The serious business of adult life is often learned through playtime. Children’s games, though seemingly innocent and fun, can have a darker side. Consider the origins of many familiar nursery rhymes. Many of the rules of behavior, including the establishment of a societal pecking order, can be passed down in games.
On the lighter side, we almost universally share fun memories of similar childhood games — chasing, hiding, seeking and tagging. Games can teach us the process of learning, and help us to remember through singing and playing.
This week, writers responded with different insights to the June 17, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a children’s game or rhyme.
A Game of Marco Polo by Ula Humienik
“Not fair. This pool is too small for a game of Marco Polo.”
“It is not. You’re just a sore loser.”
“Mom, Sandy’s not playing nice again.”
“That’s not true. Take it back.” Sandy reached for Teri’s wrist and grabbed really hard.
“You’re hurting me. Mom. Mom, Sandy’s hurting me.”
“Why isn’t mom answering?”
“I don’t know. She’s probably reading her lady magazines.”
“Mom. Mom. MOM!” Teri rushed out the pool and ran inside. Sandy followed her.
“Mom. Mom! Mom?”
“Quick. Call 911.”
Sight by Paula Moyer
For someone as nearsighted as Jean, swimming in a pool, without contacts or glasses, was a lot like “pin the tail on the donkey.” While her dad, the World War II pilot, had the eagle coveted acuity of 20/15, Jean’s chart said she could see “hand motion” at 20 feet.
Then the optometrist suggested prescription swim goggles. They were especially made for her strength, and they arrived a week after ordering.
She stepped into the pool and applied her goggles. It was like removing the blind. She could see things: The clock on the wall. Lane markers. Other swimmers.
A Real Keeper by Charli Barli Mills
Gus drew a circle in the dirt, then a starting line in the middle. The boys set down their clays. The new girl, Dina, added two green porcelains. Gus drew a deep breath. A girl with marbles? He wiped his palms and knelt with his blue slag shooter. Before the teacher pulled the bell rope, Dina added the boys’ marbles to her bag.
Gus walked beside her. “Can I see your shooter?”
Swirls of amber, a real keeper. So he’d think years later as they exchanged vows, and he smiled into her eyes as pretty as her taw.
School Policy by Pete Fanning
Taj sat perched at the edge of his seat.
“Taj, pushing and shoving violate our anti-bullying policy. And running—”
The door cracked open. Taj’s eyes dropped to his feet as his mother entered. A slight tuna smell clung to her uniform.
“Sorry,” she panted, her accent heavy with her breaths. “I ran right over. Had to push my way through a mob on Seventh.”
The principal grimaced. “I see…uh..”
“What did you do?” she snapped at her son.
“Well, Taj organized a game of musical chairs at lunch.”
Mrs. Sallio’s scowl turned upwards. “Did you win?”
Easter Surprise by Susan Budig
Sonja sneaked downstairs, hoping to be the first one to her Easter basket. She spied her cousin Tor popping jelly beans into his mouth.
“Are you eating my candy?”
“Heck no, the Easter bunny only left you little brown souvenirs ,” he teased.
“You mean bunny poop? He did not!”
“Uh-huh, sure did, look!”
Sonja stared at the small brown pellets.
Suddenly, Tor popped one in his mouth. “They taste good, though, try one!”
“Torsten Martin Gustavsson! Spit that out!”
Instead, he scooped them all up. “Funny how they taste like raisins,” he said, laughing with his mouth full.
Red Rover by Mercy.James.
She remembered endless school lunch hours – sandwiches and fruit washed quickly down with milk, the need to break free of the hall doors – hitting fresh school yard air.
Sides chosen – lines formed – “Red Rover” chained arms linked in clasping solidarity as the call for someone to come over – charging into battle – trying to break the lines – win some, lose some – knowing the weakest runners/pushers and the strongest links; strategies played over in small conflicts, ending with arms and legs twisting – wonder no one wrenched shoulders out of sockets.
Remembering – was I really that strong – or just a fearsome bully?
Red Rover – and Out by Jules Paige
Pretty much always being the new kid on the block I was more than
less, always picked last. Picked on, picked over. Left to watch when
the teams were even and I wasn’t chosen. Frozen to move, be hurt,
be blamed. As the others untamed in their innocence, taught by their
parents prejudice, snickered and laughed.
If chosen at all I was always the first one rammed. Be them damned,
those little mongrels for not learning how to accept differences.
Once a tool, labeled fool – I do believe I’m better. Some memories, rot.
Freeze Tag by Roger Shipp
“You ever noticed that even on the hottest of days, Evan never sweats?”
“His mother says that he takes after his father.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. Ms. Felcher gets a faraway look in her eye. I just don’t go there.”
“Evan never talks about his dad. What happened?”
“Heard he just went away. Never proved it, but they say he killed a man.”
“Must be true. Why else would he have left ‘em?”
“Evan is weird. He’s never played Freeze Tag with us.”
“His mother won’t let him. Says it would be the death of us.”
Spaghetti Toast by Pat Cummings
The once-full platter of spaghetti, glistening strands coated and over-topped with Dad’s wonderful sauce, lay abandoned in the middle of the table as we said grace.
The bottle of juice passed, and each of us had a full plate and glass in front of us. The Parmesan cheese shaker went around the table, and we sprinkled our spaghetti with that pungent dust.
Mom and Dad began eating, but we youngsters waited to begin. First, we must toast. We raised our baby-wine together three times.
To the King!
To the Queen!
To the stinky-feet Cheese!
Only then would we eat.
Who’s Got the Button by Ann Edall-Robson
“Button, button, who’s got the button?”
He laughed as he tweaked her nose and showed his thumb peeking out between his two fingers.
Reaching for his hand, the little girl giggled.
“Daddy! Give it back!”
It was a their game. Filled with laughter, teasing and eventually the return of the imaginary nose.
“She’s as cute as you, Button.”
His voice ragged with gruff emotion when he said the pet name for his grown daughter holding her newborn.
Leaning over he gently tweaked the tiny nose.
“Dad! Give it back!”
Laughter erupted from them. Carefree memories trickled down their cheeks.
Ed Says by Larry LaForge
Ellen shakes her head. “Grandpa, that’s not the real name of the game. It’s Simon Says.”
“Not this version,” Ed replies to his granddaughter.
“Alright. OK. Let’s just do it,” the youngster reluctantly responds.
Ed smiles and begins. “Ed says scratch your head.” Ellen and Edna immediately scratch their head.
“Ed says blink twice.” Ellen and Edna do it.
“Ed says smile.” Ellen and Edna grin from ear to ear.
“Hug your grandmother.” Ellen gives Edna a big hug.
“I didn’t say Ed says. You lose, young lady.”
Ellen laughs. “No, Grandpa. I won. I got to hug Grandma.”
Role Play by Ruth Irwin
“Nan, you be the Darling and I be the Mum. Okay?”
“Darling, I have to go to work and you have to go to kindy.”
“But I don’t want to go to kindy Mummy. Wah.”
“Stop crying Darling. You have to go to kindy. You can play with your friends and I’ll come back and get you later.”
“Wah, wah. I don’t want to go to kindy. I want to stay home and make cookies with you.”
“Nan!! You’re not allowed to say that! You have to say…”
Remember Nan, you’re the Darling; do as you’re told!
Playing Safe by Irene Waters
“Mummy. Can I play billycarts at John’s?”
“No Joanie, it’s too dangerous.”
“How about bike riding at Heather’s?”
“No too dangerous.”
“Swimming at Robbo’s?”
“No. His parents are away. Can’t you think of something to play here?”
“How about Hula hoops? “
“Hula hoops are fine.”
Standing at the kitchen window, her arms covered in suds, she watched with joy the two little girls gyrating their hips and arms as the hula hoop spun round. As a red film made the window opaque she lost sight of the girls. She screamed. She hadn’t thought of the staple that could sever a carotid.
A Book of Memories by Geoff Le Pard
‘Seen this?’ Mary held up a battered book.
Paul took it, reading the title. ‘Nursery rhymes and children’s games. This yours?’
‘I remember dad reading from it, even after I was too old. He just loved making silly voices.’
‘You’ll be able to do the same for our baby.’
‘I wonder what he was thinking, when he read to me? About my twin?’
Paul opened the front cover, squinting at the faded writing. ‘To Mary and Sharon. Much love Gloria.’
Mary grabbed it from him. ‘I don’t remember this.’ She met Paul’s gaze.
‘Your imaginary friend?’
‘Or my twin?’
You Are It by A. R. Amore
Sitting on the porch I can hear them, out there, silently creeping. I squint trying to catch a glimpse of their forms, but it’s impossible. Hushed whispers, a rustling by the stand of pines and then nothing.
I try to assess. Five, maybe six of them but I cannot be sure. There must be others; they move in larger groups this time of year. Our dog stiffens up and growls through the screen door.
“What’s out there,” my wife asks. They are close. Suddenly, a flurry of flashlights burst following a chorus of, “You’re it! You’re it! You’re it!”
Mary by Sarah Brentyn
She crouched, hands over her ears, playground voices taunting.
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary! How does your garden grow!”
The group of giggling girls skipped away.
Mary stayed near the brick wall, shaking, imagining the torture of silver bells, the beheadings, the garden of gravestones her grandfather told her about one night when she had asked for a bedtime story.
She thought back to Kindergarten, when the teasing made her cry just because the singing of her name had sounded unkind. Now, only one year later, she cried because the images of death played in her mind like a slideshow.
Plum Pudding by Norah Colvin
We sat in the circle chanting,
“I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it.”
“It” skipped around the outside, waving a handkerchief.
“One of you has picked it up and put it in your pocket.
Not you. Not you. Not y-o-u!”
Suddenly “It” was running and children were scrabbling behind them.
“Run,” they called.
Then “It” was beside me.
“Plum pudding!” they all screamed hysterically.
The adult pointed to the centre of the circle. “We’ll have you for dessert,” he grinned.
I cried, wondering what it would be like to be eaten alive!
Mairzy Doats by Jeanne Lombardo
The box was just long and wide enough for Maddy to crawl in.
“Stand up,” the children yelled.
Maddy felt herself righted. Her bare feet stumbled. The voices
sang as from afar.
“Over here Maddy!” called one.
“Over here!” called another.
She spiraled, tripped, thudded on the ground.
Panic set her breathing again, but the voices had taken flight. Her pleas shrill sirens in the empty yard.
At last, a yank, a release into light and air and the sing-song of her mother’s voice.
“Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, Wooden shoe!”
Cowboys and Indians by Christina Rose
I sat crouched in the grass, honey stalks swaying around me as grasshoppers bounced across my shimmering skin. Pioneer outfit clung to clammy skin, sticky in the late July sun. She was out there, waiting for me to stand, to shoot with her faux bow and arrow.
In her black wig and leather dress, she was the Indian and I, the cowboy. We would call a truce soon, join forces for our mid-day picnic. Then, resume the game of cat and mouse.
The field near our house, days of warm summer games, memories of laughter-filled childhood summers past.