Sunday, October 11, 2015
Hearts (a short story)
"I haven't been to my blog page in some time. Heck, I can hardly remember what it looks like. I'm not even sure if I ever renewed my domain name, so for all I know my site is now just a broken web link lost among countless others. I think my last entry was a short story about an ugly bartender who blew one of her customers during a smoke break," Harold said while taking an unusual length of time sorting through the cards held in his hand. The remaining three people at the table just sat there watching and listening, impatiently.
"I met a girl on Tinder," Harold continued. "A local writer here in town. Published three novels all on her own! I was impressed right off, you see. We spent our entire first encounter discussing favorite authors and books. We explored the ins and outs of what it's like to self publish. She was a deep well of knowledge and experience in that area. A real turn on, you see."
Harold finished arranging his cards and looked up. "Are we ready?" he asked while peering around the table. His fingers were already sliding a card up from his fan.
"If you got the 2 of clubs, just lay it down already. For crying out loud, Harold," the man sitting across from him said, the fingers of his free hand tapping the table top.
Harold slid the card out and laid it down onto the center of the table. It was the 2 of clubs. "You don't have to be cross, Henry. Everyone here is just trying to enjoy themselves. You get so crooked sometimes, I swear."
Henry huffed, smacked his fan of cards down and leaned angrily away from the table. His face reddened and constricted beneath a full set of salt and pepper hair, causing old facial lines and crevices to scrunch together as he shot a hard stare at Harold.
"You take forever!" Henry bellowed. He continued, "You sit there messing with your cards, telling your stupid little sex stories that none of us want to hear! You hold us captive, you son of a bitch!" Henry took a moment and calmed himself before muttering, "This is worse than the war, I swear" and motioned for the player next to him to go. She laid down a king of hearts. "Oh, for Christ's sake! You don't have ANY clubs at all?"
She shook her head no while hiding behind the wall of cards in her hand. Henry smacked down an ace of clubs. The next player laid down the 10. It was back to Harold.
"It's not like I always talk about sex, Henry. You just selectively hear it. I talk about all sorts of stuff. Interesting things! I'm living life, you see, and I enjoy sharing my experiences with the table. I look forward to card night." Harold had a way of over-using the phrase 'you see' and it infuriated Henry. Every time the words were spoken it was like a knife twisting into old Henry's side, and it made him writhe within his chair. Harold continued, "And by the way, I never said I had sex with that woman from Tinder. If you must know, we didn't even make it past our third encounter. She was sort of stuck on herself and I don't think I could get past it."
Harold never called a date a date, they were always 'encounters', and he encountered women often. He was 42, divorced twice, and had recently discovered the world of online dating while reading an internet article on the Huffington Post. Within a week of reading the article he had created three separate profiles on three of the most popular free dating sites. The daily inundation of BINGS, BEEPS, and BLIPS from his cell phone, alerting him of new messages from women, were a welcome spark in his life. In the pre-online dating days, Harold kept his phone on silent mode because it annoyed him, but now every alert he received could be heard by one and all. They were his audible badges of honor and he wore them proudly.
And my, how old Henry hated them.
"Turn off your goddamn cell while we're at cards, Harold! I'm telling you for the last time, turn it off!" Henry's anger increased with each new hand that was dealt. The fact that he even allowed this forty year old boy seated across the table to get to him, incensed him further. Memories of a long, hard life flooded back. "Little shits like this don't know," he thought to himself. He could feel his old bones ache as his temper swelled. He clenched his free hand into a fist, then relaxed it. His eyes focused on the queen of spades in his hand and he let out an indiscernible string of curses. The lady to his left spoke out.
"Henry, it's alright. None of us here mind, now do we?" she asked while glancing at her table pleadingly. By this time the attention of other tables in the Activity Hall had already turned in their direction. The bridge table was nearest to them and the players seated there made no effort in hiding their disgust. Repeated glances and whispering made that obviously clear.
"Sure, Henry, we just want to play cards," the other lady added shyly.
Harold's cell phone beeped in two quick successions. Henry burst out of his chair and reached across the table for it, but Harold quickly grabbed onto his wrist before he had the chance to take it away.
"Let go of my phone, Henry. LET IT GO."
"There are women at this table, you inconsiderate little shit!"
"And that is relevant how? Now let go of my damn phone, Henry!"
"I will not."
The sound of chairs sliding could be heard as a few men at other tables stood up. A few women gasped audibly. The two men at the hearts table remained locked in battle; one standing, the other still seated, their arms competing over a phone. The two lady players sat perfectly erect with cards still fanned in their hands, unmoved by the scene playing out before them. Whether from fright or uncertainty of what to do, they remained motionless like two atomic bomb test mannequins waiting for the blast.
The devastating blast came via Henry and caught everyone completely by surprise, including himself. As the anger continued building and his 71 year old muscles continued to engage in the prolonged tug-of-war match he unwittingly placed himself into, his body began to turn on him. His traitorous leg muscles quivered under the intense stress and he felt as though he might collapse at any moment. His upper torso trembled as his arm continued pulling at that damn phone. His mind was sharp and strong and continued sending commands to his failing body, but his stomach muscles were now beginning to bail on him. His back turned to sweat and he could feel his heart pumping fiercely inside his chest. His thoughts drifted momentarily to his latest medical exam and to his doctor warning him, nay, urging him to avoid strenuous activity due to the weakened condition of his heart. The words struck hard and snapped Henry back into the moment. His chest burned and clenched. Several gentlemen his age were now standing right there at his table. They were mouthing things and using their hands for punctuation, but his hearing had been replaced by a long drawn out tone that sounded like number 3 pressed on a cell phone.
Ah, the cell phone! His mind jerked back to attention and his eyes refocused onto Harold's phone. He still wanted it. He wanted it more than anything he'd ever wanted his whole life. In one final, visceral attempt at victory, Henry gave it everything he had and pulled hard against Harold's hold on him. There was a a terribly loud popping sound as Harold's grip failed and he watched his cell phone slip away within Henry's hand. The popping sound continued as Henry's newly freed body weight sent him sprawling backwards against the wall. He hit with a loud thud and slid down to his ass where he sat in a heap, breathing uncontrollably. As the popping sound ceased and his senses began to return, Henry now noticed the disgusted looks on people's faces as they slowly stepped away from him. The floor suddenly felt like warm mashed potatoes beneath his butt and the smell of shit instantly overtook him. The popping sound happened twice more as he felt the last few squirts of excrement exit his bowels and enter his pants. He heard one of the ladies at his card table mutter, "Oh dear, now he's gone and done it." Harold sat motionless at the table. He also sat phoneless.
Still lying on the floor in his own evacuated shit, Henry looked down at the cell phone in his hand and smiled. The smile turned to a long drawn out laugh as he realized he had won. And at the height of his victory celebration, the cell phone beeped three times in succession. And it was Howard's turn to smile. And Howard's smile quickly turned to laughter. The rest of the activity room grew uncomfortably quiet as Henry reached down, undid his belt and unzipped his pants. Harold stopped laughing as he watched Henry slowly and methodically take the cell phone and slide it into the depths of his pants.