My father was a player in his day, but you wouldn’t know it now. He’s got all the nurses conned. I saw him push ten dollars into the hand of the male nurse who takes him into the bathroom to do his business. My father is dying. We both know this, but we’re not talking about it. For a laugh, my father pulls on his skin and shouts, “Hey, look what happens when you get old.” His skin droops, flaccid and pendulous. He looks like he belongs in a wax museum. His face is gray, all angles and points, but he still talks like a player, still telling his stories. The guy in the bed next to my father has the TV turned up so loud I have to lean over my father’s bed to hear him.
Death may be the elephant in the room, but we’re still playing dominoes every week because we’ve always played dominoes, and because we both know this may be our last game. When I was a kid I use to imagine this day, our last game together, me old and him older. I imagined my pin looping around the cribbage board while he contemplated his next move. “5 for one,” he’d say and draw six dominoes from the bone-yard before laying an insignificant dom on the table. I would come back with, “25 for five, 30 for six, and I’m out.” He’d lay his doms out flat for me to count, all fours, fives, and sixes. My horse would be racing down the cribbage board to the finish line while his horse was still left at the gate.
“Set ‘em up,” my father said. I rolled a table between us. My father is shrewd. He knows his game. He use to play for money. I mix. We each pull a domino. He plays first. His hand shakes with the effort. He lays down a blank five and reaches for the bone-yard.
My offering uses the challenge word in its title. I suppose that it might disqualify the piece, but I’m playing just the same.