The Deadliest Game on Earth
By Greg Cayea | Illustrations by Lucy Young
The time was eight o’clock as I pulled into the parking lot that evening. I knew I was late, so I threw my car into park, whipped the door open, and headed toward the big, swanky doors of the imposing white building. I didn’t even bring my phone with me, just the iced tea I was drinking to keep me alert. I didn’t want any distractions. Tonight is a big night, I thought to myself as I passed an elderly gentleman smoking a cigar on a bench a few feet away from the entry. As I entered the lobby, I kept uttering my mantra in my head: Tonight is the night that nothing will stop me.
I turned right at the hallway and blew past the security guard at the reception desk. I was late and didn’t have time to explain myself. If you don’t know me by now, after showing up every week for a year, well, that’s on you, buddy. The carpet under my feet gave me a bounce and kept my steps silent as I approached the final door. I took a deep breath and walked in. It was brightly lit, and the crowd was viciously awaiting my arrival.
It was Wednesday—bingo night.
My grandma’s eyes lit up as I walked toward her table. She waited anxiously with two dollar bills covering my boards, which were set in front of an empty chair, just to make sure no hooligans took my spot. I was always right on time—to the point of nearly being late. Our bingo gang was at our usual four-top table, smiling. I sat down. My bingo game face was on, sturdy and ready to fight.
“I thwought you weheran’t comin’!” My grandma said in her New York–Jewish-grandma accent. But I didn’t let her doubt shake me. I was there for one reason and one reason only: to make sure nobody overthrew our family reign.
“I’m here every week, Grandma,” I said, but I knew better than to question her. What she meant was, “You’re late! Again!”
“I got you a board with a one and an eleven,” said Evelyn, our partner in bingo crime, from across the table. Those were my lucky numbers, so she always got me those cards. And, dammit, I’m grateful for that.
I was there to win. I looked at my grandma. She smiled. I nodded. “Grandma, tonight is the night we destroy everyone in this room.” But she didn’t quite hear me.
Then came the sound that marked the beginning of the main event: the ping-pong balls clanking into each other. The jackpot was seven dollars, two more than last week. The eighty-five-year-old girls at the other table were whispering about something, but I didn’t let them distract me. I was there to win. I looked at my grandma. She smiled. I nodded. “Grandma, tonight is the night we destroy everyone in this room.” But she didn’t quite hear me.
“I said we’re gonna win.”
The first number was called. Some ninety-year-old chap got up and asked for another board like he always did when he didn’t hit a number. Apparently, his board wasn’t working very well. Again.
“I need anutha bwoard!” Okay, okay, man, you’ll get another board—but it won’t make a difference! The bingo lady calling the numbers asked the rowdy crowd, “Does anyone else need another board?” And they responded appropriately.
“No, sit down!”
“Let’s go! Stop getting bwoards!”
Oh man, the table behind me was getting all revved up. This guy had better sit down, I thought. I kept my mouth shut; I didn’t want any problems. The ping-pong balls started clanking around again after the young ninety-year-old fellow sat down, and a few more numbers were called.
“What are we playing?” a gal asked.
“A straight bingo!” The room erupted. But it wasn’t the whole room; it was the table behind me. They were starting to scare me with their threatening dispositions, but I didn’t let it faze me.
“A straight bingo!” one of the vixens at the gossipy table behind us shrieked again.
“A late what?”
“A STRAIGHT BINGO! A STRAIGHT LINE!”
It was already getting rowdier than usual. I swallowed my fear and kept my bingo face strong. I hadn’t gotten any numbers yet. I looked over, and my grandma had one on each board. Atta gal, Grandma. Time to f**k s**t up. The rest of the numbers were called, and some other woman screamed “Bingo!!!”
Sighs were heard across the room. Faces of sadness clouded my vision. It was over, I had lost, and so had my grandma. But there was another game coming up—plus, this gal might not really have bingo. (That sort of thing happened quite often in this neck of the woods.)
“I need another card. This one won’t work,” said the guy that already got that other card. The bingo lady rolled her eyes. She always tried to keep the room in line, but what was the point? It was a jungle in there.
“Alright, but no more cards, okay?”
I took a sip of my iced tea. It was one of those bottled teas—organic, so my grandma wouldn’t flip out. I had also trimmed my beard. (Unhealthy drinks and a beard too long would ruffle her feathers.) Then came the official ruling—the woman did, in fact, have bingo—and we were instructed to clear our cards.
“Okay, now we’re going to be playing an X on both cards,” said the bingo lady. Ugh, I hate playing an X. It’s too confusing!
“Whattaya drinkin’!” my grandma asked, but it came out more like a demanding statement.
“I’m drinking tea, Grandma. No sugar. Don’t worry.”
“Tea. Iced tea.”
“Yes, iced tea.”
“Probably has all that sugar.”
“No, no sugar. It’s just tea, Grandma.”
Then the woman to my left turned to me and, with a stern face, looked into my eyeballs like I was some kind of an ass and said, “We’re not playing a T! We’re playing an X!”
“You’ah gonna win!” she screamed.
She was confused, but I just nodded my head in agreement as the bingo lady rattled off numbers. I looked at my card after a short while and realized I almost had an X. I heard whispers from across the room. “Some thirty-something-year-old guy walks into our bingo night and wins all the winnings? Not a chance.” (That’s what I thought they might be saying to each other. It frightened me.) I thought I’d better not win that game or else they might not invite me back. I got a bit nervous, to be honest. All I needed was O-63. I prayed that they didn’t call it. I had wanted to give them a run for their respirators the whole night, but it was then that I realized maybe I should let someone else win that game. But by then I was almost there, almost at bingo. I was terrified I might win and have to say that emotion-packed word: BINGO. So, I made a decision: if I won, I’d just lie and not call “Bingo!”—just for that one game. But then my grandma looked at my card and saw that all I needed was O-63.
“You’ah gonna win!” she screamed.
Crap, now my cover was blown. Thanks, Grandma. The next number was O-74. Phew. I’m still in the game.
“O-68?” some woman across the room shrieked. Oh no. Before I could even prepare, the entire room erupted.
“O-74 she called!”
“Not O-68! O-74!”
All the screaming didn’t help. In a moment of sincere confusion and frustration, the woman demanded: “Well, which one is it? O-74 or O-68?”
Oh man. I figured I’d better stay out of it. That woman is super riled up—and possibly disoriented. I kept focused and thought about my situation again. I mean, these women would tear me to shreds if I won two weeks in a row, especially after I took the jackpot last Wednesday. Then, some good news: my grandma’s card was filling up. I just needed her to win. If she won, then I didn’t, but our team still did, and the women at the gossipy table wouldn’t eat me alive. I swear, what a crazy night. I was sweating.
N-34 was called, and my grandma slid her red thingy down over that number. Nice. She was catching up. Oh, wait! There are no Ns; we’re playing an X! The only space that N has in an X is the free spot! Grandma, NOOO!
So, I gave my grandma a nudge. “Eyo, Granny. No Ns.”
“You’ah leavin’ when?”
“No, no Ns! NO Ns. You put an N down.”
“Oh! There’s no Ns. We’ah playin’ an X!”
I just said that.
She quickly lifted the red thingy back up to clear the number. It was too late. The room went crazy.
“We’ah playin’ an X!?”
“Did she cwall an N?!”
The bingo lady was flustered and tried to correct her massive mistake. “Oh, that’s right! Swurry!” Her thick Long Island accent had come out.
It was the end of the night, and all I needed was for my grandma to win this game so that I wouldn’t have to yell “Bingo!” Oh man, please. Please, Grandma, win! That’s when the bingo lady called the next number, and I looked over at my grandma’s card. It was all over. She covered her last number and reviewed the card, even though it was clear she had an X, and she looked up at me and said, “I got an X! I won! BINGO!”
I let out an internal sigh of relief. Half the room went wild, while the other half went silent from disappointment.
“I only needed one numbah!” I heard from the gossipy table behind me. Tough luck, woman, we all only needed one number.
Then my grandma gave me her card and told me, “You read it off for me.” I took her card and called out the first number so the bingo lady could confirm that my grandma had taken the crown—but that’s when I saw the gossipy table all look over at me. “HE WON AGAIN?!”
“Noooo, it wasn’t me! It’s my grandma’s card!”
Too late. They were off and running about how I won again. But such is life at Wednesday night bingo. Sometimes you win, sometimes people think you win, sometimes people think they win—and sometimes you’re a damn loser. There’s always next week . . .
Greg Cayea writes offensive short stories about his life adventures, then draw cartoons to illustrate them. Stay tuned at ScrambledGregs.com for his next adventure.