Jeffery showed me the remains of previous games – little bones, pale when unearthed. He showed me how to crush his mother’s pills and sprinkle them in peanut butter. How to tie the unconscious squirrels to his little stakes. He showed me how to use his axe.
I wish, more than anything, I could say I didn’t participate. That I had some higher standard, some moral twisted my soul against this, that some part of me closed its eyes and hid. But I can’t. I was there, just like him, side by side, taking them apart piece by piece by piece. We shared this, this thing we did, and suddenly I was a little more like him. And that thought made my chest swell.
He taught me about covering up as well. How to take off light coloured clothes and put them aside while playing. How to get the axe and our skin clean afterwards. How to never ever let the adults know about the grove. I listened and learned fast. Learned how to cosy up to parents, how to smile, how to spend time outside the grove being a seven year old when all I wanted to do was go back.
My head would clear slowly during those periods between our games. My family went away for a week, camping. Something changed then. I cut myself with the camping hatchet and when I saw blood I threw up. My parents couldn’t understand my crying. But like all vacations it ended too soon and the grove, and Jeffery, were waiting when we got back.
He had moved on to bigger things. Raccoons, strays. I convince him to play castles and knights again and he agrees but soon enough we were back in the grove. He smiles his smile and says he wants to move up in the world. Dogs and cats were fine but no. Not good enough. He smiles wider and says he wants to kill my sister. I put his hand in mine and rotated it slowly till it faced up. With his axe; I cut, deep, across his palm.
He clapped his hands as I left. “You didn’t kiss me, Judas!” His hands splatting together above his head, laughing, “You didn’t kiss me!”