Jay and Betsy race down the grassy hill to the August streambed, good for cooling bare feet. It’s beyond the view of their parents drinking beer. When they reach the thick hedges, Jay eyes a potato bug and picks it up. As it crawls on his chubby finger, he shoves his hand toward his sister’s face, “I hate bugs,” Betsy steps back; “I like butterflies. There was a big yellow one on the car window when we went to church this morning. We go to church so we don’t go to hell.”
“We go to church to worship God. You don’t know that?” Jay throws the bug down when it poops green stuff on his hand.
“I know there’s no hell in church. And …” Betsy raises her voice, “If you go to church you’ll never go to hell.”
“You do something bad, you will.”
“You can’t go to hell if you’re praying.”
“Say a bad prayer, you will.”
“You made that up. And Mama says I’m a good girl and I’m going to heaven.”
“Daddy says sometimes Mama’s wrong.”
“Mama’s never wrong and I’m going to heaven with Mama.” Betsy sticks her chin out at him, and then runs past the birch tree and down to the streambed. With the weeping willows and the tall bamboo, it feels like a hidden world.
Just as Jay shows up, Tommy, Eileen, and Joey, from the house next door, walk over, “You wanna play?” Eileen asks.
“I’m good at Simon Says,” Joey steps forward.
“Are not,” Eileen rolls her eyes at her younger brother.
“I’ll be Simon,” Jay stands tall on his toes. He wears brand new yellow and green sneakers.
“I’m Simon,” Betsy slams her hands on her little hips.
“Girls can’t be Simon. Dad says girls got to follow orders. And I’m the oldest, so I’m Simon.” Tommy puffs himself up, “Simon says look like you’re a turtle stuck on its back.”
In a second, the others lie on their backs, with legs and arms up in the air. Eileen’s polka dot skirt falls to the ground. Tommy says, “I see Eileen’s panties.” She covers herself; her face reddens. When she gets up, Joey tries to pull up her skirt. She spins around, grabs her skirt out of his hand, and glares as hard as her brown eyes can, “I’ll tell Mommy.” The boys laugh.
“Simon says look like your nose is dripping snot,” Tommy says. They all wipe their noses on their hands.
“Simon says look like you’re eating dog poop;” Tommy has a crazy grin. Joey and Jay act like they’re eating something tasty. Eileen acts like she’s eating poison. Betsy is disgusted and refuses.
“You’re out, Betsy,” Tommy says.
“You’re nutso,” Betsy turns up her lip, and narrows her eyes.
“Simon says look like you hate chocolate.”
“I can’t do that. I don’t like this game;” Eileen makes a sour face.
“Dad says there’s a lot of things you gotta do you don’t like;” Tommy does his serious look.
“I don’t like going to church,” Joey says.
“I like singing in church;” Betsy wobbles her head like it’s full of music.
“Simon says sing;” Betsy sings.
“You can’t sing cause you’re out.”
“I can if I want.”
“You gotta follow rules or we’ll make you sit in the corner;” Tommy’s eyes look hard as nails.
“That’s stupid. There’s no corner down here; “Betsy shrugs one shoulder because that’s all he deserves.
“We’ll make you climb a tree,” Tommy says.
“So!” Betsy shrugs, “I’m good at climbing trees.”
“I want to play Spotto. First one to see a red car can smack anyone they want;” Eileen pretends she’s smacking Tommy.
“Never any red cars around here;” Tommy turns away from Eileen.
“Then first one to see a red bird. I like red. Mommy said I can have a red dress when I’m sixteen.”
“Bad girls wear red,” Tommy grins. Betsy throws a pebble across the creek, “Bad girls let boys do things to them;” Tommy snickers.
“Like what?” Betsy asks.
“She don’t know nothing.”
“I know red birds are cardinals,” Betsy throws a bigger pebble high and hard. It goes farther.
“Not many around here,” Jay says.
“I saw three yesterday. I threw a rock at them and almost got one;” Tommy picks up a rock the size of his palm and throws it across the creek.
“Tommy said he’s gonna be a hunter when he grows up;” Joey picks up a bigger rock and throws it, but it lands in the creek, and he gets splattered with water.
Tommy laughs, “Nope. I’m gonna be a soldier. Dad was in the Marines. He said I can be a Marine when I’m eighteen, and I’ll get promoted to sergeant and can tell people what to do, Let’s play war. Betsy and Eileen have to send us off to war and cry.”
“Yeah, girls have to cry. They have to wave goodbye. Wave their hankies;” Joey waves and makes a prissy face, as best he can.
“Mom said I have to babysit Betsy. She has to come,” Jay says.
“No she can’t. Girls can’t go to war. They have to cry;” Tommy pretends he’s crying.
“I’m coming;” Eileen takes a stance right in front of Tommy.
“Nope. You have to cry.”
“Make me;” Eileen stares into Tommy’s eyeballs. He steps real close to her but she doesn’t move an inch. He pushes her.
“Push him back,” Betsy yells.
“Girls can’t fight,” Jay steps away.
“Daddy’s going to punish her,” Joey takes cover by Jay.
“He won’t know unless you snitch,” Jay says.
“I don’t snitch.”
“You always do.”
Joey hits Jay. Jay takes a swing at him but Joey ducks. Jay’s fist lands on Eileen who is backing off from the fight. She falls into the creek and her clothes get soaked. When she gets up, she rubs her hand across her lip, and sees blood on her fingers. She screams loud as ever and won’t stop as she runs up the hill. Not a sound is uttered except for some crows screeching overhead. Jay takes off down the creek, getting his new sneakers all wet. The other three look at him running away; then they bolt, except for Betsy. She climbs a weeping willow tree. When she gets half way to the top, she sees Eileen’s mother stomping down the hill.