The following is from one of my many longer stories that never seemed to gain any legs. I always sort of liked this section, so, here it is …
Kids on hot asphalt, in the desert noon:
Running back and forth, girls and boys, under a sun that lingers, unforgiving. Heat rises from the ground in waves. Objects undulate in the distance, losing their solid form, appearing like vapor. Who can stand to be out here on the playground, at lunch time? No one but these children, barring little white teeth and skin with deep tans, expending energy that has built up in heavily air conditioned classrooms. They are sharp-edged, cut from blades of a sun that is constant. Laughter runs quick, it ascends into the air with the rising heat. Arms and legs flail. There are no tentative bodies moving about, only rapid motion that is predisposed to indiscriminate velocity. Asphalt is gummy, forgiving beneath squeaking sneakered feet. Schoolyard games create factions; they create pockets of resistance and turmoil. Boys capitulate with other boys. Girls section with other girls. There are rules in this world between the school and the parking lot that hang as wordless pronouncements: they are always followed, they are never followed. It all depended on certain whims. On certain callous disregard for consequence for responsibility. Games on the playground functioned as nebulous activities that were ever-malleable. There is tether ball. There is basketball and dodge ball and tag. The sorts of games doesn’t matter: they gather momentum, rising out of nothing like a dust devil, then collapse 45 minutes later, at the sound of the bell gone high between screams and shouts, sheer ambition having been spent in a narrow window of time. Shadows angle hard against buildings, leaving slivers of shade within which to gain a reprieve. Kids can be seen inside these anxious inlets of relief, eyes squinting, waiting for their turn at the water fountain, slurping down the cool liquid that is heady, that tastes exquisite, and then they are back into the game, where the sun would claim them again. The sky above is sand-blasted blue, spotted by gauzy clouds that appear frail, too delicate for this world. The light here, in this part of the country, has a different quality. It suffuses every surface; it brings everything into sharp relief. Nothing escapes its scrutiny. The sound of insects is constant, the hum a surrounding force, reaching its zenith, an insistent background to all of the other noises. This is noon on the playground. This is the chaos that only children can love.
The boy watches the other kids carefully. His skin is not yet tan. It is reddened and splotchy, already sun burnt and peeling. He is sweating even in the slim shade of the gym. He slouches like the older kids: hands in pockets, feet raking the ground, an invisible cigarette poised at the corner of this mouth. He wears shorts. He feels ridiculous in shorts. His sloe-eyed gaze sweeps across the playground accessing certain details, abandoning others: colors, shapes, vocal inflections, he processes everything at once. Everything is vivid. Everything is like cotton candy. He can’t help it. He takes it all in, looking for something recognizable, a commonality that he can latch onto. The boy slows the scene down in his mind, boys and girls moving in arrested motion. It is the only way he can become fixed on anything. The boy searches for acceptance among all of the bouncing pairs of eyes, but they look no further than their immediate futures. He has been here before, in this situation many times over. Having to succumb to will of a new group of kids with their own codes and societies and patterns of behavior that differ slightly depending on what region of the country you inhabit. But there is one thing that never changes: kids have entire secret worlds locked within them, worlds known only to them. The boy had secret worlds as well, more vast than most of the other kids on the playground could probably fathom. These are secret worlds that could destroy someone of weaker character, he knows this instinctually. He has long wished for these secrets, prayed for their results to befall him. If they only knew. And then he is rising, in the air, held aloft by another force deep inside him, that secret world wanting to come out. His clothes have abandoned him, a brightly rendered costume replacing the drab uniform of the poor or marginal child. There is a cape, and a mask and boots and gloves; the costume is blues and golds. His ascension does not go unnoticed. The kids on the playground stop and watch. Their mouths slack. Eyes sliding heavenward. Eventually the boy blocks out the sun, the globe of bright white, sending a shadow across the schoolyard, across the hearts of the children beneath. This was the boy’s secret world, this was what would bore into each of those gawking boys and girls, bore into their hearts, and this was what would eradicate their own secret worlds.
And then he is awake.