Thursday, December 27, 2012
Juxtapost (A Future's Perfect Post)
It's the day after Christmas and I am obliged to show Christmasy pictures and wax poetic. I am not really up for that but I will share a little story, a story I would probably forget in a few years if I didn't write it down here. A story which by that time might just be a fiction in an old man's imagination. A story I would like to tell when the boys are older and a fire's burning and their spouses are with them and grandchildren are there and...
The old man sits amid a gaggle of people in a forever too small living room. A fire burns in the low, loud room and it is warm, but the old man, once heavy and always hot, is small now and feels the years in his shoulders and the cold in his nose.
"Dad, it's your move."
He looks down on the juice-beer-coffee-marker-pen-chicken-popcorn-butter-stained coffee table and sees the chess-set which his family has given him for Christmas the day before. He smiles inwardly at the mistake in strategy the boy, no man, has always made. They are forever boys, he thinks to himself, in my mind at least, but now men as well, grown men, with their own families and worries and dreams. When exactly does that happen, he wonders.
"Well now, Nick, you've gone and made the same mistake you've always made; you don't see the long attacks." He leans forward and a little boy shape slips in behind him. Is it a grandchild, a memory, the ghost of a beloved never-forgotten secret snuggle, a comforting arm, a dream? He isn't sure but the warmth pleases him.
"Sorry," he says as he shoots a rook across the board and takes out a threatening bishop. The wood of the new chess pieces is unfinished and the design sparse, the board is leather and oak. The set pieces are ironwood he realizes, difficult to carve, substantial, deep. He understands that the character of this set is much like his own. He understands the care taken in the choosing of this particular set and appreciates it.
"Yeah, he was always a sucker for a hidden bishop or queen," another voice comes down from above.
"Zack, no one asked you, buddy." The old man says.
The ghost of a snuggle behind him makes a noise, a giggle, and then says, "Dad, when did you learn to play chess?"
The bishopless man-boy answers, "I don't know, son. When did we learn to play, Dad?"
The memories flood all at once as they always do, rich and detailed, although so long forgotten.
The year they learned to play chess as the Furbys looked on.
The old man looks at the two sons. I'm seventy-seven that makes them thirty-three now, he thinks, and thirty-three years of Christmas memories assault him at once: hugs and a birthday song; oranges and Starbursts in the toes of stockings; tee shirts and sweatshirts; board games and video games; crystal ornaments and J-O-Y spelled out on a wall above a fireplace, below which the stockings still hang.
They filter through his mind, each one individual yet recalled instantaneously, as though they were one thing; a collage, a montage. His mind lands on one memory, probably a photo somewhere, of a chess- set, a note from Santa and a brown banana peel.
"It was the year you decided to give Santa a 'healthy snack, because it looks like he needs one,' you said. Remember, the year we made individual plates for all the Reindeer and put the food out for them on them. You know, that plan didn't really work out. I had hoped it would be easier to clean up if we didn't sprinkle it on the..."
"Dad, be cool," the voice from above whispers.
The old man remembers the lump of warmth behind him.
"... ground. But the reindeer weren't very neat, even from their own plates. I still had to sweep up the leftovers. They ate all the miniature marshmallows though. Even Santa thought that was a great idea." He finishes with a wink at his chess-mate across the table.
"I remember you teaching us. It was that board with how the player moves sort of marked on each piece. I'd forgotten all about that." The boy, no man, Nick, says, the memories flooding back in his mind as well. "I remember I couldn't figure out how a pawn, of all things, worked. I remember you said the pawn marched forward but attacked with a slash move diagonally. You showed us how it looks. I still think of you doing that every time I take a piece with a pawn. Santa brought that board."
"What else did they get that year, Bill?," a familiar, comforting voice asks from across the room.
"I remember now, Mom: Furbys." The other boy, no man, Zack says as he flops his lanky body down on the couch next to the man. Their shoulders touch and the old man feels the familiar electricity that only a child's touch can give.
The little ghost of warmth behind him giggles again.
"What's Furbys?" it asks.
"They were these little stuffed animals that kinda came alive, and responded to your voice and touch and moving them around. God, I'd forgotten all about those. Sometimes I wonder how much I have forgotten, it's sorta sad." He puts his hand into the wrinkled, age-spotted hand of his father. "I remember the Furbys drove you nuts, Dad."
"Oh, in all honesty, I thought they were kind of cute. I remember the day after Christmas that year, you guys were up early as usual and really wanted to go out into the living room so you could wake up your Furbys and see how they were doing. I finally said yes but told you I had to take a shower. When I came out of the shower I looked down the hall and there you were, the four of you, at this very table, the chessboard between the two of you and the black and orange Frurbys looking on."
"Oh yeah, I remember those, mine was the orange one. I loved those stupid things," the boy named Nick says wistfully.
"I remember thinking at the time what a perfect moment that seemed to me. I beautiful depiction of who you were then. On one hand little men learning a game for men, a game of battles and romance, a game of kings; and, on the other hand, little boys buying into, perhaps for one of the last times, the magic of imagination and make-believe those silly little Furbys represented." The old man is emotional, he has always been so but these days he doesn't seem to cover it as well, and he feels his eyes welling up as that moment comes back to him.
"What's a Furby?" Another voice, more emphatically this time, asking from seemingly under the Christmas tree.
"It's hard to explain. I bet there's a picture in our photo albums. Where's mine Mom?" Zack, the father of the voice under the tree asks.
"Just where they've been for the last thirty years, Zackers."
Both boys fly up and over to the shelves and begin flipping through the albums.
"Christmas, two-thousand-twelve, boys," the old man says, brushing the tear from his eye, glad the attention has gone away from him.
And then, practically in a whisper, he adds: "The year you learned to play chess as the Furbys looked on."
"Here it is," They say at the same time.
"Jinx, you owe me a soda," they then say at the same time...
"Furbys sound creepy," the boy behind the old man says softly. And then, after a perfect pause, the pause where love lives, "will you teach me to play chess, too, Grampa?"