grown-ups are complicated creatures



mundane moments in a mundane life
...full of quirks and secrets.
The boy usually played with the cat while his father worked on the building. Today, however, my marble and bronze doorstop caught his eye. He tested its weight, pushing it carefully with a finger. He asked excitedly, “Is this the trophy? Dad told me he saw your trophy before. What did you win?”
I had made one of the greatest shots in my life to get that trophy. Remembering the one tournament brought up other pleasant memories. In the warmth of a sleepy afternoon sun, I preached expansively about the beauty and wonder of the game that had become my life.
He interrupted me, “What about gambling? Do you win a lot? Do you play like Tom Cruise?”
“Well, sometimes, yes,” I had been caught a little off-guard. “Wait, no. Not like Tom Cruise–because he’s Tom Cruise and I’m not Tom Cruise–but that’s a just movie, you know.”
“You have a big trophy so you must be good! You must win a lot of money.”
“That depends on your idea of ‘good’ and ‘a lot’.”
“You must win all the time,” he insisted. “Or else you wouldn’t play.”
I smiled uneasily.
Once upon a time, I had been similarly enchanted listening to players’ war stories. That was before I had played long enough to understand the life was mostly grind and not so much grandeur. Over time, even the bright moments had dimmed into forgotten pearls scattered across the bottom of a vast, cynical sea. It remained a serviceable life for me, but not one I would wish on another.
“No. I’ve lost many times–far more than the times I’ve won.”
“What’s the most money you’ve won?”
I wanted, and did not want, to wake him from his dream. His admiration was uncomplicated and genuine, as young children often were. I would never feel this mighty, this heroic, to anyone ever again.
I hesitantly said, “For—”
“—thousand?! You won four thousand dollars?”
I had meant to follow “for” with “what”, but his boundless enthusiasm saved me. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Sighing inwardly, I enjoyed my last moments sitting on the cloud. Then, I threw off the halo and jumped.
“Forty?” A puzzled look crossed his face. He lit up again almost immediately. “You mean forty… thousand!”
He did not know it, but we both wished with equal fervency that had been true.
“Nope!” I said a little too cheerfully. “Forty. Four-zero!”
“But, that’s not a lot!”
“It’s not?” I asked innocently. “Oh. Well. I thought it was.”
“No! It’s not a lot at all!”
I shrugged nonchalantly with shoulders heavy as lead.
His face scrunched as he tried to reconcile the gilded stories I had told him and those he had seen on a silver screen with such a measly amount of money. Two tired, crumpled Jacksons. They were not enough to fill the tank of his father’s old truck. They were all my life was worth.
The cat bumped his knee and nosed his lunch bag expectantly. He opened the bag and gave her a chicken nugget. She ate contentedly on his lap. A few moments later, he began reading to her from a comic book, like he always did, and she listened attentively, like she always did, even though I knew it was the chicken nuggets that held her attention best.
The Riverside Shakespeare became my doorstop. The cat got fat and went on a diet. The boy acquired skateboards, band t-shirts, and strange haircuts. He played many different sports and excelled at a few. He did not become a pool player.



roald dahl

8 Replies to “grown-ups are complicated creatures”

  1. Outstanding piece of literary contemplation! Keep on strokin’- with cue and pen! Awesome!

  2. “Over time, even the bright moments had dimmed into forgotten pearls scattered across the bottom of a vast, cynical sea.”

  3. By saying “forty” you just saved this kid a lifetime of frustration.

    Another great story!

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