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I Believe

Gospel music is fueling my series this week. I grew up hearing it almost every day. Nothing else in my life is a greater touchstone of memory. In addition to gospel music, the titles have a hidden theme, and they lead to a climax on Saturday (with a BIG HINT in the story today.) Cootchie Hooch and a special mystery surcee (that’s Southern for ‘gift’) to the first reader who guesses the hidden theme. The winner will be revealed on Sunday, if my bright readers don’t guess the theme before.

Gamblers believe in themselves. Somehow, they study the signals emanating from the table. They swoop in when they deem the time lucky, and they join the high rolling party. Belief convinces them they can read the bluffs and see the signs and assemble the right cards that will climax in an orgiastic scraping of chips from the table.

I’m not a gambler. Okay, I understand. LIFE is a roll of the dice. I’m not guaranteed tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. A drunken college student could mow me down at 8am on the street in front of my house. I could be hit by random debris from outer space whilst walking to Starbucks to meet MTM for my now-defunct salted caramel mocha. In the dead of night, I could sleepwalk to the toilet, step on a squirming lizard, and die of a heart attack.

Living life. That’s the biggest gamble of all.

Still.

I’ve only been gambling in an actual casino one time. My trip to casinos happened in Lake Tahoe one snowy December. Because, of course, I went there in December thinking I would find something to do besides 1. skiing or 2. gambling. I ended up gambling, but it wasn’t my fault.

It was my friend’s fault. One of my oldest friends is a scientist with the United States Government, which means he thinks he’s the smartest person I know. (He’s probably right.)

He insisted that a visit to Lake Tahoe in December would be spectacular.  (Again, he was right.)

Gobs of snow fluttered from heaven and mounded in pillowy drifts. Fires lent a crackling warmth to mugs of hot cocoa. The lake had a sheen of frozen wonderland. I snuggled up in a blanket, kicked off my shoes and let my eyes have multiple orgasms at all the wintry gorgeousness in sight.

And that’s when he dragged me into the jaws of a depressing, dim casino. Scientific research, he claimed.

He didn’t want to play slots or poker. He was far more enamored of the spinning black-and-red of the roulette table. Standing off to one side, we would observe the table for a while. Casual and slick, he would slide in and play.

He won every time.

How are you DOING that? I demanded.

Science he responded. (Scientists know everything about everything.)

After several rounds of play, a monster of a man with an earpiece materialized in our path. Oblivious, my friend kept watching his table.

Um. Scary man at two o’clock I whispered. The scientist who was somehow computing probabilities in his head ignored me. I hit his arm. Scary man! Two o’clock and closing in! 

After a second non-response, with Scary Man’s shadow looming into my aura, I made an executive decision.

I fled.

Did I mention I’m not a gambler?

At the Stroke of Guilt

Maybe this will be a series of fiction. Maybe it won’t. But, this story begins with the fictional post, Expecting the Unexpected. Click here to begin at the beginning. And, thank you. Of all the hundreds of thousands of existing options for entertaining blog reading, I am honored you stopped here and chose me.

She didn’t buy the red stilts, after all. An unexpected call chirps from her mobile phone, arresting her click-happy finger as it arches over her centered mouse. Her mother. She had her mother to thank for the unbroken future of her two ankles, the extra dollars not glued to a credit card.

Impatience tinges the edges of her voice as she attempts a smooth hello. Why is it that the torn ends never quite lie flat in the timbre of her voice when she tries to seem unruffled? They always glare in the foreground of whatever harmony of words and sound she forces upon them. A faker, she is not, especially with her mother, leaving her hello bookended by two staccato sighs, pulses of air she means and immediately regrets.

News weighs her mother’s words like granite, giving her the facade to match. She had a stroke. Her mother relays the sanitized medical jargon with the hard sheen of falling rock, racing toward its date with gravity. I know she’s old. She’s still family. She used to be your favorite. What are you going to do?

The direct approach. The unsung path of throwing battered, dog-eared cards on the table. No time for subtlety, not where mysterious blights to the brain are involved. Why does direct confrontation with this news stab her conscience so? She can read some of those cards, after all. Distance and airwaves and time and absence don’t change the pictures, the words, the numbers they convey.

Can you stop being so obnoxious? one blares from the back of her mind.

You’re not worthy of anything another gleefully opines.

How dare you refuse to let me blackmail you screams the siren of a third.

For a while, she convinced herself this negative litany was merely her aunt’s regret speaking. Regret for choices made and paths not taken. Regret for love desired and squandered. Crossing a wispy imaginary line, what’s done can seldom be redone or undone. Regret lives on the other side of that divide.

She counted the cards, piled up the proclamations and knew better. Her aunt had been hurling them at her for years. Decades. Rising and falling in intensity of pitch, they always underscored the base: her lack of worth. When she was younger, she believed her aunt’s refrain, that she was worthless. Hearing it reiterated added feathers to her bed.

Age and maturity changed her, though. However she gritted her teeth and sent her mind elsewhere, she couldn’t stop herself from disagreeing with the elderly, droning refrain. Deciding she didn’t have to subject herself to it at all felt weightless. Light. Peaceful.

Right.

Except for the nagging guilt she feels.

Do we ever stop loving people, once we’ve truly loved them? It it ever okay to finally write someone off when they gave up on us decades ago?

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