“Friendly Fire,” Sean Pravica

by MP

     The guests spun dizzily in circles, and then tried to drop clothespins into a jar at their feet. Mr. and Mrs. Walters mandated that they hold the clothespin’s tip no lower than their chin. The guests, of which there were roughly ten, looked at each other strangely. They were all eight or nine, but none were too young to hold the notion that as far as birthday parties go, they had been gipped.
     The cake was not very good, or so it looked by the largely half eaten pieces lying around the table. Everyone deserted the dessert to play hide and go seek, passing on Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Some of the children had heard of this game, on old cartoon shows they watched on sick days from school, but to actually come across the game was confusing. It was a relic in blind motion, captured and unearthed from this same backyard fifty years ago. It was an old house. Quaint, paint chipped in many places. The birthday boy did not have many toys. Thank God for birthdays, and that he was fairly sociable.
     The birthday boy had an older brother who was fairly sociable himself, and even made an appearance with a couple of his friends. They all looked very tired, their eyes were red and their spirits drowsy. The birthday boy knew the feeling, though in mornings, not afternoons.
     His brother and his friends laughed a lot, at seemingly little, such as the abandoned Pin the Tail on the Donkey, its key extremity dangling from the its forehead, and ate all of the remaining cake. The birthday boy did not mind them, was used to them, even though they had an apparently stressful effect on Mr. and Mrs. Walters, and scared the guests. Still, the older brother did not come empty handed. His gift to the birthday boy was a set of poker chips and cards, which, after it was opened, he asked to borrow. The birthday boy obliged, and his brother and his friends disappeared into the garage for the rest of the afternoon.
     Half the guests left earlier than they were going to, a line of little boys on cell phones asking to be picked up already. A few stuck around and joined the birthday boy in playing with the glut of GI Joe figures and vehicles he received. Though he was grateful for them, his heart was half in the play. There was enough for everyone to join. The party went until four. And so, just like they picked over birthday cake, young men in colorful tee shirts left grizzled plastic soldiers standing unaccounted for in the trenches.
     A terrible shame, letting a warrior march into the black face of a grueling day without proper backup.