The Martens were not a family who played games. A few years ago, in a moment of inspiration, Daddy had decided that they would institute a family game night every week and had spontaneously gone out and bought up the clearance section at Gnome Games. They had played each game for five minutes before moving on to the next one, and by the fifth game the meeting had degenerated into chaos. The baby, Marguerite, was eating the cards, Bethie was using the Monopoly tokens as characters in her soap opera down by the fireplace, the two little boys, Tim and Bobby, (affectionately referred to as ‘the muppets’) were fighting over the blue dice, the two older boys, John and Rick, had resorted to rock, paper, scissors for entertainment, and Laura and Vinnie had got out their books to read again. Mama had promised the love of her life support in this endeavor, but soon after the first game started had disappeared into the kitchen to “just make some coffee.” The game night had officially ended when Margie happily dropped all the road pieces from Catan into the living room vent. The big boys freaked out and began unscrewing the vent, the muppets began fighting over the Catan card with the knight on it, someone finally noticed Bethie using the sacred Monopoly pieces in such a disrespectful manner and made a big deal out of it, and everyone was sent to bed except for those unlucky few who were to clean up all the games.
Given the result of that famous and everlasting family game night, the eight Martens children choked on their roast beef when their father, now an older and wiser man, cleared his throat at dinner and said, “Tonight, per dictatorial decree, in order that the People may be better able to endure the restrictions of Lent in their fast from movies and desserts, the family will once again attempt a game night.”
Protests were many and loud. Marguerite banged her bowl on the highchair and yelled for more mashed potatoes. Bethie reminded Daddy that the boys didn’t understand the rules of her game, and they always tried to take the thimble token, even though the thimble was for the princess. Tim and Bobby stoutly denied taking the thimble from the princess but said that the last time they had touched the game closet, John had yelled at them. John pleaded innocence, claiming that they only lost the pieces. Ricky said that he didn’t think it was a good idea without giving a reason. Vinnie was zoned out, waiting for dinner to be over so that she could get back to Kaladin Stormblessed surviving a highstorm. Laura protested that the last time they had had a game night everything had gotten out of control and the games had gone everywhere.
“Which is why,” said Daddy loudly, “we are only going to play one game.”
“We don’t have a game with that many players,” cut in John. “And the little boys always lose the pieces.” The little boys shouted in indignation. Order was once more thrown to the winds. Marguerite swept her bowl off her highchair tray and smacked her hands into the mashed potatoes. Bethie started hollering and pointing at the catastrophe as Marguerite smeared the potatoes into her wispy blond hair, smiling blissfully.
“And another thing,” said Laura sensibly. “When we play a game, we can’t pay attention to her, and Marguerite just makes trouble.”
“Yeah!” yelled the muppets. “She just makes trouble!”
Daddy pounded for order as Mama went to wash off the baby. “We are going to have a family game night,” he said, “because we don’t spend enough time together as a family. Now, stuck in a quarantine in the middle of Lent, seems to me to be the perfect time to foster healthy activities together. Unlike the rest of America, who is spending this time staring at screens and avoiding their family members– ”
“For good reason!” interjected John.
Daddy gave him an icy stare, finishing, “We will be actually having fun.”
“Just staring at each other,” muttered John, in a voice very clear that he meant it to be a scathing and slightly disrespectful comment.
“And we’re going to put Margie to bed first, so that she doesn’t disrupt the game,” added Daddy, as Mama came in with the “new and improved baby,” as Vinnie put it. Mama went around the table holding the squirming toddler so that each sibling could give her her nightly kiss on her wet hair, and then carried her away upstairs while the rest of the kids cleaned up.
Half an hour later, seven minors and one parent assembled in the living room, wary of whatever monstrosity Daddy was selecting from the little-used game closet downstairs. He eventually surfaced with a blue and black box titled “Say Anything” for six players. They would go in teams to accommodate the muppets. Laura with Bethie, Tim with Vinnie, Bobby with Daddy. Everyone else was on their own. Each team claimed a small, color coded whiteboard, a marker, and two little tokens and retreated to their separate territories of the living room to plan the attack. Martens were not good at organizing regular games or family time.
But when they did it, they did it hard.
It was the Martens way.
Everyone watched with narrowed eyes while Daddy took the first card from the box, turned it over, and read, “What historical figure would this person most like to have dinner with? This is for the neon team, Daddy and Bobby.”
“Jesus!” Bobby exclaimed. Daddy shushed him furiously, but everyone was already scribbling.
“What historical figure would Bobby and Daddy want to have over for dinner?” Vinnie impatiently repeated to a confused Tim.
“Batman,” he responded confidently.
“What does that mean?”
Laura wrote “Thomas Edison,” and then rethought the answer to configure Bobby.
“Ten...” began Daddy. Everyone began to panic. “Nine…”
“Write Jesus,” whispered Tim frantically. Vinnie scribbled “Jesus” onto the board and dropped the marker just as time ran out. Each team then had a representative run their board to the middle of the carpet for Daddy and Bobby to survey.
“Let’s see...said Daddy slowly reading the answers. Vinnie and Tim say ‘Jesus’-”
“We ran out of time,” cut in Vinnie.
“-Laura and Bethie say ‘Batman,’ Ricky says ‘Jim Caviezel always wins’ sorry, wrong game Ricky, and John, where’s yours? Oh, in the corner. John says ‘Charles Lindberg.’ Not sure why you’d think that…”
John claimed that he ran out of time.
“And Mama says, ‘For Daddy, Thomas Edison, for Bobby, Batman.” Loud protests erupted from all corners. “I didn’t know we were allowed to do two answers!”
“That’s against the rules!”
“No, I’ll allow it,” said Daddy stepping back from the whiteboards.
“So what happens now?” asked Ricky.
“Now,” answered Daddy, consulting the rulebook, “you vote.”
Vinnie sent Tim out to the whiteboards with their two purple tokens and strict orders to place one on their own board, and one on Mama’s. Bethie was to place one pink token on Mama’s and one on John’s. Ricky bet all his chips on himself.
Daddy and Bobby took conference. Snatches of the conversation were caught by the others, and everybody started wishing that they’d put Batman. Eventually, the neon team came to a compromise and chose Mama’s. The purple and pink teams each got a point for betting on the winner, and had a mini celebration in their separate corners of the couch.
“This one is for the pink team, Bethie and Laura. ‘What would make this weekend more exciting?’”
“Jumping off a building,” whispered Tim immediately. Vinnie paused, snorted, and wrote it down, snickering. After consideration she added, ‘Person of Interest’ at the bottom, because Laura had given it up for Lent and hadn’t stopped bewailing its absence. The countdown began. “Hold on, this is for Bethie too,” John smacked his forehead.
“Everybody write unicorns!” Vinnie yelled, scribbling ‘unicorns’ onto the board in the last three seconds.
Mama wrote “Mulan” because its premiere had been canceled. Daddy and Bobby bet everything on Bethie’s sway and wrote “A Birthday Party with Unicorns.” Ricky ran out of time and wrote, “candy.”
“I would advise,” said Vinnie as Laura read them out, “that you really think about which answer is the most exciting one, because the card said, “what would make this weekend more exciting?” Jumping off a building is definitely the only one of these answers that would make this weekend more exciting. But in all honesty, I should say that Tim gets full credit for this win.” They high-fived.
Laura shrugged, preferring Mulan, and Bethie rejected the answer due to its minor inclusion of unicorns.
“Now unicorns jumping off a building, that would definitely be exciting,” said Mama thoughtfully, and the room erupted in laughter. Everyone’s mind was still filled with images of unicorns streaming sparkles as they jumped off a building in despair when Laura announced that she had been overruled, and the pink team was choosing “A Birthday Party with Unicorns.” Daddy meticulously marked down neon team’s points while everyone else grumbled against the system and the freedom of choice given to the younger members of the People.
“Ours was still the best,” said Vinnie to Tim. “A couple suicidal unicorns is just what this weekend needs.”
“What time period would you want to be in? The orange team - so, Ricky - is next.” Everyone groaned. Ricky’s sense of humor was impossible to place. Sometimes he would go for the crude bathroom humor, other times he would only pick the realistic one. The teams left it up to chance and relied on the momentary inspirations of the muppets.
“Renaissance,” whispered Tim.
“I don’t know how to spell that. And how do you know that word?”
Laura wrote “Thomas Edison - the 1800s” while Bethie whispered in her ear, “Batman. Ricky likes Batman. No, Bobby likes Batman. But I like unicorns…”
Mama wrote “Ancient Rome.” Daddy began the countdown as soon as he finished his.
“Aak! This thing is rigged!” cried Vinnie, racking her brain for information.
“Treasure Island,” whispered Tim frantically. Vinnie scribbled it down and gave it to him to run out into the middle of the floor.
“Let’s see, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, haha, that’s kind of funny, so many ancient ones-”
“Yeah yeah we get it hurry up,” urged everyone else.
“The 1800s, Treasure Island, ooh…..that would......actually be really cool.” Purple team hallooed in victory. Everyone resignedly voted on purple when the time came. They were not disappointed.
“Yahtzee!” crowed Vinnie.
“An alien ship has just landed on earth. What would John do?”
“Um, take the ship, and use the ship to go to the aliens’ planet.” Bobby told Daddy.
“Shoot it down!” hissed Tim. Vinnie obeyed without question. Tim was proving himself to be quite adept.
Laura wrote “Shoot it with B48s.”
Mama wrote, “Move back to Washington.” It was a personal complaining thread of John’s. Everyone laughed when they saw it.
Vinnie sent Tim to vote with one for their own answer and one for Mama’s. They didn’t have a chance after Laura’s more specific answer, but as she explained to Tim, they would always put one token on their own answer, because purple team believed in itself.
“It’s Mama’s turn. Okay, I’m not making this up - what is the most annoying thing about being a man?” The teams howled. Daddy chose a different question after order was restored.
“What job should only be done by experts, in Mama’s opinion?”
“Paint Mama on the Cathedral walls,” said Tim immediately. Vinnie considered and tried to think of something Mama would say.
Ricky, overthought the question and ending up writing "saving the world."
“Cleaning the dishwasher and the floor,” said Bethie, after much consideration. Laura laughed and wrote it down.
Purple team, as usual, ran out of time. Vinnie scribbled ‘Paint Mama on the Cathedral walls.’
John wrote, ‘Leading a tour in a museum.’ Every team groaned when she read it and betted all their tokens on it except for purple, which bet one on itself, because the purple team believes in itself. Several rounds later Vinnie was still arguing that anyone could be a tour guide, but it took a real expert to paint someone on the Cathedral walls and not make it look like graffiti.
“If this person was to write a book, what would it be called? This is for the neon team. Me and Bobby.” Hasty whispered conferences broke out across the room.
“If Daddy and Bobby wrote a book, what would it be called?” asked Vinnie.
“Um, Dinosaurs with Daddy and Bobby,” Tim whispered. Vinnie stopped in the middle of writing “Economics: with Commentary by George and Bobby Martens,” erased it, and wrote “Dinosaurs with Daddy and Bobby.”
“Dinosaurs!” said Bethie in a stage whisper. “Bobby likes dinosaurs! But I like unicorns…” Laura took inspiration from all the signs explaining how separate businesses were dealing with the virus and wrote “Dinosaurs: Your Health is Our Priority.”
Ricky spent several minutes writing a long and detailed name involving the sainthood of Bobby and Daddy.
“Let’s see...Dinosaurs with Daddy and Bobby, The Works of Sts. Daddy and Bobby, Dinosaurs: Your Health is Our Priority- hah! What’s with the dinosaurs theme?”
“Dinosaurs: Your Health is Our Priority” won. It appealed to both the dinosaur lover and the Daddy on the team. “If our health was their priority,” Daddy was continually pointing out, “they’d be a hospital, not a library!” Aak, the rest of America.
At nine o’clock Daddy halted the game and read the scoresheet. “Let’s see, after counting up all the points, here what’s we’ve got. First, dead last, with eleven points, we have….the purple team! Tim and Vinnie! Yay!” The purple team booed and hissed appropriately. “The game is rigged!” yelled Vinnie.
“Second from dead last, which is where the purple team was, - calm down, Tim and Vinnie, - is Mama, the blue team. Next, the pink team! Yay! Everybody clap for Bethie!” Everybody clapped for Bethie.
“In third place, with fourteen points, Ricky! All alone on the orange team and he lost!” Ricky joined the conspiracy theory held by Vinnie that the game was rigged. “And tied for first place, the neon team with Daddy and Bobby, and the green team with John all alone!”
“Tiebreaker!” shouted John.
“The game is rigged!” shouted Tim, carrying on the tradition.
“Okay, Mama is the tiebreaker,” said Daddy, picking another card. “What would be the best place to go for spring break? Oh, this is actually pretty relevant, except that we can’t leave the house.”
“Spain,” said Tim, but Vinnie was already writing. She had had an inspiration. Tim wouldn’t agree until she told him that it was “the bathroom.” He had her add Spain at the bottom just in case.
“Austria and Spain again,” wrote Laura. Bethie had lost interest.
Ricky wrote “On a date with Daddy,” drew a line, wrote “Spain,” drew another line, and wrote “heaven”.
Daddy and Bobby wrote “a museum.”
John wrote “the biggest, oldest museum with the most stuff in the world.”
“Let’s see...a museum, Austria and Spain again, oh that was a lovely trip, on a date with Daddy oho, and also to Spain AND to heaven, okay. The biggest oldest museum, already went there, and the bathroom.” The muppets burst into giggles. Daddy said he appreciated the fine humor. “The best place to go for spring break, aha, I see what you did there.” Vinnie glowed.
Mama deliberated in silence for a few moments. “The future of this game rests on your choice,” reminded Daddy. “So no pressure. Just follow your heart, honey.”
“Leading the witness!” said Vinnie.
Everyone voted carefully, considering Mama’s reactions to each answer.
“Alright,” Mama began when they had finished. “Seeing as Austria and Spain are both under quarantine right now, not that-” Laura protested that it was an abstract question, not a realistic travel plan. “Regardless,” said Mama. “The big museums are also shut down right now because of the crowds, and the bathroom…is slightly....”
“It’s realistic!” argued Vinnie. “With the quarantine it’s the only plausible one. Plus, where else are you going to go during spring break? Certainly not in the open, I hope.” It wasn’t obvious enough for the muppets to get, but the older people with childish minds were vastly amused.
“So, on a date with Daddy would be hard, with the quarantine,” Mama continued over the noise. “And so would Spain, but I certainly hope I go to heaven if I do die, so Ricky’s.”
Vinnie and Tim had a token on Ricky’s; they protested anyway just for the sake of it. “Spring break is only a week! You would go to heaven for a week?”
“You never said that this was taking place in the present,” added John. “The museums would be open!”
“Regardless, I would rather go to heaven,” said Mama wryly. Daddy and Bobby had betted on the winner, giving them one point over John. “Aaand the neon team wins!” crowed Daddy. “I guess we were just the best!! Sorry everyone! Go Daddy and Bobby!!”
“I told you the game was rigged!” said Vinnie.