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Let’s Pretend

I think that everyone should, at a very young age, but not too young, maybe nine or ten, everyone should decide on one trait their future husband or wife will have.  Then stick to it.  Write is down if need be.  A lot of divorces could be avoided this way.

I decided long ago that I would never marry until I met a man who could play “Let’s Pretend” as well as my sister Cass.  Growing up, it was my favorite game.  Basically we pretended to be people and to do jobs.  Sounds stupid and common, I know.  Every kid pretends.  They play house or doctor or war or fireman, whatever.  But it wasn’t the game itself, but how my sister played it.  She committed to the highest degree.  We never discussed rules, just played as it felt natural.  But now, all these years later, though the game was just “Let’s Pretend,” I see there was always a winner and a loser.  The loser was the one who broke character first.  Cass almost always beat me.  I haven’t yet met a man who can.

The worst game was veterinarian.  I was maybe seven, Cass nine, and her class had taken a field trip to the local vet clinic.  So we began with our stuffed animals.  Though Cass had gone to a cat-and-dog-type clinic we pretended to be zoo vets so we could treat the giraffe and the polar bear and the walrus with the abscessed tooth (Cass knew this term).  She was the head vet and I acted as her assistant.  We wore Dad’s white shirts as lab coats.  After we ran out of stuffed animals I rounded up our pet tomcat, Turnip, who was eighteen-years-old and tired and put up with almost anything.  We pretended that he was a tiger cub.  I told Dr. Cass that he swallowed a battery, because I happened to see a 9-volt across the room.  It seemed like what a tiger cub might do.  Cass asked some questions — I forget what — and then declared that we had to put Turnip to sleep.  “For the operation?” I asked, thinking anesthesia.  “That’s not what I mean,” she snapped.  “Weren’t you paying any attention in vet school?”

Now another unspoken rule to the game was that you couldn’t try to force the other to break character.  And Cass wasn’t doing that here.  The cases had slowly been growing graver, so we were due for one we couldn’t save.  And her character had been fairly derogatory from the start.  She was justified in explaining in a pedantic tone, “Young lady, I mean we have to euthanize this tiger.  We have to put it out of its misery.”

“Kill him?” I said on the border of losing it.  Cass said that she was afraid so.  She explained that batteries contain acid and that the battery would leak and burn a hole straight through the poor animal’s stomach.  I asked why we couldn’t just operate and take the battery out, but young cats have very delicate stomachs and a hole was no doubt starting to make its way out already.  The tiger was probably in agony.  Then she got her leathercraft tools from the closet.  She called them “surgical implements” and they did look vaguely medical.  Stainless steel handles, about six inches long with different heads that would be used to punch designs into moistened leather by hitting the end with a mallet.  I knew because I had seen Cass use them for Girl Scout projects.  But she made me lay them out on a tray while Cass prepared for the procedure.

I changed the story.  I said Turnip never ate a battery, just an eraser.  One of those pink kinds.  “X-rays don’t lie,” she asserted, which technically was a breech because no one mentioned x-rays before.  I screamed, “No, Cass, please don’t hurt Turnip,” because I was convinced she would carry through on something hideous.

So why would I want a man who could push me to that extent?  I’m not sure why, but I miss that game.  I guess it’s a trust thing, like those dumb team-building exercises where you fall backwards, trusting someone to catch you.  That’s what it’s like to play a character to such an extent.  You really open yourself up to getting hurt.  But the right man will catch you.  If it works right, there is an epiphany when you fall.  You realize that you fell because he knows you so well.  Knows you on a don’t-have-to-think-about-it-can’t-consciously-explain-it level.  I could love a man like that.


Martin Brick’s fiction has been published in many places, including The Beloit Journal of Fiction, Vestal Review, Pindeldyboz, and Sou’Wester.  He was raised in rural Wisconsin, but currently reside in Columbus, Ohio.

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