The Gambler

June 9, 2011
By lasercats BRONZE, Portland, Oregon
lasercats BRONZE, Portland, Oregon
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Nathaniel Andrew Jack Fun was a difficult man. Nothing went right in his life—or so it seemed, coming from the exhausted mind of forty-something year old. He had stopped counting birthdays after thirty—and this further induced his irritable behavior and stubborn will. The people of his town, a small place where nothing went unnoticed, learned to avoid him, especially when he staggered out of the local bar, howling about one of his many problems.

“You’re just like a bull, you know that?” Annabel, his wife, once told him, turning to face him from across the kitchen table. The sunlight framed her golden hair, and for a moment, she glowed, though the reddening of her cheeks was purely from anger. She stood up from the table, scraping the legs of the chair across the floor. Nathaniel cringed at the noise, at the narrowed eyes of the love of his life. He was having a hard time comprehending why she was so angry. No matter how many hours he slept, he was never fully rested, so he was never fully awake. “A big, stupid, stubborn bull who doesn’t think, just does,” Annabel finished, her knuckles white as she gripped the back of the chair. She turned and stalked out of the kitchen, leaving her husband to nurse a bad hangover.

Now, Nathaniel Fun was walking down some deserted street, a paper bag holding sweet poison inside gripped within his sweaty palm. He had tried to quit, yes, for himself and for his family, but he just couldn’t. Annabel had gotten fed up with his pitiful stab at a normal, happy family life, and left, taking their only son with her. She hadn’t woken him up, just packed up her things and by morning, she was gone. That had been months ago, but it still brought a pang in Nathaniel’s chest, deeply nestled underneath the now frayed fabric of his overcoat. He flexed his fingers, staring at the calloused skin and feeling the steady ache in his joints. When was the last time he had gone out to buy something he actually needed, instead of a bottle?

Nathaniel Fun’s head turned as he heard the pattering of feet. A little boy ran up to him, panting from exertion.

“Mr. Fun,” he gasped, “sir, do you have a quarter? They’re having a dance and I don’t have money for the jukebox machine.” Nathaniel Fun stared, unblinking, and the boy stared back, hands on his scraped up knees. He had once been this little boy, hadn’t he? Yes. He had once stayed up late dancing his weekends away, waking up feeling alive through his exhaustion, the only headaches coming from the brass band’s music.

But now, Nathaniel wasn’t prone to having a good time. He avoided the local spots he frequented when he was younger like they were quarantined. Who knew, maybe they were; carrying the disease of nostalgia.

So Nathaniel Andrew Jack Fun shook his head. “No,” he said, more sharply than he intended. The little boy’s eyes were wide and reminded Nathaniel too much of his son as he looked up at him.

“Mr. Fun, you’re not very fun, are you?” he said bluntly, twitching his head slightly like some kind of curious bird, then turned away and ran off down the street. Nathaniel watched him go, feeling more horrible than ever. He was just a kid. He didn’t know about Nathaniel’s problems, and frankly, Nathaniel didn’t want him to know, to carry the burden he called his life.

So Nathaniel, that pitiful excuse for a human being, began to walk again, his eyes downcast. His shoes were scuffed, and had lost the luster they once held, just like the rest of his things. Everything seemed dull to Mr. Nathaniel Fun; the sunsets and rises, which he had enjoyed so much perched on the hill at the park next to his son, a little boy with hopes and dreams and broken promises, lost their gorgeous color, blending to a bland orange-red. Some of the citizens of his town, people he once called his friends, whispered about him losing his mind, and when an informational pamphlet about depression arrived at his doorstep he wasn’t surprised. He probably was depressed. The winter had been cold and numb, the spring harder, and the summer worse. At every flower that sprung to life, he thought of the way his son would run through the meadow at the park, Annabel laughing as she chased after him, looking as beautiful as ever. Had it really been months since he had last seen them?

Something sparkled. Nathaniel looked up from his shoes, and his eyes fell upon a white grand piano, one that glistened in the window of some shop or another. Nathaniel paused, glanced to his right and left. There was no one in sight. No one to see the idiotic giddiness that was slowly rising inside of him, a certain type of happy he hadn’t felt in months. He didn’t bother glancing at the shop sign before racing into the store and straight to the piano. It was even prettier up close. The keys were cool and smooth as he pressed down on C, then D, E, G, F—and suddenly it all came back to him. He didn’t hesitate, didn’t stop to wonder if the owner of the shop would be angry with him. His hands fell onto the keys, fingers tripping over themselves as he played a sweet, low melody he remembered his mother teaching him when he was young. The bottle of poison, his pick-me-up, was forgotten on the floor, the alcohol sloshing in its container inside the wrinkled paper bag, damp from Nathaniel’s grip.

The shopkeeper came up behind him, a smile tugging at his lips as he watched the man play, this man with dark bags underneath his eyes and lips rubbed raw, hands shaking slightly as he played to his hearts content. And the funny thing was, Nathaniel smiled back. For the first time in a long time, happiness began to bloom up inside of him. Spring flowers of laughter sprung into his throat, and he opened his mouth to set them free and let the sunshine in, laughing as he played and played till his wrists ached. The poison bottle rolled underneath the piano, out of sight, out of mind.

“You seem to like it very much,” the shopkeeper commented when Nathaniel finally stopped.

“I do, I do, I do,” Nathaniel replied, nearly breathless, the smile never leaving his face. “I’ll take her. No matter the price. Please.”

“Of course!” the shopkeeper chuckled, moving to the counter behind him. Nathaniel followed, his smile deflating slightly as the calloused pads of his fingers left the surface of the ivory keys. It returned, however, as he signed a check, his script loopy and hurried as he scribbled out Mr. Nathaniel Fun. He thrust the check at the shopkeeper, happy because the beautiful grand piano would be his, all his and no one would ever take it. He’d rather die.

The owner of the shop told him with a smile that the piano would be delivered by next week, and that he hoped Nathaniel enjoyed it. He would, of course. He had already fallen in love with the darned thing. He’d phone Annabel once the piano arrived, tell her about it and ask if she’d like to come visit and see how he was doing, how happy he was and how he would stop drinking for real this time, now that he had found motivation—well, more like hope—again.

And as Nathaniel waltzed down the street once more, this time his hands free and dry, he fished in his pocket for a quarter. As he passed the dance hall, he peered inside, locating the little boy. He was sulking by the jukebox, hands resting on his knees, back against the wall. Nathaniel knew the pose too well. He entered the dance hall, the quarter smooth and warm in his palm. He rubbed his thumb over the surface as he approached the boy, grinning.

“Hey, kid,” he got the little boy’s attention, then tossed the quarter at him. The boy’s face lit up.

“Thanks, Mr. Fun!” he exclaimed, scrambling up from his once pitiful position. He pressed his nose to the surface of the jukebox, searching for a song, and soon the dance hall was filled with more music. And Nathaniel Andrew Jack Fun laughed.

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