Friday Fast Fiction: The Ace

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Right after their wedding Jimmy and Laura flew to Las Vegas. They took a cab from the airport to a mega casino hotel with tunnels connecting guests to restaurants and shops. Their total time in the outdoor heat was under two minutes.

The newlyweds faced each other in the center of their dimly lit room with the drapes closed to keep out the blinding sunlight.

“Now what?” asked Laura with a smile. Jimmy assumed she wanted sex and that was fine with him. He was happy the wedding was over—time for doubts was past. He grabbed the woman he’d only known for six months and carried her to the bed.

Later that night Jimmy said he wanted to play “21” for a bit. Laura asked if he wanted her to go, but he shrugged, “not this time.”

In the elevator he stared at his reflection in the buffed aluminum. I look tired, sad even.

He found a seat at a $5 minimum table. The dealer quickly replaced his $20 with four chips. He put one chip on the felt.  He drew 20 and neatly placed  two cards under his chip. The dealer busted. Jimmy’s fingers began to vibrate.

Eight hands later Jimmy had lost count of how many chips were piled in his box. He’d never won this much. If Laura showed up, he knew his luck would be broken.

“Are you in?” asked the dealer.

“Yeah.”

He drew an ace face up. Dealer had a ten. He waited for her to peek at the hidden card. He held his breath. She didn’t turn it over. He slowly peered at his buried card—a king. With a clenched fist he gently tapped the felt, then showed the dealer his hand.  His pile of chips expanded. His body was shaking. He had no idea how much was in front of him. It was bad form to count at the table, so he pushed a $25 chip to the dealer and said, “thanks.” She nodded, tapped the chip twice on the felt and put it in her breast pocket.

Jimmy shoved the chips in his pockets and went to the cashier. He’d won a month’s wages. He found an empty seat at the keno area. He could tell Laura the good news later, but for now, he had to think.

“Why did you stop—you had a nice run?” The woman in the next chair was pretty with lots of makeup.

“You were at the table?”

“Right behind you.”

“What brings you here?” she asked.

He didn’t answer. He didn’t want to.

“Tell you what,” she said, handing him a deck of cards. “You draw the high card, you go to my room—if it’s the low card, you buy your wife a necklace.”

Jimmy looked at his finger with the shiny gold ring.

“Keep this—it might be a better reminder than you wedding ring.”

The woman pressed an ace of spades into his hand and left.

Friday Fast Fiction: A Night of Grappa

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Palio woke up flat on his back on ancient concrete. He blinked a few times to make certain he wasn’t dreaming. He’d often seen this view of the building tops leaning over the narrow canal, but usually in the upright position while walking home from work.

He reached into his pants pocket for his wallet. Still there. He checked the contents and found it stuffed with money, more than expected.

He rose to his knees, surprised he moved without pain.

“Beggar,” yelled an approaching old woman. She raised her broom. Old women were always sweeping the pavement on his block. She stopped short, “Palio, como sta?”

He rose to his feet. “Mi scusi.”

She laughed at him and swatted his buttock with the broom as she passed.

It’s not every day I wake up with more money than I thought I had. Ah, it must have been the card game. But why don’t I remember and why was I on the ground? No headache? Life is wonderful.

            He unlocked the door to his second floor, one-room apartment. Everything was in place. In fact, it was too tidy. Someone had cleaned it.

He was still standing in the kitchen when there was a knock at the door. It was a gentle knock, friendly. Palio opened the door. It was Fredo, Gina’s brother. Fredo hugged him.

“You bring us great joy,” said Fredo. “I hope the homemade grappa wasn’t too much. I spent the night on my knees in front of the toilet.“

It was as if Palio had been splashed with cold water. The evening was coming back to him. He was woozy with liquor while the pile of money on the table grew. The words echoed in his head: “I will marry Gina with this pot.” He hadn’t meant it–It was the damn grappa. How could he undo his foolishness? Fredo’s older brother, Gino, was at the table—a witness with an iron fist.

“Hey, you like the way my sister cleans,” said Fredo.

Palio saw Gino’s giant fist and nodded.

Madness, July 16, 2015

Traffic cropped out.
Traffic cropped out.

This photo was taken this morning at the end of rush hour over the San Francisco Bay Bridge–it is cropped to give the illusion that there is no traffic. Wrong.  Meanwhile the radio news tells me that a verdict will be read today regarding the “person” who killed people randomly in a Colorado theater and that four marines were gunned down in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Authorities say the Marine shootings may have been an act of terrorism. Traffic jams suck. But the insane use of weapons to kill people, regardless of motive, hurts us all, whether we are driving, on the sofa at home or hiding in the woods. And this is just another day. Pray tomorrow is more peaceful.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symbol.”

Butterfly ShadowThe shadow of a butterfly is a personal symbol. I follow the flit of butterfly, anticipating when it will land. The insect’s shadow, however, is a rarer photographic treat. So, the shadow for me is unexpected mystery, a dark outline without detail. Memories are often shadows of the mind. Well, I digress. Butterfly Shadow - Copy

Friday Fast Fiction: The Secret Island

DSC_0640 - CopyWhen Tommy was 13, his parents sent him across the country to his Aunt Binnie’s for the summer. She lived by the Pacific Ocean.

“They probably don’t have basketball courts there,” he whined on the eve of his trip.

“You can play at a school near her cabin,” replied his father. Tommy said it was probably a playground with eight-foot high baskets, but his father had already turned his back on him.

When Tommy’s aunt met him at the terminal gate the next evening, he launched into a series of questions about where to play basketball.

“Now, now,” she said, “There will be plenty of time for that. You’re going to be right by the ocean and a short boat ride away from a secret island.”

“Why is it secret?”

“You can only see it a few times a week—most of the time it is covered in fog. And I’ve never seen anyone on it. “

Tommy figured his aunt was trying to entertain him as if he were a seven-year-old.

The next day he walked with his aunt to a tiny beach.

“Oh my gosh, there it is,” she said, pointing across the water to the tops of trees poking through the fog. “We’re in luck.” She directed him to the end of the beach where a two-person kayak was tied to a giant cypress tree.

“Aren’t you afraid someone will steal your boat?” asked Tommy.

“Not around here. Besides it’s usually too foggy to go in the ocean.”

A few minutes later Tommy was in the kayak with his aunt standing next to him neck deep in water.

“I’m going to give you a lesson before we go. First, we’re going to learn how to get out of the kayak if it turns over.”

Thoughts of basketball were fading. He was captivated by a person  who knew things he’d never considered.

After imparting the proper maneuvers for getting out of the kayak when it rolls over, his aunt rocked it until Tommy was upside down in the water. As she had instructed, he held his breath and let his body go limp. He swam away from the kayak and headed for the surface. He emerged shaking with cold, but happy he’d done the escape correctly.

That evening Aunt Binnie drove him to the school gym where she challenged him to a game of horse. She had a smooth two-handed set shot. When he made a one-handed jumper from the top of the key, he said she could use two hands. But she waved him off and swished the shot with an effortless flip of the wrist.

“You’re awesome, Aunt Binnie.”

***

Ten years later Tommy was working 60 hours weeks to support his wife and their newborn when his father phoned to say that Aunt Binnie had died.

“You don’t have to go—it’s an expensive flight. Besides, she wants to have her ashes spread on some secret island.”

Tommy had lost touch with his aunt. While he was sad to learn she had died, the mention of the secret island brought back memories of her in a disturbing way. He had been so busy with his own life that he had delayed visiting his aunt again until it became easy not to think of her.

He looked at his wife asleep on the sofa. He vowed that after the baby was old enough to go on an airplane, they’d visit the secret island. He walked around the apartment listening to the hollow ring of his shoes on the wood floor while he tried to recreate that summer with his aunt.

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