The table had seen it’s fair share of use. The stain had been worn away, save for the outer edges. It looked more like a butcher’s block, rather than a dinner table. There was a new one in the dining room. But this table still had it’s function in the basement. While it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing when it came to eating, it was perfect for card games. Pinochle, bridge, poker.
The ladies had started gathering around the table years ago. None of them remembered who’s idea it was, but since the first game, the three of them gathered once a week to listen to the staccato snap of the paper cards on the table’s wood. While it wasn’t known who came up with the game night idea, it was known that it was birthed from a place of necessity.
They played up their roles well enough. They were mothers and wives and they played the parts when it was time for piano lessons, baseball practice and business galas. But after that, the three women all agreed that they simply couldn’t survive in the book circles, water aerobic classes, and garden clubs their peers wrapped so much of their time in. Still wanting to be social, and willing to take inspiration from the men in their lives, they turned to cards.
They decided to play poker for their most recent game night. Specifically, Texas Hold-Em. It was a common choice for them. There was no value placed on the plastic chips they used for betting. The hands often lasted upwards of a half hour, due to the groups tendency to lose themselves in conversation. There was no set time or conditions for when the game should end. It seemed only when they found themselves struggling to find words they could push their air behind, did the night come to a close.
A few hands had gone by already. No one paid any attention to who actually had won the majority at that point. In fact, when the new cards were dealt, no one even bothered to look for a few minutes. In retrospect, they might’ve wished they hadn’t bothered at all.
The woman to the right of the dealer looked first: Jack of diamonds and an Ace of diamonds. She giggled to herself at the sight. She had seen coincidences in the cards before. Like numbers that could be combined into her height, or the ages of her two children. This time though it wasn’t as clear. She knew there was something about her cards that was tickling her brain, she just wasn’t sure yet.
The dealer looked at her cards next. A jack of clubs and a queen of hearts. She too felt a bell vibrate in her mind. It wasn’t hard to find the reason. The same thought that had been weaving it’s way through every possible reminder in her life was now using her cards.
The last woman took a casual glance. She was probably the best player at the table, and her demeanor showed it. She had a Jack of spades and a five of clubs. Her nonchalant poise, tightened at the sight of the cards. It’s possible that she was placing the meaning on the cards herself, but she found herself cursing whatever force gave her those two cards.
She was a waitress back then. She laughed at the romantic comedy feel of everything. He showed up on a slow night. He stayed until closing. The two spoke only in the accepted words of a server and a patron. He racked up a massive bill and paid with one of the shiny credit cards that she knew only select people were given. He tipped decently.
He also came back the next night and the night after that. It was a blurry transition that led her from placing plates on his table to being in his bed having him place breakfast meals on her lap. It was an even blurrier transition that led her from feeling overwhelmed by his passion each morning to forcing herself to be satisfied with his pecks on her cheek as he left for work. She couldn’t leave him. She’d have nothing. He supported her. She wouldn’t leave him. He saved her. His fire may have dimmed over the years, but she owed him a body to receive what little glow he still gave off.
She wished that she could contribute more to their partnership. At least financially. It seemed unfair that he was the only one providing. At the same time though, she realized if she did start making her own money, it wasn’t to fund their relationship. It would be to finance her flight. She accepted that he’d be the only one with money.
She didn’t understand where his new fascination came from. He had never once bought her flowers. But now instruction manuals on how to create life in the dirt lined their bookshelves. It was kind of fun at first. Just to see him excited about something was a thrill. It was when he started taking her to seminars and expos that she found herself hating her husband’s hobby.
She knew that he always felt like an outsider in their neighborhood. He didn’t make as much as everyone else. The only reason he even owned the house he did was because it was the family home. But all the houses he remembered as a child, the houses that his could hide among, had long been destroyed and the prefabricated castles of middle-execs rose around him. It was nice to see him find friends in the gardening world. It was maddening though, to see him disappear with these friends, leaving her alone in some hotel room.
It was during one of their seminar trips that she fell in love again. She wandered into the hotel bar, in her pajamas, without much care. It was amusing to see the better dressed patrons inch away from her. There was only one that didn’t. In fact they even sparked up a conversation with her. They bought her drinks. They took her up to their room and there she made love in a new way. There she felt the touch of another woman for the first time.
She wondered if it had been a man, if she would feel more guilty. She had a hard time even convincing herself that she had been unfaithful. The way that woman’s touch constantly ran through her mind made her feel wanted, even if it was simply a ghost at that point. There was no conflict in her thoughts, she longed for more love like she felt in that hotel room. She wasn’t being unfaithful, not to herself at least.
He said that he loved them, no matter what. His son didn’t come from his genes, that was true. But he was his regardless. She wanted to believe him. She prayed that the sole remnant of a love obliterated in the past would be accepted by this man. She needed her son to have a father, and he seemed to be willing to take the burden.
It was only after he began to talk about an expansion to their family that she gave birth to doubt. Weren’t they enough? Wasn’t her son worthy to carry on her lover’s legacy? How would she explain to a five year old, the complex nature of a family with three biological parents? Why did he want to spread his love to another?
She knew that these concerns were most likely conceived without the touch of her man. He was, in all counts, the perfect father. Never missed a milestone, even helped push their son over those markers, when he seemed too weak to make it himself. How hard could it be? He was the only child. Surely this man couldn’t do it for two. Maybe she couldn’t.
The blankness in her thoughts that accompanied her to the clinic’s waiting room was a blessing. If her doubts had led her to this point in the first place, they most likely would drive her away as well. Her son, needed a father. Another child would deny him of that. She knew that once it was revealed that the possibility of a second heir was gone, he would hate her. It would be painful, but the silver lining would be even more love for their son, her son, his son.
The game moved on past that hand. More cards were dealt and each woman kept an eye out for the hidden motives in their hands. They played on until they simply couldn’t any longer. They each returned to their pair, and waited to see where the chips would fall.