On a crisp January afternoon, several close relatives gathered in a kitchen. A fifteen-year-old girl perched on her chair’s edge, giggling as a black standard poodle gazed up at her dolefully through the transparent kitchen table. His curly, afro-style hair flattened against the glass, and he wore a comically wounded expression as the girl snickered at him. The girl’s parents bustled around the kitchen, creating wonderful fresh, yeasty baking smells and chatting cheerfully with her plump grandmother.
The last figure, Dale, tilted his stocky frame back in the chair farthest from his granddaughter. His shrewd brown eyes observed the proverbial ‘picture perfect’ scene from behind wire-framed glasses. His ruddy cheeks testified to decades of drinking and sun exposure and remnants of stubble coated his chin. A permanently furrowed brow added wrinkles to an already-creased face. Extensive time fishing and hunting had bestowed upon him the long, bulky arms of an ape. Only a sprinkle of grey discolored his close-cut hair and bushy eyebrows. Despite these primitive features, Dale had neatly combed and parted his dark hair and wore a smart cotton polo and khaki culottes.
“So I guess you’re not gonna come up to Alaska and go fishin’ with me this summer, huh?” he demanded of his granddaughter. His voice resounded in the manner of the slightly deaf and he spoke with poor grammar despite his habit of reading extensively. He kept his tone light and casual, but his granddaughter could detect the challenge beneath the gleaming smile of synthetic teeth.
“I guess not,” she replied with forced airiness, grabbing the nearby card deck to avoid looking her grandpa in the eye.
“Kari, come and get Grandpa’s bread,” her mother chimed, smoothly ending the uncomfortable conversation.
Kari jumped up with a grateful “Okay!” As she flitted around the kitchen, Dale grunted in annoyance at being so neatly thwarted. He found a scapegoat for his feelings in the lanky dog shadowing Kari.
“Winston!” he barked loudly. “Git over here.”
With a look of suffering, the dog obeyed his master.
“Lie down,” Dale ordered gruffly, pointing at the ground with a gnarled and stubby finger.
Winston playfully batted at Dale with one bulky paw.
“I said git down,” Dale growled. Winston hit the floor obediently.
“Here you go,” Kari sang as she served a thick slice of hot, yeasty bread to Dale. He rubbed his hands together and sniffed the air appreciatively and as she also provided him with butter, a spoon, and a half-gallon jar of sweet wild-flower honey.
“Mmm, mmm, this looks pret-ty good!” he gloated by way of thanks, slathering on butter. Dale ignored the good-natured teasing from his daughter and son-in-law as he dumped a colossal glob of honey on his bread. As the honey oozed over the bread and pooled on the high-rimmed plate, he seized the spoon and enthusiastically devoured his creation.
“C’mon, let’s see if your luck holds up against me,” Dale dared Kari, slapping his hand down on the table by the abandoned cards.
“Sure,” she smirked. “But it’s only fair to warn you: I’ve won the last four or five games I’ve played….” Her voice trailed off suggestively.
“Oh, pretty cocky, eh? We’ll see if we can fix that,” Dale drawled.
Kari skillfully shuffled the well-worn Harrah’s cards. They buzzed and flapped furiously as Dale drummed his fingers impatiently on the table.
The rest of the crowd joined them for the game, but Dale and Kari barely noticed: each cared only about beating the other.
Dale took risks whenever possible, but Kari played conservatively. While reshuffling the cards, the nemeses engaged in silent staring contests.
Dale’s grin grew fiercer and wider as the game progressed and he continued to accumulate unwanted points—a sure sign of his displeasure, which he attempted to hide behind a ‘good sport’ face and compliments to his opponent. Kari openly celebrated, unable to restrain herself despite her grandpa’s smiling fury.
In the thirteenth and final round, Dale played first. He peered intently at his cards and locked gazes again with Kari. He wore his blandest poker face, and she quivered nervously. Then, he revealed his winning hand.
A triumphant smile spread across Dale’s face as Kari gasped in horror, frantically tallying the final scores.
“No! We both—249 points—a TIE!!” she fumed.
Dale began to chuckle, an earthy, rumbling sound that grew louder as Kari protested incoherently.
His red face darkened as he laughed, and his dark eyes crinkled into merry slits behind his glasses. Instantly, his wrath had evaporated and been replaced by humor.
“I guess—the joke’s on us!” he managed to choke out finally. “The joke’s on us!”