“Oh, Grandma, you can’t play. You’re just no good at it.” Michael’s words had stung when he’d said them, and they still stung, echoing in Martha Goodman’s head as she drove back to her house after taking her grandson home. She had hoped the visit would help the two of them grow closer. Instead, it was a disaster.
Michael had been very close to Henry, and since he passed away, the boy just didn’t seem to want to spend time with his grandma.
Before Michael’s visit, Martha went out and purchased video equipment especially for the visit, complete with Michael’s favorite game – Dragon Land, in which the hero is a little purple dragon who fights off monsters to protect his cherished land from invasion of the evil master magician. When she got the game and equipment home, she had Kevin Stevens – a boy who lived next door – hook it up.
“Are you fixing to play?” he asked Martha, trying hard not to snicker.
Martha knew it too. She saw how he kept covering his mouth with his hand, sometimes even faking a cough, especially when she told him she had every intention of playing.
“It can’t be that hard,” she said. “I don’t think I’m so old that I can’t learn to play a new game. I don’t see why it would make a difference if it was a board game or a game you play on a TV.”
“No, ma’am, I guess you’re right about that. Here’s your control,” he said, holding out a remote for Martha to take.
“Oh? It has its own clicker?”
“Clicker?” Kevin asked. “Oh, yes, ma’am ... its own clicker. Would you like me to show you some of the rules of this game?”
“That would be nice,” Martha replied.
For the next few minutes, Martha listened intently to the boy’s instructions.
“Hold the control ... uh, the clicker ... with both hands. Press the ‘O’ button, and the little dragon jumps. Press the ‘X’ button when he’s up in the air, and that will make him fly.”
“Fly?” Martha exclaimed. “Oh my, this will be very exciting!”
“Yes, ma’am ... exciting,” Kevin said, then headed for the entrance hall.
“Thank you, Kevin. Tell your mother I really enjoyed that recipe she gave me for Indian Corn Soup. ... It was very interesting,” Martha said, as she winked at the boy.
She knew Kevin would catch her meaning. There were a few summer days when they had shared homemade cookies on the porch, as well as secrets about Kevin’s mother’s cooking.
That seemed like ages ago, though. They grow up so fast, she thought. Maybe that’s why she was so adamant about developing a closer relationship with Michael.
He had turned twelve on his last birthday, and soon he’d be too old – and too busy – to spend much time with her. She knew she had to make a move now, and she knew the best way to reach him was to do something with him that he enjoyed, which is how she came up with the idea of the video game. But she had failed.
Michael was excited when he first saw the game, and Martha was hopeful that her idea would work.
She was certainly surprised at the realism of the game. Holding the control in her hand and directing the dragon to fly, jump, swim or breathe fire at the enemy had seemed very real to her. With the control in her hand, however, the dragon would falter, usually falling off cliffs instead of gliding to the other side. If she tried to make the creature swim, it ended up drowning.
Michael’s surprise at his grandmother’s ownership of her own video console quickly faded, however, when he realized she couldn’t play.
“It’s OK, Grandma, most people your age can’t do it,” he had said.
Not long afterward, Michael developed a
stomachache and asked to be taken home.
The drive across town was a quiet one. When Martha dropped Michael off, he mumbled something about being sorry he had ruined their evening, and then he was gone. She watched from the car as her grandson ran up the sidewalk as though he couldn’t be happier to be home.
Martha pulled the car into the garage and closed the garage door. The drive home was long – long enough for Michael’s words to echo in her heart a thousand times. She had tried to listen to the radio, singing along with several of the songs, but it still nagged at her. She saw it in his eyes, and she heard it in his voice.
She entered the house through the kitchen door, locking it behind her, then putting the chain on. She walked over and opened the refrigerator door, thinking of making herself a sandwich. She wasn’t really hungry, though, so instead, she took the freshly baked pie out and set it on the counter. Maybe I’ll just have some coffee and pie, and then I’ll go to bed, she thought.
“Most people your age ...” She just couldn’t get Michael’s words out of her head.
She went into the living room and stared at the game. The black box with its cords stretching across the rug and connecting to the TV sat mocking her from the coffee table. The words “Most people your age ...” burned through her mind until, finally, standing in the middle of her living room, Martha cried out loud, “I can do it!”
She threw her purse on the couch and said, “Move over, Maxwell.”
The cat meowed at her, then reluctantly gave up his place on the sofa.
Martha flipped on the TV and video machine, then watched as the game warmed up and came to life. The TV screen exploded with the bright colors of Dragon Land. A moment later, a small purple dragon with green wings flew into the picture to land on the top of a mountain.
The dragon was a cute little guy, and so brave. It didn’t matter how many times Martha ran him into a tree or dropped him off of a mountain cliff into the ocean, he always came back to try again.
“I will learn to do this,” Martha declared, as Maxwell lounged beside her on the couch, licking his paws. When the music started to begin the game, the cat stared at the TV.
Martha understood the mechanics of the controls, but trying to be precise proved to be difficult. Aching hands inhibited her coordination, but she was not going to let arthritis stop her. She was determined to learn to fly, and in order to do so, she knew she had to practice.
When the game began, Martha slowly walked the dragon to the edge of a cliff where he needed to be so he could fly to the other side of a cavern before continuing on his journey.
“OK, little fellow, here we go,” she said.
The dragon walked cautiously to the edge and leapt into the air, then quickly plummeted to the bottom of the cavern, where he crashed. The game played a little tune, which told the player that the dragon had died. He then quickly appeared at the top of the cliff again, and the game began again. Martha walked the dragon slowly to the edge of the cliff again, then hit the “X” button twice, trying to make the dragon glide. Again, the little purple dragon plummeted to the bottom of the cavern, crashing and causing a small puff of dust to rise from the cavern’s floor, which indicated that the poor thing had hit hard and had again died.
Maxwell raised his head and meowed.
“I am not making too much noise, now go back to sleep,” Martha said to the cat.
The dragon again walked to the edge and jumped into the air. He just as quickly fell to the bottom again.
“Oh, drat!” Martha exclaimed.
She tried it again, and this time after the dragon walked to the edge, he jumped bravely into the air and flew for a few seconds before plummeting to his demise. This time the dragon ran out of lives, and that was the end of the game.
Just as Martha pushed the restart button on the game, the telephone rang.
“Martha? Aren’t you coming?” It was her friend Jodi Nelson.
“Coming?” Martha asked, before remembering that it was bingo night. “Oh, no, dear, I ... uh ... I have a headache. I can’t make it tonight.”
The dragon was on the edge of the cliff again, so she hit the “X” button. He jumped, and she hit the “X” again. He flew for a moment, then crashed once again.
“Drat! I killed him again,” Martha said.
“What?” Jodi Nelson asked. “Martha, you killed who?”
“Martha killed someone?” asked Clara Juniper, who was standing next to Jodi. “What on earth is going on?”
“Hush, Clara, I’m trying to find out,” Jodi said, waving her hand at her friend. “Who did you kill, Martha? Should I call the police?”
“The dragon,” Martha said. “I killed the little fellow again. Listen, Jodi, tell the girls I’ll see them next week. I have to learn to fly tonight.”
“She hung up on me! Right in my ear, she hung up the phone!” Jodi exclaimed.
“What did she say?” Clara asked.
“She said she couldn’t come tonight because she had to learn to fly.”
Clara shook her head with pity. She’d seen it before. An elderly lady loses her husband, and the first thing to go is the mind.
“Maybe we should check on her,” Clara said.
“Good idea,” Jodi said. “We’ll go by after the game, and if the lights are still on, we’ll stop in for a cup of coffee.”
The two woman agreed, then hurried to find their seats before the early bird game began.
Martha wasn’t the least bit concerned with the early bird game at bingo. She was sitting on her couch, trying desperately to learn how to make the dragon fly. The clock in the hallway chimed six o’clock, and Maxwell raised his head and meowed at her again, attempting to remind her that it was dinnertime. He stretched, clawing his front paws into the sofa, then lazily moved toward her, rubbing against her arm. Martha absentmindedly pushed him away with her elbow, keeping her eyes transfixed on the TV screen and her fingers on the buttons. The dragon walked to the edge, leapt into the air, glided nervously across the cavern and miraculously landed on the other side.
“I did it! I did it!” Martha yelled. “I did it!”
All the yelling scared Maxwell and sent him running behind the couch.
“Too old to learn? Ha!” Martha exclaimed loudly. “I’ll show Michael who’s too old to learn.”
The dragon, once she finally got him safely to the other side of the cavern, continued on his journey. The video program was one of the finest, and the details were quite intriguing. The forest was colorful and bright, pleasing to the eye. From time to time, a leaf fell from a tree and drifted aimlessly down to the ground. The grass moved as if the wind was gently blowing through the meadow, and bunnies hopped happily as the dragon passed along his path. Martha stared at the TV, mesmerized by the colors and details.
“It’s like being inside a movie,” she said.
Her arthritic fingers were sore, and stretching them to maneuver the control buttons was painful, but Martha was determined to learn this game. She was unaware of Maxwell’s pleas for food, and she was unaware of the clock ticking away. Not realizing it was growing dark outside, Martha didn’t stop to turn on the lights. She also didn’t feed the cat – or herself – and she decided she would let the answering machine catch her calls. Nothing was more important than getting that little dragon to his destination so he could rid the land of the evil magician.
Maxwell accepted that he was being ignored and gave up trying to get Martha’s attention. Instead, he sauntered into the kitchen and helped himself to the pie on the counter.
Martha was doing better now, and the dragon seemed stronger in his ability to maneuver as well. Martha mastered the keys, and by moving her body to match the actions of the dragon, she began to feel as though she was the one swimming across the pool of dragon-eating fish. When the dragon needed to rush to the left, Martha leaned her body to the left. When the dragon needed to jump over a falling tree, Martha jumped from the couch and then rested back as the dragon landed.
With each level of achievement, Martha rejoiced with that little purple hero at their accomplishment.
The clock in the hallway chimed eleven, but only Maxwell was aware of the time. The pie he fed himself for dinner was not settling well in his stomach. He rubbed desperately against the front door, begging to go out, but there was no one to open the door for him. Martha was busy.
Reaching the second level of the game, the dragon entered the Kingdom of the Wicked Fairies. Here, Martha had to help her hero retrieve the stolen key to the castle. The land of the wicked fairies was a dark and foreboding land, with no meadows, just jagged edges and cliffs. Rain fell throughout the dragon’s journey, with sounds indicating the presence of evil.
Martha shivered with the coldness of the land in the second level. The controls in her hand monitored the dragon’s movement. When the dragon died, fell or was hit over the head, the controls would vibrate in her hand, adding more realism to the game.
“I can see why parents don’t want their children to spend too many hours with these games,” Martha said. “They are so real!”
The light of the television set burned images of fire-breathing monsters into Martha’s brain. So transfixed was she on the game she was unaware of all around her. Her skills were improving. She was now on level two and facing a battle against the evil magician. With this win, she and the dragon would recapture the kingdom for dragons everywhere. It was also the win she needed to show Michael she could share his interest, his world, and that she wasn’t too old to learn anything new. All of her attention was now focused on the television screen and the dramatic events unfolding before her eyes.
“I don’t see any lights,” Jodi said, standing on Martha’s porch, knocking on the door. “Maybe she’s in bed.”
“There’s a strange light coming from the living room,” Clara said. “I think she left the TV on.”
“Maxwell is crying,” Jodi said, standing on tiptoe, trying to look through the door’s window.
“Oh, Lord, Clara, do you think she’s injured? She wouldn’t let Maxwell just cry like that,” Jodi said. “Remember what she said when we called her? She said she was staying home tonight because she was going to learn to fly. Do you think she was really trying to fly? Maybe she jumped off the counter and broke her hip?”
“Jodi, get real. Martha couldn’t climb up on the counter anymore than you could,” Clara said, then frowned at the thought of her friend lying on the kitchen floor with a broken hip. “Maybe we better call the police, just in case.”
“Let’s get to a phone,” Jodi said, as she rushed toward the car. “There’s one at the corner store.”
Martha was completely absorbed in the video game. She liked the game! She liked the little dragon. She liked fighting evil. She enjoyed spitting fire on monsters, and she loved flying. Holding the controls and moving with the video, she felt as though she herself were flying – as if she were the dragon.
The dragon moved through the halls of the main castle, about to come face to face with the magician. It was eerily quiet within the castle walls, with only a hall clock chiming softly in the background. The video game was so real for her that the eerie quietness of entering the magician’s castle was matched with the eeriness of her living room. The house was dark. In fact, the only light was the light from the TV, and that burned through her eyes into her brain, luring her further into the rooms of the castle.
A door pushed open, and Martha – no, the dragon, they were one and the same now – entered a circular arena. The outside edge of the arena turned to lava, and fire fell from the sky.
“We’re in for it now,” Martha said excitedly. “Where are you, you evil old magician? Show yourself, you coward!”
Maxwell heard Martha’s yell, but it was a strange tone of voice he was not familiar with. It made him nervous, and he cried even louder.
So excited was Martha at meeting the magician’s battle and progressing to the next level of play that she was virtually yelling at the TV.
As Jodi, Clara and a policeman stepped onto Martha’s porch, they heard her yell, “Show yourself, you coward!”
“Oh, dear! Martha’s in trouble!” Jodi exclaimed.
“Stand back, ladies, and let me handle this,” the police officer instructed.
He banged on the door and hollered, “Mrs. Goodman? Are you in there? This is the police. Can you come to the door? Mrs. Goodman?”
On the other side of the door, Maxwell meowed loudly.
The dragon fought his last battle against the evil magician, beating the bad magician into the dust and victoriously reclaiming the castle for dragons everywhere.
Martha jumped from the couch in joy, yelling, “Take that, you nasty man!”
The young officer heard her yell, and immediately forced his shoulder against the door. He shoved the door again, and it gave way. The door slammed open against the wall of the entranceway, knocking over a porcelain vase of flowers sitting on a circular table by the door.
The officer burst through the door with his gun drawn, frightening Maxwell. The cat ran into the kitchen and hid. In the dark house, the only thing visible was the television set.
“What?” Martha asked, turning to face the young police officer. “What?”
“Are you OK, ma’am?” the policeman asked.
“Oh, Lord, she’s had a stroke!” Jodi hollered from the safety of the porch. “Call 911, she’s had a stroke, all she can say is, ‘What?’”
Clara reached inside and turned on the lights, flooding the hallway with brightness. Martha still held the video controls in her hand as she blinked in the heavy light.
“Martha, it’s us, Clara and Jodi, are you OK? Martha?” Clara tried to get her friend to focus her eyes on them.
Finally, Martha’s head cleared, and she became aware of her present surroundings.
“Clara? Jodi? What’s going on?” she asked.
“Ma’am, are you OK? We heard you screaming from the porch,” the officer began.
“Oh! Oh, my, yes. Yes, of course, I’m fine. I was just playing a game.”
“A game?” the officer asked, looking around at the group of women. “Does someone want to explain what is going on here?”
“You see, my grandson, Michael – he’s a nice boy ... He wants to be a policeman when he grows up, as a matter of fact. Anyway, Michael said I couldn’t play this game because I was too old,” Martha stammered, pointing to the TV and video game. “Do you have any children, officer?”
“Yes, a girl, but ...”
“Does she play video games?”
“No, she’s only two, but Mrs. ...”
“You’re lucky there,” Martha said, as she set the remote down and approached the group. “Let’s all get some coffee, and I’ll explain everything. They are so real, these video games. You have no idea.”
They gathered around the oak table in the dining room, and the policeman filled out his report. With every explanation Martha gave of her adventure into Dragon Land, he smiled.
When the report was completed, the officer repaired the door as best he could. It would close, but it wouldn’t lock, so he told Martha to be sure and put the chain on after everyone left.
He tipped his hat and said, “I’m glad everything is OK, ma’am.”
A moment later, the policeman was gone, and Martha was sure she’d heard him giggling on his way to the patrol car.
Jodi and Clara washed the coffee cups, fussing at Martha not to scare them like that again, even though neither of them were really assured that she hadn’t lost her mind. Jodi was still convinced Martha had suffered a stroke and that the signs would become more apparent by morning.
Finally they gathered their things to leave, as Martha assured them that she really was OK.
“You call if you need anything,” Clara said, then walked out and headed for the car.
“Now, Martha, you go to bed. Don’t sit up all night playing that game,” Jodi told her friend.
“Oh, you dears, don’t worry about me. I will go right to bed, I promise,” Martha said.
Martha closed the door, chained it and sat a chair under the doorknob for extra security.
Maxwell came into the room looking drained.
“Maxy? Where have you been? Do you need to go out?” Martha asked.
Martha let Maxwell back inside, then locked the door again and placed the chair back under the doorknob.
I have some good friends, Martha thought.
Clara and Jodi had contacted the police to check on her when they got worried that something was wrong. It was the right thing to do, and it was exactly what she would have done if she had been in their shoes.
Martha flipped off the hall light, sending the house into darkness again, except for the light from the TV. She stood in the entranceway to the living room peering over the back of the couch. She could see the little purple dragon on the screen. He was sitting on top of the mountain just waiting for the game to begin, and Martha felt he was calling to her.
“Well, dragon,” she said, as she walked back into the living room and picked up the control. “Want to go again? This time we play for points!”
As Martha played the video game again, she could feel herself getting better with each game.
“I can’t wait to show Michael what his old grandma can do when she puts her mind to it,” she said, then added, “Good night, dragon. I’ll see you in the morning.”