Swissh! Ed was playing basketball on the slab, a super-smooth playground on the campus of Country Day, his school. In the coolness of the evening the asphalt felt oddly warm beneath Ed’s bare feet. He was playing with his best friend Dave, and he had just scored a two-pointer while Dave was blocking him.
“In your eye!” Ed screamed.
Just as Ed noticed it was getting dark, his mom yelled, “Come on up, boys, dinner is starting, and we have to eat before bingo.”
Ed felt free of school rules as he walked over to his shoes that he had kicked aside earlier, and thought about Mr. Gonzalez as he put them back on. Mr. Gonzalez was the headmaster and had an uncanny way of getting Ed into trouble when he had the chance. Like that time when he had yelled at the boys for swinging on the swings loudly during a school play. Geez, some people . . .
The boys raced up to the Pavilion and, as always, Dave, who was six months older, won. They bought bingo cards, ate their spaghetti dinner like wolves, threw a couple of croutons and got ready to play by clearing their cards. The Pavilion, a hilltop pentagonal building, looked like an anthill. People were walking every which way, babies were screaming, not to mention girls. The corrugated galvanized roof reflected the sounds so that it sounded as if all the four-year-olds in the universe were reciting the alphabet in their own different languages. The microphone was now being adjusted by the announcer and it made a noise that made Ed’s ears beg for mercy.
Ed played the first few rounds but did not win. These rounds were regular bingo (five in a row) and had boring prizes, such as sea-life books and an art kit.
After those, both the rounds and the prizes got more interesting. Twenty-five dollar gift certificates, a blow-up soccer goal and thirty dollars worth of food at a good Chinese restaurant.
Dave won a prize from one of these rounds, a twenty-five-dollar gift certificate to a place in town that he had never heard of before, Royal Poinciana. He was worried that he would not like his prize, but he was reassured by Ed’s mom. “It’s a cool place Dave, kind of like Lamuria.” Ed’s head was a kaleidoscope of emotions. One part of his mind was happy for his best friend, but the other half was almost jealous that the winner had not been him. This also made him determined to win another game.
After a few more empty-handed rounds and the same kind of prizes, Ed was ready to play for the big prize, the air-hockey table. Ed’s hands started to sweat and he felt like he had eaten some live guinea pigs that were currently hopping about in his stomach. By the time the final round started, Ed was mumbling things like “guinea pig” and “flying monkeys” to comfort himself.
A sudden hair-raising creeaagch indicated the starting of the final round. “This round will be blackout bingo for the air-hockey table.” Straining, the announcer lifted up the hockey table to show the prize. The first number called was B-12. That was good because Ed had that one on both cards. The numbers kept streaming out of the announcer’s mouth. On occasion, the announcer would say something like “hill . . .” and a few of the girls would hopefully scream numbers like 25 or 27 but the announcer would prove them wrong with an I-21.
You could feel the tension in the air. As the game progressed the crowd would exclaim “YES!” or “NO!” depending on if they had the number called on their cards. Ed had only two left, O-64 and B-14. The next number called was Oooo . . . “64” a girl cried, “65” another called out. Ed’s hopes skyrocketed. “Oooo . . . 70,” called the announcer. The crowd was a sea of “YES!” and “NO!” The next number, Beeeeee . . . “4! 14! 5!” cried the crowd in hopes to convince the caller. “Beeeee . . . 14,” called the announcer. The sounds from the crowd, “Yes!”
“Joy,” Ed added.
“NO!” from the back and then from the left front corner the dreaded sound came—”BINGO!” Then there were several “No’s” and imitation crying. Ed’s head dropped. He had lost to an old lady. What was she going to do with the hockey table that he had wanted?
Ed left the building and went to the car. He felt terrible; he had lost by one square, just one! The world was closing in on him as they drove Dave home. Ed just couldn’t get it off his mind. One square left! Thinking about it made him feel as sick as that time he drank Listerine.
Even though Ed knew it would make him feel worse, he snuggled up into the seat, and when Dave said good-bye he pretended he was asleep. Finally the family arrived home. Ed forgot to brush his teeth and went directly to bed. His stomach ached. He hoped he’d feel better in the morning.