Stefan put his hands behind his back and Kipper cloaked him in the parka. He zipped the parka up to Stefan’s chin. Then he took the empty sleeves of the coat and arranged the cuffs of them into the pockets until the illusion pleased him. He stepped back, eyes brimming with laughter, looked at Knott. Knott clapped twice, laughing.
He perched on a bough of the beech tree high above the slide, the pair of swings, the merry-go-round, watching the boys in the park below. They appeared to him as if seen through the bottom of a glass. Their voices and their laughter rattled on the breeze, like the rigging of the boats in the harbour. He emptied the tree. And the tree was empty.
The boys walked Whittington’s lane toward the village. At their side the old wall cast its shade across almost one half of the lane. Dark knots of choke ivy, last year’s nests secreted within. Beyond the wall was the orchard. The Kane sisters’ goat was tethered there to a pear tree with a length of blue rope. The goat and the rope and the pear tree together had allowed a circle of bright, shorter grass to be created. The goat, a grubby-bearded and single-minded animal, front legs folded beneath itself, teeth bared, pulled taut the rope and stretched its throat toward the scrump that had fallen from the other trees into the longer grass beyond the circle, beyond its reach. The boys saw nothing of the goat beyond the wall and the goat, eyes wide – oblong pupils – was only dimly aware of their passing, so determined was it on its intention. The old man turned vast circles above them. The boy with his arms down the back of his coat walked the lane with a nonchalance as the other two orbited him. They found the illusion amusing from many perspectives.
When they reach the shop, Kipper, not laughing, says for Stefan to go on in. Then he says to wait. He pulls the hood up over Stefan’s head so that he’s all rabbit trim, freckles and khaki. He pats his little head and says, quite kindly, go on, then, bunny.
The door is open, wedged with a cheese of wood. So he goes in. The fridge is humming. The air hums. Annie is behind the counter. She’s knitting something – a blue thing, a scarf, or a baby thing. She nods the boy and he begins a pretence of studying the shelves as if he has some leisurely and legitimate reason for being among the products beneath the strip lights.