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Child's Play

Donal Mahoney | Kristy Lankford

Jimmy and Billy, two young men in kindergarten, went home from school every day just before noon. They lived in a small town in Nebraska, in the middle of farm country. It was the 1950s—an era in America when there was no crime to speak of and little reason for parents to worry about young sons walking two short blocks home alone. The boys talked and laughed as they walked under big oak trees and tried to decide what they would do in the afternoon till their mothers called them for supper.

Jimmy was a serious child and Billy a not-so-serious child. In fact Jimmy looked like an angel clone, his hair always combed and his clothes free of smudges. Despite an active childhood, he always stayed clean. Billy, on the other hand, was a bit of a scamp and he looked the part with seven cowlicks, freckles all over his face and a crooked smile. The two boys meshed as friends despite their different personalities. They sat near each other in kindergarten and had a great time playing together after school.

For such a young boy Jimmy, despite his angelic appearance, knew a lot about football. This was because his father was a fan. They would watch games together on their small black and white Muntz television set on Saturday afternoons.

Television was still new in the 1950s and not everyone in town had a set but Jimmy’s family did. It was important to his father to watch Notre Dame football. Jimmy had a tiny football of his own, a gift from his father, and he and Johnny would sometimes play catch after school. Billy liked to play catch but he didn’t understand anything about football so he was always asking Jimmy questions about the game.

Jimmy grew tired of explaining football to Billy, what little he knew about the game, so he decided to use a story he had heard his father tell his older brother Frank. His father said it would help Frank understand why the game of football is a lot like the game of life. The story likely came about as a result of his father being a preacher, a serious preacher, who just happened to like Notre Dame football. Many in his congregation could not understand his admiration for that team. Most of them cheered for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, another football powerhouse.

“On television, Billy, it might be Notre Dame against Michigan,” Jimmy said, “but in real life, my father says, it’s every man against Satan. You play the same game for your whole life and it’s always against Satan. And in the end, it’s winner take all.”

“You mean the devil plays football?” said Billy, who was not a preacher’s kid.

“Well, in a way,” said Jimmy. “You see, as we get older, we’ll line up against Satan every day in the middle of a field and that field is life. One end zone is Heaven and the other is Hell. Satan will try to push us into Hell and we’ll try to run around him into Heaven. He’s got plenty of other devils on his team so everyone has his own devil to play against.

“Sounds fair but that’s not what my father told my brother because Satan can see us but we can’t see him.

“And the game always ends with the same score—one to nothing. No one except God and Satan knows who the winner is until everyone on Earth has played the game and all the winners are in Heaven and all the losers are in Hell.”

“What about girls,” Billy asked. “Do they play against Satan?”

“Absolutely, Billy, but I bet it’s volleyball and not football,” Jimmy said.

“Everybody plays against Satan, but my father says some folks don’t even know they’re playing the game. They don’t think Satan exists. They’ve never seen him. That’s bad because Satan plays for keeps, not like you and me just havin’ fun. Anyway, that’s why life’s a lot like football.”

Billy got very serious for a moment, fiddling with his cowlicks and looking up in the air at nothing. He was not a boy to get all that serious about much except breakfast, lunch and dinner—and, of course, Christmas. This year he wanted a new bike—a two-wheeler with training wheels. Finally he spoke up.

“Okay, Jimmy, let’s play football. You line up across from me and take the ball. You can be Satan and I’ll push you back into Hell. Then I’ll dance in Heaven with the angels. Watch and see! Satan ain’t gonna beat me.”

About Donal Mahoney

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney has had poetry and fiction published in print and web publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Visit the author's page >

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