War Games

Posted: August 18, 2015 in Lucas Nguyen, Short Fiction

“Your grandparents were so lucky,” the bigger boy said to me at play time.  “They didn’t have to live through the Depression like mine did.”  He fiddled with the toy train.

I thought of my grandparents’ stories of civil war, of street vendoring for pennies a day.  But my foreign-born shame followed my family’s bloodline to this nation, where I was born, so I kept quiet.

“I mean, I guess you Vietmanese had a war, too, but it wasn’t like the World War II.”  I thought about the absurdity of boasting “My War Can Beat Up Your War.”  I mentally counted another American who couldn’t pronounce Vietnamese.

“It was a pretty bad war,” I said.

He thought I agreed.  “Yeah, you know.  A lot of people died.  And it was in Europe and Japan.  It was really big.  And we had A-Bombs.”  He was so excited, even his spit danced right out of his mouth.

“Can I play with the train now?” I asked.  I held out a hand that looked alien, too small.

“I’m not done yet,” he told me.  He put the train aside with the other toys he wasn’t playing with.  “And we had Communists!  You didn’t have to deal with Communists.”

“We had Communists, too,” I said, trying to be brave.  Every time I spoke up, my heart would race and I’d be on the knife’s-edge of crying.  This was even true when I stood up in class and said what color the bird was (yellow).  I stopped talking before my voice could crack.

“Yeah.”  He almost assented.  “But, not like, real Communists.  The Soviets were real Communists, and they were scary.”  I noticed how well he said “Soviets.”  I was sure his father drilled the word into his head.

“I guess so,” I said.  For now, the tears receded into sadness.  He was wrong, and he was winning.  He even had the train without needing to touch it.

“’Cause, yeah, they had A-Bombs, too!  Did the Vietmanese have A-Bombs?”

“Vietnamese.”  I almost did cry then.



“The Soviets had A-Bombs, like, a lot of A-Bombs.  So we had to make more to be stronger.  And they hated America.”

I figured he didn’t mean that the A-Bombs hated America.  I didn’t like Communists, either, but I started to consider why they might have all hated America.

“My grandad fought in the war,” he said to me.  I felt a flicker of hope that we found some common ground.

“Mine, too,” I said.

He grimaced.  “There’s no way your grandad fought the Japs.  They’re all friends over there or something.”

Another misunderstanding.  “Can I please play with the train now?”

“I’m playing with it.”  He picked up the train and looked at me.  I looked at the flag in the corner to which we all pledge-allegianced.

“You should share.”  The tears were sure now.  I turned and screamed at the train.  “You should share!”

Frightened by my sudden war cry, he reflexively slapped my face.  I wailed.  Recognizing how loud I was only made me cry harder.

Mrs. Neal was on the scene in a flash. “Now, what’s happening here?” she asked neither of us.

“He’s being mean.  He yelled at me.”  All lies, but I was too busy flooding the room to say anything.

A girl I forgot until we dated twelve years later came to my defense.  “But you hit him; I sawl it.”  She nodded furiously while pointing at him.

Mrs. Neal pointed at me without looking.  “Did you hit him?”

“No, ma’am, I didn’t.”

My own rebuttal came from my sobs.

Mrs. Neal learned how to be an elementary education teacher, not a diplomat.  So, she sent us to opposite corners of the room and wrote our names on the board for us, while the train sat forlornly on the bright rug.

When I explained to my high school girlfriend Sara why I didn’t like her dad’s toy trains, she laughed at me and called me silly.  Her dad didn’t share the trains either, but that was because they were expensive.  By then, I didn’t care that I couldn’t share toys with them.


lucasLucas Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American man who was raised around Galveston, Texas and now lives in West Philadelphia.

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