After tea Anzac went out across the dry, brown-grassed yard to the wood pile under the plum trees. It was cooler there under the trees, but even so it seemed too hot for exercise.
Well, Mum had said, ‘No wood, no breakfast,’ and she'd meant it too, so he supposed he'd better get on with it. If he hurried he might still be able to join the others down at the creek for a swim. He crossed the chip-covered patch to the stack of dry manuka trees where the axe had been struck heavily into the rata chopping block. You could tell it had been Richie's turn to chop the day before. Look at the way he always whacked the axe-head in so you could hardly get it out. Richie always went wild went it was his turn to chop.
Anzac curled his thin brown fingers around the warm smoothness of the axe handle and levered it up and down, then form side to side until it loosened. He didn't mind chopping—good for you—made you big and strong. He wished he was big and strong, then he wouldn't have to worry about those dumb boys at school who said, ‘You do my sums or I wait for you after school.’ And they did wait. They waited whether he did their sums or not, just because he was smaller and younger than any of the other standard six kids.
He swung the axe high over his shoulder and let it drop heavily into the flakey barked manuka stem. Now another high swing and he let it fall an inch to the right this time, slanting it into the first cut. A small chip jetted sideways, landed with a soft click and shuffled in among the parings from the day before.
Everything had been all right for him last year when Richie and Bob had still at primary school. Richie and Bob wouldn't let anyone touch him. But now they were at High School
and he had to stick up for himself. Well this afternoon hadn't been too bad; that was a good punch he'd given Bobo Carter—yes, right in the stomach, hard.
Hard, Anzac vee-ed into the orange-brown wood on one side, turned the trunk then vee-ed in from the other side. He judged the moment when he was almost through, lifted the axe high and gave a final whack down the centre of the vee. He tossed the ‘stove-length’ aside and began again.
He continued to chop until he had a large pile of firewood beside him. His arms ached and there was a pain in his side but he felt good—really good. He picked a handful of grass, held it to his side while he counted to ten, then threw it over his shoulder. There, the pain had gone. He stacked the wood neatly into the box on the trolley. The box was nearly full already—that hadn't taken long. Perhaps he'd just fill the chip bucket now, then go for a swim. No. No, he had a better idea. He'd go on chopping and make the pile as big as he could. Then Dad might notice it and let him have the gun. It would be good to go out over the hills after rabbits. He'd have time to shoot three or four before dark; they could keep a couple for dog tucker and tomorrow Mum would do the others in the camp oven for tea. Tomorrow was the day she made Maori bread too. Chop and chop before Dad comes out to feed the dogs.
He kept on working until he heard the rattle of the scrap bucket in the kitchen. Then he quickly stacked the extra pieces onto the box and took up the axe again. Here comes the ‘old man’—make the chips fly.
Anzac watched his father from the corner of his eye. The big man whistled gently as he ambled bare-footed across the dry lawn with the bucket. Anzac began to sing loudly to attract his father's attention,
A-tumble-in-tumble-in da-own .….’
It worked. He saw his father watching him as he continued to chop and sing. Yes, he had noticed the big pile of wood.
‘You got a good stack there, son?’
‘Yeh. Good for the Maori bread tomorrow.’
‘You want to go and get us some rabbits?’
‘Right. You take four bullets and get four rabbits. Two for dog tucker. Two for kai. Ne?’
‘You go then. I can fill the chip bucket and take the trolley in. You go.’
Anzac dropped the axe head lightly into the rata block and ran across the yard into the house. Now get the 22 from Dad's wardrobe and four cartridges from the yellow and orange packet. Hurry before the others get back from the creek or Richie and Bob would want to come too. They'd be wild when they got back, and tonight they'd try to pick a fight with him.
‘Who's your girl friend?’
‘Hello Miri, Hello Miri.’
‘Give me a kiss Miri.’
Well he didn't care. He'd threaten to tell Dad about them smoking. Then they'd shut up.
He was starting up the rough manuka slope now. Halfway to the top he paused and looked down towards the creek. He saw his two brothers having a towel fight to get warm; the girls had already started along the track towards home. It was cool up there on the hill. He stood for a moment letting the breeze cool his hot body. Then he hurried for the top, knowing that on the clearing over the knob, the rabbits would be waiting. The wind was just right; he'd be able to get right up close if he were careful, and he'd aim for the eye. Four rabbits, all shot through the eye. And when he got home he'd hang them on the plum trees. In the morning Dad would see them and say, ‘Good shots, son.’ Yes, lucky it had been his turn to chop tonight.
On the top of the knob he stopped, slid the bolt of the rifle back and inserted a cartridge. There was a faint click as he pushed the bolt back into place. Then he dropped onto his stomach and began to creep over the knob. From now on the only sounds would be the sharp ping of his rifle, and the deep thud of lead that is true to target.
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