“This is the last of them.” Uncle Cal huffed and puffed as he hauled the stack of games up from the basement, spilling them over the dining room table. Randy and Mandy leaped on the pile, ravenous for first pick while Aunt Violet stood to the side. She nervously held her mug of chamomile tea tightly, watching her children scramble through the cardboard boxes.
“Did you grab the UNO?” Grandma asked, slumping into the dining room through the kitchen on her walker.
“Yeah, it’s already here, see?” Uncle Cal said, motioning to the card games at the end of the table. Grandma nodded, coming to a halt as she joined the family at the table.
“Hey Vivienne! Richard! Are you guys coming?” Uncle Cal shouted, taking a seat at the table while his adult children continued tearing apart the games he’d so carefully brought upstairs. My parents came around the corner after Uncle Cal’s bark, my mom wiping away tears at the corner of her eye and my dad with one hand rubbing her shoulder.
“Sorry, we’re ready,” my mom said through sniffles. They took a seat at the table next to Uncle Cal and waited for someone else to choose the game.
“Good, let’s get on with it. Violet, sit your butt down.” Grandma was surprisingly composed for this emotional game night, but I guess someone had to be. Aunt Violet sat down between my mom and me, still wordless and shaking a little. Grandma snapped her fingers at Randy and Mandy with a loudness I was shocked her dry fingers could still create. The twins froze, hovering over different games and staring at Grandma with saucer-like eyes.
“You two, pick a game already,” she ordered. Without saying a thing, they both slid the same game into the middle of the table and sat down on the other side of Uncle Cal. Grandma looked at the game and released a husky laugh.
“Well if that’s not on the nose, nothing is.” Grandma pulled the game toward her as she took the last seat next to me. We all looked at what the twins had picked.
“No, we’re not playing that,” Aunt Violet insisted, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms, matter-of-factly. I felt several pairs of eyes shoot her way, but I kept my gaze down.
“Why the hell not?” Grandma was on the verge of irritation. I think she just wanted to get this over with. Randy and Mandy shied away from the table but sent their mother piercing looks. Everyone was uneasy, of course, so I wasn’t surprised that we were already in conflict. My strategy has been to keep my mouth shut and play along, literally.
“Are you serious? That’s so morbid, we’re not playing Life.” Aunt Violet found her voice for the first time tonight, but she restrained her anger. She was boiling around the edges, but knew Grandma was the last person to release it on.
“Alright, missy, what do you suggest?” Grandma asked, calm and collected. Aunt Violet set her tea on the table and scanned the game selection.
“Ah, we can play this. It was your first choice anyway, right mom?” Aunt Violet held up UNO for Grandma to see.
“That game is boring and stupid, I don’t want to play that one,” Randy moaned. Mandy sat next to him squirming with the same disapproval on her face. Aunt Violet gave him a look that could murder a lumberjack.
Randy and Mandy were by no means children, but sometimes the way they behaved you wouldn’t know it. I loved my cousins, but their energy levels could skyrocket without warning. That’s probably why Aunt Violet had to bring down the hammer so often when they were itty bitty, and I remember vividly how scary that could be during our playdates. I had a deeply entrenched fear of Aunt Violet since childhood, and tonight, she was at her peak of scary.
“Okay, no UNO, but we’re not playing Life.” Aunt Violet spoke through clenched teeth without breaking eye contact with Randy.
“Let’s just play Monopoly, that’s fine.” My mom shoved the game toward the middle of the table, pressing a tissue to her eyes to hold back a few more rolling tears.
“That sounds good,” Randy nodded, hoping to appease his mother. Mandy mimicked his motion, agreeing with the compromise.
“Yeah, that works,” Uncle Cal mumbled. My dad also nodded timidly, looking from face to face and praying nobody would raise an objection. I saw eyes fall on me, so I followed suit and nodded to keep things moving.
Aunt Violet and Grandma glared at each other from either side of me. I felt the heat of their anger simmering.
“No, that’ll take all night,” Aunt Violet said, less aggressively but still assertive. Everyone released an audible groan.
“Come on, honey, can’t we just pick something?”
“Vi, for crying out loud!”
“Geez, come on.”
“Let’s just play Risk like we always do.”
Aunt Violet didn’t respond to the whining, she simply sipped her tea and let everyone get it out.
“If it’s going to be like that, let’s just draw straws and forget about the game.” My dad had been quiet all night, but he finally lost his cool. He slammed a hand onto the table as he offered his solution.
“No, we’re not losing our sense of family over this.” Grandma had a way of silencing everyone without raising her voice. Maybe it was the command in her voice, or maybe it was because nobody wanted to inconvenience her by forcing her to shout.
“We’re picking a game, we’re playing as a family, and we’re choosing the winner.” Grandma gave each person at the table a look that nobody had the balls to return.
“If you can call it winning,” my dad whispered under his breath. Grandma gave him a cold stare but moved on.
“Since none of you can agree on anything, this is what we’re playing.” Grandma confidently pushed a new game into the circle.
“Yahtzee? Really?” Mandy asked. Faces scrunched around the table as we all expressed our reluctance.
“Yahtzee,” Grandma confirmed it, there wouldn’t be any more to discuss.
“Well, I’m going to need a refresher on how to play. It’s been a while.” Uncle Cal rubbed the back of his neck nonchalantly.
“Yeah, but Yahtzee sounds great mom, good idea.” My mom squeaked.
“Good. Let’s have some lighthearted, family fun, dammit.” Grandma gave us a nod and started rifling through the box in search of instructions.
We all hovered over Grandpa’s hospital bed, watching him breathe through the tube forced down in his throat. I stood back, uncomfortable with what we were about to do. Somehow, standing behind a row of people made me feel less involved with this choice.
We were dressed in head to toe black, all of us. This would be the funeral. My mom and Aunt Violet sobbed as they gripped Grandma’s shoulders, probably more for their own sake than Grandma’s. My dad and Uncle Cal supported their respective wives, everyone trying to comfort everyone else, with me in the background, avoiding the whole thing.
When Randy won Yahtzee last night, he appeared okay with the outcome. He was hard to rattle from the get-go, but seeing him next to Grandpa now, he was an entirely different person. Randy shook, like his mother the night before, and his face had fully drained of blood.
“Can’t we just draw straws like Uncle Rich said? Why do I have to be the one to pull the plug?” Randy was trying to chicken out, but Grandma wouldn’t allow it.
“This was our agreement, and this is what your Grandfather would have wanted. Now pull up your britches and do it for Christ’s sake.” My theory was Grandma couldn’t say goodbye until the deed was done, and Randy was keeping her from that release. We’d be seeing a whole different Grandma once her beloved officially passed over.
Randy took a deep breath and pushed the button. As I listened to Grandpa flatline, I realized I’d never play Yahtzee again.