From under the slats of the old wooden porch, John watched the other children playing. He was playing his own game. Their game was colorful and involved much yelling and chasing. His game was in his mind, and it was a game of scenarios. He could go over and join them. He might blend in seamlessly. They might force him away. He could ask to play. It would not work as it showed weakness and a kind of antiquated moral system that would be mocked. He could stay under the porch with the beetles and ants. The decision was all his.
Above John and above the other children, pigeons circled in lazy, looping swoops and drops. Cars backfired and the smoke from BBQ’s settled in amongst the hot green pine needles. It was one of those days that you don’t appreciate until years later. Decades later. When memory has erased the heat and oppression and the constant questioning…what to do?
Really, the answer was simple. John knew he would decide to stay under the porch. He could already feel the relief that the finality of his decision would bring, but he was writhing in the last moments of indecision. His skin was on fire. He could feel tickles up and down his spine. He felt sick to his stomach.
So much had happened in such a short time that it made John feel dizzy. Death, the funeral, the move…everything different, talking to each other like they were in an after-school special.
“Tag, you’re it!”
John could hear the children, but he was also listening to the preacher’s words. He was trying to wrap them around memories of his father, but the edges would not mesh. It was like the suit that was just slightly too small. He pulled down one sleeve and revealed an inch of white, pressed cotton on his other wrist. The man was talking about someone else. But no one said anything. John began to understand and, even if he appreciated the gesture, it angered him.
The adults were drinking beer and becoming louder. He could hear them now, too. Their voices tangled with the voices of the children. John thought of every swear word he knew. He took out his yellow inhaler and took as many puffs as he could hold in his lungs. His vision blurred and the whole world pulsed. Helicopter chop. He shook his head. His lips were numb.
He thumbed his pocket knife and imagined that he were the kind of boy who should have a pocket knife. That it was a fearsome thing. That, with it, he could cut down the thicket of confusion that was slowly making him deflate. Fuck. He did not know what it meant. He said it again and again. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He held the knife above his hand and imagined everyone running to see the blood. He was scared. He put the knife away.
The sun was on a dimmer switch. John closed his eyes and squeezed them tight. He knew that soon his mother would be looking for him. She would be angry about his clothes being dirty. It would be time for bed, but he would not sleep because his mind was full of games.