THE GAME • by Anita Roberts Soupir

“If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”

I looked into the faded, cornflower blue eyes of my grandfather, as he sat across the table from me. Today they seemed remarkably clear as if he knew where he was and who I am.

“Okay, I’ll play. I love a good game. How many questions can I ask?”

His broad face broke into a smile that melted my heart.

“Well, it has to be a challenge. It’s something you’ll love, so I want to make you work for it. How about ten questions?” he replied in his deep, gravelly voice.

That voice had boomed out of him when I was younger and frightened me more than a few times until I realized he was all bark and no bite, just a big softie at heart.

“I accept, and here’s my first question. Is it made out of paper?”

He felt around in the pocket of his worn overalls, before answering, “No.”

I pretended to think of my next question, while I studied him. He was still an imposing man with the build of a large bear. The steely gray hair was thinning, but he wore it as he always had in a bristly buzz cut. So many fond memories from my childhood were attached to the man facing me.

“Is it something I can eat?”

He guffawed. “I wouldn’t recommend it!”

There was a sparkle in those eyes, as he took childlike pleasure in this contest of his. I couldn’t help but smile in return.

“Give me a minute to think, Grandpa. It’s not made of paper, and it’s not edible. Is it something you wear?”

“It is, but you have to be more specific.”

I locked gazes with him, trying to read what was going through his mind. For a few minutes, the sights and smells of the dining room were nonexistent. I no longer heard the murmuring of the other residents and visitors or the clanking of the dishes being filled and passed out. The aroma of warm, yeasty rolls had stopped tickling my nose. It was moments like this that made me angry at the universe. Why couldn’t he be allowed to age with grace and dignity? Why did he have to lose that huge personality and wonderful sense of humor that I loved so dearly? It wasn’t fair that the lifetime of memories he had amassed could be wiped away for all but a few days here and there.

As my thoughts had turned sour, my face must have reflected my emotions; a trait I hated.

“What’s the matter? You look upset,” Grandpa asked, with a worried look on his lined face.

I mentally shook away the unpleasant thoughts that had entered my mind for the millionth time, knowing I should be focusing my attention on the man sitting across from me, and soaking up every smile and laugh. Although I couldn’t push away that little bubble of anger that resided in my heart, I could certainly put up a better façade.

I tried for a reassuring smile, “Nothing, Grandpa, I just realized I forgot something at work. Okay, let’s see, where was I?”

As I studied him, his expression revealed nothing; however, I got the impression that it was something very valuable. “Is it jewelry?”

With the hand that was on the table, he grabbed mine and gave it a little squeeze. “You were always a smart child! It is jewelry, but what kind?”

He would never know how much those words meant to me that he remembered my childhood!

“Is it a necklace?”

He shook his head, “Keep trying, Punky.”

He was the only one to use that nickname, and I thought he’d long forgotten it.

“Is it a bracelet?”

“No, but you’re getting warmer. You have the right shape.” He chuckled, quite pleased with himself.

Lord, how I loved to see him like this; laugh lines crinkling around eyes alight with glee.

“Ha, I’ve got it! Is it a ring?” I asked excitedly.

“You guessed it, Punky! Now I suppose I have to keep my promise.”

I watched closely as he withdrew the hand from his pocket. In it gleamed a gold band with the tiniest of diamonds. I knew that ring!

“I want you to have this. It was your grandma’s ring, the only one I could afford at first.”

I was caught off guard and rendered speechless for the briefest of moments.

“Grandpa, I love you so much, but I can’t accept that.”

“Punky, I don’t have many good days left, but I want to try to hold on to this moment as long as I can. It makes me happy to give the ring to you, and I know your grandma would agree. You’ll never know how much joy you brought us over the years with your visits and phone calls telling us about your adventures on the East Coast. You always had the gift of turning a simple story into an epic tale that your Grandma and I so enjoyed. That’s why I want you to have this gift from us. Your grandma has visited my dreams lately, and I know that I’ll be with her soon. In the meantime, I want you to understand how precious you are to me. I love you, Punky. Never forget that.” In that instant, all the years of anger I had been harboring at Fate’s cruelness were washed away, and in its place was pure happiness. It was clear the true gift was every second that I got to spend with him, see his twinkling eyes, and hear the gruff laugh. My soul felt cleansed of all the bitterness, and my heart was lighter than it had been in years. I had the unshakable feeling that my grandma somehow had a hand in engineering this, as well as that last clear-minded conversation with Grandpa, who had gone on to join her just a few days later.

Anita Roberts Soupir lives in North Dakota with her husband, two teenage children, a dog, and two cats, while working on her juggling skills. Things she’s currently juggling: full-time job, being a housekeeper and cook at Chez Soupir, sports mom who travels to every football and basketball game and track meet, a part-time photography business, and writing. Her work can be seen in: Crack the Spine Literary Magazine and Mused – the BellaOnline Literary Review Magazine, as well as 50 Haikus, 50 Word Stories, and SpeckLit. She’s also trying to find time to work on a new, full-length manuscript.

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