The game was over. Marc watched as Lou put the old lead soldiers back in the box, each one slotting neatly into a cushioned slot, neat as a row of – well, soldiers on parade, der – even in the box they seemed to stand to attention.
After three hours, it was finally over. The game played in earnest. For Marc, the unwelcome victory was no ceasefire, no end to hostilities. It was merely the provocation Lou had needed to shout “Best of Three!” and now Marc was doomed to relive the torment at least once more. Possibly twice, if the unthinkable happened and he was stupid enough to lose the next game.
Lou’s joy was evident in the gleeful chuckling as he took each soldier from the field of battle and carefully put it away. His false teeth flopped about inside his slack jaws. Marc’s stomach lurched at the sight. Old people were creepy.
His heart seemed to have fallen to his boots. Just when there was a chance of him living some kind of normal life, of going out and seeing something of this town on a Saturday night like other teenagers, hoping against hope to actually live, his soul was snatched away to babysit his weird grandpa. Lou’s slippered feet pounded as he did his victory dance.
“You’re such a loser.” Marc said. Lou just laughed.
“Let’s get some dinner, Son. Then it’s Round Two!”
Marc put on his coat and went to the chip shop. His friends were just coming out as he went in.
“You coming down town later?”
“No, I’ve got to stay in. Mum’s on a late so I’ve got to look after my grandpa.”
They nudged each other and laughed. “What a loser!” One of them said and they all laughed again.
Grandpa was waiting for him, plates out, salt and vinegar on the table. “Thanks, Son.” He said. “Not every kid your age would stay in on a Saturday night and keep his old grandpa company.”
“It’s all right.” Marc said. He didn’t mind all that much, he thought. His friends were all freaks and idiots anyway. He ate his chips. “How old are you Grandpa?”
Marc shrugged. “Just wondered. Why do you like playing soldiers so much?”
“Ah well, you see, my Dad, he was there.”
“Yes, there. When I was old enough to be aware of him, he seemed like some frail sickly old bloke, but it was the war made him like that. When he died, I found all his medals and all his photos with his comrades and that. I was surprised to see how young he looked, quite good-looking really, not that I take after him. And he looked – I don’t know, strong, I suppose. Healthy. And in the wedding photo of him and me mum, well, they both looked so – alive. It made me wonder. So I spent all my life finding out about the war, what happened and why. I started to see him as the hero he really was. He stopped being some useless old bloke. He made me these soldiers for my eighth birthday.”
Marc thought for a moment. He balled up his chip wrapper. “You were in the war too, weren’t you?”
“Yes, Son. I was in the war.”
“Tell me about it.” Marc said.