Guillotine + Playgrounds
Sometimes, in the moments where I’m totally lacking inspiration I’ll search for a random word generator, get it to spit out five words, and mash them together until I feel that spark of inspiration. These are the two. Don’t worry about the content, there aren’t any underage beheadings.
There was a boy lying face down in the dirt. Immediately my heart leapt into my chest and my mind started racing through possibilities: that he’d fallen off the bars and broken his neck. No, his posture was not akimbo; he hadn’t fallen. The alternating scream of metal on metal from the children on the swings made me think he must have been running in-between swingers and gotten kicked. Children have been killed by concussive blows to the heart before. Something about the timing interrupting the ventricle rhythm, but that wasn’t for me to diagnose. I’m just here to watch over them, make sure they’re not bullying each other or doing anything unsafe. Then, as I carefully wove in between the see-saw and the sand box, I wondered the why the boy lying alone. Usually when someone gets hurt you see the telltale ring of kids standing around the scene, looking either scared, or ashamed, or concerned. Seventy percent of the time the first kid to talk did it. I hurried in closer and, to my great relief, saw puffs of dirt and the wood chips by his neck moving with his breath.
“Hey kid, you okay?” I had to resist the urge to lay a hand on his back, only the nurse is allowed to touch the children. The boy very subtly shook his head, working his face deeper into the dirt and woodchips.
“Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“No. I’m dead.”
I tried to feign despair but my personal relief got mixed in, “Oh, no. How did that happen?”
“Avada Kedavra. Go away or they won’t let me play anymore.” I didn’t understand the first thing he said, it sounded like he was speaking another language, but “Go away” was loud and clear... except that he said it as quietly as he could.
“It doesn’t look like anyone is playing with you now.”
“That’s because I’m dead. Do you play with dead people?”
“Well, how do we get you back alive?”
“You can’t, I’m dead forever. GO AWAY.”
Later, after the bell rang and the playground cleared. I related this story and found myself surrounded by a circle of laughing parents.
“I don’t see what’s so funny.”
One of the mothers who had strawberry blonde hair that didn’t match her dark eyebrows said, “I’m laughing because I did the same thing a few days ago. Only I tried to used logic to prove to him he wasn’t dead.”
“Oh, you're talking about Cain.”
One of the father’s said. I couldn’t remember his name, but thought of him only as Yoga Dad.
“Last spring his name was Thor. His real name is Armond, but he won’t answer to his real name. He’s more dedicated to
than the wizard game.”
“What’s—” I stopped myself from saying:
wrong with him?
“What's the wizard game?”
“It’s impressive how many of them play it,” said Eyebrows, “Basically all the 6th and 7th graders are playing it.”
Yoga Dad noticed that Eyebrows hadn’t actually answered, and before I had a chance to ask again said, “It’s based on these books about wizards, I’m surprised you haven’t heard about them, basically they all run around pointing sticks at each other and calling adults muggles.”
“My son’s in sixth grade, why didn’t he mention this to me?” I tried to sound curious, but it came out sounding hurt.
“Because—” Yoga Dad began slowly, as if carefully choosing his words.
I cut him off gasping, “Oh no, I’m a muggle!” The parents laughed again, but stopped when they realized I wasn’t being facetious. I turned to Eyebrows. “You said you tried to logic him out of being dead a few days ago?” She nodded. “So he’s been just lying on the ground during recess for days in a row? Why doesn’t someone save him?”
“That’s a better question for your son, as far as we know it isn't possible.”
That night, as I watched him pushing the kale around his plate searching for any dressing-bloated raisins he might have missed, I decided I couldn’t ask him directly. I wouldn’t be able to handle him pushing me away, even if was just with his eyes, and even if they were partially veiled behind the hairs the hung in his face. God, he needs a haircut. The silence, periodically shredded by the scratching of the fork across his plate, stretched on until I asked, “Hey buddy, how are you liking this new school?”
“You meeting some nice friends?”
“Yeah,” he said, unsure. I recognized it as the doubt that he could trust anyone to like him. “Mom?” He looked up at me with his big eyes and I knew what he was going to ask. “Why did we have to move?”
We’d had this conversation a hundred times, but sometimes it takes a hundred-and-one for something to sink in. I was about to tell him, but something came over me. I say ‘something’ like I didn’t know. I knew. I had been reading chapter summaries all afternoon, I’d made it through four of the seven books and had enough crazy ideas swimming through my head that I was probably going to have wizarding dreams tonight.
I sighed, “Hey buddy, we’ve been over this before haven’t we?” He nodded. “There’s a rumor that You-Know-Who is back, and mommy wants you to be safe.”
He looked confused for a moment, then his eyes grew wide. “It’s okay, I’ve been practicing.” He started to get up.
“Finish your dinner before you leave the table.” Without pause he finally stuffed the kale into his mouth, and quickly walked to his school backpack, hanging from a low coat hook on the kitchen island. He pulled out a stick, and brought it to me. It was a dried shaft about a foot long, with a strange bulb the size of a lollipop at the top of where the handle would be.
Laying it in my hands gingerly he said, “This is my goldenrod wand.”
I turned it over. I pretended to appreciate the weight of it. I gave it a few practice flicks. I sighted down the length of it, and stopped. “What’s the core made out of?”
His eyes dropped to the floor. He didn’t know, and knew it would be useless to lie to me.
“This wand didn’t choose you, did it?” Pushing the game so far felt a little dirty.
“How did you know?” he asked.
The letters C-Ʌ-I-N were scratched into the topside of the bulb. They barely looked like letters, more like runes. “A wizard knows these things,” I said.
...To be continued