★ ‘The Yellow Slide Agreement’ by Amber Beardsley

soft cartel may 2018

Once upon a playground there were two kingdoms. One of these was ruled by me and JoEllen, my greatest ally, and the other was ruled by two older boys named Jake and Josh. Because the only ones who knew about these specific realms of power were limited to the two rulers who had founded them, not only did JoEllen and I rule over our side of the playground as co-queens, but we also served as knights under our own rule, protecting our land and enforcing our own policies. Naturally, Jake and Josh did the same on their side, as they too had no other permanent members of their realm.

Unfortunately, the boundaries of both of our domains were very poorly determined, and the lands of our respective reigns often intersected. This meant that we met one another in disputed territory frequently, and whichever side spotted trespassers first was generally also the first to give chase. Most days, Jake and Josh were successful in chasing JoEllen and I back to our side of the playground, mostly because they had the advantages of being in third grade when we were in second, and they were energetic boys and we were slightly less energetic girls.

While most of our encounters involved Jake and Josh chasing JoEllen and I from the green and brown slides set near the gymnastics bars in a curve all the way across the blacktop, finally ending by the big yellow slide in the middle of the wood chips, we did have our own small but glorious victories every now and then. One winter afternoon, after several feet of snow had been collected and then plowed toward the wooden 4x4s that separated the blacktop from the wood chips, JoEllen and I were working with my friend, Rebecca, on building a snow couch the three of us could sit in after we had completed our work. It seemed that since the already muddy boundaries regarding the kingdoms were now further covered up by mounds of fluffy white snow, we had to be in some kind of M.A.D.-esque stalemate for the season.

Either we were wrong, or Jake and Josh decided to break the truce without scheduling a meeting to re-negotiate our relationship, because the moment they spotted us with our guard down, they pounced. And I mean, literally, they pounced and tackled me and JoEllen into the snow, and poor Rebecca was abandoned as battle in the form of frantic snow-throwing broke out. Somehow, JoEllen was able to escape Jake’s clutches and run away to the far end of the playground, and I was able to gain the upper hand in the struggle that Josh and I were involved in. He must’ve had slippery gloves and couldn’t hold his own, for I succeeded in flipping us over and throwing snow into his face and peeling his hands off my arms before I, too, ran across the blacktop toward the doors that led inside the school. I made sure to mark that day as a victory for JoEllen and me, despite initially being surprised.

We won other battles against Jake and Josh, but they were comparatively fewer than the times they won against us. Things continued as they were until there were only a couple months left of the academic year. Eventually, the four of us held a grand meeting by the glorious yellow spiral slide that would, unbeknownst to all but us and a couple guests, be the site of a wedding just a few days later. The only reason we all met in the first place was because of a recent and surprisingly violent encounter a few weeks or so beforehand, where Jake and Josh chased me and JoEllen around in the wood chips until my co-ruler outran Jake to the blacktop. I was left to fend for myself, and climbed to the top of the metal climbing ladder with curved, alternating rungs, knowing that if Josh followed me, I would be sacrificing myself knowing that JoEllen, at least, was safe.

Of course, I did end up getting myself trapped fifteen feet off the ground with nothing but a thick, curved metal bar to grip onto, and there was no way down except the way I had come. When Josh approached, I tried to make myself small at the top of the structure, but he kept coming up and up and up, until he was grabbing at my shoes. Memories of a classmate who had jumped from the structure earlier in the year with nothing but an umbrella to provide the illusion of slowing his fall flooded my brain in that instant, and I didn’t have an umbrella with me. Terrified to drop to my death down below, I begged Josh to stop, to let me come down, that I only needed to catch my breath before resuming the game and he could catch me fair and square. He refused, knowing that he would have to give me a head start, and what predator wants to give up easy prey? So I did the only other thing I thought I could: I kicked at his hands, trying only to intimidate him into climbing back down, but I ended up hitting him with a hard blow to the head in my panic. Instantly, he was on the ground, writhing in pain, and I can’t remember whether it was me that went to tell a teacher or if it was someone else. What I can recall, though, is that the next time I saw Josh, gauze bandages were wrapped around his cranium and he wasn’t allowed to run for a couple of weeks.

When he was feeling better, we all partook in a peace negotiations meeting to decide on what would put our two kingdoms at ease so that perhaps we could all just get along and play together whenever we ran into each other’s space. The meeting didn’t last very long, as we were all young kids with short attention spans when it came to serious meetings, but we all agreed that a political marriage between one of my kingdom’s members and one of their kingdom’s members would work best. Somehow it ended up that I was going to marry Josh, but I was happy to serve my duty as co-queen of a realm, and I was willing to do anything to ensure that the land JoEllen and I were in charge of remained safe from the plight of third-grade boys.

Since our meeting had taken place toward the end of the week, we waited until after the weekend for the ceremony to take place, and in the meantime, invited some witnesses to the event to make sure that Jake and Josh kept up their end of the deal. When the big day came, not one of us was dressed in fancy attire, as we didn’t think to tell our parents of the plans, considering that they were not aware of the social statuses we held at school, but we acted gravely and as appropriately as co-queens and co-kings are meant to act.

I had brought a ring that my grandmother gave to me a couple of years prior to this, deeming it a good wedding ring– and I made sure that everyone understood how important it was that I did not lose it before the processions took place. Come recess, we all met at the big, curvy yellow slide and basked in its glorious glow provided by the sunshine as Rebecca stood at the ladder to the playground equipment and Josh and I stood in front of her, facing one another. JoEllen watched from the top of the ladder; Jake from the side, along with a few other friends from both sides. Since none of us knew many of the words uttered by the marriage officiant besides “Dear friends, family, and guests, we are gathered here today…” and “I now pronounce you ‘man and wife.’ You may kiss,” those were the words Rebecca used to marry us. Someone put the ring on my left ring finger, and I found that it was both too big and too uncomfortable for that finger, so I put it on my right index finger instead while Josh and I took a marriage lap around the blacktop before coming back to our friends, cheering by the 4x4s as if standing on the sideline of a track meet.

At the end of the day, I left school feeling different, but uncertain as to how or why. I just know that afterward, the rivalry that our two kingdoms had dissipated, and we could all play wherever we wanted without having to worry about encroaching on someone else’s domain. And of course, since no story involving kings and queens and warring kingdoms resolving their conflicts is complete without it, we lived happily ever after… Away from each other, living our own very different, very separate lives.

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