The minute the engine’s turned off the kid’s open the rear doors and aim for the door of the split-level home. Stephen races up brick steps and begins poking the doorbell button repeatedly. Frank gently grabs the young boy’s arm and admonishes him with a touch of levity.
“Easy buddy, you’ll break the darn thing and annoy your uncle.”
After multiple beatings as a kid, he swore when and if he had kids, he’ll never raise a hand in anger. Inside he encounters his brother’s customary banter. Two years younger, Robert’s the exact opposite of Frank, rugged face, curly hair, thin build and several inches taller. People assume he’s the oldest. Robert mauls Frank playfully.
“Hey there bro, heard your psychic ability kept you from going upstate.”
“Not even close. Just plain common sense Booby.”
He replies purposely using a nickname he hates.
“What you call me Stevie boy?”
An equally annoying label strikes Frank’s ears. Laughing, they engage in an impromptu scuffle of push and grab. Robert holds him by the shoulders and steers him into the living room amid cheers and laughter from Stephen and Alice. Nina hears the ruckus.
“Careful you two don’t start horsing around again.”
She’s familiar with their antics that usually end when something breaks. The last time, a lamp was demolished and before that a chair disintegrated under their combined weight. After observing two grown men behaving like children, the smiling wives shake their heads and disappear into the kitchen to begin preparing the day’s fare.
After the horseplay Stephen and Alice scamper onto the living room carpet to play with games brought from home. There are no young cousins to play with. Robert’s wife Rose is childless. Rose has always worn her hair short and at times, when wearing a baseball cap, resembles a young boy. Her facial features and slim body are feminine but loses most of it when angry or in a sullen mood, which is most of the time. Nina once commented on the situation.
“After five years with Robert, her problems may have something to do with a refusal to have children. She does have a child from a previous marriage living somewhere in California, another probable cause for her mood swings.”
Tired, Frank calls a truce, selects the plush sofa and sinks into the soft contours. Preparing to make a comment he notices Robert suddenly glancing at his watch and moving swiftly towards a large console TV. Frank dislikes seeing a host switch on the tube, especially in the middle of a conversation. But, he didn’t need to be formal in his brother’s house.
“Hey, do you have to turn that thing on?”
Startled, the kids gaze intently at Frank and then Robert.
“Sorry only for a little while I just noticed it’s time for Hazard.
I never miss the show. You watch it?”
“Nope hear it’s popular but never seen it. I have a set but it’s mainly for the kids and Nina, I mostly watch news and sports.”
Robert returns to the sofa, taps him on the shoulder and laughingly challenges him to watch.
“This is your lucky day let’s see how smart you really are.”
Frank sits in a slouching uninterested position. As the show progresses the show’s dialogue arouses his curiosity. Paralleling the images with the past, Frank immediately goes into something resembling a trance. Years old visions leap from all directions, including a conversation between two men discussing fate.
“The average person wishes for a million-dollar idea at least once in a lifetime. But what if it occurs and you don’t realize it until years later?”
Frank Martino’s about to have his well-structured lifestyle disrupted enough to make him wish he never found out. Straightening up slowly he leans forward, eyes riveted on the screen. Speaking in a low tone his lips barely move.
“Are participants receiving an answer instead of a question and replying with a corresponding question?”
Immersed in the presentation Robert’s unaware of Frank’s rigid posture, the question surprises him.
“Uh, what, oh yea that’s right; it’s an answer question format. I thought you said you never watched the show.”
Agitated, Frank suddenly stands up pointing at the screen and almost trips over Stephen.
“I’ll be damned, you’re not going to believe this but I created that game over five years ago.”
With a quizzical stare Robert teases, “Yea right and I invented the light bulb. You okay bro?”
Returning to the sofa he sits staring at Robert.
“No man, I’m not kidding. I don’t know anything about the show but I’ll bet you a million bucks some guy’s saying he created it around 1963.”
“Why 63’, what’s that got to do with anything?”
“You remember that company in midtown Manhattan I worked for from 1960 to 65’?”
“Yea the one that folded soon after the blackout, so what?”
“There was a guy named Ricardo working with me, a real intelligent individual. I told you about him, the guy that wrote book reports for a neighborhood newspaper. During breaks we played a game of questions and answers. I always felt he was trying to prove how smart he was, you remember?”
“Oh yea I remember that dude bro, when you told me I said he seemed a wise ass.”
“That’s him; anyway in 1963 a few months after my daughter Alice was born I decided to turn the tables on him and began experimenting with something I thought of the week before. Funny I can’t remember the exact answers but I started out with names of famous people and totally confused the hell out of him. Afterwards he was fascinated and remarked how fantastic the idea was. Like an idiot I just laughed and continued playing. I could kick myself from here to Jersey for being so stupid. Anyhow a few weeks later he doesn’t show up for work and once again naïve me doesn’t give it much thought.”
Excerpt from FIVE UNUSUAL STORIES on sale at AD BOOKSTORE