This is Day 6 of Ann Dee Ellis’s 8-Minute Memoir. Here’s today’s prompt: Day 6: Games. Board games. Card games. Basketball games. Dating games. Night games. Mind games. Pick a game and write about it for 8 minutes. No editing. No second guessing. Just writing. Everyone is invited. Start on Day 1 or start on Day 6.
Day 6: Night Swimming
Night fell hard when I was a kid, in the summer days lasted well until the first primetime TV show had ended. The sun was down, but the temps were still high, and the humidity made running like night swimming in the air. After dinner, all the kids big and small on Fine Street would gather at our our steep-graded yard, and we will play Kick the Can. Everybody seemed to play the game differently, but we played it like this: One of us would grab an empty can of green beans or pork-n-beans beans from the garbage– maybe rinse it out, maybe not–and bring it outside to the front yard. There was a clear a space of red Georgia clay in the front yard, a monkey butt bald spot in the midst of ankle high, dark green grass that grew wildfire in the hot wet summers. We would set the can in the bald spot, and then someone would kick the can, and we would all run hide.
The goal of kicking the can was not just to kick it far, but to kick so that the kid who was “It” had to chase the can down. Sometimes, It would try to get a jump on the kicker, fading down the sloped hill, trying to guess which way we would kick it, like a soccer goalie. My can goal was always the same: to kick the can over the neighbor’s fence, so that Its had to jump the fence to retrieve it, or if they weren’t tall enough, run around to the gate to let themselves in. The neighbors were old and crotchety, owners of a manicured lawn, a pristine fence, and their very own streetlight, which exposed the street in a cesspool of blue and white, cricketing light.
After in the kick, we would hide, sprinting for the corner of the house, trying to get out of sight before It could retrieve the beany metal, return it to the bald spot, and call out our names, touching the can at the same time. The slowest among us, or the ones who we’re not interested in sweating at the moment, never made it to the corner. They dutifully took their places on the back bumper of my dad’s late ‘50s Buick, just out of the reach of the streetlight. Some of them would smoke hidden cigarettes, the guilty orange lights burning the twilight. Some of them would kiss, making their own hidden embers.
Those of us who took the game seriously, especially my brother, me, and our friends the Hancocks from next-door, always made the corner easily and ran into the night. Kick the Can was as much a game of natural selection: the goal was not to hide well, but to hide better than the kid you were out running. My brother liked to take to the trees, a row of peach trees that separated the other neighbor from us. The low, flexible limbs allowed him to shinny up a branch ladder into dense foliage, hiding in the double darkness from everyone except the owls that inhabited the forest behind our scar of suburbia.
The Hancock boys like to hide in plain sight. They took the corners of the house, the trunks the trees, the shadows of a dying porch light, waiting until It passed them by. Then silent as shades, they would begin sprinting, pumping their knocked-kneed legs so high, so near their chins that I swore they would knock themselves out one day. If you were fast enough, quick enough, you could outrun the Hancocks and slide into the clay, touching the can just before the brothers, careful that they did not take you out. The Hancocks played for keeps.
One time, It was a kid a mean kid with the green teeth from the cul-de-sac. He knew where my brother would hide in the peach trees, and he calmly walked past the smokers, the kissers, and both the sprinting Hancocks, past all the corners, and the shadows. I see you, he said and called out my brother’s name then waited at the bottom of the trees for my brother to climb down. My brother dropped a couple of branches, then swung for the ground, but he calculated the distance wrong. He had hoped to land on his feet, and then run past the boy with green teeth. Instead, he landed on his back, with a woof of escaping air, he lay there groaning. The green boy laughed and touched my brother’s belly, You’re it.
That’s how I remember it anyway. As I watched from the roof, my favorite hiding space. On the kick, you see, I would run around the house, making sure It followed behind us. But I would keep running until I circled the house, then I would step onto the back of my father’s pick up truck, which was always parked in the carport, and climb to the low sloped roof however three-bedroom ranch, and scuttle across the still hot asphalt shingles, ducking out of sight, sitting just on the other side of the peak, watching the game as it unfolded, smiling at Its as they ran ragged through the yard, trying to touch, then out run the players. After awhile when either someone had been captured or the It had ventured far into the darkness of the forest behind the yard, I would creep silently to the other side of the roof, hop down to the truck and the ground, and walk across the yard, the grass long and wet with the evening dew. I would touch the can, victorious, and wait for the game to end.