a boy’s game

So Will sent me this:


and I was like, What the hell is this?… but it’s art, right? So I did this:

A Boy’s Game

Sunlight shot through the beams of wood and set the dust into motion. It drew lines in the dirt, up the house’s foundation, down the two little boys’ bodies. Far under the suburban deck, these lines were the only source of light. The boys didn’t look at them. Their eyes had grown accustomed to the dark.

Mikey had his Jack Russell terrier on a leash. The dog was going to kill herself trying to escape it, wrenching at the neck and squirming in the shadows. Mikey yanked the leash to slow her down. Sean was sharpening a stick with a Swiss army knife. His father had given it to him last week for his birthday. It had two knives, a saw, a bottle opener, scissors, a corkscrew, and a nail file.

“Don’t you think we ought to go back and get him now?” Mikey asked.

Sean had learned how to sharpen sticks from a Clint Eastwood movie. In the movie, Clint Eastwood used the stick’s sharp end to cut a man’s neck. It was his father’s favorite scene. He hadn’t told Mikey about it.

“Nah,” Sean said. “He’s fine.”

“Are you sure? It’s almost been an hour.”

“I’m sure.”

The boys had just gotten back from searching for straw. Sean had told Mikey that Clint Eastwood chewed on a piece of straw in that movie—a long piece, yellow and bushy on the opposite end. He chewed it the entire movie, right up until the last scene when he decided to kill that man. Then he took it out and killed him.

The boys didn’t know that straw refused to grow in this part of the world. They couldn’t have known that. They searched high and low, but instead of fields of grain or rye, they found hordes of snaking vines wrapped around trees like a mother’s arms around her children. They used Sean’s knife to dismember them. They invented games. They made whips and rope, noisemakers and belts, bird frighteners and a noose. They were strong vines, long, thick, brown, practical.

Abruptly the dog barked, and Mikey knelt down to quiet her.

Footsteps resonated from above. Mikey heard his mother shout his name. Then his little brother’s.

“Come on,” he whispered, “let’s just go get him and be done with it.”

Sean stopped whittling and looked at him. He put his finger over his mouth and kept it there.

The footsteps went back into the house and Sean snapped the blade back into place. He clipped the knife onto a key chain and onto his belt loop. The stick wasn’t sharp at all, but he tested it carefully with the tip of his finger and then jabbed it like a dagger at the hopping dog.

“I have to pee,” Mikey said, grabbing himself to prove it.

“So pee,” Sean said, tossing the stick aside.


“Here, there, I don’t care.”

“I can’t,” Mikey said.

The rhythm and rhyme of what he’d said settled on Sean, tickled him and then sparked up his throat. He smiled and said it again, licking the backs of his teeth afterward, still smiling.

“I can’t do it in front of you,” Mikey said.

“I’m not going to look,” Sean said. “I have one too.”

“I can’t,” Mikey said. He looked all around and then down at the dog. “I need a toilet.”

Sean frowned, showing his palms to the world in the exasperated way of an eight-year-old on a Saturday in the middle of summer. On their way back from playing with the vines, Sean had eventually found a straw to chew on—a plastic one he’d jacked from a squashed cup. He had been chewing it the whole time. The end that was in his mouth was flattened and wrinkled.

“Fine,” he said, and he walked out from under the deck.

The sun was bright. The air was warm. Sean closed his eyes. He waited for them to adjust from behind their lids. His father was supposed to have taken him hunting yesterday. It was supposed to have been a weekend trip. They were going to shoot ducks. He had never been old enough to go, and now he was.

“We have to be quick,” Mikey said, shielding his eyes with a four-finger salute.

Sean took the straw out of his mouth.

“Do you remember where we left him?”

Sean remembered well.

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