Will this be the one that gets me killed? I’ve asked myself this question no less than one hundred times before. I’ve also never given much thought to death, but now that I’m dead, I have all the time in the world to think about it.
Tony’s game had been running for close to 48 hours and I couldn’t have dreamed for a better lineup of losers, marks and mopes. This was the type of game that could have made my entire year, but I broke one of the cardinal rules, which is playing, or in my case, cheating, when you’re tired and falling asleep.
Leo arrived, apparently roughed up, looking for the house to float him a buy-in after being robbed, but Tony refused, he didn’t want the heat. Everyone got a little rowdy, and voices rose when Tony turned him away. Leo is great for any game; he’s a born loser and loves action. I recall Bobby saying, “We need new blood Tone, it’s Leo for Chrissakes!”
All of the commotion woke me from five minutes of shut-eye I was getting on the ragged brown couch in the corner. In my stupor, I jarred awake a little too fast, and out of the sleeve of my blazer tumbled the KEM blue aces. A slow, pitiful fall that Tim spied with his big-black-dumb-empty-eyes. I always carry two red and two blue designs of the KEM card company. There’s usually a good chance one color, if not two, will be in rotation at any club, and this game was no exception with both flying.
In my haste to wiggle free from Sosa’s incessant chatter at the table, I forgot to fasten the card rig in my sleeve. Operating below optimal conditions required a focus that was unsustainable for me, as in, remembering the first thing you do when you get up from the table, regardless of which half-wit is jawing away at you.
A beautiful art flushed down the toilet, all because I got greedy. Master Denali is wagging a solemn finger at me from some dark corner of this great beyond. Of course I should have left earlier, but alas, the game—the game was so easy, and enjoyable! The way Larry confusedly scratched his dumb stubbled chin, and tossed the cards sloppily down on the felt after losing a hand, the way Sosa chain smoked as if the cards would change with each drag. I was gliding, I was on top of my sleight of hand. This embarrassing glitch in an otherwise perfect record. It was a fine day at the slaughterhouse, but I couldn’t leave well enough alone.
I lunged to scoop up the cards before anyone else saw, but that idiot Larry followed Tim’s silent gaze to the tightly banded four aces. Our eyes locked like two rams readying to smash each other to bits, Tony’s room the killing floor. Carnivorous ants came to mind the way they swarmed me. With everyone punch-drunk from lack of sleep, hungover, or just outright drunk, the lust with which they tore me apart was impressive. I remember asking for a last cigarette and Tony put his Camel out on my neck, exhaling his disgusting smoke-filled breath into my face. Who knew these jokers had this much blood lust in them?
I think it was Gary the Ear that got the final blow in, or stab, as it were. Good for him, the asshole was down more than he could handle when I dropped my blue guts onto the puke brown rug. I think their intention was more in line with putting me in the hospital, making me think twice before ever showing my face in a cardroom again, but when the knives came out, a murderous possession strangled their ability to reason, and I became their cutting board.
Sure it hurt, but not more than the knowledge I will carry knowing I wasted my life, all because I ignored one of the easiest rules to follow. All the years I put into this, all the sweat, the practice, the way of life.
Who’s got the big-black-dumb-empty-eyes now?
Bio : Brian Morse’s first fiction book, Migration—a collection of interlacing letters—was published by Pski’s Porch in 2016. He studied writing at SUNY Brockport and currently lives in Rochester, N.Y.