Fiction Sad


This year at Billy’s birthday party when Billy said it was time to play Sardines, I felt kind of nervous. It’s such a fun game. But. I didn’t want to be laughed at for picking too easy of a hiding place if it was my turn to hide. You only get a turn to hide if you’re the first person to find the one hiding. Last year they all laughed at me for hiding behind the living-room curtains. And I didn’t want to be the last person to find everyone else, and have them laugh at me for being so slow to find them all.  That happened the year before. Another reason I was sort of nervous, to tell the truth, is that last year when I hid behind the curtains, George Beeker was the first one to find me and he smashed so close to me, his body pressing against mine, and breathing on me too close, and I whispered to him to stop it, there was plenty of room, but he didn’t stop until the next person came, who was Betsy Long thank goodness. I wish she would be my friend.

So, this year Billy went off to hide. He’s always first to hide since it’s his birthday after all. The rest of us stay in the front hall and count to 100 with our hands over our eyes which always takes forever and sometimes I just stop counting and let the rest of them count.  Then we take off searching for Billy, everyone yelling ‘sardines’ over and over. You have to keep yelling until you find him and then you stop yelling and hide with him. If you’re still one of the searchers you listen for which part of the house has the yelling and which part doesn’t and if you’re lucky you can hear when someone stops yelling from a room right close to where you are.

I decided to start in the basement and work my way up all the way to the third floor. Use a strategy, not just wander into rooms. Sardines works best at Billy’s house because it’s so huge. At smaller houses like mine, you can’t really play, it doesn’t work. There just aren’t that many places to hide that have enough space. Like if you hid under my bed, well, only two or three other people can fit under there. So that’s a bad place to hide. You need a place that can hold a lot of people. At Billy’s house there are so many places. So many rooms with closets. And huge beds that can fit a lot of kids under them. And big long curtains. And pantries in the kitchen and in the basement. And little storage rooms in the basement. But the one that has wine bottles doesn’t work because you can still see someone, they can’t really hide there. Anyway, there are a lot of good places.

I was the first one in the basement. I decided to go through all the rooms in the hallway in order. Playroom—check behind the couch, then check the closet. Nope. Keep yelling ‘sardines.’ Next room, a bathroom. MaryAnn came in the bathroom right when I was checking behind the shower curtain, in the tub. Always a great place, but empty. I wish she would be my friend. We both went out to the hall but she went up the stairs. I went through all the other rooms. At the end of the hall, I opened the door to the garage. Was that out of bounds? I wasn’t sure. I knew outside was out of bounds, but I couldn’t remember about the garage. I walked on in and checked behind the two cars. There wasn’t really any other good place to hide, except there was a big blue tarp thingy in the corner. It looked like someone could be under it. I lifted it, but no, it was just bunched up.

I went back up to the first floor, where there were a bunch of kids yelling “sardines.” Maybe this wasn’t the best strategy, this floor-by-floor thing. Maybe it would be better to listen carefully, go between the floors listening for where it was quiet. I decided to just stand in the hall and see if anyone disappeared, who was going in and out of rooms.

Sure enough, I saw Emily and Paula go in one door and neither of them came out. Aha. I went to that room, it was a tiny living room next to the big one, but this one had a TV. Behind the couch? Nope. I opened the closet door, and there were four sets of feet showing beneath all the hanging clothes. I squeezed in. One person giggled, and Bill shushed her. “Close the door!” whispered Paula. I wished she liked me. Emily too. I reached out and softly closed the door.  MaryAnn was already in there too. I felt happy, because I wasn’t first to find him, and I wasn’t last.  

After enough kids had found us and it was getting too crowded for any more, Bill said we should all go out and start again. This time MaryAnn would hide because she found him first. We all counted in the front hall and then took off searching.

I went straight down to the basement again. I just had a feeling, because of Mary Ann seeing me in the bathroom, and I went straight there. The shower curtain was pulled shut all the way. Aha. I pulled it back and there she was, sitting in the tub. Shhh, she whispered with her finger to her lips. I climbed in next to her, and pulled the curtain shut all the way.

It was fun sitting next to MaryAnn in the tub. I felt like we were friends. It was a while before another kid found us, it was Ben. Then Joe. Then Paula and Emily, together. So they were going around together.

But I had to hide next. I didn’t want to. I needed to think of a really good place to hide. So they wouldn’t laugh. I had to be all decided before I went off to hide, because the worst thing was when you hadn’t decided, or you changed your mind, and then they find you before you even hid all the way.

I remembered that last year someone hid in a big blanket chest in the third-floor bedroom at the end of the hall. I could take out the blankets to make space. But there still wouldn’t be enough room for more than a couple of kids.  Oh, wait, I knew where I’d go. It was such a great idea.

After everyone had found us in the tub, we all got out and MaryAnn said,

“OK, Mae gets to hide, she found me first.”

“Oh, no,” said Joe, “she’ll hide behind the curtains again.” Laughter.

“Or she’ll hide behind a coatrack and pretend no one can see her,” Ben said. More laughter. Someone had actually done that one time, I think it was Edith.

Well, I’d show them.

I had to start in the front hall with all of them, and not take off until they covered their eyes and started counting. I knew not to run. It made too much noise and they could hear you if you went up the steps. I tiptoed away. One hundred is a pretty long time. I went through the kitchen to the basement steps.  Once in the basement, I ran down the hall to the end, opened the garage door and closed it behind me. I ran over to the corner and raised up the blue tarp. I sat on the dirty floor of the garage and put the tarp over my head. The tarp was dusty and smelled like paint or something.  I needed to be as small as possible. I got on my knees and knelt forward, with my bottom on my heels. It was kind of like praying in church. I adjusted the tarp so it was all around me but I was in the far corner of it instead of towards the front.

And I waited.

No one came.

I couldn’t hear the yelling of “sardines.” Well, the garage door was too thick.  

I waited a long time. This was sure a great hiding place. Everyone would be so impressed. Everyone would say it was the best place ever. Everyone would want to be my friend.

I waited so long. I switched positions, I was so stiff. I sat on my butt cross-legged. Then I just laid down on my back. The garage floor was too cold. I needed something to sit on. Or lie on. I peeked out. I looked around the garage for something. I spotted some rags. Could I go out and get them? Well, why not, no one had come yet. I got the rags, put them down on the floor then quickly covered myself with the tarp again.

I waited. The floor was so hard. My butt was sore. I was getting cold. They would come soon.

Maybe Paula and Emily would come first, together. They’d say, Oh Mae, what a great spot you found! And I’d say that you’re not supposed to go around with someone else. Or maybe I wouldn’t say that because then they wouldn’t like me. I’d just say, thank you. I thought it was great too. And I’d say which one of you will go first next time, since you came together? And they would argue about that and then I’d say, I know, you can draw straws. And they’d say, You are so smart, Mae!

I waited. But no one came.

What if they had stopped playing Sardines and they were doing something else now? Maybe they were laughing at me, saying I was dumb to keep hiding for so long. But how long had it been? I didn’t have a watch. I really wanted a watch for my birthday. I would remember to tell my mom. It’s important to have a watch.

I changed positions again. I peeked out. It looked dark now in the garage. Had it always been that dark? But someone would find me.  The worst thing would be if I chickened out and went back to find them. They would laugh at me, and say, Why didn’t you stay hidden? Were you scared?

I wasn’t scared. But I wished someone would come. Maybe MaryAnn would be the first, and we would sit here together like we sat in the bathtub. And we could whisper because no one could hear us through that thick door.

But no one came.

I waited. But no one came. I was all alone.

April 15, 2024 21:17

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Milena SK
07:34 Apr 26, 2024

Oh man, that's a really sad story :( I felt immersed. Good job!


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Robert Pyke
21:34 Apr 24, 2024

Hi, Jill, Is "Sardines" a deliberate attempt to subvert the idea of what material makes a story? If so, it is a saddening depiction of pathological dependence on the good opinion of others--and you are inviting the reader to abreact to that position--or the piece lacks the essential for any story--a climactic event that changes the protagonist. I don't see any clues to tell me which, so I'm frustrated.


Jill Martin
23:26 Apr 25, 2024

It's supposed to be a story. I guess I need to work on the ending.


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