The house was swarming with serious-looking strangers who moved with urgency, though all they seemed to be doing was waiting. There had been nurses at our home for weeks, ever since Grandfather was moved from the hospital into our spare bedroom. But this was different. Suddenly strangers were milling about in pockets across the house. One of them wore a priest's collar even though my parents had never taken us to mass.
"Go into your room and play. And shut the door. Go on."
My mother's request was not urging, it was a demand.
I went and took my brother with me, but I made sure to slam the door a little, just loud enough for all those strangers to notice.
My brother and I shared a bedroom, even though there were three. My mother insisted on keeping a spare room for guests no matter how many times I pleaded for a room to call my own. We never had any guests.
The strangers in the house didn't bother my brother. He didn't notice the puffiness of Dad's eyes. He also never heard the late-night moans, when the morphine had worn off, coming from the spare bedroom.
"Let's play this."
My brother Ace dragged a tattered board game from the shelves, each corner of the box rounded and frayed with time.
"I don't want to play." I didn't want to play because Mom told us to go play.
Ace lifted the lid of the box, grabbed the small plastic bag of playing parts and began counting the pieces inside. "One. Two. Three. Four…"
He was counting for no good reason. He could only count to seven or eight, so when he got to seven or eight he'd start over again at one. I considered urging him on to nine and ten, but only he would be praised for it later.
I took the board from the box and smoothed it onto the floor. The tall threads of the carpeting made for an unstable surface, a soft, fragile base. There was a tangle of paths your little plastic car could take.
"Let's play!," Ace clapped. I refused just to upset him.
While he cried on his bunk I grabbed tracing paper and a pencil from my backpack. I placed the transparent paper over the playing board and traced the outlines of the make believe roads. While I moved the pencil over the paper I heard my mother tell my father she'd make the arrangements. Then she told him to quit the crying, Ace might hear.
[photo by Chris Orbz]