Hall Jameson is a writer and fine art photographer who lives in Montana with her husband, Val, and a menagerie of other furry and feathered critters. Her work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming in, Swamp Biscuits & Tea, Cream City Review, Redivider, and Eric’s Hysterics. When she’s not writing stories or taking photographs, Hall enjoys kayaking, exploring ghost towns, and cat wrangling.
My grandfather loved oranges and black cherries; he preferred citrus or berries to chocolate and other sweets. Each Saturday morning I would stop by the farmers’ market for fruit before our weekly backgammon game. “Don’t choke on the pit,” I’d said to him, trying to get under his skin. He ignored me, the morning light accentuating the spray of wrinkles fanning from the corners of his eyes and the perfect, college-ruled lines spanning his forehead. He leaned to one side in his armchair as he studied the board. He looked frail and vulnerable in his baggy clothes and ancient slippers. The dark red juices from the fresh cherries tracked down his chin; his attempt to distract me. I moved to blot away the juice with my napkin, but he pushed my hand away, then spit a cherry pit into the trashcan. “Don’t fuss over me, Ella.” He wiped his chin with the sleeve of his flannel shirt and nodded to the board. It was my turn. The backgammon checkers stuck to the pads of my fingers, tacky from dividing an orange. I studied the board, so focused on our game–I must win–that I put the doubling cube into my mouth instead of an orange segment. Bright flecks danced before my eyes as I gagged for air. My grandfather pounded me between the shoulder blades until the cube shot from my throat and landed on the board, trailed by a ropey string of saliva, revealing the number sixty-four. He poured some water into a plastic cup and handed it to me. I drank without meeting his eyes; instead, I watched his gnarled index finger slide his final checker across the board and then remove it. Next, he blotted the wet spot of my dribble from the board with his sleeve. I need to launder that shirt, I thought. He looked at me and shook his head. My shirt is fine, his look said. Stop worrying. “I win,” he said aloud before popping another cherry into his mouth. He smacked his lips as the juices raced down his chin. He tilted the bag of cherries in my direction, but I shook my head. He picked up a backgammon checker and offered it to me as if it were a cookie or piece of chocolate, his eyebrows raised. When I frowned and fixed him with a chilly look, he erupted, his laugh, one of my favorite sounds. Then he spit another cherry pit into the trash.