Daniel and Patrick were best friends. They lived in the same area, the one that was on the wrong side of the fish works and then two roads back from the sea. Every day they walked home from school together, taking the path that cut down through the cliffs and along the beach, stopping to pick up trophies of driftwood, parts of cars. Last year, when a cargo ship got stuck on the rocks, hundreds of shiny foil-wrapped chocolate bars got marooned on the shore. This lonely patch of shoreline and all it entailed belonged solely to them. This was all until two weeks ago.
Daniel wasn’t as fast as Pat and the wheeze caused by the damp air was audible in his chest, as was the sound of his school shoes flapping flat-footed down the path. On top of this he kept shouting out to Patrick, trying to get his attention, which slowed down every effort he made to catch up.
“I don’t think… I don’t think we should go this way today…”
From the top of the cliff they had both seen that the sea was full, which meant that there would only be a thin ribbon of sand connecting them to the lane that lead back up to their street. When Patrick began his hurtle down the steep, pebbly path towards the water’s edge he did feel a little mean.
“The Warbler… The Warbler… gonna be there… Pat… wait up… He won’t like it… Down there … If we go down there… You know what he’s promised”
As stones flew out from underneath Pat’s feet, and the dust rose around him in great volcanic plumes he could hear Daniels protest and he could feel the indignation rise behind his ribs.
Spencer Warbler had moved to Greymouth two weeks ago with his dad and his younger brother. He already had a nickname and now, every day after school, he was always at the bottom of the cliff. Down there, where the stream crossed under the path before spreading over the sand to join the sea, Spencer only ever did one of two things: either pile up wood and debris that was dragged ashore by the tide or squash sandflies with a sharpened stick.
Half way down the path Pat stopped and used a long stick to write his name in the dust. He was waiting for David to catch up and could not stop thinking about Spencer. How his hands clenched into red, red fists and his sad knees knotted together by half picked scabs. At first Pat thought they might befriends but Spencer did not like anything. He was angry and cruel.
When Daniel finally arrived, Pat remained focused on carving his name deeper into the ground. They both knew that Daniel was right, and whilst they waited for Daniel’s breathing to slow the silence collected between them fresh and thick, separating them from noise of the evening approaching. Above gulls were crying out to each other, whilst further below the waves pounded at the shore and back up the path towards town the dull hum of vehicles heading home.
“Pat, the Warbler’s down there.”
“You don’t have to call him that.”
“But he’s down there.”
“He’s called Spencer. Spencer Stanley Warbler.”
“But…” Each of Daniels words were emphasised by a chubby finger stabbing at the area at the bottom of the path.
“Do you want to go all the way back up there? Anyway, what’s he going to do?”
“You know what – like what he did to Ben Thurrocks”
“Stanley Spencer Warbler can do what he likes. We are just going home”
“Please, Pat. He said he’d beat the two of us up together in a fight if we come this way again” His words trailed off. Patrick had made his mind up and Daniel knew it was too late; his only option was to follow.
“Look we are only doing what we always do. Anyway, I won’t let him get you, Ok.”
When they got to the bottom of the path Spencer was there, but with his back to them, kicking at the surf that was swelling around his ankles and had all but engulfed the beach. Daniel started to pad carefully along the little edge of sand that remained in between the cliff face behind him and the sea in front. And he wished with all his might that Pat would do the same.
“Come on Pat. Hurry up. We can make it…” Daniel repeated this more to himself than take the risk of saying it out loud. But Patrick stood firm at the bottom of the path and little pools of water rose up to fill the depressions around his feet.
6 miles out, where the Earth met the sky, a boat was being thrown about on the waves. The sea swelled once more and flooded up to Spencer’s knees.
Patrick didn’t get a chance to lay out his claims as he had planned as, all too quickly, the heat from his stomach had risen to his ears and Spencer was on top of him. The evening sounds were once again taken over by a silence, this time complete and saturated in colour. Spencer’s cheeks and eyes were throbbing from orange to red. The sea, now a bright green, was momentarily obscured by a rising white knuckled fist.
Daniel’s voice returned with the raucous shrieks of the gulls, but distant like the sound of the cars all making their way home.
Patrick and Spencer were digging themselves into the sand and for a second time the sea flooded them, pushing salt into their eyes and up their nostrils. As the water drew back Patrick breathed and was more aware of the rise and fall in his chest than of his fist sinking deep into Spencer’s anorak. As the Warbler lay crumpled in the sand and sea foam Patrick hauled himself to his feet. Staggering, he caught up with Daniel and together they ran, balancing their pain with joy.