Power Play

By Kaylie R. Klotz

As the tinny sound of the school bell reverberates down the narrow halls of Rancho Romero Elementary, every head in our fourth grade class perks up, ready and alert. As always, the class begins to prepare itself for the mad dash to the playground. Shoelaces are tightened, hair is tied back, and toes are pointed to the door. Some kids are already halfway out of their seats, but Mrs. Maybaum’s hard stare keeps them at bay. We can’t leave until she dismisses us. 

Glances are exchanged around the room—silently forming alliances and strategizing—everyone hoping that today would be the day. Today they will have the power to choose the game and make the rules. Today, they will get a ball.

Like my classmates, I scan the room to find my best friend, Caitlin, gesturing wildly with her thin, pale arms to get my attention. Unlike our classmates, the two of us have a system that has never failed: I sprint to the four square court by the gigantic oak tree and claim it. Meanwhile Caitlin, the fastest runner of the fourth grade, charges towards the metal cart located on the other side of the playground, elbowing anyone who gets into her way, and grabs a ball. But today, when we lock eyes, I realize something’s wrong. She nods at the door all the way across the room and scowls. Instantly, I know what she’s trying to communicate. She’s too far from the door. I’m closer, so I have to be the one to get the ball today. It is up to me to fulfill this important job. 

My stomach plummets. There’s a reason I am never in charge of securing the ball. I am not fast like Caitlin. I don’t like elbowing people. I’m not cut out for it. The boy next to me, Jack, bounces his leg impatiently under the table so that the metal parts rattle and clang against my desk, momentarily distracting me. When he notices me looking, he sneers and scoots forward to the very edge of his seat so that he is just the slightest bit closer to the door than me. I clench my teeth and ball my fists, turning from him to focus my gaze on the door. That’s it. Game on. No way is Jack going to beat me. Not today.

I’m closer, so I have to be the one to get the ball today. It is up to me to fulfill this important job. 

The tension in the room mounts, the air buzzing with anticipation. Everyone is poised, ready to run like nothing else matters. Then, it comes. We are dismissed. 

I leap from my chair, crashing through the door and into the hallway, Jack and my classmates close at my heels. As we turn the corner, I can see the ball cart across the playground. I am losing ground. Three of my classmates pass me, pumping their arms furiously. I pump mine harder as I watch them claim three of the four prized balls, coveting them like quarterbacks on a sneak play. Jack now matches my strides, inching his way to the lead. I push myself to run faster, but it’s no use. Jack arrives first and snatches the remaining ball from the cart.  I stop short of the cart, panting, with blood rushing to my cheeks. I can hear Caitlin calling me from the other side of the playground, but I don’t answer. My words are caught in my throat. It was my job to get the ball, and I failed. 

Jack dances around, taunting me loudly with mock empathy. In a flash of anger, I tear the ball out of his grasp and hurl it at him. It smacks him right on the bridge of his nose, leaving a red patch and an expression of disbelief on his face. I feel vindicated, but only for a moment. I see his chin begin to wobble and his eyes redden, and suddenly every ounce of my anger is gone. He turns and flees the playground, leaving the ball behind. The ball bounces off of the nearby fence and rolls back towards me to rest at my feet. The power is mine for the taking. I feel sick. I stare at it, not wanting to touch it. It stares back, waiting. 

Kaylie R. Klotz is a chemistry major from the Bay Area, California. She enjoys traveling and writing stories in her free time, and she hopes to one day write a novel.