“This is our army base,” Josh says. He pushes a crumbling pile of snow towards me.
My black mittens already soak through, freezing my fingers. I ignore it. I just want to finish making my snow fort with my best friend. We build our fort on my front lawn. Joshua lives next door at 152 Ecclestone Drive. I live at 154 Ecclestone Drive. My parents moved here two weeks after I was born. Josh and I have been friends for all seven years of our lives. We play together almost every day after school. Today is Saturday. Yesterday, a snowstorm hit. We waited patiently all night until this morning when we could finally make a fort in the untouched snow.
“Wait a sec,” I say. “I thought we were going to play Pokémon. Why does it have to be an army base?”
“Because army bases are cool, and we always play Pokémon.”
Josh’s blond hair and blue eyes glow brighter in the snowy sunlight. His entire snowsuit looks just as soaked as my mittens. It grows a darker shade of green the longer we sit out here.
Josh and I usually pretend to be Pokémon or dinosaurs or Digimon. Since when did army bases become cool? I shrug it off and pat down the snow pile in front of me. On my knees, the fort wall reaches up to my neck. We build our fort right beside the small tree in our front yard. Dad told me it’s a mulberry tree. I always wonder why it’s called that because it doesn’t grow any berries.
“Okay so,” Josh says, “let’s pretend I’m the captain.”
I adjust my grey and red toque with my soggy mittens. Snowflakes drift down the back of my blue winter jacket. I shudder. The cold winter wind gusts by and rustles the branches on the mulberry tree. Snow plops down from our giant pine tree. I hear the kids across the street screaming and laughing. I lean over and glance past the trees. Instead of building a fort, they formed a giant snow pile. They sled down the back. The girl across the street only plays with boys too, like me. She seems to look over at me, for just a second. SPLAT! Snow erupts from my shoulder. Josh throws another snowball at me and I lean back over.
“Wait a sec!” I say. “Why do you get to be the captain?”
“Because I’m a boy. Have you ever heard of a girl captain before?”
I don’t know a lot about the army. Maybe he’s right, but that’s not fair.
“So what?” I say. I cross my arms. “This is our game; I can be a captain if I want to.”
“You can be the assistant captain, okay? We can’t have two captains.”
I think about it for a few seconds. If I don’t agree, Josh will get mad and go home. He always does that when he doesn’t get his way. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t let him play with my favourite Jurassic Park velociraptor toy. He went home and didn’t talk to me until the next day. I sigh.
“Fine, whatever, I can be the assistant captain.”
Josh smiles. Our fort looms over me. I can barely see over the top now. Josh has always been the master architect.
“GET DOWN!” Josh screams.
I flatten myself to the ground as quickly as possible. I realize we dug so deep that the yellow and brown grass is exposed beneath me.
“ENEMY ATTACK!” Josh screams again. “PEW, PEW, PEW!”
Josh mimics what we think gunshots sound like. From the limited snow left in our base, I roll six snowballs. Without getting up, I chuck them as hard as I can over the fort. I hear the pine tree’s branches rustle.
“Good job, assistant captain. You’ve killed the first ten enemies.”
Josh and I high-five each other. Our drenched mittens splash into each other.
“Hang on a sec, I forgot one thing.”
Josh sticks his hand into the back of our base. He pokes out snow and forms a small hole.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“It’s a pee hole.”
“A peep hole? That’s a smart idea.”
“No, not a peep hole. A pee hole. You know, so don’t have to leave the base to pee.”
Josh drops to his knees and crawls over to the hole. He pretends to unzip his snow pants and thrusts forward. Ssssssss. He imitates the sound of his fake pee hitting the ground. When he fake finishes, he crawls back over to me.
“My turn,” I say.
“What?” Josh says. He puts his hand out in front of me. “You can’t use the pee hole. You’re a girl.”
“Huh? Well how am I supposed to pee safely? We can just pretend.”
I pretend to unzip my pants.
“No!” Josh stops me. “You can’t use the pee hole, obviously. You don’t have the right parts.”
My face turns fiery red. It burns against the cold wind. Why was Josh doing this to me? Josh never cared about this stuff before. We always pretended to do whatever we wanted. Why could we pretend that I was dragon or a bear or a Pokémon, but we couldn’t pretend that I was a boy? I worry that Josh stopped seeing me as a friend. I worry that he sees me as just a girl.
“Josh, I have to go inside. My hands are getting too cold.”
I suck back tears.
“That’s okay, I’m getting cold too. Let’s finish our fort tomorrow? This was fun.”
Josh leaves our army base and runs across my driveway to his front door. I hear it slam. I crawl out of the fort and sit in the snow. I watch the kids across the street. The girl, her two brothers, and the two boys who live a few houses away from hers sled down their snow pile. I stop myself from raising my mittens and waving at her. She peers over at me for a second before sliding down. I wonder if she wants to wave too.
One of the greatest strengths of this piece is the detailed narration which puts the reader into the narrator’s shoes. The conclusion raises larger questions about gender relations and stereotypes in a very relatable way.
This was an entry in the 2015/16 Writing & Photo Contest.