FICTION July 29, 2011

The Un-Game

Dear Ms. Freedman,

I’m glad they got you on the right pills.   I looked up exsanguinated and it means, “drained of blood and life.”   I feel that way a lot of times when I get home from work.  Maybe I need some mental meds and a week at Bridges, ha ha.  

In order to waste time at the rest home on Thursday, I inventoried the supply closet.  As I counted crates of tangled string and stacks of brittle magazines, I realized:  the “supplies” are just things geezers leave behind when they die.  Then I saw the “Un-Game,” battered in the corner.  I thought:  damn, a real supply.  An activity for tomorrow!

Me and the Un-Game, we go way back. I first played it at Amelia Basil’s house. Amelia’s parents believed in exact fairness. They liked the Un-Game, because no one wins.   You just take turns pulling question cards like “Who do you trust?” and “What is your favorite: triangle or dodecahedron?” While I played the game on Amelia’s rug, shoveling Cheez-its in my face, I learned that Mrs. Basil’s happiest moment was eating jumbo shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce a week before her wedding.

This seemed sad to me.

Today I wheeled old folks onto the sun porch to play the Un-Game.   Aurora leaned down to pick up the lid of the game-box.  Her eyes wobbled.  She put the box on top of her head.

“It’s to shade myself,” she said.

“Do you want me to get you a hat from your room?”

She held it there, arm shaking.  “I have no hat.”

“Okay,” I said, feeling bad she had Parkinson’s, plus also a box on her head.   “You can go first.” I flipped through the deck, discarding downers (Share a big let-down in your life. What do you think it’s like after you die?)

“Okay, Aurora. I found a question for you!”

It was hard to watch Aurora’s emaciated body tremble.  It was like watching a grandma be crucified.

“What is your most sentimental possession?”

“My Bible.”

“A classic!  What’s your favorite story?”

“The cripple at the well.”

“I like it when Jesus overturns the tables in the temple and drives out money-changers with a whip of braided cords.”

I turned to Helen, whose body swelled out of her wheelchair like a rising mound of dough.  “Helen.   ‘What advice would you give a young man about to get married’?”

“Buy her . . . flowers,” Helen croaked, trying to adjust her thick, terminator-style shades.

“That’s sweet.  Did your husband buy you flowers?”

“My lover . . .  did.”

I imagined a lover climbing Helen’s mountain of flesh, planting a flag in her perm.   “Good for you, Helen.  Way to live fully.”   I turned to Nancy, a frail woman with puffy orange hair.   “What are you most proud of?”

Nancy brushed an imaginary crumb from her arm.

“Like, what have you done in your life that you feel good about?”

She rubbed her eyes.

“Nancy.  C’mon.  Participate.”

“I’m not proud of anything,” she sobbed.  Tears streamed down her face.

So much for the un-game.

Before I worked here, I thought living a long time would automatically make you kindly and wise.  Not so much.    The old people cheat at bingo and throw hissy fits about toast.  Anyways, I’m going to see if I can steal some beer from my aunt, and get wasted, and forget about my day.   Don’t tell.

Your friend,


P.S.  This is a kind of weird poem I wrote on my break today.  It is called, Nicoli, Who Was Thrown To the Wolves Behind the Sleigh, 1845.

Dear Janice,

I suppose I don’t have to tell you that your prefrontal cortex is not fully formed until the age of twenty five.  Abusing alcohol in the teen years may cause your brain to re-circuit, wiring you for dependence on alcohol or other substances.

But I understand why you’d want to drink.  Sometimes the mind whirs and pinwheels, rising and contracting on roller coaster stairs, and you need a little something to blur the flashing lights to shade forests of tree green.

At least postpone your drinking until you make it to college.   Please.  Alcohol could be your camel’s straw—the weight that tips you into the world of perpetual rest home employment.  Try that for purgatory.

Sorry I’m jangly.   They’ve augmented meds, seeking that which won’t exsanguinate.  This new cocktail (of drugs) makes me feel I’ve swallowed batteries.   Energizing yet artificial.  I do not recommend.


Ms. F