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The International Writers Magazine
Short story about temptations in the playground

Hall of Mirrors
David C. Card

Bobby Smiles came to their half of year eight from Oldbeck elementary school in February. One morning, during break time, Hailey Myers and the gang interrupted Bobby’s stone throwing against the hop-scotch wall. “Could your mother not afford full length pants, huh?” she said.
“She could,” Bobby replied, “It’s just I like to show off my calves.”

The gang sniggered. Hailey didn’t. She bent her left knee, keeping the right straight, and placed her hands on her hips. Her shimmering rusty-blonde hair waved in the winter wind and fell at her chest in curls and tufts.“You talk pretty snappy for a shy boy,” Hailey said. “Anyway, what’s that you’re doing?
”“Who ever said I was a shy boy?”
“You’ve never spoke a word to nobody since you got here.”
“You’ve never spoke a word to me neither.”
“Well then,” she said, crossing her arms, “maybe we won’t bother next time.” She turned and walked back to the yard, the flock fluttered behind her. “He’s kinda funny,” a voice came. “Yeah,” an enthusiastic cheer came from the others.

It was the first time Bobby had spoken to a girl his own age, with his previous school being all boys and all, and it wasn’t just any girl, either. If Hailey Myers wore her shirt with the tails out, her tie fat at the knot—as she often did—that’s the way you wore your uniform. Sometimes he’d throw his stones a little extra hard against the hop-scotch wall so that they’d ricochet and land in the rockery behind him, and through the bushes he’d watch everyone crowd around her, and laugh at her jokes, and tell her how fit she was, and ask her how much her new posh purse and jacket cost. He never understood it.

After dinner that evening, Bobby mentioned this to mother. “The world’s a hall of mirrors, Bobby,” she replied, then smiled and kissed him on the cheekbone. He didn’t exactly understand what she meant by this, she always talked in riddles, but for some reason this seemed to encapsulate the experience perfectly.
Bobby woke early Saturday morning, as he usually did, bright and perky knocking at his parents’ bedroom door in his Wellington boots. His father often joked that Bobby slept with his fishing gear on; he wouldn’t be surprised if he did.“Hurry, dad. The weather said rains due by lunch.”
By now, both parents were wide awake, and propped up against the head boards. Mother said, “You two be careful down there. You know how excited he gets.”

Bobby and his dad took their usual place at the foot of the stream, where the bank rode nearest to the water. Undulate hills swept the horizon; the waters were calm, the sky paper white. Birds sang the most marvellous songs. Bobby felt pure here.“So what do you think mam meant when she said ‘the world’s a hall of mirrors?’”
“Well, what do you think she meant, son?” his father replied, each word carried by thick white clouds of breath. A beard of stubble, lathered with much too sweet smelling cologne enveloped his chiselled jaws. A red and navy tartan hat covered his head and ears; brown eyes shone underneath.
“I don’t know dad … that maybe people these days act like something they’re not. Is that what mother meant?”
Setting his fishing rod aside Bobby’s father hesitated answering, genuinely pondering. “Maybe,” he said finally.“Is it bad to be like that?” Bobby asked.
“It can be … Listen, don’t let nobody change who you are, you hear me?”
“They won’t dad.”
“That’s my boy.”

That night Bobby had the dream. He dreamt he was flying, swimming through the air. Trees passed him, and bus stops, and post boxes. He was searching for something. He stopped when he reached the school gates, tried to open them, but couldn’t. Inside stood Hailey Myers and her friends, with her back to Bobby. Bobby yelled out, “let me in, let me in!” but it was no use. He shook the gates and rattled the chains, he kicked the bolts and screamed and screamed and screamed, but it was no use. He glanced at his palms and blood covered them. He raised his head and Hailey had disappeared, but he could hear her still. She was giggling, and clapping her hands, and she was calling for Bobby. He was sure of it. He shook the gates. To his surprise, they opened. He walked into the empty grey schoolyard where His Hailey once stood. She called again, “Bobby, Bobby!” He started toward the football posts. He was running, he was crying, he looked at his blood soaked palms and they were dripping, and then a buzzing sound broke through the air like a fog horn, louder and louder and louder. Birds sang and the dream world gave way to the reality of the familiar red and blue trim wallpaper and bed sheets. It was only when a string of morning sun beamed through a crack in the curtains, stinging his eyes that Bobby fully awoke. He checked his palms, he had to be sure: no cuts, no blood.
“You going to take advantage of the sunshine?” mother asked at the breakfast table.
“I don’t really feel like it,” Bobby replied, tearing off the crusts of his toast with his fingers. He didn’t really feel like doing anything at all that day.

Come next morning it was empty in the back streets of the chapel square. Winter rain tore through heavy clouds of fog, swamping cracks in the pavement: tiny pools, rivers, all of which in time would share the rippled reflection of Bobby’s black shoe soles as he skipped and leapt over them, careful not soak his socks. Bobby hadn’t seen a day so foggy before. It reminded him of the old silver romance movies his mother would often watch Sunday afternoons; the ones where the star always gets the girl in the end. He liked that idea. He stopped when he reached the sign post and turned left down Ashburn Grove. He arrived early for school that morning, a good thirty minutes before bell sounded. Ricky Gibson and Mickey Yard were throwing stones against the hop-scotch wall. They never usually did. The fog had vanished as if blown clear by the blistering winds; Bobby had to fight to stay on his feet. He fastened his jacket’s fur collar right up to his eyebrows and tucked his hands inside. Every now and then, he would glance over at Ricky and Mickey and run his fingers over the velvet face of the lucky stone he’d picked up one weekend while fishing with dad. Ricky and Mickey were Hailey Myers’ number one fans, and both huge stars of the weekend football matches. Ricky was Devonshire Secondary’s top scorer, and Mickey hadn’t let in a dozen goals all season.
“Look, there he is,” Ricky shouted, waving Bobby toward him.
“It’s alright,” Bobby yelled, “you guys can play, it’s alright.”
“No, Bobby, Bobby. I wanna ask you somethun.” Bobby drifted over.
“You wanna play with us?” Mickey asked.
“My game’s kind of only a one player game,” Bobby replied.
“But we’ve made it a group game,” Ricky said. He had a scrawny, arched posture, like that of an aged man, his head a sphere of orange: ginger hair, ginger freckles. He was the only kid in school to have his ears pierced. Hailey dared him to do it. Mickey was a husk of a child, with dark hair and dark skin. He had a big brown birthmark that clung to his cheekbone and stared you right in the face. Bobby thought it almost greeted you before he did.“Sorry,” Bobby said, “I think I’ll pass. I like my game better.”
“What you guys doing talking to bare-legs?” Hailey’s voice tore behind them.
“We were just playing stones, and asked if he wanted to,” Mickey said.
“We don’t play stones,” Hailey replied. “Why don’t you come play with us, Bobby?”
“I’m alright where I am,” Bobby said just as the bell tolled for registration and the stampede began.“I’ll see you in class, Bob,” Ricky said. “Yeah, see ya,” Mickey said skipping off. Hailey hadn’t stopped looking at Bobby, her bent left knee bobbing up and down.“I thought you didn’t talk to us?” she said.
“I didn’t say that.” Bobby turned and started for the steps by the rockery, but was yanked back by Hailey’s grasp.“Don’t walk away from me,” she said.
“Get your hands off me,” he said. Hailey’s face swelled red as she released her grip, her eyes wondering aimlessly around the yard. Bobby felt bad, he didn’t exactly know why. He wanted to say something, but in the end, he turned and headed for the stairs.

Bobby wondered if that was the first time Hailey had been refused before, and he couldn’t stop seeing her flushed, defeated face in his head. By lunch, the hop-scotch wall was free and, although stones were being thrown and points were being accumulated, it was merely idle activity for a restless mind. What if Hailey was to be refused in front of the whole class, the whole school, Bobby wondered, would I refuse her then? Bobby wondered whether he could live himself if he did. But if I didn’t refuse her, there is no going back! Bobby didn’t want to be misunderstood. He gathered his lucky stones and pocketed them. He sat down on the cold concrete, his back resting against the hop-scotch wall, his hands in his pockets, his knees apart, his heels tucked into his groin.

Hailey and the gang were over by the football posts, as usual. Hailey was dancing, her skirt flaring high above her knees as she spun. The others were laughing, and clapping along. Ricky and Mickey and the other boys stopped their game of football and crowded around her. If only for a moment, Bobby wished he were with them, being there with Hailey in the flesh, smelling the sweet womanly scent of her mother’s perfume, and maybe catching a glimpse of her underwear when no one was looking. For Hailey, Bobby didn’t mind being one of them, but the appalled look on his mother’s face when she said those poetic, riddled words echoed deep inside him; it was as if they were the only two people on earth .It reminded him of the time Reverent Hope mentioned Satan in church and mother wrapped her palms over Bobby’s ears exclaiming that never should she have her son’s conscience scorched with such words. Bobby and his mother never returned to church after that Sunday, but to Bobby, on that day he learned everything he needed to learn about church, and god and religion. To Bobby, it was mother who was his god, his guardian of evil. He learned that to mother her family was her religion and Bobby’s and fathers, the house they live in their church. That it was them against the world, a world of Judases and tempters that have “lost their way,” as mother once put it. Bobby knew that mother could have used much less poetic, riddled words to describe her opinion of today’s generation, but knew that for Mary Elizabeth Smiles, to swear in front of her only child would scorch him no less than to hear the word Satan spoken in church.

After last class, Hailey stopped Bobby in the hallway.
“I seen you staring at me, lunch time,” she said smugly.
“I was watching the boys play football,” Bobby replied quickly, his gaze on everything else but Hailey. She grinned and stood silently, letting the crowd pass her. Bobby stood nearest the window looking out onto the football field, Hailey with her back to the hallway and the marching parade of children. Bobby headed for the stairs but Hailey’s outstretched arm struck his chest as she planted her palm by the window-sill, pinning Bobby in. “Wait until everyone’s gone,” she whispered in a promising voice. For the first time Bobby’s eyes met Hailey’s and stuck there like flies in a web. Her black pupils stared from out the cave of her eye sockets with hypnotic fixation. Although he wanted to, Bobby couldn’t move now if he tried.“What you waiting for?” Bobby asked, noticing the silence of the empty hallway, only the sound of his knees tapping against the radiator in nervous convulsions could be heard.“I’ll bet you wanna kiss me right now, don’t you?” she said. Bobby could feel her thigh brush against his groin as she leant closer, cheek to cheek. “I’ll bet you liked seeing me dance,” Hailey whispered.
“Yes,” he said. The warmth of her breath against his neck sent a wave of awkward desire through his chest, splashing back when it reached his toes. His body was numb; he had to look to see Hailey’s fingers caress his stomach. The cold, moist pressure of lips on neck sealed the fact that he was no longer in control of himself. He closed his eyes, willing the growing sensation in his groin to subside. But the more he willed, the more intense it became, and he felt himself stiffen against Hailey’s stocking’d thigh. Hailey pulled away, laughing. She turned, still laughing, and skipped and danced down the hallway.In his minds eye he could see himself standing there, by the window, over looking the lush green grass of the football field and pastel whites of the goal posts like watercolour paintings. He could see Hailey, and Ricky, and Mickey and the gang pointing, and laughing, and mocking, and teasing. It was like looking into a mirror.

© David C. Card March 2005

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