by Grady J. Gratt
“I bet you to cross The Line!” Tommy Carlson says.
The crowd of boys goes quiet, Mikey Sloan’s eyes widen, Samantha Hammond gasps, and Tommy Karlson knows that he has just gone too far.
The Line is located on the other end of the park, past the playground, past the baseball field, just at the far end of where the park slides into a steep ravine. It is a small patch of concrete. The adults know it to be part of an old drainage ditch, or a fill-in for a sinkhole, or some kind of marker that the city placed, a long time ago. The story is never consistent. The truth is that none of the Adults can remember why there is a 7 foot long, 5 foot wide rectangular patch of concrete at the far end of the park, right next to the ravine that is the park’s boundary. The cement itself is light grey and ordinary. Cool to the touch, except on warm days like this, and slightly buried, so the perfect 90° edges and corners won’t scrape anyone who passes by. The cement patch is only an inch or two thick; a child could spend a day slowly digging a small hole at the side and wiggle their finger underneath the slab and feel the rough underside. All children are in agreement; there is nothing wrong or special about the grey slab that The Line is on.
The Line itself is a different story. It is a long, bright red stripe that divides the middle of the slab. At 4 inches thick and 5 feet long, it doesn’t cross the entire slab. A child can stand on the cement patch and walk around it. (Of course, everyone knows that that does not count as crossing the line.) The Line has not faded or peeled since it was painted. The children say it was painted long ago, before the dinosaurs. The mothers say that The Line has just been there since ’82, when the city did some construction. The fathers agree with the mothers, but then they would start to mumble about how that particular area of the park is dangerous, and all children should stay away from it.