full deck

trying something different today. inspired from here, writing about a character while listening to the song below (press play to hear it).


The air is thick with a musty odor, dripping with humidity. The lights periodically flicker. A soft buzzing can be heard in the air, over the lilting melody in the background. One couple is speaking in hushed tones, sipping on their cool drinks, completely oblivious of the man in the corner.

He sits alone. Though it’s muggy, he wears a dark coat and has his hat pulled down to cover his eyes from the people passing by. Sweat drips down, over his eyebrows, into his lashes, and down his cheeks, mixing with the occasional tear that develops in his eyes. He stares coldly at the cards in his hand, never changing his expression, as his mind draws up memories of the past.

He fingers one card in his hand, feeling the smooth texture of the card, and running his finger along the sharp, crisp edge. He flicks it, making a sound he has become familiar with after all his years of playing cards. He grew up watching his father play every Saturday night in their garage. The men would all gather around the green felt table, smoking their cigars, and chugging down beers, causing a din with all their laughter and occasional outbursts and accusations of cheating. He would always sit under the table, near his father’s legs, listening to the ruckus, wanting to make sense of it all. Soon he would grow older and his father would include him in the games, but he still didn’t see the purpose. He would play along with the grownups, but was trying to get meaning from the cards. He was playing along the day his father, who was sweating profusely all night, suddenly fell over. Silence for once filled the room. Even when the ambulance showed up later, and the commotion began as the paramedics struggled to bring him back to life, all he heard was silence. Not even his mother’s wails, the roaring sirens, the bustle and zaps of all the machines–nothing. He heard nothing. The men never gathered any more to play cards on Sundays. Yet, he continued playing.

He was constantly studying the cards. What constitutes the next card being drawn? Is there a specific pattern? Some sort of cosmic law that presents the cards that come up? After every hand, he made a mental tally in his mind and made his own odds as to what the outcomes may be–but it wasn’t always correct. What drives certain things to come up? Why does one card present itself before another? Is it in a plan? Or is it all coincidence?

He picked one card from his hand and held it before his face. He closed his eyes as the symbol of the diamond etched into the shadows of his mind. He once played for money. He would win big some days, and wouldn’t on others. Why was that? Was it all luck? Was there a way to always make sure you were the winner? He strived to find out, but never did figure it out. He won a lot of money and was able to buy many things of luxury, but he gave up on playing for money after a while. Sure, money made his life nice for a while, but really, money was nothing, as far as he was concerned. That’s not the reason we’re all here, not his reason for going on.

He put the card back down with the rest of the cards. The next three cards in his hand were a clubs and two spades. He leaned back in his chair and remembered going off to war. They would play cards back then in the tents. The nights would be as hot as it was tonight. They would sit, flicking cards around, trying desperately to get their mind off what they were there for. He remembered all too vividly the night a bomb went off near their tent, killing his high school friend who had wandered outside, because it was just too hot in that tent. He shut his eyes and pulled his hat down further.

Never show your emotions, he remembered his dad telling him. Then they’ll know your hand. They’ll know what you’re going to do. You need to keep that all inside.

He opened his eyes. The last card in his hand was a heart. Strange that they call it heart, he thought. It looks nothing like the human heart. He studied it some more, until the red began to blur in front of his eyes.

She had always been there for him. She faithfully followed him in his travels and helped him with the more mundane tasks he didn’t bother with when he was in his card-playing mode. She was like an angel, in his mind, even though her hair was dark, and her skin a soft brown. He gritted his teeth as he struggled to remember her eye color, but realized he never really paid attention to her to really remember. He just recalled that she loved to wear red. She’d leave red lipstick-covered kisses over his cheek, but he really couldn’t be bothered. She would run her cherry red fingernails through his hair, which he would shrug off. She would twirl around in front of him with her long, red dresses, but she was nothing but a distracting blur to him. He was too focused on the cards, trying to figure out the way they lie, the order and purpose of the cards dealt. Then one night…

He dropped the final card. It fell to the floor and landed with a smack, heavy from the dampness in the air. He continued to stare ahead, emotionless, even though his heart was beating hard. A waitress walked by and picked it up for him and placed it on the wooden table. He didn’t look up, but just nodded his appreciation. “Can I get you anything else?” she asked, cheerfully.

He slowly shook his head. She smiled and cleared away the table. “Have a nice night!” she chirped.

He picked up his deck of cards and put them back in the box. Folding the lid in, he stared at the picture on the box for a long time. He slowly stood and put the deck in his pocket, flicked a few bills on to the table, and shuffled out.

The waitress returned and gathered the tip and saw that he had left behind that card that she had picked up for him. Shrugging, she picked it up and put in her pocket, to keep it safe for him should he ever return.


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