October 17, 2005

Hopscotch Girl

A little girl is playing hopscotch on a sidewalk in New York in 1940. She has just hopped off the board, breathing fast from the excitement of going all the way up and back without losing her balance or stepping on a line. She watches the next girl toss the penny onto the first square of the chalked playing field.

Then a man walks up to her, a man with straggly hair that’s partly white and partly black and a long stringy chin beard. He’s wearing a floppy wide-brimmed hat and a long black raincoat, and she doesn’t remember having seen him on the edges of her vision before he popped right in front of her.

“Hopscotch!” he says. “A hopscotch girl. I remember so many of you, hopping up and down the court, in London with the horse-drawn carriages going by. And in Roman Britain, the soldiers in full armor hopping a hundred feet each way, and the children imitating them on their own little courts.”

The man bends down to the girl’s level and points his long finger at her forehead, so close that she gets cross-eyed trying to follow it. “October 2, 2002,” he says.

She laughs uncomprehendingly. “What?”

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything about it.” He reaches a little further forward and presses his fingertip to her temple. “October 2, 2002.”

The finger seems to press deep into her without hurting, and the date travels into her brain: she sees it searching out the farthest, darkest corner, where it will stay quietly for a long time. She is already forgetting it. October when? So far from now! What does it have to do with her? When the girl looks outward again the man is gone.

“Your turn!” her playmate calls.