(In response to Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, Diane Arbus, 1962)

So skinny. Busy busy. No time to pull up the other suspender. Yeah. No time. A woman in a coat is walking slowly toward me. She has time for this and that. Women in a coat were all over me as a kid. They put to good use any scrap of time. Scraps are for dogs on a leash.
The boy is full force in a game I know so well. I was at war most of my afternoons as a kid. I was a boy then. I could handle a gun like a pro. We made them with sticks and they came out perfect and scary crazy. We frightened each other with precision. I knew the others well enough to understand exactly how.
I was hard to scare in this game.
This boy staring at me has stopped still but the full energy of the movement is in his eyes. He’s ready for action any minute. That’s how you have to be in the game.
I was someone else’s bad dream when I played war. Not mine. I had no bad dreams then. I smelled of mud and sweat like salt – and did not want to wash it away. I was pungent, salty and bad and not afraid. If I washed I was a kid again doing what women in coats want kids to do. I was a beast and a stranger to myself with a gun in my hand smelling bad. It was so sad each time to wash away the salt smell and be a little girl.
Me and the little boy in the photo know something. Stare as much as you can. You get nothing from us. Zero.

Rosanna Staffa is an Italian-born author. Her work can be found in Best Short Fictions 2021, The Sun, Tampa Review, Gargoyle, and other literary magazines. She is the winner of 2020 TSR Nonfiction Prize, a Pushcart nominee, and a McKnight Recipient. She is a member of The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. The War Ends at Four is her debut novel.