PORCELAIN SOLDIERS

A young girl of about 11, MAY, sits in the crook of a branch of a gray-barked tree. She is wearing hand-me-down military shorts and a faded t-shirt with scuffed sneakers. She has waist-length dirty blonde hair which falls every which way, and her eyes and expression are equally unfocused. After a moment of staring into space without so much as blinking, her eyes snap closed.

May, clad in an army helmet, is now crawling on her stomach through a deep ditch with dirt sides and floor. We hear sounds like that of a war. May is moving along the bottom of the ditch with some speed, her teeth clenched in determination. At an especially loud boom she pauses to press her belly to the ground, cringing, then keeps on moving. The army helmet has slid down over her face, completely covering one eye, but she doesn't stop to push it back up. She passes under a piece of camouflage cloth, and then is out into a broad hole, deep enough to stand in. May throws herself against the far wall of the hole, covering her head with both hands. When the loudest sounds have passed, she leans back with a sigh. She opens her eyes to see a pair of ladies' dress shoes standing at the edge of the hole; she follows them up to find MRS. MATTHEWS, a 40-something housewife getting doughy around the edges, staring down at her sternly. May gazes back, eyes wide. Mrs. Matthews asks for her son, ROBBIE. May points obediently back down the petite network of foxholes that run through the narrow strip of pine trees behind the flowerbeds. There, a filthy 13-year-old boy has just lept out of the ditch with a war cry to lead the charge, three other boys close behind, all clinging to slightly decrepit World War II rifles without a clip. The children and the war sounds come to an abrupt halt at the sound of Mrs. Matthew's voice harshly demanding what has happened to her yard.

A heap of soil cascades down the side of a foxhole. May and Robbie stare down at it as if they are burying a close friend. Crowned with matching heaps of gold curls, the scrawny 9-year-old twins, TIM and JIM, lean awkwardly on their shovels; slightly chubby, 10-year-old DAN slides off his helmet, mussing his dark brown hair. In silence, the defeated children continue filling up the deepest of the holes, shovel by heavy, unwieldy shovel.

May leans forward, resting an elbow on the upward curve of the tree branch she straddles. Her other hand absentmindedly caresses the bark.

In May's room, she and the other boys are engaged in a different sort of war, wildly hurling insults and stuffed toys at one another, and laughing almost hysterically in amusement. Dan jumps onto the bed to avoid a lobbed bunny, and finding himself without ammo, grabs the closest thing: a creamy-white porcelain child angel. He sees the twins Tim and Jim armed and ready with a bear apiece, and without thinking chucks the angel at them. The angel strikes the wall with a sharp crack, then falls with a dulled whud onto the carpet at the twins' feet. The laughter dies out. May shoves past Robbie and kneels, picking up the angel; one wing is broken off, though it is otherwise undamaged. She fumbles with the wing, trying to fit it back into place; but the porcelain is missing small chips at the join and it clearly won't ever be really fixed.

A slow breeze ruffles the leaves in May's tree, and stirs her hair. She leans back against the trunk, staring up into the canopy.

The children, in military gear, are arguing over May's position in "the Army". She's tired of the others always insisting that she be a nurse, or a messenger; she wants a real position. It was Robbie who started the Army; the decision should be his. Robbie bows out of the entire discussion; he doesn't see what that has to do with it at all. The incident with his mother might as well have been a court martial; besides, he thinks it's not much fun having an army if there's no one to fight. He doesn't want to be admiral anymore, so Dan may as well be. Dan is quite pleased. He's adamant that because he's admiral now, they have to do what he says, whether they like it or not; and he says May can be a general, and Tim and Jim are stuck being privates because somebody has to. Robbie can be whatever he wants. Tim and Jim give up and sulk. May doesn't really seem pleased with the outcome, but says nothing; she just eyes Robbie, who perches casually on the fence, looking disinterested. Dan smiles at May, too pleased with himself to notice the way she's looking at Robbie.

The leaves of the tree occlude the sun in patches and transparencies; the wind stirs them, and they look as if they are dancing.

May and the twins are digging through a pile of military accoutrements, looking for just the right accessories. They are distracted by escalating shouting from nearby. Robbie and Dan are arguing over something; Robbie is the more submissive party; he's making apologetic gestures with his hands, even though he's clearly angry, and Dan keeps getting in his face and shoving. Their yelling is overlapping, and it's not at all clear what the original argument was about, but now it's nothing more than an insult match that's headed towards violence. Finally, Robbie throws up his hands and starts to walk away. Dan follows after, so angry he's incoherent; Robbie keeps walking. Dan stoops to the ground on an impulse, and grabs something egg-shaped and dark. Before anyone can react, he throws it a good ten feet towards Robbie. The twins call out half a warning, and Robbie half turns before there is a sound thwack as the object strikes Robbie in the temple. He cries out and his hand flies to his head, blood soon spilling between his fingers. A metal hand grenade lies in the grass nearby, where it's fallen.

The twins immediately run to Robbie's side, trying to help him stop the bleeding and his uncontrolled sobs. May stands in shock, looking first at Robbie and then at Dan, who has not moved. Robbie has Tim's balled up t-shirt against his head, trying to staunch the bleeding. He's leaning heavily on Jim, who is helping him walk towards his house. Suddenly Dan's fugue is broken, and he takes up screaming again, moving to the nearby patio set and assaulting the chairs. Tim looks frantically back at May, who has still not moved. He is hesitant to raise his voice, but calls repeatedly for her to follow, all the while edging away from Dan. She breaks out of her trance, and starts to run after the others. As they flee Dan's rage, she can just barely make out some of what he is saying; that he would never hurt her, that he'll keep her safe. She closes her eyes as she runs, and thinks one thing: "liar".

Everything is dark. Dan is telling May that he wants her to lie down on his bed, he wants to show her something. Laughing nervously, May refuses for a while, but Dan keeps encouraging her that there will be something worth seeing and she agrees. He tells her to lie still and the springs creak as he adds his weight to the bed. May's shaking voice starts to protest, but he keeps talking, trying to silence her. He tells her that everything will be all right, that she's safe with him.

May opens her eyes and sits in the tree for a moment, in silence. Then she jumps down to the ground and runs back towards her house, where a moving van is loading. (END)

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