Carrie Spencer, Captain Fanny Pack, Middle Grade
Sunlight beamed in through the window and bounced off Grandpa’s bald spot. “It's time."
"It's only 3:30, Grandpa." Ten minutes to say good-bye to my nursing home buddies, five minutes to bike home. Plenty of time to win our weekly chess smack-down.
I slid the black pawn into position and leaned back to observe my work.
A few more moves and this time the win would be mine. All mine. I waited patiently for Grandpa’s next move--sometimes he forgot he was supposed to be playing chess and fell asleep. I looked up, but his eyes were far away, an even more faded blue than my favorite jeans. “Grandpa? Do you want me to call the nurse?"
“Eh? What?” He jerked back to the present and scowled at the board. I was winning. Finally.
I rubbed my palms together in glee. Mwahahaha. All those months of chess club had finally paid off. Now he would succumb to my brilliance. Now he would sink into the black abyss of failure. Now he would . . . move his knight across from mine, totally blocking my capture of his queen. Then he gave a little chuckle. I always lost when he gave that chuckle. The Chuckle of Doom.
"Pay attention, boy." He always called me boy, even though I’d been twelve for two weeks already. Grandpa wiggled a finger in his ear, causing the furry gray tufts of what hair he had left to stick out like a horned owl’s. "I'm trying to tell you, it's time."
"And I'm telling you it's only 3:30.I don't have to be home until four."
Sometimes having a grandpa in the nursing home meant repeating yourself.
Over and over and over. On the other hand, he was pretty cool for an old dude. Mom said we looked a lot alike with red hair, blue eyes and freckles. She said we acted a lot alike too, but I don’t think it was a compliment.
My hand hovered over my knight. The perfect move? Or the Kiss of Death?
Grandpa coughed – years of cigar smoking will do that – making him sound like our neighbor’s cat hacking up a hairball. He shuffled over to the closet and rummaged around. "It's time I passed along to you my greatest treasure."
Treasure? My ears tuned in like a satellite dish. Since they stuck out from the side of my head like an orangutan’s, it wasn’t that big of a stretch. "Cool, Grandpa. Is it a watch? A medal from the war?" When I was a kid, we’d fight epic battles and he let me wear his medals. Now they were kept in a frame on the wall in his room at the home.
Something heavy flopped into my lap. It clanked, heavy metal sounds like that time I dropped my dad’s tool box. Soft black leather, a long strap that dangled down.
I slid back from the chess table, and looked over my shoulder at Grandpa. He seemed smaller than usual, maybe a bit more wrinkly. "What's this?" Some kind of purse?
"It's a fanny pack."
"A fanny pack."
"What are you, a parrot? Put it on, put it on."
I stood and half-heartedly strapped it on. If one of the kids in my class saw me, my Dwayne the Dweeb status would be sealed for all eternity. And beyond.
The strap was too long, but with a mighty tug, Grandpa shortened up the belt, leaving several feet of black webbing dangling by the side of my hip. Even I, secure in my world of graphing calculators and electronic gadgetry, would never wear a fanny pack.
"Perfect fit." Grandpa's voice was extra croaky today, rattling around the words like a marble in a washing machine. He settled back in his chair, seemingly satisfied at having made me an even bigger dork than I was that morning.
“What’s in here, Grandpa? Bricks?” I wiggled back and forth, listening to the clinking of heavy metals. It weighed more than a weeks worth of homework. I tugged at the zipper to see what was inside, and received a sharp zzzzap for my efforts. I jerked my hand back and jammed tingling fingers in my mouth. Who on earth wires a fanny pack for electronic shock?
“Eh, maybe it’s not quite time yet.” Grandpa reached over to undo the clasp – thank you baby Jesus – but jerked his hand back when a small blue arc reached out and got him. I could hear the sizzle of fingerprints being burnt off. “Criminy, that smarts,” he mumbled around his fingers. “Or maybe it is.”
I held my arms out to my sides, not sure I wanted a repeat lesson in Electric Shock 101. “How do we get it off?”
“Looks like you’re stuck in it for awhile laddie, until it decides to let you in.”
Crazy talk. Grandpa’s meds must be off again. Fanny packs don’t decide when to let you open them. Gritting my teeth I took another yank at the zipper.
Criminy. I jammed my fingers in my mouth. The fanny pack must be cursed.
And I was stuck wearing it. I snorted. As soon as I was out the door, I'd find some way to get it off and toss it in a closet at home. "Umm, Grandpa?" He stared at the chess board, obviously blown away by my latest maneuver. The fanny pack was forgotten. I rubbed my hands together again and waited as he contemplated his next move.
And contemplated more. Coming from a long line of geniuses, I’d learned they required more time for contemplating. And quiet. After a few more moments of further contemplating however, I heard a snore.
Game time was over. Grandpa was down for the count with his afternoon nap and I was wearing a fanny pack.
Well, this was bogus.
I left Grandpa sleeping in his chair and tiptoed out of his room.
Truthfully, most of our chess matches ended up just this way. Except when he won. And then the old man giggled up a storm and did a butt wiggle in some kind of senior citizen victory dance. Whatever.
The door closed quietly behind me, and I took one small step in the hallway, my hand already on the strap of the pack. I checked the hallway to see if anyone was looking. The coast was clear. It was coming off.
There was no way José I was walking past the nurse’s station with this thing swinging from my waist.
Keeping my hands away from the zipper, I tugged and pulled, spun it around and tugged again. Nothing. I jumped, pushing down on the webbing when I jumped up. Nada. Maybe I could slip it down over my hips. I gave a little butt wiggle. Zero. I was starting to break a sweat. Trapped in a fanny pack. With that thought, I wiggled even harder, failing to notice anyone approaching until suddenly two feet clad in those awful plastic white clogs stopped in front of me. Nurse McMurphy. The most hated nurse in Shady Acres. She looked like a bulldog with liver spots.
I quickly spun the pack to the back. Maybe she wouldn’t notice. "Problem?"
Great. She'd noticed.
"No, no problem."
"Did you need help unfastening that?"
She pointed a finger at my nobbly bits. At least that's where it felt she was pointing.