Card Game – Tom Gaffney
“It isn’t that this bores me my dearest . . . um, what is your name again?”
“Lucille. My name is Lucille.” By my count that is the third time you have heard my name.
“Lucille,” she smiled, fluttered her eyebrows, stared fixedly at Lucille, “I regret, the, ah, scale of our situation prevents me from being confident that I know what is going on.”
“You’re having a hard time paying attention?”
“In a sense, yes. Not because you or this game is unimportant to me, but I am forced into a rather constricted situation to even know, be aware, and be able to participate.” She adjusted her ample bosom as she said this.
“So, participation is important.”
“Sure,” she laughed. Laughed harder when she picked up her cards. “Oh, Lucille I really have had wonderful cards since you arrived.”
Lucille sat playing cards, euchre to be exact, with four characters: the Diva and George, and two fellows who had gone unintroduced, who had said nothing except “hearts, pick up the hearts,” in unison, no less. When Lucille had first arrived on this scow they had seemed to be one person.
It turned out they were two small people, one sitting on the other’s shoulder. Actually, they were one sort of medium sized person and one small person who amounted to one slightly above average sized person when seated with their backs to you and covered by a cloak. Coming to the table and seeing them from the front it seemed a laughable ruse.
The Diva and George thanked me when I said I did not mind if they played as one person. They worked together well, using an actual hand each to hold their cards. They said almost nothing but would look and stare longingly at the player whose turn it was.
“Euchre is a silly game, simple,” George muttered.
“And harder to cheat at.”
“Isn’t signaling your partner cheating?” Lucille asked.
“Of course it is, lovely Lucille,” smiled George, rancidly. His smile was crooked and an eyebrow was raised. The smile was disturbing due to several missing teeth and one especially sharp (sharpened?) incisor that had a diamond embedded.
“Of course signaling is frowned upon, most greatly,” added the diva.
“I was wondering. It must have been an accident then when you tapped the toes of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum over here just before they bid.”
“Am I Dum or Dee?” the short one asked.
Lucille heard a voice in her head, silent to the others judging by the lack of reaction. She looked over to where Roger and Manny were: Roger was prone, appeared to be sleeping. Manny had produced some fishing line and was patiently fishing by hand off the edge of the rootless pier.
“That’s just it Lucille: Svetlana knows George wants something from her. And she is unsure of whether she is better off winning or losing this game. The fellow who previously occupied your seat, the reverend, had been sucking up to her ladyship just before he went swimming. The commentary by the pelicans definitively sealed the question of whether or not he was an impartial participant”.
“Then what should I be doing?”
“Playing euchre, I think. I’m not sure. What else do you think I can say?” Roger’s voice echoed in her head. “Svetlana is capricious and temperamental, but not all that mean. George though, you do not want to find yourself alone with him, ever.”
“Svetlana is cheating though, and I am playing against her. And she is cheating in a painfully obvious manner. One of my aunts would have hit her with a beer bottle by now. That’s not the way you play euchre.”
“I know that much as well. And not much more. Your objective here (aside from maintaining general corporeal unity) is to be cultivating some kind of rapport with Svetlana, keeping George at bay, and keeping Dum and Dee from splitting again. If we have four of them there will definitely be trouble.”
“What, they used to be one?”
“Watch Dee, he’ll be full sized before two more hands have elapsed.”
This exchange, this internal dialogue with Roger, took place in the same moment that Svetlana leveled a withering glare at Lucille.
George leaned back on his stool, right hand idly rubbing the hilt of a big knife on his belt and then on to his ample and even bigger belly. He closed his cards with his left hand while admiring the ring on his left pinky.
Smiling, he said, “Lucille, I have only had the pleasure of knowing you but a few moments. And you are my partner, but if you hope to depart this table, eventually, in your current association, I suggest you take care in the accusations you level.”
“Shut up George. My dear, Lucille – see I can remember, I am not entirely insensitive to your identity. I am afraid my exuberance at returning to the game, the thrill off the competition, caused me to behave quite poorly. I must say I appreciate your courage in speaking up in such an environment. Despite the setting, I really do hope we can play some cards.”
Manny’s voice in her head this time. “That’s why we brought her along. Remember the last time you said something to Svetlana . . . “
“Shut up Manny – no extra information.”
Svetlana did really seem pleased by Lucille’s questions. Likewise, George glowered. Dum and Dee barely seemed cognizant.
Svetlana suggested they re-start the game after some food. A reset if you will, amongst friends. Without pause, she clapped her hands and Roger and Manny came over with place settings and an assortment of piping hot deep fried foods: vegetables, fries, and clams. Yes, clams. And goblets of wine.
Lucille feared that her acceptance of this: suddenly fresh cooked food appearing on the pier in the middle of the ocean – close to the coast if you believed Roger – let alone the rest of this nightmare situation, complete with Roger and Manny talking in her head, was a sign that she had lost any grip on reality at all.
“What would appear strange at this point?” Lucille found herself wondering.
She tried one of the fried clams, intrigued by the most ridiculous thing on the table. The twins consumed the lion’s share of the food at great pace. Svetlana enjoyed some healthy portions as well. George tossed back his wine.
“No wine for you Lucille?” Do you mind?”
As George took her wine glass his hand, and its pinky ring, lingered for a moment on hers.
“We could make beautiful music together you know that – don’t you?”
Lucille was looking right at him, realized his voice too was in her head. She felt as though she was paralyzed, and then, though George’s face was still, she could feel his leering lascivious presence in her head.
“I look forward to when we can spend some quality time together, alone.”
Svetlana, taking care not to touch Lucille – that much she could notice, wrapped her hand around George’s wrist, and moved it out of contact with Lucille’s hand. Her face was now stern and commanding, “enough!” she said, “let’s finish this.”
The game was renewed and now progressed at a pace Lucille would have recognized in her auntie’s kitchen. The banter was lighter, though Dee and Dum were mumbling to themselves. Dee, either through time or fried food was now the same size as Dum.
The game seemed above board too. No sleight of hand. No signals.
Now, euchre can be confusing, to most anyone. Many an argument has ensued from an innocent mistake. George and Lucille had the advantage. On George’s deal it was Svetlana’s turn to bid. She sighed and passed.
“Nothing,” she said, “nothing, I have nothing.”
It was on to Lucille. Just then she felt George’s toe, for the briefest of moments, and the hissing of “pass” in her head.
But Lucille had a good hand. A hand that would finish this game with these unseasoned euchre playing abominations.
Svetlana’s foot lashed out, kicking George’s leg away from Lucille’s. With amazing speed she grabbed George’s left hand, reached across him and tore the knife from George’s belt. Then she raised it above George.
“You wouldn’t dare,” he almost spit at her.
“I would,” answered Svetlana.
She brought the knife down, severing George’s left pinky with two, maybe three cuts. The sound was gruesome and George’s utterances were understandably pained, profane and menacing.
“I think you should prepare to swim for it Lucille.” This was Roger speaking out loud now. A full melee was erupting. Dum and Dee now appeared to be three and they were moving with George towards Svetlana.
“Lucille dear, thank you for joining us today.” Svetlana found a moment for the smallest of embraces.
“Go, now, Lucille,” urgency in Roger’s voice. “Go.”
Her importance to the group had subsided. She watched as Manny reluctantly put down his fishing gear so as to join the melee. Svetlana might have been dressed for the opera, but she seemed more than capable in a brawl.
Lucille shrugged. This time she had to trust Roger. Time to get wet again.
In that split second in the air above the water she noticed the pelicans hovering above the pier. It made no sense, but she thought she heard them saying goodbye. Keeping with the incongruous environment, the water was at first shocking, then almost warm and comfortable. The last thing she noticed was the kelp rubbing on her legs.
Later, she was in the Chandelier, her visit to the pier a distant almost untestable memory. A dead evening. She would stay until ten, but the kitchen was already closed. She was tired, had grown more so from the middle of the shift on. She needed some fresh air if she was going to stay awake.
“I can’t wait to go home and sleep.”
She shrugged into her jacket, and went to sit on the porch and get some fresh air. The night was spring chilly. The Baker highway was quiet, still for the moment. Soon the rains will be here and the ski area will shut. April and May are quiet months for Glacier.
She watched the stars, and could hear the rumbling of an old van in the distance approaching town. So quiet, but the hairs on her neck stood up. It was then she noticed something in her pocket: wrapped in a napkin – a finger with a ring. Numbers scrawled on the napkin. A lipstick smear. And a piece of fried clam.
After the sequence of numbers, a signature: “with love, Svetlana.”