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…and in this picture…

February 29, 2008

I’m not in this snapshot. My brother stands barefoot on short mown grass, a lawn-dart target ringing his feet like a tiny hula-hoop. His shoulders are raised in a tense shrug; right hand palm-up, face startled like he’s dropped a glass and can’t believe his grip let him down. He wears green shorts and a late summer tan, and his five-year-old belly paunches like a man’s. Two red steel darts lie at his toes, weighty projectiles as long as his boyish arms. He appears paralyzed, caught shoeless and sticky-faced, getting target practice with other unsupervised urchins.

If you could follow Sean’s eyes out of the photograph, you’d see me, the source of his flinching body and the danger littered at his feet. I am his opponent, positioned in an identical target across the yard. We’d been warned against this game, and now played it only when the summer babysitter was on watch. A lax guardian, she passed her afternoons smoking in the garage, crank-calling local shops, and practicing new styles she learned at hairdressing school each week. In fact, Stacey probably snapped this photo, leaving evidence both of our bad behaviour and her own ineptitude when my mother developed the film.

Neither my brother nor I was a stupid child; yet, we roped together wagons, trikes and Big Wheels with skipping ropes and swing-set chains, and rode these trains downhill at top speed. We chucked croquet balls into the air then froze, waiting for the polished wooden bombs to pass inches from our skulls. Lawn-darts were versatile playthings, perfect for lobbing, chucking, dodging and running while carrying. Like the cigarettes Stacey dragged on and the aerosol spray she applied to her nest of frosted hair, our games flaunted our ignorance of mortality. We could imagine we were anything, except injured, sick or old.

One afternoon, Stacey read my horoscope from her magazine, informing me that I would marry a blond man, and then let me hold her cigarette while she calculated that in the year 2000, she would be thirty-six and I’d be twenty-seven. That age was so far off that to pair an image with the number, I had to hitch myself to my mother’s life: walking the dog, putting my pantyhose on last, and ticking off rules on my fingers as I plucked my car keys from the peg and left my sun-toasted kids in the care of a girl from down the block.

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