They played on the rug, Erica Hashimoto and her mom, they played the clapping game. Her mom said the words, and they clapped their hands across the empty air.

Willy was a German,

Willy was a thief,

Willy came into my house,

And caused a lot of grief.

Erica knew the game. Her mom had learned it in camp, where she and the other girls had clapped their mittened hands and laughed, and the only variation was to say it louder than the last, because in camp what else was there to do?

Her mom stopped playing on the rug. She got up. It was 1965, and there were lots of things to do. The moms were coming over for the big luncheon. Becky Sakamoto and Erica and the other girls were to play in the front yard.

* * *

Willy was a German.

Erica could see the moms through the big window. They were seated in the living room around the rug and talking. What were they talking about? Erica was bored with the girls’ games, so she went in to sit on her mom’s lap. She watched the women smoke cigarettes and talk in allusions she did not understand.

Willy was a thief.

“What is camp anyway?” she finally burst.


Willy came into my house.

Erica slipped out of her mom’s lap and went back to the other girls, her bobbed hair bouncing. Click of white leather sandals. Erica was not curious about camp. Not really. And her mom never suggested that she should be.

And caused a lot of grief.

Erica found her dad on the front lawn, watching the children play in the street. He was standing on their half of the duplex lawn, beside the dried out vegetables patch with its little Popsicle sticks that told you what had tried to grow. Erica took his hands, and allowed herself to be spun, round and round, saying “Willy was a German, Willy was a thief, Willy came into my house…” Then Erica’s white sandals dragged in the brown grass. Her dad was done. They held hands. He said nothing. He fought for breath.

“We don’t say those words,” he wheezed.

And caused a lot of grief.

Erica didn’t ask her dad about camp. She knew the story, how they called him Charlie Hustle, the way he ran the bases, even when the dust was bad, he ran so fast, and the dust stuck in his lungs, and Erica didn’t ask because she knew. Walking out to the girls in the street, she held her dad’s hand. He didn’t hold hers back. She didn’t expect him to.

We don’t say those words.

We don’t say any words at all.

Evan Morgan Williams

Evan Morgan Williams has published over fifty short stories in literary magazines famous and obscure, including Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, ZYZZYVA, Witness, and Antioch Review. He has published three collections of short stories: “Thorn,” winner of Chandra Prize at BkMk Press in 2014, “Canyons: Older Stories” self-published in 2018, and “Stories of the New West,” published by Main Street Rag Press in 2021. Williams holds an MFA, tattered and faded, from the University of Montana in 1991. He has just retired after 29 years as a Language Arts teacher in Oregon’s toughest middle school.

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