War, that’s a game. But you can only play it in the summer and you can only play it after dark or, almost after dark. Gary showed me how to play, I don’t know where he learned it. You can even play it alone but it isn’t much fun alone, nobody sees how neat when you fall down or hears you groan and squirm and bleed to death.
You don’t really bleed to death. It’s only pretend bullets and the cars aren’t really tanks.
Okay, I’ll explain: It’s the way it feels because it’s supposed to be dark and it’s too dark to see the way it looks. Has to be dark. ‘Cause—did you ever notice that what you do in the dark can look really dumb in daylight?
Has to be in summer because we can stay up real late. So does the sun. But it has to be dark, remember, or it can be dangerous. If you scream and fall down on the front lawn and writhe in agony and it’s almost dark but not dark enough, the cars might see you and slow down or stop, the cars might roll down the window and say something.
“You’ll give some poor doofus a heart attack,” Mrs. Taylor chuckles.
How does she know who’s in the cars?
The trick is to see them coming from a long way off, two blocks away, and then, if they don’t turn, you can always die loud then soft and not fall down until the car’s mostly past. Supposed to not be hit unless the car’s lights strike you. Supposed to hide but it’s not as much fun if you don’t die and twirl and flop on the ground.
See? This is the best I can explain. Gary never explained it to me, he just showed me how.
Mrs. Taylor comes across the street to see the baby. There isn’t much to see. But she doesn’t come across the street to see me, she’s got kids of her own bigger and smaller just not as small as my new baby brother. She really comes across the street to stand by the front porch and talk to my mother.
And my mother says, “It’s time to feed the baby,” but still sits, I think she’s about to get up and go get the bottle, but she sits and hugs the baby closer. “You go play,” she tells me. Why’s it sound like a command?
“Go on now, Mamma’s nursing.” But she doesn’t have a hat or white dress like— And she’s only hugging— I don’t get— “Go on, go play!”
“All-right-all-ready!” I say, just like Dad does. “Yes-sir-ree-Bob!”
Another thing: We’re not supposed to be dodging across the street after dark, whatever side of the street we live on, that’s the side we’re supposed to stay on. The neat part about War is that you can play on both sides of the street at the same time, see? I fall down in my front yard and Dale Taylor and his brother Bobby fall down in theirs. Neat. Only tonight Dale says he doesn’t want to play, he thinks it’s dumb, and he just watches us, but then when it gets darker he plays anyway. I saw you, Dale!
One of the times I die near the front porch, and I hear Mrs. Taylor explaining to my mother what we’re doing. “—When the cars come down the street and get almost abreast—” But I stand up and I can’t tell if it’s because I can hear or because of the word Mrs. Taylor used— What’s she mean ‘cars almost a breast’? A car is a car. —That she stops talking and my mother shuffles the baby around and both of them are looking at me.
“It’s almost time to go in,” Mom says.
Guaranteed to get me to get away from her quick.
Another two or three cars go by. And like I warned you, one of them almost stops. And then the cars seemed to have all gone home. The last one I thought was coming turned into a driveway a block away. And now everybody’s mostly gone in. If they’re still outside and lying down and acting dead they’re really good because it’s been minutes since the last car went by. Mrs. Taylor’s still here though, talking. Slowly I walk back up to the front porch, in case my mother’s still upset about me playing when she told me to.
“Who’s your little friend?” Mrs. Taylor smirks.
“What you have—” She waves her hand and starts to point, but I see it now, a pincher bug! Pinching the bottom of my shirt! It doesn’t hurt but the bug is big and ugly! “A stag beetle!” Mrs. Taylor says. My arms are in the air, I can’t even scream, and she reaches down and I think she’s going to touch it but at the last moment she brushes it right off.
Yipes! Now it’s loose around my feet somewhere! Boy, how’m’ I gonna walk? They’re all over the grass, they’re black and it’s dark now, you can’t even see them on the sidewalk unless you bend over and hunt!
“Where’d it go?” I’m pleading.
But it’s no big deal to Mrs. Taylor and my mother is still holding the baby and I have to leap up on the first step of the porch, then the second, then the top, and run in the house before I can see whether it’s on my shorts or my shoes or not.
“That’s one way to get them to come in,” Mrs. Taylor laughs. She thinks it’s funny.
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