Playing with James, that smart dark-haired kid from the corner. The game where you throw the dice, aiming for the next square of the footpath so you can move there. If the dice roll out of the square, you’re out: start again. Your painstaking game of false starts.
James assesses how many throws it will take to get to the milk bar, looks at Ben and throws the dice as far as he can. That’s my move, he yells. That’s how he’s going to play. And he sprints off to his distant square.
Ben and his old rules are way behind.
James is poised to throw again.
He’s picked up a rock. It will go farther.
Soon the exhilaration of hurling rocks as far as possible, and chasing their erratic bounces down driveways, across streets, into backyards, past that other school, assuages Ben.
James’s game is better, by miles. Then James says ‘This is an ace game, thanks!’ and young Ben Kester knows there’s something he should be saying to James, but his unsmiling friend is moving on, trying to get his stone to bounce off a wall so he can turn a corner.
Should they stick to footpaths, or could they just throw their rocks and see where that takes them, even if it’s into parkland or that overgrown patch by the freeway?
Ben says, ‘just throw them!’
But James is worried that the squares of the footpath were necessary for it to feel like a game.
The two boys stand at the edge of the unpaved expanse.
It’s almost time to go home. Ben can feel momentum drying and shrivelling and solidifying, a record of movement instead of movement itself. He doesn’t want it to be over, the exciting, challenging moments of evolution when his charismatic friend was a force of innovation.
James is not sure, and that is enough. He’s gone quiet, he has no opinions. They walk back to familiar streets, heads down, Ben watching his friend, mystified, the footpaths no longer enchanted. James even steps on gaps between squares. Ben wants to be away from him now; he's relieved when James slinks into his house without word.