“Hasenpfeffer,” Cecil said. No sign of a break in the weather. Just gray skies and drizzle to the horizon on the interstate.
“Shit,” his wife said in the passenger seat. “I was doing voice to text. I have to start over.” Anna always multi tasked. She couldn’t just stare out the window on a three hour car ride. She had to get work done. Some deadline always loomed.
“Hasenpfeffer,” Cecil said. He turned on the blinkers and eased into the left lane. “It’s like in that Bugs Bunny episode where the king wants the royal chef to prepare Hasenpfeffer.”
“Why are you thinking about Hasenpfeffer?” Anna asked. She continued to focus on her phone. Lawyers sure loved to send each other texts even on a Friday morning of a holiday weekend.
“Just a game we used to play,” he said. “You take the letters from a license plate and you have to come up with a word with those letters in that order. HAS Hasenpfeffer HAS.”
Anna frowned. “HAS? Why not haste or chains or something?”
“What’s the fun in that?”
“Postpone meeting until I return. Period,” Anna spoke into the phone.
“Hey, why don’t we play?” Cecil asked. “It’ll be like the cow cemetery game.”
“I was doing voice to text,” Anna said.”
She dictated for a few more seconds.
“What’s the cow cemetery game?” she asked.
Cecil laughed. “Oh, that. You count all the cows on your side of the road and I do the same on mine. If I see a cemetery on your side, all your cows die and you have to start over. Whoever has the most cows wins.” Nothing but cookie cutter industrial buildings on both sides of the road. Not many farms on the interstate. “We can’t really play that around here.”
Anna sighed. She pointed to a battered pick-up truck whose driver flicked his cigarette ash out the window “Okay. TEE. Teeth.”
Cecil laughed. “Teeth? Is that the best you can do? How about teeter totter or teetotaler or steely?”
“Do I get extra points?” Anna asked.
“Well, no,” he said.
A semi whizzed by in the right lane, kicking up water from the rain puddles. Cecil braked a little. STR 1346.
“Stratego,” Cecil said. “STR.”
“Yeah, a great game,” Cecil said. “We played it when I was a kid.”
“You can’t use proper nouns,” Anna said. “I win.”
“Who says you can’t use proper nouns?”
Anna typed away at her phone for a minute. “Each player has fifteen seconds to come up with a word using the license plate letters from the next vehicle. Any word from a standard dictionary is acceptable. Players may not use proper nouns or blah blah blah. If a player uses an exempt word or his time runs out he loses the game.”
“There’s a damned website for the license plate game?”
Sometimes Cecil really hated mobile phones. People used to sit around and discuss things. Now somebody with a mobile phone had to find the answer and stop a good conversation cold. Why sit around at a cookout debating the best quarterback of all time when somebody could just pull up the official stats from ESPN?
“Yep,” Anna said. “Every game has to have rules. Or else what’s the point of playing?”
“I don’t know,” Cecil said. “Just something to pass the time. I don’t really care who wins.”
“My best friend Jimmy Ross came over every day after school to my house in sixth grade and we played basketball in my driveway. If it rained, we played stratego or chess or something. I couldn’t tell you who won a single one of those games. I just remember laughing a lot.”
“My grandparents played canasta every afternoon,” Anna said. “They kept a running tally. My grandmother was always ahead. 1400 to 1200 games or something.”
“I doubt they really cared who was ahead,” Cecil said.
“I guess,” Anna said.
He needed gas. He pulled off the interstate into one of the big gleaming multipump stations with a massive convenience store. He swiped his card and pulled his jacket a little tighter. They had picked a great weekend to go to a bed and breakfast at the coast.
Anna kept typing into her phone.
He went inside and grabbed a couple of coffees. They had all the specialty creamers that he and Anna loved. He added some hazelnut to his coffee and scooped up a handful and wrapped the assortment in a napkin along with some sweetener for Anna.
He handed her a coffee and the bulging napkin.
“Scooby snack,” Anna said.
He blinked. “Huh?”
She pointed to the lime green Honda ahead of them where a bald guy in a red jacket punched buttons at the pump. “SCS 992.”
Cecil smiled. “Scooby Snack. Good one.”
Anna put her hand on his. “Can we take the state roads to the coast?”
“It’ll take longer,” Cecil said.
Anna leaned over and kissed him.
“Yeah, but we’ll see more cows.”
Peter Wood is a lawyer in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his very patient wife. He has had stories published in Asimov’s, Stupefying Stories, and Every Day Fiction.