Game Theory by Merridawn Duckler
Becky is a bully. Her sister, Corey, should have been a boy. These are facts which Corey knows to be as certain as the word facts, fat middle letters fenced in by two taller guard letters. Becky makes her crouch in spiderville, under the cinderblock foundation and stay there until Becky says she can come out. Once Corey had to stay until dinner, and she got in trouble. But she never ratted out Becky and the look Becky gave her over tomato barf casserole was a look to hold at night when a person is too old for dolls.
Becky can bully colors. When that man asked them their favorite color and Becky said “Purple” Corey could not see any other color. Purple ruled the universe. “Go outside and play,” said their mother. The man smiled down at them as they ran off. Now he makes a funny face out the window. Corey knows for a fact this face is for Becky. Becky ignores the men in cars whistling through their teeth, making a rolling motion to take down the window, while mom stands in the grocery, reading ingredient lists. In the park in summer Becky will agree to take free ice cream and money, but she never looks back and smiles only to herself as she tosses away the cone.
Corey is glad they’ve been sent into the yard to play. It’s spring. The flowers are crazy. The sun is coming over the fence like the word feckless. Becky wears no jacket. She has on the madras shirt Mom bought her that leaves skin between her jeans and boobs. When Mom came in that night to tuck in Corey, “There’s a lot in you to love,” she whispered, sitting next to her in the bottom bunk, making it hard to breathe through the beauty. “Never forget that, Coraline, sweetheart, baby girl.” Corey wishes she was a boy right that moment and then Mom could have what she wants: a girl, Becky and a boy, Corey.
Now that they’re outside they don’t know what to do. Becky throws pinecones at spiderville. Corey jumps on and off the big log separating their house from the doublewide. She starts to follow Becky around, and Becky pushes her away. Corey says “No, no, no, no.” It’s an invitation to play the game they made up. It has no name. Corey calls it “No Game.”
In this game a person chases a person, but that person can stop them by saying “No.” After they say that, the other person can move two times to try and tag them. If they are too far away, they can’t hear the No. If they are too close, they’ll lose. Corey is better at the game, but Becky is better at cheating at the game.
They play No Game in the back yard. They play near the rusted car they are forbidden to touch but they have. Becky screams and runs into the front yard. Her scream is beautiful and shakes the spring sun. Corey would love to scream like that. They stand in the front yard where Corey has Becky at the exact right distance. She has one “no” left and is deciding how to use it. Becky eyes her with one part. The other is looking at the man at the window. Mother left the room and he is standing, watching them. He taps the glass. “No,” says Corey. Becky starts to gallop like a horse around the yard. She gallops in ever tightening circles, then adds a head toss. Only Becky would think of that, her hair flying in the spring air, the pucker of her shirt crawling up, the frayed top of her jeans, riding down.
Merridawn Duckler is a writer from Portland, Oregon and the author of INTERSTATE (dancing girl press) and IDIOM, winner of the Washburn Prize. Winner in first and third place in the Jewish in Seattle fiction contest. Recent flash in Hobart’s, Forklift, Queen Mob’s Tea House, FRiGG. Finalist for the Sozopol Fiction Fellowship and named to Wigleaf 50. Residencies/fellowships include Yaddo, Squaw Valley, Horned Dorset Colony. She’s an editor at Narrative, and the international philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.