Entering the “battle arena” did not live up to its name. I hesitate at the entrance, readjusting my vision, the fluorescent lighting reflecting off the linoleum floors temporarily blinding me. Under the high ceiling the space to feels larger. The room was filled with two dozen unfoldable tables, players unpacking at them, preparing for play. Cameras mounted upon tripods hang over the competitors looked like field lights illuminating a rivalry match with their heat.
It’s been a long time since I have played Magic the Gathering. I used to play every day. That was when I still had Andrew. We had become interested in Magic together, becoming self proclaimed “Master Summoners.”
I walk to the desk labeled “sign up”. The official has an unkempt goatee and raised cheekbones that makes him resemble that annoying satyr from Narnia. I chuckle and think to myself how appropriate it is to have him as an officiate.
“I’m Maximillion Walder for the three-thirty tourny” I say to the the goat man.
He didn’t respond and I thought he hadn’t heard me. As I mustered up the courage to tell him again he responded.
“Maximillion Walder” he repeated back, “You’re at table three, against Brendan King. I need to register your deck and then you can head over.” Fumbling I unzipped my backpack and hand over my deck box. “Green Black Cycle” I say. He takes note of all 60 cards and hands back the box.
“Mmmm, Death’s Shadow and Varolz, now that’s some synergy” he says unenthused and unconvinced. I know it works. But I didn’t think it up by myself. I have to thank Andrew for that.
My first match I was able to clean sweep Brendan in a 2-0 victory. Beating him down before he could make a play for the board. Sometimes, Magic can be compared to chess; there are moves, counter moves and reading your opponent. However sometimes it can be more like a tsunami, where your cards move too fast for your opponent to control, eventually overwhelming and drowning them.
I begin my second match against a competitor who’s name I can never remember. Some big time player from out of state. I sit across from him, his bald sun spotted head and white beard make him fantasy cliché. We shake hands and introduce ourselves. “Max Walder” I say.
“Murfee” croaks the large man through a thick southern accent. Unloading our decks we make a welcomed non-verbal agreement to begin the match. We begin our shuffles, for me this is when my mind enters the game. I watch my opponent while we draw our cards to see if he gives any indication of what he has between his brutish fingers. Anything can be sign, a smirk, a scowl, and especially avoiding eye contact.
My own hand is less than exciting. A few spells and high cost creatures all of which I can’t play in my first few turns. If he plays aggressive I won’t have much of a chance with what I have now. He wins the coin flip and chooses to take the first turn. He plays mana but nothing else, my turn.
I draw, then play a mana. I still can’t do anything. I pass the turn back, hoping he has the same luck as myself. Another mana, I follow his stare as he traces each card theorizing what I have before making his move.
It was the same as Andrew used to do. A conspiracy theorist by nature he watched everything trying to pry information out of everything even if there was nothing to be found. He was like an obsessed archaeologist, continuously digging, finding nothing. Even still he was satisfied. That was something I could never do. The last time I saw him we were at Bedrock, a common swimming hole for teens near our hometown. The summer heat beating down on our chlorine bleached hair. We would jump, dive and fall off the boulders into the water. He always wanted more, he always wanted to be the best.This is not the time or place to relive these memories. But I never seem able to stop. Andrew would dive off boulder after boulder going higher and becoming more extravagant with each successive jump. I was beside him like always, cheering him on as always. Like pool we would call a move and the other would have to stick it. After being there for hours, I tell Andrew “Time for the big one!” pointing at the largest rock at the edge of the creek “up there”
“You’re on!” Andrew yells back already scaling the mossy giants head. At the top he stretches, making a show of it, we were just kids. I am still just a kid. He jumped, he tucks into cannonball. The water imploded on impact, shooting up like the geyser we went to with our school as children. It shot higher than the rock he jumped from, raining down in a mist painting my skin with moisture. When the splash settled the last ripples spreading out over the still creek I noticed the bubbles and his body writhing underneath taking too long to surface. Without thinking I Dove in. I felt like one of those old time deep sea divers all the pressure of the ocean weighing down on me. I dragged Andrew out of the water I lay him down on the bank. Coughing out water, he opened his green eyes. “Was it a big splash Max?” he said weakly.
“Max” The official says pulling me out of my recurring nightmare. “It’s your turn.” I don’t want to play. This tournament, this game, it wasn’t for me. I’m not playing for myself, I never was. I always was Andrew’s side kick, his supporting character, I was right beside him through it all. I stand up, putting my hands on the table. To the astonishment of myself, the ref and Murphy I leave without explanation.
I drive to the Hospital, enter the room I have been dreading to enter. Andrew is there, in the white dormant room, unconscious an always. I sit beside, him a small nightstand between us. His nose plugged with tubes, the only way I knew he was breathing was from his chest rising and falling. I take both our decks out, lay them on the night stand. With a small smile I whisper “yeah, it was a big f***ing splash.”