“I declare a war upon the country of…”
It is dusk, just after supper, the grown-ups are sipping lemonade or coffee on front porches, their voices barely audible under the cacophony of children playing in the street. Tonight they’re playing War, one of my favorites. I’m a fast runner, so even though I have small feet, I can almost always stay in the game until the last round. But tonight I’m not playing. Tonight I’m on Mrs. Bruscheski’s porch with her grandson, James, watching the action. How I long to break free of my porch prison, but I can’t. Ma says to be nice; Ma says to be a good neighbor; Ma says, “Offer it up to God.
It came out of the blue. One minute Marie and I are laughing at Tony Roman’s imitation of James: “Look at me!” He holds up his hands and dangles them in front of him while he minces around the maple tree in our front yard. “Ooh, is that a yucky bug on my shoe? Help! Help!” The next minute I’m standing in front of my mother who is “very disappointed” in me. And can’t believe her daughter would act so mean. And did I stop to think about how James’s grandmother, Mrs. Bruscheski, would feel if she saw our little charade? Mrs. B. who always buys chances on the “Handmade Quilts” we sell for the Altar and Rosary Society; candy at Christmas for the Junior Catholic Daughters, and huckleberries we kids peddle by the quart in the summertime? Ma thinks that I should spend some time with James. She sends Marie and Tony home and marches me across the street with my new Chinese Checkers game.
That was hours ago. After supper, I’m sent back again. Never mind that I’ve already played about two hundred games and now I hate Chinese Checkers. James can keep the stupid game for all I care. It’s not fair. I don’t even talk to him. We watch the other kids playing, laughing, arguing. We watch the other kids having fun.
Out of the blue, Dotty gets tired of playing and decides to go home, leaving her country unattended. This is too good to be true.
“Come on, James,” I wheedle. Let’s go down there and take Dotty’s place. I know you’re not allowed to run, but Dotty is America, and nobody ever declares war on America and even if they do, they always purposely miss the target.”
“I don’t want to,” James whispers. “Bubba will be very mad if she finds me down there.”
“Oh, come on. Why would she be mad? Your Grandma is the nicest lady on the block. Anyway, you can just blame me. Tell her I made you do it.”
“Hey,” I yell to the kids. “Me and James will take Dotty’s spot.”
That is how we happen to be on the street, poised to run, when Mrs. Bruscheski comes out on the porch. Her face crumbles in fear. “James, stop!” she yells. Her hand to her throat, she stumbles down the concrete steps to the street. She grabs my arm, hard. Her voice trembles but her eyes flash in a face contorted into an expression I have never seen there before.
“You are a very bad girl. I never thought you’d be so … Don’t you ever come over to my house again. You are a very bad girl!” She raises her hand as if to slap my face, but she stops. “Never come to my door again.” She almost whispers it, but there’s no mistaking the steel in her voice.
The game stops. The talking on the porches stops. Even the crickets are silent. Someone, my sister Mary I think, takes me by the hand and pulls me firmly toward our house. Mrs. Bruscheski isn’t done with me though. From the railing of her porch, she dumps out the marbles from the Chinese checkers set and tosses the board into the street into the path of a coming automobile. I hear the thump of the wheels as they crush the board.