Some stories are bitter-sweet.
Bruce was my age, or maybe a year different, but he was a short kid, shrimpy even. He lived farther from the epicenter of my world than most of the neighborhood kids who played kick-the-can in the vacant lot between our house and the Andreoli's on summer evenings. Before the Andreolis moved in, the house was owned by the Brocks. My dad and Mr. Brock did a wonderful thing: They pooled money, bought the vacant lot between their houses, and split it down the middle so no one could build a house between them. As a result, we kids had a big place to play when we were small. That lot shrank as we got older, but by then schools had been built within easy walking distance. Also by then, kids had graduated to games that needed more space and marks on the field.
Some games, though, were more fun in the neighborhood and didn’t need more space or marks. One I remember more-or-less from start to finish was when we played kick-the-can for the only time I was It. There were over a dozen kids playing and I’d never been caught first. Then came the game where the signal to scatter was given and before I took two steps in the crowd, Its hand had grabbed my shirt. I do remember kicking myself for getting caught first. So, when that game finished it was my turn to be It. I also remember thinking that maybe kids would decide to go home and I would be off the hook. When everyone wanted to keep playing, I had to go along. It would have been selfish not to
I am—or was—fairly fast and cagey, and soon enough had caught everyone except Bruce. All of my prisoners taunted me as I methodically checked every hiding place around, starting with the closest ones, moving to those farther out, and re-checking the close ones from time to time. I didn’t care about the taunting. I wanted to win, and I knew how. It was getting fairly late now. With the gathering twilight I got very methodical, and the kids got very vocal.
One place I hadn’t looked was quite far away. Bruce could never have beaten me to the can from there if he had tried when I checked other places, but I had run out of other places to check. So I had to peek around the southeast corner of my house. If Bruce were on that side of the house I could catch him before he ran the longer way around to kick the can and set all of my prisoners free. Just as I reached the corner, I heard something.
Many times that evening I had glanced in Bruce’s direction but hadn’t seen him, although he was there to be seen. I didn't look carefully where he was because he obviously couldn't be there: There were no holes or depressions to hide in and nothing to hide behind.
Probably every one of my prisoners knew where he was. Bruce had been lying flat, out in the open grass, on a little rise near a place where the lots meet. Because of the twilight and the very slight elevation and Bruce’s slight frame, he had taken the chance to work his way very slowly, crawling through the lawn on the open ground, toward the can. When he was sure he could get to it before I could get him, he jumped up.
I started back, but it was too late. He kicked it. Everyone scattered. I was so upset that I selfishly told them I wouldn’t try again. It was late, anyway, and getting dark enough so that I would have been It all night.
I said this story is bitter sweet. You’ve heard the sweet; it’s a great little vignette of my education as a human being and writer. I remember Bruce every time I think of kick-the-can. In Diary of a Robot there are references to selfishness, hiding in plain sight, and seeing what’s there to be seen. If you read them, remember this story and Bruce McRae.
A few years later, when I was in High School, my mother called down to me in the basement. She said that Bruce had died in a car accident. He was driving a convertible, hadn’t been wearing a seat belt, lost control of the car, and it rolled over on him. It was the saddest day of my life to that time. Even if you didn’t know Bruce McRae, son of Akron Municipal Court Judge C.B. McRae, please know of my thanks for the things he taught me.
Lewis E. Jenkins