Emma sat down on the floor, the weight of all this vague new information being heavy enough that she didn’t want to lug it the whole yard and a half back to the recliner. She looked at the frog, and almost wanted it to become her grandmother again and tell her that the prank had begun with the stroke, and that Emma should see the look on her face right now. John would pull off his face and it would turn out to have been a Hollywood-grade mask the entire time, with Saphal underneath doing his best impression of a twenty-first century ranch hand. But then who was Marigold, just someone they hired? She surely wasn’t her father, because although he surely disliked her at times, she knew he’d never let her believe he wanted to kill her, even if he was playing a character. Also he was no actor, also also Marigold was very clearly a woman. When no sudden reveals occurred, she laid back and stared at Ferrule’s ceiling. For the first time, she noticed the giant outline of a hand, all fingers open, right above her. Right, so that was one more question.
Suddenly she smelled something, acrid and stale. Oh, herself. “I need a shower.”
“Best wait til’ we’re stopped,” said John. “Water heater’s not on, plus that bathroom door slides open every now and then when I take a turn.”
“When’s our next stop?”
“Well, I’m tryin’ to put some distance between us and Eggbrain, through us off her scent, so it’ll be a little while.” She was glad to hear him go back to calling her Eggbrain. It took a bit of the anxiety out of his tone. “Up to you. You wanna pop in there now, I promise my eyes are stayin’ on the road.” She considered the consequences of showering on the road vs. the uncomfortability of being musky. A cold shower might be the worst part of her day – and she’d both been threatened with death and had her fragile notion of reality challenged today. And she very much preferred not to unwittingly display her naked self to the rest of Ferrule, even if John promised not to look. She’d never been fond of oversharing. Besides, she’d gone longer than this without showering on numerous occasions when her and Saphal scheduled time off to marathon movies – they’d watched all of the Lord of The Rings Trilogy plus every Harry Potter plus every movie directed by Christopher Nolan that they owned, back to back, thrice.
“I’ll wait,” she said, tracing the hand with her eyes.
“Oh, hey,” said John. “I got a game at the store. Somethin’ to pass time on our haul. Should be in one of those bags back there.”
A game? She wasn’t so sure she felt all too playful. But she indulged him, rolled over and pushed herself up. The first bag she grabbed was actually her new socks and underwear, reminding her of her current musk. If she wasn’t going to shower, it was the least she could do for herself to change her underwear. “No peaking,” she said as she stepped into the bathroom. The door stayed shut, thankfully. When she stepped back out she felt that she’d made a truly momentous decision, proving that even now that the world was upside down and twisted all around, she still had some control over her own condition. She laid into this momentum and went to find John’s game.
She selected the bag that wasn’t stuffed with shirts and jeans. Inside was another pack of Pizza in a Bag, as well as small orange box that said Mad Gab on it. She snorted.
“That’s the one,” said John. “Walked by it over and over, swear they got it at every Walmart in the country. Never had anyone to play it with though.”
She shook her head. “I used to play it all the time with Saphal.”
Oh, another thought became an actual out loud sentence. She felt John’s eyes flash to her in the mirror for a second. It was the first time she’d said Saphal’s name to him. It was only the second time she’d said it out loud since the crash. John didn’t say anything. “Saphal was my . . . boyfriend.”
“Sounds like he had a good taste in board games,” said John. Had. That was her fault, she supposed. She’d used past tense first.
“Yeah,” she said. “Wanna play?”
Mad Gab is a game of words. Well it’s a game of not-word words – things like Easel Aid Ease Man, which one person said aloud until the other realized that the target was He’s a ladies man. Or at least that was the way Saphal and her had always played it, she honestly wasn’t sure what the actual rules were.
She opened the box, bit the plastic off of the card pack, drew one and said, “Know Sayer.”
“What?” said John.
“I don’t . . . no sayer?”
“Know Sayer.” She tried to say it fast, because that normally helped.
“Like a person that says ‘no’ a lot?” Well now she began to wonder if John knew how to play the game. “It sounds like you’re saying nose hair.” She couldn’t help but grin a little. She gave John a second before she explained what it seemed he wasn’t getting. Then he said “Oh!” and released a genuine laugh. “Nose hair!”
She nodded. “Nose hair.”
“Boom!” he pumped a fist in the air, almost socking the frog like he’d socked Marigold. The tension and worry from before seemed already to have been jettisoned away. She pulled another card.
“Eight Wean Gull Any Size.”
Quiet, then, “You’re fuckin’ with me.”
A stifled laugh bloated her throat at hearing him use what her father called “the effer” for the first time.
“Excuse the language,” he said.
“That is incorrect,” she replied.
“Eight Wean Gull Any Size is nowhere near ‘you’re fuckin’ with me.’” She did her best to mimic his slight drawl.
“Ha, ha.” He said. “Give it to me again.”
And she did, and they went on like this for a good while, and it was honestly an effective distraction from everything else. They got through a good thirty cards, including Up Arrow Tin Issues, Bail Heed Ant Sir, and Dew Wino Hue before she was positively itching to guess herself. She sat up.
“This game usually goes both ways,” she said.
“If you think I’m gonna drive, and read them silly cards at the same time, you can kiss my wrists.” Emma cocked her head, because she had no idea what that meant.
“I’ll drive, then.”
“No.” For a moment the playfulness fell away from his voice. “Only John Bain drives ol’ Ferrule, darlin’.”
No reason to argue with that. If she didn’t want to know the answers, all she really had to do was not flip the card around. So they kept going, but the interruption of the flow caused the energy to dissipate. She was hungry now, but too comfortable on the shag carpet to get up and microwave some soup, so she just lazily continued reading cards, until she drifted into sleep.
And just like that she was no longer lying on the shag, but instead on the bear, moose, goose rug. The hand on the ceiling was gone, and she recognized the popcorn aesthetic of the ceiling of her home. She turned over on her belly and made to push herself up. And there it was in front of her eyes, the base of her grandmother’s favorite chair, and the big fuzzy feet of the frog. She continued to roll up her gaze and saw the rest of the frog, and her grandmother’s head sticking out between the shoulders.