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The Last Game We Played
by Jo Neace Krause

"Like I said, I'm into the games, war games fascinate me! And after I got laid off from my job at the factory I got into them more. Whata you mean, don't ramble? Doctor, you said to drag it out and that's what I'm doing. I can't tell something in just a few words like some of these guys they send up here to you. I'm a talker. Always was. Talkers are gifts to this wretched world, if I must say so myself. And I'm not going to be put down for being what I am. So let me alone. Let me go on with this.
      "So I was into the games. I got your guy Seagull into them too. Paul Seagull. The one you want to hang, right? He was a great chess guy. Nothing but chess for him, but then he put that aside after we got forced out of the video plant---that's the factory job I had---and he started coming up to the apartment to play with us. It takes brains to play the way we played. All the military history you've got to memorize. Battles. Battles backwards and forwards. You should see all the books I've got on just rules alone. Cases of books. Pushed under the beds and all the furniture. You couldn't move in the place for the books.
      "So I picked the guys I wanted to play with. Really careful about that. About the people I wanted around me. There were about a dozen of us. All out of work now. We would order the soldiers from this outlet company in Chicago and paint them ourselves. They're like little chessmen. And there's this special paint you buy. You paint them. Slowly. It takes hours. Hours....seems like centuries.
      "Not that I'm a purist like some of these guys who once they get into a game have to fix everything just right on a knight's helmet. Just right, you see, or they won't even send him into the lines. I'm not like that. The plumage doesn't matter to me. You can make miniature swords from beer cans. You put your armies on this board, sometimes the size of a pool table. Then you can do anything you want with them because you're the master now. You can let'em show how history should have happened.
      "Paul was great at it, the very best. What a fan, fan, tastic guy! He knew more history I tell you than the goddam library. Actually he was a history teacher. He has degrees. College degrees. But he couldn't find a real job. They kept sticking him in these substitute teaching slots. For thirteen years he was a substitute in this run-down neighborhood. Imagine that. The whole school system ran on substitutes. The teachers went to conferences and stayed there. The students seldom saw them. Nobody saw them. They were on paid trips to places like Italy and Indonesia. Improving their minds.
      "So he would show us interesting twists on the games we were playing. Look here, here is the country's food supply, he would say with a map spread out. Look at that supply route. Without this route, New York has about three days supply of bread. If you blow up this airport, and this one, what do you think is the first thing that's going to happen? Fascinating, huh?
      "And when we were still working it was the same. It was Paul who kept things going . . You could walk into the factory cafeteria, and there he was in his slouchy clothes, right in the center of the excitement. No one was going to stop him from talking. He was like a vigorous fountain bubbling in the center of this ignorant world. Ranting against the management. Against government. Against everything. How I loved it! Even though he is a Jew, not even Israel escaped a pounding. 'I tried to live there and the atmosphere made me sick,' he said. 'Flag wavers! I hate flag wavers. Always those little blue and white flags with that star on it, stuck right under your nose like somebody's fixed idea of themselves in history. Like living in a football stadium, so I say forget it,' he threw his hand out. 'The end is coming anyway.'
      "This was like an explosion in me. I ran after him , cornered him down the hall and asked him what he meant by that.. I stood there looking at him, panting, catching my breath. For over a month I had been having bad dreams, scenes of muddy water, so his words meant something. Once I dreamed Hitler called me in to cut his hair. In another I imagined all the houses in town had been swept away in a mud slide and a man was stealing watches and bracelets off the arms of my friends sticking out of the mud. When he saw me looking he tried to run and fell into the swollen river. I ran along the bank trying to get him out, watching his terror as the gap widened between his hands and the stick I held down to him. Then he went down. Dreams are omens to me. I feel they reach out of us to the outside, and catch on to little passing remarks, like the one Paul had made.
      "He looked at me wondering, a funny little grin on his lips. We were around the pop machines, which were off in a little dinky leeway like. "Did I say that?" he asked. He narrowed his eyes, almost amused. "You really don't know, do you? You really have not seen the danger? Don't you know how everything in this country is getting locked down by these third world piss ants? Colonized. Look around you. We're finished."
      "Three days later the plant shut its doors, locked the gates, put guards around. Then I saw how smart he was. How he understood what should have been obvious to me, the way they were getting rid of so many people. Whole departments. 'You mean whole towns, 'Paul said, 'whole towns are out of work and nobody is saying anything. Pretending it isn't happening. That's the joke. These big dingy streams of men coming in for their last checks,. pretending they have good sense Sometimes they have on suits. Ha! Finally an occasion to dress up for, right! You oughta see it, it's frightening. The way they push in off the rusting landscape out there and give their name at the desk, always the last name, like it weighs something, carries a big guarantee!'
      "'And where the hell are the unions?' he wanted to know. 'Nobody's saying a word A few demonstrations in places like Gulf Port and Seattle, but that's all. The fact is: they're doing it all on computers, that's the trick. Wasting everybody without even showing their faces. No one in America has a face anymore. The classic American face is a no-face. Big round zero with not even dots for eyes.'
      "'It's like a war game,' I said to him, an elation rising in me, as it always does when I can join some idea to a game. 'Because of the silence involved. The terrific silent nakedness of the moves, the quiet cruel violence of the spirit involved. I'm into war games,' I told him. And after awhile he was coming up to see what I was talking about."
      "Was it Paul's idea to invite that CEO to the games? Was it perhaps....a game...that just got out of hand?"
      "Do you really believe that? Why are they trying to hang something like this on Paul?"
      "Did he try it on several other people in your presence? There are your friends who have disappeared, their absences unexplained. Isn't that interesting to you?"
      "Do you really believe that story they've got started? That Paul hypnotized the plant CEO and told him to die. And he died! That's the dumbest thing I ever heard! Who on earth would obey such a command? I'm getting scared. Scared of you for thinking something like this. I was hypnotized once. In the sixth grade at school. The hypnotist told me I was a monkey and I leaped all over the balcony and chairs. But to die because someone told me I could set my mind to come back alive in three days and tell everyone about it ? No way! Of course, after our arrests by the police, like I told you, I felt something disastrous was about to happen. Some revelation about to be made. I told Judge D'Angelo that, and that's why he said I'm not going to send you to jail just now. I'm going to send you to a psychiatrist. But I know what he really thought. He thought you could get me to dump on Paul. Did Paul invite the CEO up to the games? Ha , that makes me laugh.
      "Do you actually think a bunch of factory guys are going to walk up to some rich CEO like that---and one who has just eliminated their jobs to boot...do you think they are going to say, Hey, come on up, we 're out of work now, nothing to do but show you a good time. You think that's going to happen?
      "Well, how did you meet him? If I may be so bold."
      "It was like this. An accident. It had to do with an accident. Several of us were down to the lake front park one day. It was a strange day, almost unreal in its springtime brightness. We wanted to throw a frisbee around. Catch a few balls. Not a breeze moved anywhere, and then all of a sudden out of nowhere a hell of a storm blew up. And the rain started to pour down in great grey buckets, so that we could hardly see ten yards in front of us. People were running in all directions looking for shelter, and out in harbor where the storm seemed to be blowing its strongest came the horror of a human voice in distress. The wind fell for moment and we could see a sailboat had capsized. That's where the horrible yelling was coming from.
      "Immediately Paul took off his shoes and pants and went in after the man and pulled him to safety. I stayed half out of sight, for I was thinking of my dream. The one about the mud slide. It proved again that dreams are warning us. When I finally looked, I saw that the rescued man was. ... That's right. He was the CEO. The one who had wiped us out of our jobs. He wouldn't let us go, started following us and slapping his hands together, shutting his eyes, and thanking the Lord for Paul. That's how we met him. He and Paul got to talking and one thing led to another. Finally he was coming to the apartment and doing the games .Making little soldiers.
      "Turns out the guy is into religion big time. He credited religion with getting him rich. We would listen to him bullshit half the night, about Ronald Reagan saving civilization and all that, but the conversation always got back to religion. To the Jesus thing. You couldn't keep him away from it.
      "'That's because he doesn't believe it. Not down in his soul does he believe,' Paul said one day. And I looked at him in amazement. He looked very strange. Very solemn. Paul sometimes got ferocious migraine headaches that would blind him with light. "He wants to make a video. He wants to make a video of Christ's last days. Just to see if he can stumble across some way the miracles were faked. And he wants me to show him."
      "Show him?" I asked. "How show him?"
      "Like I say, by acting through the Jesus story, to get the feel of what might have really,really happened."
      "What did Paul know of the Bible?"
      "What did Paul know of the Bible! .His mind was all over it like a scanner. He knew the Bible backwards and forwards. Like it had something to say. He could quote you scripture and verse in his sleep. Turns out the CEO is ready to put up big money for the video. He is very serious about it, and equally serious about keeping every penny accounted for. His name was Gurney. Burt Gurney. But you know that---what am I thinking about? The deceased. This head of Crux Video. Gurney boy. Well, he could be a nasty, I tell you. Like the day he asked me, 'How old are you?' 'Twenty,' I said quickly. He looked at me a long time, then back down at his game. 'If a man is not something by the time he is twenty, he will never be something,' he declared. And then he'd say other peculiar things. Like Money doesn't matter. It's not worth a hair on my head. But if you reached for a quarter on the table his fist would close over it like a cat over a bird. And if he brought a little something over to the apartment for us to eat, like lunch meat, or some dip, he'd stare at you every time you took some. He was very skinny himself. I never saw him eat.
      "But we began to lay plans for the big game. We started right off, improvising. Making little Jesus and disciple dolls and putting them on the board. Making up the dialogue as we went. The video was to be divided into several parts. The Street Preaching. The Arrest. The Crucifixion. And then the Resurrection. Gurney himself played Jesus. He was very good at it, like he had stepped out of the inflamed core of those times. He loved it. He began to let his hair grow long, his face pale. He was a mess, but what could you say, it was his money.
      "Everything was going along just great. And yet I had this feeling. It was on me again, this heaviness, like we were living in the last days. A depression came on me. I would sleep for days. Then I would change and be just the opposite, other way around, a fine sharp trembling joy would seize me, travel up and down my body like little teeth pretending to eat my flesh.
"One morning I felt especially wonderful, and ran into the bathroom, ripped the blinds off the windows and began to shower and sing in the golden light, throwing water all over my head and shaking my hair as if to get rid of the meaningless of the life I had led up to this point. A baptism, if you like. I was ready for something big. Big. But when I am like this I tell you any little thing can throw me off. Like the phone call I got from my former wife . She suspected something.
      "Word somehow reached her that I wasn't exactly starving, and here she wants to come. Smelling the dollar bills. She had been in Tennessee. Up there singing her distress bullshit songs in some survival tea room in Memphis. And always after me, all the time to send her money, more money for clothes or she'd have the Family Law after me for failure to support. Threatening to swear out warrants that I was using drugs and anything else she could think up. I had no time for her and her arguments. The morning I got the call she was already here in town. You said you would write when you found work. Why did you lie to me?
      "I invited her up to the apartment. My first intentions were to slap the piss out of her so she would leave me the hell alone."
      "It says here in the police report that you actually tried to push Ms Goletta's head down in an aquarium. That's a serious charge."
      "Doctor, we're living in serious times. And I take our time serious. The aquarium was on the table being used as the Dead Sea. I had the multitudes around it while I made up my lines. I was showing her what we were doing. I tried to make her see the violence in the air. She had just asked me, Where have you been? What have you been doing? That's when I grabbed her hand. And she was suddenly terrified. Real sorry she had ever come to pester me. 'Where have I been! Why, I've been to First Century Jerusalem. That's where. With all my friends. That's where! And, and for a bunch who wanted to change the world we couldn't have found a better place. The air there was wild,' I told her. 'Everyone out of work, but crazy with ideas. So, yes, yes, let me tell you where I've been! I said grinding my teeth in her face. I showed her the board where we had all the players carved and painted.. I raked my finger through the dust on the wood.' These are the roads, the dusty Galilee countryside where rumors flew about the crucifixion, and where more stoning of the Roman legions were taking place. More cleansing of Zion's soil.' I showed her what the multitudes looked like--- they looked desperate, hungry, all painted various hues of grey and dull browns. Even the women were colorless. Color wasn't invented when you looked at these women. You could imagine them, screaming to have devils cast out and such like. Throwing themselves in the roads. But the Nazarenes , these trashy Nazarenes who were causing all the trouble and surprising everyone with their sudden drawing power with the crowds , these were painted a bright cobalt blue .
      "' All day long, ' I told her,' we had been around the shores, drying our nets and selling a little fish. Sometimes we heckled the miracle workers, threw stones or just roughed up the dwarfs and cripples. What did we care, wasn't time running out? Wasn't the end near? And here, here comes the trash ball Nazarenes again ( I walked them around on the table making a whizzing noise with my tongue}. They are despised everywhere for their diseased meekness and crack pot ideas, but now they claim they are going to prove they can put a man up on the cross and bring him down again and he will still live.
      "'It is a dumb argument but one that is beginning to polarize the entire countryside. There is talk about a new army on the way from Rome to put down any revolt that might be growing.. From the rooftops of the town you can watch the new reinforcements the Emperor is sending in. They are three or four inches high. Painted either a vivid red or gold. With perfect plumage on the helmets. Marching on foot. Their armor and feet flashing together in the sun and descending into the wider public square where the women start the jeering and insults soon as the first soldier struts into view around the corner.' I made her see that. I took some of the soldiers and made them run across the edge of the table. I made her shut her eyes and see it.
      "And now the scene we had been waiting for, I announced loudly, right next to her ear. The appearance of their teacher. They began 'bringing him in'. The one they said they were going to put up, let die, then bring back to life. There was a lot of commotion. Five or six guys on either side of him. . They would be a little arrogant, as if they were seeing into a mirror dangling the future before them. Then there is this man who stepped out of the crowd and begin yelling something. 'We've been kept guessing too long about this thing called death! You said you could kill him and bring him back to life, so let's see you do it!'
      " In the video we would change a few things. They would be messing and combing his hair. My fingers moved around in the box until I found what I wanted. The Jesus image Paul had made. It astonished me with its craftsmanship and magic. It was as if I were seeing the teacher for the first time myself. Paul had done such an excellent job on him. I remember how Gurney had gone pale on seeing it too. He reached his fingers to touch him, the long red hair and white limbs, and Gurney's eyes glowed like he had a fever.
      " You think of him yourself. The way he ended up against the sky, his long slender legs so beautiful and white out of the tragedy that seems to hang over the centuries in some strange exhausted and haunting wonder.
      "So they took him and killed him while we watched. Yet he had not bled when that spear lanced his side. Paul kept jabbing me with his elbow to draw this to my attention . No blood, that was the main thing we noticed. That was the big tip off. I told my wife every little thing. Her eyes were enormous, ready to fill up with hysteria. So we kept watching. Standing there among the multitudes with everyone drawn back in awe when the sky grew black., and saying it was the power of the heaven.
      " But it seemed to us as if his body were on hold. As if his life had retreated to a depth where death could not reach it, and there waited, in a kind of sleep. We kept talking about it. Especially Paul who never wavered in his belief that some rational explanation was possible. And he was persistent. He couldn't rest in his wondering. What do you think happened? Really happened? He kept asking this one question. My former wife had relaxed somewhat now and was listening very closely. Not trying to run for the door. How had they done it? How?
      "For here was the teacher alive again. We made him tall and almost life like, I walked him along the sea , along the aquarium where he performed his magic tricks. I turned on a small fan so his robes would move as if a sea wind were blowing them . Clean blowing robes that the women had brought him. We got the answer. We found it. I told her now. Yes, yes, yes!
      "We got it from a disciple. I showed her the disciple, represented by a dehydrated rat I had taken from a trap in the back hallway. Dehydrated rats last forever. I don't know why. Anyway I made a little robe for him. They could sew in Biblical times. They had needles. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Ha, Gurney hated to hear that! Anyway this certain disciple had a weakness in him for drink, and we took him and coaxed him to the house of a whore. Whore? Think Fat Doll. Garbage dumpsters are full of dolls. I could take my pick.
     "So the whore was a fat one and wore a cheap heraldic cross around her neck. She claimed to be one of the teacher's first converts. Finally the disciple got full enough and talked. Everyone knew he was not on equal footing with the others but wanted to spill the secret , to get even somehow. He felt very important with his head in the whore's lap and a drink in hand.
      "It was very simple, this disciple told her. It was the passionate blood sweating praying. It put him in a trance. In the garden he prayed all night, repeating the same words until he hypnotized himself, then when the time came, he willed himself dead----with the understanding that he would wake up again in three days. After that Paul was beside him. How could he put this in his video?. How? But he wasn't looking around for someone to try it out on, no sir. He knew it was hopeless. My wife is crazy for saying we tried this out on Gurney.
      "I even took her across the hallway to meet Paul and the others. I knew Gurney was there too. He was sleeping in a chair, sound asleep. He had been working very, very hard. If I knew he were dead, why would I take her over to meet him. Who would want to introduce someone to a dead person?"
      "But it says here in the statement your former wife gave to the police: 'My ex-husband made me go across the hallway. When we opened the door the thick smell of the dead man hit me so hard it was like a putrid ocean in my face, and I started screaming and vomiting.. My ex was shouting something at me, something like it's the greatest miracle ever told! I don't know where my strength came from, but I tore away from him and somehow got out of that building. I ran into the street screaming for help and collapsed.'"
      "So what? Like I say, Gurney must have had a heart attack! You can't prove otherwise. I don't care, I know you can't!"
      "Heart attack! Why didn't you tell someone? He had been dead three days. You people must have been sitting there waiting. Waiting there, waiting for him to come back alive, weren't you! My God, in all my born days as a forensic psychiatrist! Is any of this real?"
      "I'm not going to tell you anything else."

Krause has published in Yale Review, U.of South Carolina, Other Voices, Witness, etc. Has several poems up on Wired Art in July 2OOO. She lives in West Virginia.

Email: JoneaceA@aol.com

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