blue pencil

Noughts And Crosses

His breath tickled my ears when he whispered: ‘You know, I used to be the world champion.’ 

Grandad put a slightly crooked finger to his lips, as if preventing the cheeky smile from escaping. 

His declaration wasn’t a great surprise to me. However well I played, he would always beat me. It didn’t matter if I was the noughts or the crosses or whether I went first or second. The result was always the same: Definitely world champion stuff. 

We played whenever there was a scrap of paper available, his stubby pencil magically appearing from behind his back. Our little scribbled grids could be found on the back of old Morrisons’ receipts, corners of newspapers and, when we were really desperate, inside the covers of Grandma’s books, stored under the bureau. (Don’t tell her). But, wherever the battle took place, Grandad never lost.

‘Think straight,’ he’d say, shaking his head like a laughing clown.

‘Line those crosses up,’ he’d advise, crossing his arms like a super hero.

‘Focus on the centre.’ Then he’d draw a small circle in the middle square adding a couple of dotty, happy eyes and half moon lips. 

Today, I forced my eyes to focus on the centre, but I wasn’t able to recreate those happy eyes or half moon lips. And I definitely couldn’t think straight. 

There, lying on top of the freshly turned earth, were two small, floral crosses. Mum, with her shaky hands, had put one down in the middle of the mound. Dad had quickly dropped his on the edge, not too far from his shiny black shoes. I slowly knelt down, smudging mud onto my new dress and gently lowered my cross in the top left hand corner. 

I’d made a winning line!

As we turned and followed the vicar down the moss covered path, I knew this was no victory. It was the heaviest loss I’d ever suffered. 

Grandad would always be my world champion.

Published: Ellipses Zine