by Brandon Blackburn
They began the evening heavily encumbered. Heather answered her apartment door wearing five tops under a vest and a peacoat, boots over jeans, several dangling necklaces over a choker, three pairs of earrings, and a headband. No doubt she would also be wearing stockings and numerous pairs of underwear. She’d outdone him. Even with all his rings and – the coup de grâce – the ten pairs of boxers he wore under his jeans, she had much more to remove than him. Beginning the evening heavily encumbered was important when you played strip Texas hold’em with rules dictating that up to three articles of clothing could be wagered on any hand.
Really, Greg couldn’t believe his luck. Buzzed already, he’d had little hope that Heather would be planless at 11 on a Friday night. Whether by luck or maybe something more, she’d invited him over anyway and had been amenable to his suggestion of a friendly competitive game of cards. He sped from the bar to his place to throw on more clothes and sped faster to Heather’s fourth floor apartment. I mean, Heather was fucking gorgeous, man, and these kinds of windows tend to close pretty fast.
So they began the evening heavily encumbered, but they’d both taken their losses. Their jewelry was all piled up together to one side of the table where they were playing their game, thin gold and thick silver rings thrown into the tangled morass of Heather’s necklaces. Greg was down to his last shirt. He was pretty sure Heather was too. He pulled up the corners of his two cards, which were face down on the table in front of him, then took a swig of his Jack & Coke, watching over the rim of his plastic cup the way Heather’s padded bra pushed against her sheer white top. He forgot what his cards were and took another glance.
Heather watched Greg’s eyes roam over her breasts, turn to his cards, then return to her breasts. She considered using the goosebumps popping up on her pale arms as an excuse to end the game then and put her cable-knit sweater back on. She didn’t know why she’d let him come over when it was just going to be the two of them and she really didn’t fucking know why she’d agreed to strip poker. She’d been buzzed. She’d been bored. She’d been watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel alone. Moreover, she’d been bored and would probably be bored again once the mild humiliations of the night were over and she was dressed again and he had left. She looked at her two cards and wagered one article of clothing. She took a swig of Jack and Greg said, “I call.”
Heather dealt three cards face up onto the table between them. This is called The Flop. They re-examined their cards and both decided not to raise their bets above one article.
“You know,” Heather said, delaying the drawing of the next card, “cards are a metaphor for life in a lot of ways.”
“Yeah?” Greg looked impatient. His eyes were still on her tits.
“Yeah. Have you heard of telomeres?” Greg shook his head, making fleeting eye contact, then lowering his eyes to her tits again. “Well,” she continued, “every cell in the human body has this thing in it called a telomere. Every time our cells divide, their telomeres get a little shorter. Once our telomeres shrink down to half their original size, our cells can’t divide anymore and we die of old age. In total, our cells can divide 52 times before we die. 52 cards, 52 cell divisions ‘til death. Neat, right?”
“Yeah, neat. Well, that’s why I always say seize the day. I mean, we never know when our last day might be, so we have to make the most of each day that we do have.” He meant, of course, Come on, Heather. Let’s fuck.
“That’s a good philosophy, I guess,” she said. She meant, of course, You’re sweet, but no.
Greg ended up losing that hand and took off his belt. He went to use Heather’s bathroom. He’d been drinking whiskey for days, man. While he was out of sight, she shuffled the deck and then flipped the cards face up and moved some of them around to strategic points, making sure the right card would continue to be dealt at the right time, keeping the night’s events on schedule.
Greg sat back down and Heather dealt the next hand, two cards to him, two cards to her.
“You know,” she said, “it’s more than just the telomeres. There’s lots of other coincidences.”
He took a peek at his cards and couldn’t help but smile broadly as he uncovered the Ace of Spades and the Ace of Hearts. He wagered two articles. She hesitated and he felt a momentary panic: he’d wasted his advantage. He should’ve bet one to start with. She might fold and the hand would be over and they’d both still be equally as clothed as they were before the present hand.
“I call,” she said at last. He let out a breath he’d been holding. He was taking things very seriously.
“Anyway,” she continued, “52 cards, 52 weeks in a year. Just for instance.”
She flipped three cards face up onto the table: the Ace of Clubs, the Two of Clubs, and the Ace of Diamonds. Greg’s eyes widened. He raised his bet to the max: three articles of clothing. “I call,” Heather said quickly.
“And did you know there’s 52 white keys on a standard piano? Did card makers and piano makers base their products on the weeks of the year? Or did they have some inkling about cell division and the mathematics of death?”
The last two cards of the hand were inconsequential – a king and a nine. Four aces in hand, Greg couldn’t help but laugh. The whiskey was working its simple magic and he felt warm and alight and alive, man.
Heather looked to Greg’s mouth, which had been laughing but now was just a tongue licking lips in anticipation. He was watching her breasts rising and falling with her breathing. She was breathing heavier now from drinking too fast. She peeked at the two cards face down in front of her: a four and a seven. With the five cards face up on the table, that gave Heather a handful of exactly nothing.
“Two aces,” she said, flipping her two concealed cards over.
“Four aces!” he practically howled, flipping his cards over.
“Wow! What are the chances? Okay, so I take off three articles?”
“Looks like it.” Greg couldn’t conceal a quick smirk.
“Okay. Hey. Have you also ever thought about the fact that there are 52 cards in a deck and 52 letters in the English language if you count upper and lowercase letters? Neat, right?”
“What should I take off? My socks count as two.” She removed her rainbow-striped socks. “What for my third?”
“You choose. What should I take off?” She smiled.
He pursed his lips, acting as though he had to think about it really hard. He couldn’t keep his eyes down, though. They danced on every part of her. They did cartwheels over the hills of her breasts. She loved it. She fucking loved it, man: the attention, the desire she drew out of him without his consent, the way he could barely control himself, the tremor running through his fingers, and knowing that his fingers wanted to be all the places his eyes had just been. His face brightened as though he had solved a particularly difficult riddle.
“Why not take off your shirt?” he asked.
Heather gasped in faux scandalization.
“Dirty boy!” she exclaimed. Then, as she removed her aforementioned sheer white top, she asked, “Did you know the Mayan calendar is based on cycles of 52 years?”
“Yes. Do you like my bra?”
His eyes said yes. “Yes,” he said. “Leopard print. Very nice.”
She’d drained her cup. “Can I make you another drink?” he asked. He meant, of course, Would you like to get just hammered enough to let me do you?
“Sure, I’ll have another. Thank you. It’s your turn to deal, by the way.” She slid the cards over to his side of the table, leaning over to give him a view straight down between her bra’s two leopard-print padded cups. Then, as she predicted, he disappeared into the kitchen for a minute and returned with a drink much stronger than the last one he’d mixed for her. She would slow her drinking pace to compensate. She smiled to herself, then smiled at him as he shuffled the cards. “Thanks,” she said, gesturing to her cup.
“You’re welcome.” He smiled.
“You know,” she said, “I think the Mayans are really interesting. They knew a lot about technology and astronomy and medicine and things. I have a couple of books on them.” What she meant by this change of subject was, of course, We’re friends. Why would I ever complicate our friendship by sleeping with you?
The conversation, despite all the whiskey, wasn’t going in the direction Greg wanted. If nothing else, at least he got to see Heather topless, but still he decided to try another tactic and show some interest in her interests. “Wow, really?” he said. “I’d love to see those books. Do you have them here?”
“They’re in my rom.”
“Let’s go check them out!” He began to stagger out of his seat, leaning on the table for support. It’s an unwritten, but time-honored tradition: the closer one’s proximity to a woman’s bed, the greater the chance that sex will occur. Getting into Heather’s living room for a game of poker, then getting into her bedroom would be back-to-back victories in Greg’s mind.
It’s not a truism, but it’s certainly a long-established tenet of belief: get into a woman’s bedroom and sex might very well follow. Greg would note that pornography, for instance, bears out this tenet again and again. Porn storylines revolve around men who have chosen professions like pizza delivery person or plumber or cable repairman because they understand the importance of one’s proximity to a woman’s bed, know that when you step off of the street and through a woman’s front door, one’s chances of hooking up with said woman skyrocket. And how many times has a man driven a woman home from a bar and – seeing she has no intention of inviting him inside – asked in desperation, “Could I come in and use your bathroom real quick?” The man thinks a foot in the door is all he needs. Sometimes, man, it is.
Heather stood up from the table and led Greg into her bedroom. She loved that burning feeling between her shoulder blades, the sensation of being watched, being watched intently, his eyes abusing her bare back, roving up her spine, up and down her bra straps. She got down onto hands and knees, searching under her bed for the books in question. His eyes traveled down her spine, down her thighs still covered in tight-fitting jeans to the carpeted floor, then returned to caress her bare arms as she reached into the darkness below the bed, shuffling through piles of books.
“Here!” she said after some time and produced a thick red paperback: The Mayans and Their World, by Bazine Naodook.
He flipped through it and said, “Neat! Do you think I could borrow this sometime? It looks really interesting.” Which she took to mean, Come on, Heather. Let’s fuck.
“Take it now if you want,” she said. “Wow, it’s like 2:30. I think I’ll get some sleep if that’s cool. Are you okay to drive?”
“Shit. I don’t know. Not really.”
“Here, you can crash on my couch. I’ll get you some blankets.”
She went to get some blankets. What could Greg do? He decided he was okay to drive after all and he left, The Mayans and Their World in hand, otherwise empty-handed. He went home and downloaded an adult film in which almost the entire staff of a moving company hooks up with a busty blonde homeowner who was having them load up her furniture for a move to a house in a better school district. Then Greg went to sleep.
Heather didn’t go to sleep right away. She finished her drink and she read Agatha Christie until 4 in the morning. At 4, when she was sure Greg must be asleep, she sent him a text, deliberately misspelling words, soberly making sure it could not be interpreted as anything but a “drunken text.” If spelled properly, the text would have read, “Why did you leave? I totally want to fuck you right now.”
Greg will bring bottles of booze over to Heather’s apartment nearly every weekend for the next three months. Heather will drink with him, but never more than a glass or two at a time. She will apologize for her “drunken text” and promise to never let an indiscretion like that happen again, promise to never get that drunk again. And soon enough their game of pursuit and denial will get old for both of them. Then the game will end. Then their friendship will end. That’s what games are when you really break it down, man. One thing happens and then another thing happens until nothing’s happening anymore and we all get bored and then we move on to other things. That’s it. Repeat that until your cells have divided 52 times and then they stop dividing. And then, man, you fucking move on again.
BRANDON BLACKBURN is a freelance writer of short fiction. He holds an MA in English from the University at Albany, SUNY and is a member of the Writer’s Bloc at Miami University, Ohio. He has previously been published in Skive Magazine. Brandon currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio.