the sugar bag and began to push things into it.

— Come on, she said. Aren't we going to run?

The boy did not move or answer: he watched the road. The cars, sliding on the loose metal, had come to a halt, one by one. The steady hum of their engines diminished until the final engine clicked out. The road and the cars remained lit in a dazzle of headlamps. Doors slammed and small figures moved from car to car. Voices, muffled by distance, rose up to them.

— Come on, the girl said.

Jigging torches began to flicker through the scrub and bloom over the paddocks.

— Don't you want to run? she said.

The boy hesitated, looked towards her.

— They would only chase us, he said.

The torches were spread in an even line : they came towards the forest, sweeping to right and left, their thin whiteness lighting fantastic shadows : one beam lifted and flashed over the pines in front of them.

— They would only chase us no matter where we ran, the boy said.

The voices were much nearer now : another beam shone over the front pines. They saw each other in the fleeting light : the boy's position was unchanged; the girl was frozen over the bulging sugar bag.

For a moment the torches were lost in the gully before the climb up to the forest. Feet smacked through the creek and crashed into scrub; a man cursed.

The girl whimpered. The boy at last moved towards her.

— Don't, he said.

— Will you hate them? she said. Like I hate mine? Always, no matter what happens. Will you?

— Yes.

— Are you glad you came with me? You're not still scared of me, are you?

— I'm glad I came. I'm not scared of you.

— You were scared of me, weren't you?

— Not any more.

— I'm scared, she whispered. I been scared all the time.

— It doesn't matter, he said.

page 91

They drew closer in the darkness. And in the moment before the world exploded with violent light and hoarse voices, before rough hands clawed and dragged them apart, they crouched together under the cold sky and sharp stars and dark pines, pressed to the musky smell of the dry earth, to the brittle prickling of the scented needles: they crouched together and waited.

Maurice Shadbolt