Pomp & Circumstance
In the twilight moments of a life well lived, a man decides that the last thing he wants to do is play a game of Go-Fish with Death.
Pomp blinked; the purple veil flickering just enough to warrant a more human reaction on his features. His head was tilted down at the winning hand, and he tapped the cards. After he savored that moment, he laid them neatly across the table for Egmund to shuffle.
“You’re stalling.” said Pomp.
“Stalling? No. Quite the opposite." Egmund replied happily. "I’m enjoying myself.”
“I’ve met many stallers in my time.” He said. “And they all do as you do. One hand after another, that same grumpy look twixt the eyes.”
“I suppose my thinking face is rather grumpy.”
“You have more rounds to win than time left.”
Egmund nodded, thumbing through the worn deck of cards. “Do you know where I got these?”
Pomp’s veil blinked again.
“One of my buddies at the shop. He was a quick worker, you see, but he practiced magic tricks with them between customers. One pizza here, a little slight of hand there. It kept his mind and hands busy when the counters were too clean to bother.”
“Is it a spell you charge with your games?” Pomp asked. He folded his arms across his ribcage. “I would be interested to sense it.”
“I believe, my dear Sandman, you would have already. No, it isn’t magic that these cards hold. Just… memories.”
Pomp tapped his fingers on the cards, the jaw set. The spirit sat as still as stone, with only the wisps of purple magics to surround him. The air was not as cold as Egmond had thought it to be. He had left the window open, perhaps foolishly thinking his guest would need such a way in, and even still the breeze was warm. And he smelled scents on it that he hadn’t smelled in years, perhaps decades. The soft detergent his mother used, the acrid cologne of his grandfather’s house, the sweets from the county fair not far from the field by his home. He even smelled a moment of his brother’s room - which thankfully, had been fleeting.
“How is it you do that?” Egmond asked at last. “My memories hang on you. Do you see them, or smell them? I always thought you’d be…”
“I can be so, if that is your preference.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to offend. It’s rather nice really. Its been quite a long time since I’ve thought of any of these things.”
Pomp’s veil blinked. Egmond shuffled the cards and gave them each a hand, waiting for the spirit to take his turn. He drew his cards, tapping them once in thought.
Pomp looked up.
“I’ve thought of those things quite a lot before today.” Egmund admitted.
“No, not at all." He insisted. "I’m enjoying myself.”
Pomp leaned back again, though he relaxed his forearms on the table. “Many souls do this before they make the crossing. I sense they are afraid; there is a lot that they face on that bridge and then beyond it. And there is a lot to leave behind. It is natural to stall death.”
Egmund played the first set of cards he had - three jacks. “And how many have asked you to a game of Go-Fish?”
“Five? After all this time?”
“Most try to gamble.”
Egmund glanced around his little room. “I have gummy bears.”
The jaw twitched, and Pomp chuckled as he played three queens. “More precious than souls… Any 4s?”
“Damn… Also. Is that really a thing? What do you eat?”
“That is like asking the wind what it drinks.” Pomp said. “...sometimes dates.”
“Like, calendar dates?”
“No, the little raisin-finger fruits.”
Egmund blinked, then laughed. “I’m afraid I don’t have those, my friend.”
“It was a joke.”
“So if you are indeed not stalling, and you are in fact not gambling, is this for questions only?” Pomp asked.
“It’s for fun.” Egmund replied. “Got any aces?”
Pomp slid the card across the table, and Egmund grinned as he tucked it away with the set in his hand.
“I used to play Go-Fish all the time with my daughter.” He said. “I never let her win.”
“Okay, only once. But she got good. And she taught it to my grandson as well. He was such a quick learner. I hope he’ll keep it up, even if these things go virtual.”
Egmund waved his hand. Pomp stared at the cards, and for a few rounds there was quiet. Egmund could smell the old office at his first job, that old music store that smelt of papers and faint rosin. He smelt the hair of his first love, and the foul smells of the hospital wings that felt all too familiar. He smelled that one camping trip where his friend Luca stepped in bear scat… and he smelled the aftermath of too much beef jerky.
“Ah Luca…” Egmund chuckled. “Is he over there, happy?”
“I don’t know.” Pomp replied.
“Was he happy when he left?”
“Confused. It was sudden, after all.”
“He asked if he had offended me during his D&D campaign.”
Egmund paused as he laid down his king, queen, and ace. “D&D… oh! Oh my god… I had forgotten all about that… did he offend? Its quite normal for bards.”
“He was a gentleman.” Pomp said with a grin. “Got any 2s?”
Egmund’s phone buzzed, and he looked at the notification. “Ah! My grandson just posted a photo. Want to see?”
He shifted his glasses to rest properly on his nose, and pulled the message up. His grandson Alan and his wife Emelia filled the screen. Egmund couldn’t help but smile, even before he saw the words posted - he saw so much of his daughter in her son. The ears mostly.
“My god… they’re expecting.” Egmund blinked.
He stared at the screen for a moment, exhaling a laugh, and his eyes stung from the warmth it brought. They held up a black and white photo, little more than a dark nugget in a bowl, with their proud facing beaming behind it.
A new child, a new bit of family running amok. He wondered if the child would be as chaotic as their grandmother, or as quietly devious as their daughter. Perhaps the kid would throw tantrums over their food touching on the plate and wear crazy shoe colors. Maybe they’d explode with excitement over digital things and try to build a computer, like what Egmund’s daughter had done all those years ago. Maybe their parents would shake their heads after running to grab a picture frame for the doodles on the wall they were too exhausted to cover.
He had worked his odd jobs for so many years to see such beautiful things - and it was there that his eyes fell on the cards laid on the table.
“I can deliver them, after you.” Pomp offered.
“The cards. As a gift.”
Egmund laughed. “I guess people do not make many stops on their crossing?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Is that why so many loved ones find odd things after…?”
“Am I being recorded?”
“Is that a–”
“Yes. A joke.”
Egmund chuckled, glancing between his phone photos of the little nugget-to-be, and then the winning hand across the table.
“Another game?” Pomp asked.
Egmund’s phone lowered. “You’re stalling.”
“No. I’m simply enjoying myself.”