The man looked down from the great show in the sky, shapely formless messesi of impossible hues -- oranges, and pinks, and purples streaking every which way with the sunset. The game was hold'em. The place was the weekly tournament at the old Nacional -- a pleasant little game most weeks, thousand dollar buy-in, good for almost a quarter million or thereabouts on the occasion of the occasional, more or less yearly win, and for a good few hours of mild quality entertainment throughout the rest of the year otherwise.
Seven of spades, king of diamonds in the hole. The man folded his small blind before the flop, to the sound of "I'm back where I belo-o-ong... back in baby's a-a-arms". Patsy Cline was a major, possibly the greatest favourite with the place on account of most of the men there liking her, after a fashion, or more properly speaking on account of most men there having a peculiar relationship with the liking of Patsy Cline by a woman, a woman in the past. Wife, they call them, everyone having had one, everyone had moved on. Mostly the memories were gilt with the burnished, coppery dust time passing sifts over all things man made, as fine an approximation of gold as ever can be properly speaking had or, for that matter, should ever properly be asked for ; though for a few, for a younger, hapless minority it was rather bitter a taste, rather billious a recording. Nevertheless, the juniors disregarded the pulsions of their own spleen to favour the general atmosphere of peaceful, nay, outright serene tolerance there prevailing. Why fight it ? So what if "that bitch", forget about it. And besides... the worst were the ones who hadn't truly moved on. The ones who had had to move on, because sometimes that bitch doesn't actually do anything, not anymore. Sometimes that bitch just up and dies, in which case...
A five and a four, mismatched, "she's got the little things... I've got you." The girls'd mostly gaggle towards the bar side, occasionally a straggler or a coupla paired might go for a stroll up and down the floor, for no particular purpose. They knew nobody's really interested, nor will be for a few hours yet at the least, but... well, it's a job, innit ? The night cop's still walking his beat even if nobody's doing anything that night, the casino floor workers still strut their heels even if everyone's minding their own folds for a change. Besides, how bad for business can it be to stretch them legs a little now and again ?
Jack of hearts, ten of clubs, the man's attention drifted away immediately after the fold. People were buzzing, the whole floor humming slightly, together, like a sort of beehive. The usual low roar of gossip and chit-chat, so and so rented a boat for the day and took a pair of whores out fishing, where they went for a swim and one nearly drowned ; the brunette over there got in a fight with Linda, you know Linda, the redhead, the one with perky tits ? over something or the other, so-and-so had a heart attack, you remember him, with the hat/boots/whatever nonsensical "signature" item, twist, trick or nothing, and the girl on top as it happened was new, and she... it was endless, unimportantly interesting and most importantly endless, though nobody really gave it much thought. Because had it ever stopped, should it ever stop...
Pair of queens, worth taking to the flop, wherein running into the stiff resistence of a 7-6-4 and a very disfavourable table outlook they crumbled. One maybe drowned, the other vanished into thin air, who even knows, two queens may be worth taking almost anywhere in any case yet they were gone before the minute went out. The man looked about, not particularly interested, not seeing anything in particular nor looking for it really. Four to five dozen tables, stretching three-four thick in all directions. He generally sat himself somewhere towards the middle. They started immediately after lunch, driving most everyone to brunch Saturday, generally with Friday night's entertainment ; though if you wanted a late start after a lazy steak that presented no great impediment either, the tourney ran hourly rebuys until the sun set, and although most "serious" poker players wouldn't want to get into a mid-tourney short stacked nobody really cared that much about a few thousand to be bothered by the circumstance. Besides, everyone pretty much knew everyone anyways, if not directly then through the good oriffices of the girls working around, among and occasionaly under the tables -- a distant if very narrow sort of acquaintance.
King two, both spades, the man briefly contemplated their future before the bidding structure folded his hand for him. The umpires generally tried to keep the tourney going at a steady rate, and, knowing or unknowing most players helped. The goal was generally getting it to last through the night but not much past ; the only available lever being the setting of the blinds. Set them too high and it'd burn out fast, too low and it'd go too slow, the blinds update by far the most noteworthy news item among the gossipy aspic, and treated as such, everyone observing a moment of silence after each update announcement in honor of its comparatively overwhelming importance. Most everyone on the floor having played hundreds of thousands, perhaps literal millions of hands to date greatly improved the success chances of the administrative attempts, the whole floor more akin a well disciplined regiment of poker veterans than anything, a docile herd of independent thinkers, one and all, eminently steerable in the general direction of everyone having a good time together. Besides, old men aren't that hard : just like young men they don't really need all that much ; but unlike young men they also know they don't.
Her name was Ellen, it had been Ellen throughout. She bore him two children, an age ago. A boy and a girl, at first, for years and years a boy and a girl ; but then they left the house, a man, and a woman. They married, they went to their own jobs, had children of their own... On their last day together they had taken a room at the Plaza while the painters were repainting the house -- he didn't really want them then, but it wasn't up to him, it was up to whenever they had the time. She was excited, it was their aniversary, but...
The man folded without really looking, whatever it was, small, disjointed and unsuited. She had asked him, then, holding back the tears, holding back all sort and manner she asked him what is it he wants ; and he told her. He wanted... really, what he wanted was to do it all over again. It somehow... it hadn't taken, the first time around. Yet it was too late. Positively too late, too late for him ; though indeed if the Navy wouldn't take him again it wouldn't be because he couldn't pass the physical. They didn't have another war going, they're too expensive to fight, these wars, so everyone had just given up. Everything had become too expensive over the years, his house, raising a pair of kids, having a wife, even retirement. Everything. The younger men showing up, they had nothing, practically speaking. Everything was expensive to them, though as far as words, and labels and titles and gargle went they should've had him and everyone else outranked. An admiral, retired of recent vintage, couldn't really hold his own over the table against a retired ship's captain of the previous set, in fact being fifty-something as opposed to sixty-something or respectively seventy-something was the greatest predictor of poverty, ineptitude and failure. The girls didn't mind, perhaps didn't notice or perhaps pretended not to notice, but he knew, though he didn't like to spend any time thinking about it. Yet... it was hard not to, especially lined up against cards. The faces kept going out, small, disjointed and unsuited new draws coming up as if in replacement. What replacement ? A terrible trade, carrying within the seeds of a guaranteed end for his world. Ignominous, quiet, boring decay.
His world... He liked it fine, though he didn't think he'd be long for it. He certainly didn't want to be buried anywhere else. This was the place, it suited him alright, this here collection of retired fishermen, whoremongers and gamblers shipwrecked out of the taper end of upper-middle class lives upon an enchanted tropical strip of land stretching the hemispheres, this here colorful but not very colorful collection... they were good enough for him. When you're old enough everything's a retirement home, however you spin it, but out of all the possible or even coinceivable alternatives this was the place, between the beach and the volcano, among these old cowpoke natives of mildest disposition, kinder souls than chicken soup. Here, with the gringos pretending like they're playing poker, pretending like they're going fishing, out on the ocean, where the red snapper and the immense tuna lay, pretending they're picking up girls, pretty young things for a cien, all night long or at any rate as long as it can be made.
The girls knew them, after a year or two working the tables they'd have known one and all of the few hundred men composing the whole heart and soul of their country, making it the foremost power in its geostrategic space in spite of not having had an army for many decades. The men would trade them around, like things, lend them out like cars or pairs of binoculars, "oh look over there", a sporting sort of camaraderie borne of, ultimately, disinterest. Not like anyone's gonna marry anyone, right ? A juvenile, highschooler spirit, everyone worth fucking fucking everyone on the opposite side worth fucking, because why the hell not, what could keep 'em and why wouldn't they ? It wasn't customary among schoolchildren back in America, of course ; yet it was the rule of the land and the custom of the place in the old country, a country so old nobody really had any kind of link to it anymore. The natural peskiness of insecure adults combined with the avatars of sheer stupidity masquerading as "novel", reformation and religious revival systematically ruined the natural sexuality of children in America, so much so the expiring adults had to rediscover it all far away, at the other end of the world and of their own life ; but in any case the girls knew them all, whether they understood anything of it or not. Women often understand a lot more than one'd expect, though they rarely manage to do anything with it.
He'd... He never spoke much with Ellen, not anymore, not for many years now. Maybe she had nothing much to say, or maybe she'd just grown old. Maybe they raised together a houseful of strangers, maybe it was the nature of the place... He didn't miss it, exactly ; or rather the situation was that if you don't know where you're going any road will take you there. The road had taken him there alright, he had no idea where that was nor, crushingly, overwhelmingly, any clue what anywhere else'd be. Where else is there ?
They had talked a lot before, and it was the same gossipy molasses, the job, the house, the children, their schooling, the vacations, the... Back when they were young and stupid they spent a lot of time talking about more meaningful things, more substantial things ; awkwardly, especially in retrospect, stupidly, meaninglessly. What did they know ? Then it was time for the burdens, they carried them, together, a sporting sort of camaraderie, ultimately. They paid the rents and the mortgages and the rates and the... They paid it all, they worked, they saved, they built, it was... a life, right ? That's what life is, or rather, that's what's left of life when there's nothing in there at all, form enough to keep one busy while time flows, seeps, irreparably runs away. And then it's time for the flop, and then there's the river, you won't believe your eyes yet there it stands, old man in a worn straw hat looking to take two coins to ferry you over.
Over where ?
- The man changed "great messes" into "shapely formless messes", because... well, really, because that's just the kinda man he was. [↩]