Night Games

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story about the desire to want to fit in.

Submitted: August 07, 2013

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Submitted: August 07, 2013

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Night Games

 

At the age of ten my family moved from Virginia to Texas.  A decision influenced by my father’s recent retirement from the Navy.  During the transition I struggled with making friends.  I felt unsure of how to approach kids my age in the neighborhood.  In Virginia, the company of the kids I grew up with came natural.  I knew their families and they knew mine.  I was there from the beginning.  After moving to Texas I felt anxiety when I saw the other kids.  I thought, what did they think about me?  Did I dress too differently?  Was my presence even noticed?  Ultimately, the neighborhood kids shared a past that I would never be a part of and this intimidated me.

Ross was the first kid in the neighborhood to notice me.  One day, in the middle of practicing my soccer skills against the side of the house, Ross approached and asked if I wanted to come play a game.  He told me how he and his friends were up the street getting a game of Capture the Flag together and needed a couple more players.  I was elated.  Every day I heard the laughter and shouts coming from down the street and every day I used my imagination to fantasize myself participating in their merriment.  Now, I’d be a part of the adventures my mind previously role-played.

Ross walked me to where we’d be playing tonight’s game.  He made small-chat with me, asking my name and where I moved from, but all I could focus on was the theatrics going on in my head.  The actors of my imagination were portraying a tall, husky visitor confronted with snickers and smirks.  I gulped down the muggy August air and pressed on.  The neighborhood kids stood under the faint amber glow of a streetlight.  Darkness surrounded the amber glow, engulfing the cul-de-sac littered with two-story cookie cutter homes.  As I stepped from the darkness into the amber glow I smelt the aroma of fresh-cut Saint Augustine grass in the air.  Ross introduced me and I awkwardly waved.  The other kids didn’t seem to pay much notice to me other than the relief they felt to finally be ready to start the game.  I exhaled my own sigh of relief.  The time came to begin picking teams for the game.

The game required a competence in hiding.  Ross made hiding look effortless. His shortness and small build required him to carry little weight. The grass barely crunched beneath his feet and he burrowed in bushes like a snail resting in its shell.  These attributes made Ross a top pick for the Night Games.

I wasn't exactly of the same caliber as Ross when it came to stealth.  My tallness and heavy build conflicted with the demands for a strong hider. But, for what I lacked in stealth I made up for in athleticism. I was strong and could scale fences like I was competing for the Olympics; a critical skill when evading the opposition.

That night Ross picked me to be on his team.  He taught me everything he knew about hiding.  He taught me not to wear clothes that made a lot of noise. For instance, tracksuits were horrible for hiding. The swish of the polyester alerted even the poorest opponents. Also, don't wear clothes with buttons or zippers. A button or zipper snagged on a branch is often the downfall of many players.  He taught me where to hide. Don't ever hide in the same place more than once.  Often, the less obvious the choice the better the chance your adversary would overlook it.  I appreciated Ross taking me under his wing, but I appreciated more his companionship.

The feeling of staying out late, sneaking around, gave me a sense of maturity. I felt more independent; able to survive the unknown.  I was free. Free to run from shadow to shadow; to feel the rush of adrenaline as I hid in the refuge of the dark; shortening my breath and heart-beating as my opposition suspiciously pursued.  Hiding in a bush, I realized what I relished the most about the Night Games. I felt as if I belonged.  Ross and the others counted on me.  They not only relied on me not to lose the game, but they relied on me to show up every Saturday night.

Soon, I felt I became a regular within the group; no longer an outsider who felt his absence barely noticed.  Saturdays couldn’t come fast enough.  I’d lie in my bed during the week and think of new strategies and ways to get ahead in the game.  I’d dream of Ross imprisoned by the rival team and how I’d come launching out of the darkness, liberating him to play another match.

A couple months passed.  October made for a chilly Saturday night as I sat in my front yard lacing up a new pair of all black tennis shoes.  I made sure to get as close to a matte finish on my sneakers as I could; another tip Ross had taught me.  Most shoes often reflected too much light, revealing your position.  Speeding towards the cul-de-sac I stopped, struck by something out of place.  The sounds of a distant drum pattern and low-fi bass replaced the audio of laughter and conversing.  No one stood illuminated under the amber glow.  Bewildered, I looked around and saw Ross emerge from his front door.  He ran out, clutching a guitar case, not noticing me standing outside the threshold of the amber glow.  Maybe it was my new shoes.

Ross darted towards one of the other kid’s house and opened the front door.  The blast of disoriented riffs and chords choked the night and left me depleted of breath.  Ross and the others had started a band.  They never mentioned anything about it to me.  I looked up to the second story window of the house Ross just entered; one room was highlighted with the same amber tone as that streetlight.  Within that window, behind the closed blinds, I turned again to my imagination to decipher what may have been going on.  But I knew it was no use.  I wasn’t invited.

Today, to prepare myself for my second year of teaching, I walk into a library full of thirty or so strangers.  We will be spending the next 3 weeks together.I approach the group and see before me several tables.  The tables are filled with groups of 2 or 3 teachers, but one table stands alone, parched of identity.  I see that streetlight glowing over that lone table and recall those somber, black tennis shoes.  They lacked a single scuff or abrasion, never experiencing the harsh routine of the Night Games.  I tossed the sneakers into the closet of my past and approached the next table.  There sat 2 women deep in conversation.  I swallowed, almost tasting that muggy August air, and interrupted.  “Mind if I sit here?”


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