by Terry Hargrove
Christmas is less than four months away. Damn. I’m up to my neck in toys from last Christmas, and all I want from Santa is some kind of guarantee that no one in my family is going to be a hoarder. I had to use a snow shovel this morning to clear a path to the refrigerator, and along the way I saw a football, basketball, baseball and bat, a pirate ship, a pirate cave, a helicopter, a bottom of the sea explorer ship, a dozen stuffed cats, a truck, some books, some trains, some games, and four fully equipped, 12-inch tall Marines. I’m not quite sure where the marines came from, but they‘re here now and I have to find a place for them. Oh, and my son, Joey, got a few toys, too.
But last year’s gift that Joey loves more than anything is the classic Candy Land game. He wanted to play right away, so we opened the cards, set up the board and we were off. Candy Land is great for kids. Can’t count? No problem, just draw a card and move to the colored space. Joey won the first game.
“Let’s play again,” he said. I shuffled the deck and the second game was on. He won again.
“One more time,” I laughed. I shuffled the deck, and that time Nancy won.
“OK,” Nancy said. “I think we need to start fixing dinner. That turkey has to cook a long time.”
“One more game,” I suggested. “Then we’ll start cooking.”
“There’s a lot to do,” she replied. “Besides, even Joey’s getting tired of the game.”
“No, I’m not,” he corrected her. “I want to play again.”
“So do I,” I said, then added sheepishly, “I haven’t won yet.”
So we played another game. Joey won. After dinner, we played four more times. Nancy won twice and Joey won twice. That night, I couldn’t sleep. Why couldn’t I win at Candy Land?
Now I know all about creepy board games. When I was ten, my sisters asked a Ouija board when I was going to die, and the answer was 2010. Then they asked how old I would be when I died, and the Ouija board said 55. Knowing how terrible my sisters were at math, I was kind of concerned. But 2010 was a long way off in 1965, but now it’s just… it’s just…Good Lord! It’s 2010! I’ll worry about that later. My immediate concern is why I can’t win at Candy Land. It’s been eight months and I still haven’t won. Oh, I’ve come close, so very close. Once, I made it all the way to King Kandy’s elbow, only to draw the ice cream cone card. 32 spaces backward I went, and Joey won the game. The very next day, I was on the red square, two spaces from winning, when I drew the lollypop card. Damn lollypop card! I was pushed back 42 spaces, but I fought my way back to the same red space, only to draw the dreaded gum drop card. I was going nuts! What does it take for me to win this stupid game?
I did a little statistical research. OK, I did very little research, but I knew that if only three of us were playing, my odds of winning were 1 in 3. If I kept Nancy away, my odds jumped to 50%. It didn’t help. Joey has won 117 games in a row. 117 in a row, did you hear that? Now he won’t play Candy Land with me, because my eyes scare him and he’s afraid of all the bad words I use when I draw those horrible food cards. I tried playing by myself, Candy Land Solitaire, but every time I got close to the end, I’d draw a card that hurled me back to the Peppermint Forest or Peanut Acres.
Now I’ve begun to dream about the characters on the board. They taunt me, and I can’t fight back.
“So, having a little trouble with the game, huh?” asked Mr. Mint.
“Yes,” I mumbled.
“Candy Land is for children,” chirped Princess Frostine. “It’s a game. The fun is in playing, not in winning or losing. If you want winning and losing, stick with sports or the stock market. Aren’t you ashamed?”
“If I say yes, can I win at Candy Land just once?” I asked.
“We don’t think you appreciate the spirit of the game,” thundered King Kandy. “And were it not for the fact that my kingdom is under threat from the farm animals your wife is dreaming about, we’d straighten you out the old fashioned way.”
“What? My dreams are fighting my wife’s dreams?”
“Of course they are,” laughed King Kandy. “You’re married, aren’t you? Don’t you ever watch Dr. Phil? Where did this blasted fog come from? Lord Licorice, have the sheep reached the chocolate swamp yet?”
“I don’t know. Gloppy? Any sign of farm animals?
“Noooooooo ooooo ooooo.”
“We have to go,” said Mr. Mint. “My, look at the time. It’s three quarters past 2010.”
“Remember,” screamed King Kandy. “Games aren’t about winning and losing. Even a Ouija board knows that. Games are all about fun. To arms! To arms.”
And then I woke up. I woke Nancy up as well.
“What in the world,” she mumbled. “It’s 3:15 in the morning. Are you sick?”
“There’s no time to explain. How often have I asked you to do something really strange?”
“213 times,” she replied. “I’ve been keeping count.”
“Well, you know the old saying. The 214th time is a charm. I need to play a game of Candy Land. Right now.”
“Honey, it’s a child’s game,” she said. “I’m sorry you haven’t won, but it’s just a game. It doesn’t matter that you never win.”
“I don’t want to win,” I said. “I just want to have fun. I think the Ouija board knew that if I didn‘t have fun playing Candy Land, I would die in 2010. It’s 2010, isn’t it? You wouldn‘t believe the dream I just had.”
“I think I’m dreaming now,” she yawned. “At least you don’t want to build another baseball field. OK, let’s play.”
We played twice. I don’t know who won, and I don’t care. It was fun. Really.
Naturally, this morning I acted as though I didn’t know what Nancy was talking about.
“I woke you up in the middle of the night to play Candy Land?” I scoffed. “I think it’s time to lay off the sparkling wine, dear.”
She also wanted to know how her side of the bed came to be covered in chocolate and plastic farm animals. But if I wasn’t going to confess to the other, I sure wasn’t about to confess to that.