Ted helped Jerry down the steps of the Green Acres Nursing Home bus, opened the front door of Katz’s Drug Store, and steered his brother’s walker over the threshold. “Worse thing about your being in the hospital was that I had to beat Mark at checkers.” Ted laughed, “I’d much rather beat you.”
Jerry punched Ted’s arm. “Before I pass through those Pearly Gates, I’m going to skunk you good.”
Ted guided Jerry to the corner booth, where they had played checkers for over twenty years. They scooted into the green plastic seats.
Mark Katz slid the checkers and board onto their table. “Hey, Jerry. How’s that new pacemaker working?”
“It’s ticking.” Jerry tugged Mark’s sleeve. “I’m a little off this week, Mark. Just a malt. But bring Ted a burger and fries.”
Ted suspected that before long, Jerry would be bedridden. He was very weak and thin as a reed. Ted tried hard to keep a positive face. “Oh, I’m really not hungry today either. Two malts. Mark, bring them in Styrofoam cups. We can take them with us if we don’t finish. Can’t waste a slurp. I remember when they were fifty cents.”
“That was twenty years ago, Ted.” Mark shook his head as he walked behind the counter.
Ted called out loud enough for Mark to hear, “No time to eat a hamburger. I’m gonna be busy beating the pants off this fellow.”
Following a sequence of tit-for-tat established in boyhood, Jerry answered, “Promises, promises. Not in your wildest dreams, Big Bro!” With shaky hands, he tried to stay the checkers on the squares.
“Jerry, are you trying to cheat?” Ted faked a snicker, swallowed hard and centered the checkers.
The game began. Ted set up his traps. It had been years since anyone had beaten him, and he was quick to boast about it. Challengers stood in line at the corner booth. Ted never bet for money, but he won plenty of licorice candy, his favorite.
Mark placed a malt in front of each brother. “Made ‘em extra thick today.”
Ted took one of his brother’s checkers. “King me! Hey Jerry, remember when we were kids and I always beat you at finishing those root beer floats Mom made? Whoever hollered ‘it’s empty’ first got to give the other one a Dutch Rub.”
“You didn’t always win, Teddy Boy. And we yelled ’zempty, not ‘it’s empty’.”
Ted held up fists. “You’ve got a wonderful memory, Jerry. You even remember things that never happened. I’m gonna wrestle you down and give you a Dutch Rub right here.”
“It’ll be a cold day before that happens, Teddy.”
The race was on—they drew on their straws furiously, playing checkers at the same time. Ted watched his brother struggle to keep up. He was in much better physical shape than Jerry, who was three years younger. “It was the war,” Ted thought to himself. “While I was frozen on a job with the Frisco Railroad, Jerry was fighting the Battle of the Bulge, freezing in a foxhole. And during the Korean Conflict, while I was home with my family, Jerry was putting his life on the line, taking a bullet that shattered his left arm.”
Jerry made a double jump. “Well, Bro, that was a stupid mistake. Guess that malt froze your brain.”
After several more stupid mistakes, Jerry won the first checker game he had won in years. His face brightened. “Hey, Mark. You’ll never believe it. I won!”
Ted threw his hands up. “Guess you’re too good for me today. I’ll have to settle for beating you at slurping.”
Jerry wheezed, laboring to draw the thick malt through the straw. Lapping noisily, Ted’s face was a picture of concentration.
Jerry held his Styrofoam cup in the air. “’ZEMPTY!! Ready for your Dutch Rub?”
“Nope. But I’ll pay for the malts.” Ted took his cup and headed for the cash register. He handed Mark five dollars.
Mark picked up Ted’s cup from the counter. “Hey, your cup is nearly full. Didn’t you like the way I made your malt?”
Ted leaned closer to Mark. “Shush.”
Mark bit his lip. “I gave you the wrong change. Malts are on sale today,” and he handed Ted four dollars.
Ted choked, coughed, then dabbed at his eyes with a napkin. Mark closed the cash drawer. “I guess we’re getting sentimental in our old age.”
Ted patted Mark’s arm. “At our age, Buddy, it’s perfectly acceptable.”
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