Treasured Item

by D.K. McCutchen

My cranky high schooler visits my class during her break. Her friends are away. My college students ignore the newcomer with pointed glances. I want to brag: Mine-mine-mine! So cool in her hand-stitched “Black-Lives-Matter” jacket and eyebrow piercing.

My chest feels full. She could easily pass: Tall, telltale red hair hidden under a watch cap. Nothing to link her to me, and outside students have sat-in before. I’m not allowed an introduction. I’m sneaky though.

“Pippin. Can you open the window?”

She frowns (no dummy) and another student opens it instead. She joins the class exercise as an objective observer, meant to comment first when the persuasive role-playing game is over. I’m more reticent with her than with my students, as we drift from group to group, eavesdropping on their private plans to a) negotiate, b) steal, c) go to war over a treasured item.

The game goes in an unexpected direction and war is never mentioned, to our mutual surprise (my daughter has played this game before). Sharing is an obvious goal on both sides, though I’ve forbidden it (hoping they’ll break the rules, move beyond the framework, find their voices in opposition to instructions). For once, the aggressors negotiate. For once, the pacifists don’t just stonewall (a common practice when one owns the prize).

They’re so reasonable! If war is a failure of negotiation then, given time, both sides would have won. In this game, each side has to give a little, break a rule or two, to get what they want. As we leave the classroom colosseum, my teenager and I have a quiet moment acknowledging this, before we head home, drop all pretense of negotiation, and mutually gird our loins for war.

""D. K. McCutchen teaches writing for UMass College of Natural Sciences. Lack of poetic-DNA led to a tale of low adventure titled THE WHALE ROAD. In a literary attempt to save the world, she’s now writing gender-bender-post-apocalyptic-speculative fiction. She lives on a river with two brilliant daughters and a Kiwi, who isn’t green, but is fuzzy.


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