By Virginia Amis
We mingled in groups, some whispering, others laughing openly, then catching themselves. The banquet room windows allowed a view of oak and spruce trees growing on undulating hills where paths wound and disappeared. Someone remarked that the weather was beautiful on this chilly November day, especially so given the event.
I looked at the sky. Clear, only a few clouds. No rain. There should have been rain.
“Everyone, everyone.” She waited patiently for the crowd to quiet. “May I say a few words?” The woman who was shouldering so much grief stood erect before us, her bare muscular calves tensed to prevent her from falling, her lower back leaning on a table laden with photos and fresh brightly-colored flowers. We politely took our seats at white-clothed round tables. All of us, except one. He was the only one I wanted just then.
* * *
Growing up, we thought we had invented fun, playing for hours with simple toys on warm summer days. One afternoon, my little brother and I competed against each other at jacks. I was pretty good, acing onesies, twosies, foursies and so on. I loved gathering them, holding them so tightly they left imprints on my palm. My brother, not as good as me but just as competitive, played with fervor. He liked holding on to the jacks he’d won, too.
Weary from a morning of laundry, vacuuming and dirty dishes, Mother watched our sidewalk play from a webbed lawn chair whose straps pressed against her thin thighs, leaving crossroad imprints when she stood to check on another child who slept on a blanket underneath an oak tree. My brother and I knelt in the soft grass, leaning over the sidewalk that served as our playing surface. Bounce, snatch, bounce, again and again, until our knuckles were scratched and all the jacks were gripped in our small hands.
“I used to be pretty good at jacks,” my mother said. We looked up at her. I thought she was joking. We had invented jacks.
“Let me show you a different version.” She rose from her chair and kneeled beside us. We stretched out our legs and tolerated the interruption.
Taking the jacks into her hand, she bounced the ball and laid all down on the sidewalk, except one. We gave her confused looks. She tossed the ball into the air again and laid down another. With the next bounce she laid down a third, continuing until all the jacks were on the sidewalk.
“Reverse Jacks!’ she beamed. “You leave one behind each time you bounce. When I was a girl, we said we were leaving them in heaven.”
My little brother could not wait to try, even though it was not his turn. My mother chanted as he played. “One. . .two. . .three. . .” until his hand was finally empty.
“Your turn,” he said.
My chin quivered. I shook my head.
“What’s wrong? Take your turn!”
“I don’t want to leave any behind,” I yelled. My mother made me apologize for my rudeness and for waking her sleeping baby.
My little brother looked at me, confused. “Then, I’m the winner.” He scrambled to his feet and left to play ball with the boy next door who was calling him over the hedge.
* * *
As his wife spoke, I looked at my remaining siblings and they looked back at me. We were probably all thinking the same thought. There used to be more of us. Now, three had been left behind. Which of us would be left behind next? Wiping away tears, I remembered how my little brother and I used to play jacks. He loved reverse jacks. I did not.
I did not want to leave any behind.
© 2023 Virginia Amis
Ms. Amis has published stories in Perspectives Magazine, Reminisce Extra, 2019, 2020 and 2021 Scribes Valley Publishing Anthologies, Beyond the Norm, Where Tales Grip, and Story Harvest, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, For Women Who Roar, several Writing It Real Anthologies and in 101words.com. Her characters are inspired by family, the extraordinary people she has had the pleasure to meet and by the beauty of natural surroundings near her Pacific Northwest home.
Such a sweet poignant story. As one of seven children, with only four of us left, I feel your loss, too. I’ve never played “reverse” jacks, but I loved to play jacks. A great descriptive piece. Thank you.
Thank you, Suzy!