The Cats' Game
by Michelle Muenzler
My hands won't stop shaking.
Over the cheap toddler's tic-tac-toe board, my opponent stares with smoke-rheumed eyes. She's iron, my great gran, like an old battleship. She's already dropped my niece, the pigtailed doll with her once candy-red cheeks paling against the linoleum, and my second uncle on my father's side who swore in Russian as soon as he figured out how badly he'd screwed himself.
"Hurry up," my great gran says, delivering the words with the mechanical ratta-tat-tat of a machine gun. "We haven't got all day."
As if on cue, a yellow tabby rubs against my leg. I freeze while cold sweat limps down my face. Even my great gran seems to pause.
The tabby purrs and moves on.
With a relieved sigh, I press my plastic O to the board, eager to end my turn before one of our judges ends it for me. Despite my rush, it's a good move. A thorough gutting of my great gran's line of attack. Then her mouth tightens, and I feel the first flicker of shame.
She snaps up her last X, cutting short my apology. And really, I've nothing to apologize for. She did the same thing to my niece two games ago. And just like my niece, she knows now what part she must play.