David and Bobby lived in a brick house next door to us. They had a peach tree in the front yard and a cherry tree in the back. A laurel hedge that grew as tall as trees separated their backyard from the gravel alley that ran between our houses. The alley dead-ended at the house of David and Markie, the neighborhood bullies.
Bobby and I were both three years old, and he was my best friend. Markie was three years old too, but we were enemies. He threw a rock at me once, hit me in the eye and started a war.
One afternoon when naptime was over, Bobby and I joined forces with our three older siblings and prepared for battle. First, we built an arsenal of mud balls under the cherry tree in the backyard and stored them in empty coffee cans. Then, the boys ran a garden hose with a spray gun nozzle up a ladder and over the hedge. My sister and I spied through the gaps in the laurel palisade waiting for the enemy to approach, while the boys kept watch on its ramparts.
I remember the thrill of anticipation and the chill of fear as I imagined David and Markie making mud balls at the other end of the alley. I remember the boldness that possessing a secret weapon inspired. Surely those bullies would turn and run home at the first blast from the water hose. Surely. They were out-manned, out-gunned and our stash of mud balls beneath the cherry tree was impressive.
We waited a long time, but Markie and David never appeared.
As dinnertime approached, we could no longer endure the suspense. We worked up the courage to run to the end of the alley and strike first, but when we arrived, no one was there. A few small piles of crumbling mud balls were the only sign that a battle had been imminent. Maybe Markie had been called into the house for a bath. Maybe David had been sent to his room for tracking mud into the kitchen. Maybe our superior numbers and firepower had cowed the boys. I felt both relieved and disappointed that we had avoided the fight. We stomped on the enemy’s mud balls and ran home to dinner.
I remember feeling a bit like a bully myself.