夏日游戏 Summer Games
Outside ,in our childhood summers-the war.The summers of 1939 to '45.I was six and finally twelve;and the war was three thousand miles to the right where London,Warsaw,Cologne crouched huge,immortal under nights of bombs or ,farther,to the left where our men (among them three cousins of mine )crawled over dead friends from foxhole to foxhole towards Tokyo or ,terribly ,where there were children (our age,our size )starving,fleeing ,trapped ,stripped ,abandoned.
Far off as it was,still we dreaded each waking hour that the war might arrive on us.A shout would ring in the midst of our play,freezing us in the knowledge that here at last were the first Storm Troopers till we thought and looked-Mrs.Hightower's Ford.And any plane passing overhead after dark seemed pregnant with black chutes ready to blossom.There were hints that war was nearer than it seemed - swastikaed subs off Hatteras or the German sailor's tattered corpse washed up at Virginia Beach with a Norfolk movie ticket in his pocket.
But of course we were safe.Our elders said that daily.Our deadly threats were polio,being hit by a car ,drowning in pure chlorine if we swam after eating .No shot was fired for a hundred miles.(Fort Bragg-a hundred miles.).We had excess food to shame us at every meal ,excess clothes to fling about us in the heat of play.So,secure ,guilty ,savage,we invoked war to us by games which were rites.
All our games ended desperately.Hiding ,Prisoner's Base,Sling-Statue ,Snake in Gutter,Giant Step,Kick the Can .We would start them all as friends ,cool ,gentle enough;but as we flung on under monstrous heat ,sealed in sweat and dirt ,hearts thudding, there would come a moment of pitch when someone would shout "Now war !"and it would be war -we separating,fleeing for cover,advancing in stealth on one another in terror,inflicting terror,mock death,surrender,till evening came and the hand of the day relaxed above us and cool rose from the grass and we sank drained into calm again,a last game of Hide in the dusk among bitter-smelling lightning bugs,ghost stories on the dark porch steps;then bath,bed ,prayers for forgiveness and long life,sleep.
Only once did we draw real blood in our games;and I was the cause,the instrument at least.One August afternoon we had gone from,say,Tag into War.It was me ,my cousins Marcia and Pat ,and a Negro boy named Walter(who played with us for a quarter a week )against older,rougher boys.They massed on the opposite side of the creek that split the field behind our house .We had gathered magnolia seed pods for hand grenades,but as the charge began and swept toward us ,as Madison Cranford leapt the creek and came screaming at me .He ceased being Madison(a preacher's son),the game ceased,the day rose in me .I dropped my fake grenade,stooped,blindly found a stone (pointed flint )and before retreating,flung it .My flight was halted by sudden silence behind me .I turned and by the creek on the ground in a huddle of boys was Madison,flat,still,eyes shut,blood streaming from the part in his sweaty hair,from a perfect circle in the skin which I had made Walter,black and dry and powdered with dust,knelt by the head and the blood and looking through the day and the distance,said to me ,"What ails you,boy?You have killed this child."
I had not ,of course.He lived ,never went to bed though a doctor did see him and pass on to us the warning that ,young as we were ,we were already deadly.My rock an inch farther down in Madison's temple would have done the work of a bullet -death.Death was ours to give ,mine.
The warning was passed through my mother that night when she came from the Cranfords',having begged their pardon,and climbed to my room where I feigned sleep in a walnut bed under photographs of stars.I "woke "with a struggle,raising myself from fake drowned depths,lay flat as she spread covers round me and heard her question launched,tense but gentle ,"Why on earth did you throw a rock when everyone else was playing harmless?"What I suddenly knew I held back from her-that the others were not playing harmless,were as bent on ruin as I but were cowards,had only not yet been touched hard enough by hate.So I blamed the summer."It was so hot I didn't know I had a rock.I was wild ,for a minute .I will try not to do it again next summer."She said "Ever again"and left me to sleep which,tried as I was ,did not come at once.
I lay in half dark (my sacred familiar objects crouched in horror from me against my walls )and thought through the lie I had told to save my mother-that summer was to blame.Then I said aloud as a promise (to my room,to myself),"I will tame myself.When the war is over and I am a man,it will all be peace ,be cool.And when it is not ,when summer comes,we will go to the water-my children and I and play quiet games in the cool of the day.In the heat we will rest,separate o cots,no touching but smiling,watching the hair grow back on our legs."Then sleep came unsought,untroubled to seal that further lie had told to hide from myself what I knew even then -that I was not wrong to blame the summer,not wholly wrong;that wherever summer strikes (its scalding color),even in years of relative peace,something thrusts from the earth ,presses from the air,compresses that in us which sets us wild against ourselves,in work ,in games ,in worst of all our love.Summer is the time wars live ,thrive,on