A creative non-fiction piece about a moment from my childhood.
Bulldozer blades had forged the landscape of our playground. Great hills of mud and rubble rose in artificial peaks and deep tracks knitted the field. The summer I was seven had given rise to prairie grasses that yellowed in the sun and rattled in the wind. A group of evergreens rose on an elevated chunk of earth from the centre of the rattle-grass field. This was Jeffery’s castle.
We used to play castles and knights. I would sneak into my father’s room and steal his leather belt to wear it as a low-slung sheath before running out to meet Jeffery. A plastic sword from Wal-Mart hung from my belt, a real axe from Home Hardware hung from his.
Each rubble top we scaled was a victory. Hacking and slashing at lizard kings, dark mages, spectral witches, and hordes of orcs and skeletons, we’d reach the top and adjust our course to reach those lonely evergreens, then we’d leap and roll down the other side to do it all again.
In the grove we’d bring out snacks. I’d toss my healthy homemade lunch and wait eagerly for Jeffery’s generosity of junk food. He would pray over the food before eating and sharing it. Afterwards, with crumbs still sticking to our shirts and mouths, we’d do magic. We’d take turns standing on a jutting rock to wave our hands and cast enchantments over the field below. The wind would shake the grasses below us as we did, or as Jeffery did. It never seemed to work for me.
Jeffery was the result of odd parents. “Bad parents” according to my mother who, as a social worker, would know. They were very religious and little Christs littered their home. A cross above the doorway to their washroom is stuck in my memory. It was small and black and unassuming but made me feel guilty for going pee. They had Jeffery in and out of a couple schools. After being expelled from the local Waldorf Academy they decided he was better homeschooled. I didn’t go to his house often, he had no toys to play with. His parents didn’t let him have toys, only his axe.
He thought he was better than me. I thought so too. I was slow, he was fast. I was short, he was tall. I was seven, he was eight. I was awkward and he could smile the cash out of wallets. I had a crush on Payton Larson; he called me weak and said love was only for fairy tales. I’d walk around an anthill; he’d walk right through and their little bodies would stick to his shoes. He had cherub chubby cheeks that dimpled when he smiled and hid his beady eyes behind twin rosy mounds. His chubby round head didn’t fit the rest of his lean frame. I wanted to be just like him and, for my sins, I would be.
And since he was faster the dog chased me.