There were three of us—me, Jack, and Heddy—who always played in the woods. We were never inside unless we were in school. We stayed outside until our mothers called us for dinner. We called them our woods but really, they were just a strip of trees between our new subdivision and the only old farm left between the circles of split-level houses.

We built a town in the woods. Each of us had our own house outlined in stones. As we dug in the mud to make our nearly imaginary walls, we found other things, real things. Jack found an old silver spoon. After he shined it up, I told him I thought it was beautiful. I told him I’d never seen anything like it, but he only nodded. Heddy found a small blue china dog, only missing one leg. Jack said he thought it looked like his old dog, the one that lived with his mom now. He was always asking Heddy if he could pet it. Me, I found a mood ring. When I put it on my finger, it turned violet and when I took it off, faded to blue-black. Heddy said she’d always wanted one, that her older sister had had one and lost it. Maybe, she said, her sister had dropped it in our woods?

I said that was unlikely. Her sister was married and in the Army. I left the ring by the door of my house, like a doorbell. Jack put his spoon by his door like a handle. Heddy put her dog by hers to keep watch. We said we did that so we could tell whose house was whose, but really it was to make them feel like homes, feel like more than mud squares bordered with stones hardly bigger than pebbles.

One Saturday, it rained hard nearly all day, stopping only for a few minutes at a time. When it did, one by one, each of us ran down to the town, worried about our house and straightened our lines of stones. Then one by one, we ran home, soaking wet. None of us was there at the same time as anyone else. The town, each of us thought as we stood there, seemed abandoned, deserted, as if no one would ever play there.

Then, on Sunday, the rain stopped. We all met up again. Jack after Mass. Heddy after Hebrew school. Me after Fruit Loops. Immediately we all said that the stones looked different, as if someone had been there. Then we noticed that the silver spoon was missing. The blue china dog. Even the mood ring was gone. We dug in the mud. We kicked the wet, fallen leaves. No spoon. No dog. No ring.

Monday after school, we didn’t go to the woods. We went up to Heddy’s attic to keep watch and try to find who the thief was. We were sure whoever it was would come back. Jack said he thought it was the old farmer. Heddy said she was sure it was some older kids from the next subdivision, probably boys. I said I thought it might be my older sister who, though she never seemed to want play in the woods or with us, was probably secretly jealous of our town.

We stood at the window for hours, not even taking a break to go to the bathroom.

We stood side by side at the window, watching until it was too dark to see.

We stood by the window until our mothers called us home to eat.

We did that though we each knew who the thief was.

We each knew what we’d done—alone in the rain in our town. I had Jack’s spoon under my pillow. Jack had Heddy’s china dog hidden in his desk at school. I’d seen it… And Heddy had her hand in her pocket the whole time we stood there, twirling my mood ring around and around on her thumb as it grew more violet with every lie we each told.


Jesse Lee Kercheval is a writer, poet, translator and artist. Her latest poetry collection is I Want To Tell You (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2023). Her graphic memoir, French Girl, is forthcoming from Fieldmouse Press.

Artwork by Barbara Gillette Price