• Jennifer Barnick

The Game of Destruction

Abandoned Gas Station

Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons

I had just turned eighteen, and there was an extraordinary twist in my life. Suddenly, without any warning or mention, my curfew was lifted. No longer was I told when to return home and no longer was there any mention or grief regarding the time I did.

A guy friend picked me up. It was in the evening though still dazzlingly bright and hot. I was wearing a black and white form-fitting dress with black high heels, and I wore my very long hair in large, buxom curls. The boy too was dressed finely with a deep tan, a button-down shirt, and pressed khakis. His car was silver, very shiny, and German. His cologne and my perfume were still quite strong, and when he pulled away and we both lit cigarettes and turned up the music, it smelled and sounded just like a beating heart.

There was a small line of parked SUVs and impeccably waxed German sedans. My friend added his sedan to the line, and we joined our sexes. The boys were smoking pot and laughing in a circle. The girls were all in tight dresses and heels and were drinking bottled beers and smoking cigarettes by the cars.

We were in the middle of remote farm country in the Central Valley of California right in the middle of summer. The beauty was immense. It was around ninety degrees out, and the sun turned the sloping hills that ringed the valley floor into pure, glittering gold. The sky was flawless, blue glass, and the air was fragrant from the surrounding fields, everybody’s freshly scrubbed skin, and pot and cigarette smoke. And we were all beautiful too. We were all aware of the spectacle—the tanned skin and red lipstick and fragrant hair rising in the wind. We had met at the remote area so the boys could play Destruction. There was an abandoned gas station, and it was a place the boys had been to before. The Game of Destruction was simple: to tear apart, shatter, and crush as much as possible using whatever beams, rocks, poles, and any other projectile they could find. It was very loud, and the boys could be heard yelling and laughing and sometimes grunting in an effort to destroy something stubborn. Over the crashing and banging and yelling, all of the girls stood around the parked cars smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, and chatting.

The loud din stopped. And I could see the boys had pooled together. They were not talking. I walked over to see what had happened, as their quiet stance seemed unusual. They were all standing in what would have been the gas station’s interior—only now there was a sunny sky above instead of a roof and a pile of rubble for a floor. As I neared the circle of boys, one of them quickly joined me and put his arm around my waist to pull me away from the gas station saying, “You don’t want to see this.” I turned away from his hold and joined the boys. There, laying on top of the rubble was a very small female sparrow. She was clay-colored and was laying on her side perfectly still. They had just accidentally killed her.

To be fair, the boys were quiet and upset by the accidental killing. They were good boys. The Game of Destruction was over. They all looked down when they saw me looking at the bird. I was the only girl who saw the dead bird. I could hear the other girls laughing and talking as I stared down at the she-sparrow.

Next stop was a large house set amongst polo fields. We swam and partied. All of the dresses and khakis were traded for swimsuits. Two by two, people left, leaving me and the boy who had tried to prevent me from seeing the dead sparrow alone. He turned off all the lights and locked the doors. He then brought me a glass of water.

He drove me home. We were both silent. The night had ended badly—though too gently-badly to stop the momentum. It was clear that a pair had been made. The sky was a dark, sapphire blue, and the birds had already begun singing. When I entered my house, I saw my dog, a half-Collie half-German Shepard mix, sleeping against the sliding glass door in the living room. I sat on the carpet next to her.

My father appeared nearly instantly. He was in his robe with a tall glass of milk. He had been in the kitchen when I had arrived home. He asked me if I was okay. I looked down at my fingers buried in my dog’s long, black fur then up at him.

Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.” You can follow Jennifer on her Instagram here.

Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.