Each evening, before they went to sleep, they made a few notes in their journal. Tomorrow could be the day their lives changed forever. The day they’d been dreaming about, a new chapter. Yes, that was a superior metaphor. It could just be another day.
They had memorised their DNA. Hand-built. Multiple layers of rubber bonded to heavy-duty cotton canvas linings. Strength. Flexibility. Protection. Rubber sponge insole. Underfoot comfort. Specially formulated ultra-violet inhibitors, guarding against Aotearoa’s harsh environment which renders rubber munted quickly. Heavy-duty, non-clog cleated sole for grip and stability on the farm, backyard or anywhere you need a reliable boot.
They knew their tribe: Skell Er Up. Loved shouting it out. Skell Er Up. Skell Er Up. Skell Er Up.
Red top. Men’s.
Red toes. That wasn’t important.
Their number was 9. Third most popular number after 11, 12 and 14. If they’d been made 11, 12 or 14 they’d be gone by now. On the other hand, if they’d been a 4 they’d be here for life. That was an either/or, otherwise known as a trade-off.
The Chief liked them to think about trade-offs, said it helped keep them in line. Their natural tendency wasn’t to think in terms of trade-offs. In a world composed of matt black boots and bright white concrete, they were drawn to the grey. Grey like the smudges they left on the concrete.
They thought it was nice here, but how could they really know? They hadn’t been anywhere else. Here in the shed amongst the rows, they felt the constraints. If they moved a tiny bit out of file, the Chief would be onto them with a gentle reminder to know their place. The 9s were in the middle. There was a wait, but they enjoyed a reasonable turnover.
When they announced they were going to write while they waited, the others were puzzled.
They turned to their colleague, also a 9. “John was a writer.”
“Clark. Fred Dagg. The Song.”
There was a muttering up and down the columns. Everyone started singing The Song. God, it felt good.
They thought this explanation was more pleasing but less true than their main reason, which was to escape the constraints.
Dean swung his mud-splattered ute into the carpark. He paused for a moment, gazing at the dusty dashboard, absorbing the silence. He switched the ignition back on. Bikerstaff had been mid-way through unleashing his views on the latest Blues selections. Bunch a prima donnas, those Blues. Bloody selectors, need to pick more players from Northland. Short-sighted.
Symptomatic of wider problem with the entire outfit. Need to look the other side of the harbour bridge for once. Dean switched the ignition off again. He and Bikerstaff agreed. Blues were in for a pounding.
Dean swung open the door and headed for the green and white building. The RD1 was an improvement on the old dairy factory place. Only hassle was getting through the roundabout, all good mid-morning on a weekday.
Dean nodded at the young chap behind the counter. Jerry’s oldest. Golfer, not too bad a player. The chap watched Dean’s towering figure stride past. The fluorescent lighting exaggerated his shadow. Dean paused at the mash and poultry pellets. Nah, not urgent. Carried on to the red tops. Bugger, he’d forgotten to make a note of the size.
He hooked his index finger through the string of the nearest pair, checked inside. 14. He discarded them with a thud, continued down the line, paused at 12. Dean pulled the front pair out, used one of his own dusty boots to prod one of them against his other boot. Dean frowned; too big, probably. He stopped again at the 9s. Reached for the ones at the front, only one boot came up. The cord was broken. Dean put the boot back down, reached through his shadow for the pair behind, checked the number. 9. He tucked the goods under his arm and headed back to the front.
Dean slapped the bundle on the counter.
“On your account, Mr Worthington?”
“9. Higher than yah handicap.”
The chap blushed, raised an eyebrow.
“My youngest. Managed to lose one in the creek.”
“No worries, bring ‘em back if they don’t fit.”
Their new mates smelt a bit, but they were super friendly. Made room for them in the tiny shed. Wash house. Skell Er Ups, red tops all. Two pairs of 10s, the 16s Worthington’s ones. They hadn’t had a chance to talk to the 16s yet; they’d left with Worthington, something about getting the cows. There was a pair of 5s, full of cobwebs. The smell was special mix, cowshit, duckshit and mud. You got used to it. They knew the song! Watch out for toe jam.
“You’re not in RD1 now, dude. Laters.”
Eeeeek. The front door. A boy of about fourteen entered, chucked his ratty backpack on the floor.
“Nah, Ritchie passed away today, succumbed to boredom during period three, spelling. The school sent me instead.”
“Hilarious. Got homework?”
“Yo. Hockey homework. Any afghans left?”
Ritchie pulled a hockey stick from the pile in the corner of the wash house. He used its toe to extract a ball. He paused when he saw the new red tops.
“These gumboots mine?”
“Don’t lose ‘em.”
Ritchie dropped the stick and ball, picked up the boots, gave them a yank, the string held. He dropped them, headed into the kitchen, pulled the scissors out of the top drawer, returned to the wash house, cut the string. He dropped the scissors and string on the ground. He undid his shoes and placed his sock covered feet in the boots, wiggled his toes around.
“Do they fit?”
Ritchie put his thumb against the surface of the right boot above his big toe and pushed. He thought he could feel a gap between toe and boot end, but the rubber was so thick it was hard to gauge.
“Like a glove.”
His old boots were 8s. He’d be able to grow into them.