Not all the games played are fun

I play a game with Moses, my 10-year-old grandson. After school, on the days I pick him up, we go to Barnes and Noble, where he does his homework. First he has a snack and starts his assignment. He nibbles and writes. I sip my decaf and try not to interfere.

Now and then he asks about spelling or how to say something. I point to missing punctuation. He adds the period. When the work is done, and only then — my most effective bribe to date — we play our game. “Now?” my grandson asks, after I check the results, and after he clears the table and puts his trash in their proper bins.

“Now,” I say. We then go to the center of the store and take up our positions, standing back to back before walking three paces. Moses counts out loud. Once he gets to three, we both scurry off to disappear between aisles and behind the tall bookshelves. Then the real maneuvering begins. We skulk behind columns, sneak around the racks of puzzles, dart through the displays of toys. The trick is to tag the other before being seen and tagged yourself. The hard part is to look ahead but at the same time to watch your back.

The current score is five to zero. Really, I don’t stand a chance. Moses is sure-footed and speedy. I am clunky and slow. Moses has some kind of super kid peripheral vision. Admittedly, I can get a tad diverted when a juicy book title suddenly jumps out at me. But mostly I play hard and even come up with some unconventional strategies. Recently, I tried to borrow a stranger, one with a rather broad back, as a decoy. Using proper grandmother demeanor, I asked the man if I might just borrow him for a moment. “Could I please just walk close behind you while you head down the aisle?” He looked a bit askance, but was determined to be a good sport, and agreed. Then just as I was about to pounce, just as I was about to claim a victory, from behind me, I felt a small hand on my arm.

“Tag, Grandma” the hand proclaimed. “Gotcha, again,” my dear grandson said. Now the score was six to zero.

Loss plays games, too. It’s nimble-footed and sneaky, hiding just around the next pillar then reaching for the grab. The other morning, I was admiring the icy glass sleeves that had encased the blades of grass on my lawn, when suddenly my recently deceased brother’s reflection appeared. And there I stood, staring but breathless as if I had received a body blow.

Later, enjoying a beautiful December walk, spurred on by a friend’s poetry to take note of the slanted light and the dance of shadows on barns, I was struck with recognition. The last time we were together, my brother and I, didn’t we take the same walk? Suddenly, I remembered our easy gait, honed by 60-plus years, and how it was timed to the flow of recollection and the shared bonds of history. Every so often, one or the other pointed out a particular sight — you found an old grave stone, I spied a flock of wild turkeys in a meadow, but then the conversation resumed and the focus turned back to family. Then a sharp intake of insight — we would never take that walk again. The landscape had changed.

Grief is like that. And like our game of tag between aisles of books, we find ourselves looking ahead but all the time trying to watch our backs, too. The day turns speckled and spotty with thoughts of you. “Tag,” Loss says. “I gotcha.”

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.

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