I dumped all my G.I. Joes out of the shopping bag and onto the pavement of the driveway. I separated the good guys from the bad guys, and then arranged them in specific positions. Before initiating a battle, or an “episode,” as I called them, I would survey the figures, making sure that all weapons were in place, no good guys were mixed with bad guys, no one was missing.
As I inspected my tableaux, a shadow came over my miniature world.
I looked up.
It was Anya.
Her hair was in pigtails and she was eating a bright red icicle. A red stain was ringed around her mouth.
Whaddya doing, she asked.
Playing with my men. I had to squint when looking at her because of the glare of the sun.
Can I play? Her melting icicle dripped red dots onto the pavement, like it was bleeding.
I don’t know—
Come on let’s play war together, she urged.
She popped a squat and I saw that her icicle was now leaking red onto her blue skirt.
You’re getting ice all over your skirt, I pointed.
Anya looked down and giggled.
So, she shrugged. You want an ice? I have more in the house. I can go and get one for you. There’s cherry, that’s the one I’m eating, and there’s strawberry and lemon.
No thanks. Maybe later.
Okay. So can I play war with you?
Girls don’t play war.
Anya flung her head back and laughed big.
What’s so funny?
You, she pointed at me with her icicle. Girls do play war. I play war with my stuffed animals and Barbies and Care Bears.
I tried to imagine Care Bears engaged in a war. It didn’t seem possible.
Those things are not the same as G.I. Joes.
Why do you line them up like that?
It’s how I always start. And I don’t call it playing war. It’s called an episode.
Yea, like you know how they have different T.V. episodes. I have different episodes with my men.
Anya pointed to Scarlet, my only female G.I. Joe.
That one’s a girl!
You said you have episodes with your men. But she’s a girl. And I’m a girl too. So I can have episodes with you.
Anya’s logic baffled and frustrated me.
Scarlet’s the only girl and that’s because she’s Duke’s girlfriend—
Which one is Duke?
I pointed to the blonde-haired man holding a machine gun.
So Duke and Scarlet kiss?
Anya giggled and then plugged her mouth against the base of her icicle to stop the dripping. She made a sucking noise that reminded me of the tube they put in your mouth at the dentist.
They don’t kiss. It’s not like that in my episodes.
No one could kiss that one anyway, Anya pointed at Cobra Commander. He’s got no face, just a mask with no eyes and no mouth or anything.
He’s Cobra Commander and no one would want to kiss him anyway because he’s a bad guy and he wouldn’t want to kiss anyone because he’s into doing bad things like blowing stuff up and kidnapping people.
Anya nodded, a serious look in her eyes. She seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying.
She pointed at several other figures and asked me their names, and what they did.
I gave her the lowdown on each one. When she switched from squatting to sitting cross-legged, I caught a flash of her yellow panties.
Anya finished her icicle and tossed the stick into the garbage-can. She slapped her hand against the lid and said—This is where they found me, ya know.
I know, I said. Who told you?
Boris and Vera.
Anya shrugged when saying that, as if it were no big deal.
Anya was seven. I wondered how old she was when they told her.
She sat down again, crossing her legs. No panty-flashing this time.
So, she smiled, can I play with you?
Okay, I said, but you gotta follow the rules. Okay?
Okay, she nodded, her pigtails bopping.
I laid out my rules, the three most important ones being:
Anya and I could play next to each other but not with each other. Our episodes had to stay separate.
An episode had to be completed, beginning to end.
If a character died during an episode they were dead forever and couldn’t be used anymore.
Anya agreed to my rules but asked—So if Snake-Eyes is killed during my episode he has to stay dead today and in the future too?
You can’t ever play with him again?
No, not if he’s dead. Otherwise it would be fake. In real life when people die they don’t come back.
What about ghosts?
I don’t have ghosts in my episodes. Not in the G.I. Joe World.
What do you do with the dead figures?
I used to bury them in the yard or burn them. But now I’ve been doing something different. I tie string around them and fling them into that tree.
I pointed at the big elm just in front of and to the right of the driveway.
Anya stared at the tree.
How many are up there?
Three. No, four.
How many have died?
Since I started collecting G.I. Joes?
I thought about it.
Maybe like a dozen.
Do you miss them after you get rid of them?
A little bit. But there’s nothing I can do about it. When they’re dead they’re dead. Okay, why don’t you pick out the ones you want to use in your episode.
Anya picked six, including Snake-Eyes. I told her she couldn’t have Snake-Eyes because he always had to be in my episodes. She picked Blow-Torch instead.
You don’t want Scarlet?
No, she said, you need her to kiss Duke.
Enough with the kissing, I told Anya, but couldn’t hide my smile. I thought of my friend, Charlie, who had a crush on Scarlet because of her red hair.
I separated my figures from Anya’s and we started playing.
I made lots of noise and sound effects and spoke my dialogue aloud. Anya started off quietly but then started doing the same.
After about five minutes Anya interrupted my episode—Daniel?
Anya we don’t talk to each other during our episodes.
I know but I have an important question.
I think this one here, what’s his name again—
Yea I think Storm Shadow is about to get killed but I wanna know if he gets killed during my episode does that mean you can’t play with him again? Is he dead for me and for you?
I hadn’t thought about that. I suddenly got worried that not only would Anya kill off Storm Shadow, one of my favorites, but also the other five characters she was playing with. She would wipe them all out and I’d lose six figures in one battle. I clarified the rule.
No if you kill them, I explained, you can’t play with them anymore. Today, or if we ever play together again, they’d still be dead to you. But I can play with them because they didn’t die in my world.
Okay, Anya responded cheerily, and went back to making noises and sound effects.
In both of our episodes, no one died that day.
Three weeks later when Flint was killed by Destro during one of my episodes, Anya asked me if she could be the one to fling his body into the tree.
Sure, I said.
She tied a string around Flint’s neck and flung him toward the graveyard of leaves.
It took six tries before the figure finally caught on a branch and stayed there.