One Hand of Hold 'Em
The flop came deuce, deuce, king (the pair of deuces gave him trips, a strong hand with no raise on the first pass, no raise meant she held a weak hand, maybe a queen and junk, a hand no better than his, and she hadn't folded like the others, she intended to steal the pot, to rob him while he sat close enough for them to hold hands across the felt, not that he would have, given the opportunity, because this woman was a punched-down slob, a smoker with black rings under her eyes and silver and turquoise rings on her fingers, a waitress probably, her hair still pinned up into a cantaloupe, her face waxed with fry grease, she might even hump grub in this very casino to other hard-luck, hard-knock bums with untucked shirts, watery eyes, and fingers that smelled of loose change and, if that were the case, that this worn out, middle-aged grub-humper thought the dealer might push the pot to her following the final round of betting, then she was as treacherous as his wife, that incompetent and hopeless sloth, burdened, or so she complained, by her own misplayed hand even though she had no right, no right to complain about a damned thing, because she had done nothing to help herself, and certainly nothing to help him, and he wearied of her, always making decisions for her, for the family, when her brain locked so violently in cogitation, even in triviality, that she couldn't speak, though her mouth opened in anticipation and her tongue trembled as a runner awaiting the starting gun, not that it had always been so because there had been a time, when they were kids, that thought was required of nothing, no situation save where to eat, because when they laid together on damp, cooling sheets they thought of nothing but the other, and there was no decision in that, neither trick nor politic, just a desire to do it again, soon, because they both intuited that it could not last, not at that pace, not with that earnestness, and they were right, that this suspicion that they shared yet never admitted, not to one another nor to themselves alone, became manifest even before they married, in clandestine and unconscious ways, even though unintentional, a shirt not ironed, a late arrival to the movies because she mislaid her wallet, a twelve-dollar steak cooked well-done, the smallest of incidents that led to a reduction of expectation, and expectations were sacrosanct, because he deserved only that which was right and just and due, and this notion, this instinct, was inalienable, and her failure in anything that he expected was not merely fleetingly disappointing, not merely a forgivable faux pas, but rather a defilement, a treason, and so loathe was he to believe this of her, that she might be capable of such a personal offense, provided sufficient catalyst to which his ego might subconsciously adjust, and the choice was made then, beyond his reason, that the wife would be retained, and his expectation would be lowered, and he would eat overcooked meat, though he would never again enjoy his meals, and he would simply decline to accompany her to the movies rather than stew on the sofa as the evening became lost to mislaid eyeglasses or car keys, and he would iron his own shirts when necessary because his mother, in her unfailing obligation to her own husband, ironed faithfully every day and taught him how, and this would do for a time, but certainly, over time, he adjusted to each of her failings while she blithely and faithlessly neglected him in all matters banal and critical over the years, leading to his present state, married without cause, where once he would die for her, now he would simply die, and as if she were aware of his capacity for accommodation, as if she heard him mumble in his sleep one night that he would not abandon her, she exploited him and failed him still, and this was what he suspected, and this represented her greatest betrayal, and such was his despair that he felt genuine surprise any morning that she managed to pull herself from the bed and do nothing that day to make his life more unbearable, as, he imagined, this ridiculous, poker-playing, chain-smoking waitress must certainly do to her own husband who, at that very moment, might have been silly with the fulfillment that comes of temporary emancipation, or he might have been simply sleeping, perhaps in the hotel upstairs while his wife pissed away his money on a hand she would certainly lose, and she would go all in, because she held a sly queen, and she did not earn the cash required to purchase the chips, and he would have folded a deuce that was not paired, so she studied his manner and sought a clue as to what he might hold, a twitch, a tic, a tell, an indicator of his weakness, but he refrained from motion, from breath, from even a glimpse at her eye, because he would find betrayal there, too, and his money would be lost, so he looked at his hand, a deuce and a hopeful jack, and he imagined that there was no woman there, staring at him, seeing through his close-held cards, intent on his immediate ruin in the witness of the dealer and other players, and he decided on a strong play, to shake this woman, to make his intention unmistakable, that she would not beat him, that his cards held that promise although there were two yet to be dealt, that she would pay him back, that the stack of chips upon which her fingertips ceaselessly crawled were his by right, those and then some, and that his redemption might then be realized at that table, against that player, on that night) and he shoved his stacks of blacks to the center and said, "all in."
About the author:
Within the tony suburb of Beverly, Massachusetts, Kenneth Darling writes hard. His stories can also be found online at Eyeshot and Word Riot.