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By Steven Herrick

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I have a friend here in this solitary park, 56 By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 57 as I wait for my dad to come home on a balmy afternoon. ’ A gang of us run down, wonder fast. We stand statue at the sight of yellows, whites, brown-blacks and feather-greys, floating on the east wind across acres of waving grass. Then, with arms wide, we walk like apostles through the gates of heaven into the gossamer mist. They brush our hair and caress our faces. One grey lands on my wrist and stays there as I walk him through 58 By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 59 this rainbow wind, until Peter Evans comes down to the paddock swinging his new tennis racquet, killing twenty butterflies at a time with each forehand smash.

His hair is cut razor short, and he has big ears that hear insults whispered a classroom away. ’ Then he shakes my hand and walks away and I feel the Humbug lolly he’s left in my palm. I slip it into my pocket, unsure whether to thank Johnny, or my dad. 55 By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 56 The town dog The dog crosses the train tracks, head down, tongue out, a limp in one leg. It sniffs the stinkweed beside the tracks, cocks a leg and stains its territory. I can hear horse races from a scratchy radio as I sit after school on a tired swing in Devitt Park.

He parked his van on the footpath, loaded his oven with split firewood and waited. I could taste the hardwood smoke in each pie. Keith and me would sit under the fig tree and eat two pies each. Our dad’s treat for Monday only, but one day the pieman heaped too much wood, still damp, into the oven. Two hundred children stood at the fence watching the van, smoke black and pungent, while the pieman swore and shouted and swore some more, 30 By the River PAGES 7/7/04 2:50 PM Page 31 until the cleaner soaked the van with the school hose, and Keith and me thought of the useless coins jangling in our pockets.

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