Robert leaned against the basement staircase, patiently waiting for his grandfather to line up his shot.
As always the shot was a combination. Grandpa liked to show off, but he had a lot of reason to. He claimed that he looked the whole table over, looking for the easiest shot to make, but Robert suspected the opposite was true. Frequently the cue ball would bounce off the side of the table before angling back to its intended target, or strike several balls before the final one rolled into the pocket.
The table was small, less than half regulation size, nestled away in the basement. Robert would lean against the stairs or sometimes a small bookshelf waiting for his turn, not sure if he would get one. He would sip ginger ale from a heavy glass with a diamond pattern, the imprint pressing slightly into his hand. The game was informal, but grandpa always called his shots.
Grandpa lined his cue up behind the final ball, pointing the stick in the direction of the pocket, then angled back slightly to the ball that would strike it. He’d nudged the final ball with his cue but Robert did not mind. The small change in position did nothing to affect the difficulty of the shot. His grandpa used to be able to check these angles in his head, visualizing the exact point of contact like a small blue dot on each ball. He had repeated this again and again to Robert ever since he was old enough to play the game, and Robert took it to heart. It had taken many games but Robert could make some impressive shots of his own, but he knew that his grandpa still had tricks he hadn’t show him.
His grandpa squinted at the point on the third ball which would send it in the direction of the second. Two-ball combinations were not all that difficult once you got the hang of them, but three balls had to be just right, and this shot zigged and zagged. Robert thought at first glance that the sequence was not entirely necessary, but his grandpa said that if he did not hit the third ball straight on, then he would kiss it on the way to the second and it would throw off the shot completely.
Grandpa put his hand down on the table, his thumb resting on top of his hand, the cue moving slowly back and forth in the groove between his thumb and forefinger. Robert had never been able to shoot this way, instead forming a loop with his thumb and forefinger and resting the cue on his middle finger. He’d tried it Grandpa’s way but was never able to keep the stick straight.
The cue flashed forward suddenly but gently, with just enough force to set the balls in motion. The sequence took only seconds. The last ball rolled into the pocket, followed shortly thereafter by the one that had struck it.
Grandpa smiled, “Better to be lucky than good.”
Robert’s mother came down the stairs with the camera. In the almost ten years the two had been playing they had never taken a picture together, and his Mom had brought the camera specifically for this purpose. No one knew then it was the last time the two would play together.
Robert rolled his eyes then leaned against the stairs, his right hand on his hip and the left holding the cue, looking at the table and not the camera. Grandpa held his stick straight out, lining up another shot.