The Playground

Abigail Assor

The Playground


Our grandmother’s house was called The Playground. Or at least that’s what people in Casablanca called it. They said there was not a single child in the city who hadn’t come there to play, and that anyone arriving in tears would leave with a smile. It was true. The movement of the leaves, the sound of laughter, the swimming pool’s perfume — something between chlorine and citrus —, all of this made us all truly happy. Sometimes, parents would just drop their child and go run errands. I was an only child, and my cousin Sophie too, so it was like having new siblings in an instant.

We were the swimming pool’s queens. It was so big we pretended we couldn’t see its end — this pool is infinite, we would say. The new kids idolized us. We would splash water on them when our mothers were not watching. Our mothers always drank red wine with ice and prattle for hours. We tried to overhear their conversations but the other kids were loud, and every time we came closer, her mom caught us. Then, mine would say the exact same thing: sisters always have secrets. Our grandmother giggled; we felt very upset. To avenge, we invented secrets ourselves. Mine was an imaginary dog I hid from my parents and kept in a forest — his name was Rox. Sophie’s was an invisible older brother named David. He could read the grown-ups’ thoughts and predict when we would get grounded. But he failed at doing so, that day. Neither my aunt’s screams, nor the thing she said were foretold.

I did try to drown Sophie, but I had a reason: she didn’t want to tell me the magic spell David had taught her. I thought it was unfair, and she was laughing, and she sticked her tongue out at me and I got frustrated. So I pushed her head in the water and blocked her with all my weight. Then I felt a fierce slap on my face — it came from my mother’s hand.

She asked me to explain while Sophie, breathless, cried in my aunt’s arms. The kids, their parents, our grandmother: everyone was looking at me. So I told her. I said Sophie didn’t want to share David’s spell. And who’s that David, now?, my mother said, furious. Sophie’s older brother, I replied with lowered eyes. I was only six, but I knew it was stupid to get so mad about someone we invented. I knew my mom would yell at me, or worse, laugh at me. But then, Sophie’s mother looked at me and said: how do you know?

I didn’t know. Neither Sophie nor I knew her mother lost a child before Sophie was born. I didn’t know my mother had three miscarriages, and my grandmother four. About that curse, they told no one — maybe they didn’t want to know it themselves. And when it happened to Sophie twenty years later, she didn’t say a word either. She simply went on going to The Playground everyday, drinking red wine with ice on the grown-ups side. And until today, no one has to know that in The Playground, children die, and that therefore, children will come, always, to make mothers forget.