The Desultory Gamble This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

August 5, 2011
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The amber liquid arcs beautifully from glass lips to swirl in my veteran tumbler. It seduces me with the ability to burn my throat and memories simultaneously. My flat flares with headlights, spinning past unconcerned by the whisky’s neighbor, a .44 magnum.

But a different light surprises my bare walls; my ringtone, a sad melody of Tetris, shrills from my cell phone beside the gun. My fingers drift toward the .44, its cold pressing against the skin. I grab the phone, pressing talk.

“Let me up,” is all she says, disconnecting.

I drain the glass, sliding off the couch and stumbling towards the door. My phone slips from my grasp, bouncing once and skidding on the hardwood. The buzz on my intercom makes me wince. By the time she floats in, I’ve poured another glass.

She snatches a pillow from my bedroom and throws it down without a greeting. As her long skirt drapes over her legs, curled on the makeshift cushion, we face each other grimly, the table of vice between us. I drain another, and the room tilts.

“You’re drunk,” she says slowly, the words dripping with apathy.

“You’re high,” I counter, not quite as articulate.

“No,” she smirks. “I’m clean.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Since when?”

“Yesterday.” I snort, rolling my eyes. I manage somehow to get my ass off the couch to grab another glass, slamming it before her.

“Then get drunk.”

She pours for us both; and clinking in a toast of self deprecation, we drink. She winces, but I’ve gone numb. When she doesn’t move for another round, I turn my attention to maintaining lucidity.

“So… clean, huh?” The words are thick on my tongue.

Her thick hair falls over one shoulder as she pulls up her shirt sleeve, rolling her arm to its underside. Ugly purplish black marks snake up her veins, complimented by fresh scars.

“So you found a new drug,” I mutter, irritated. She lets the sleeve fall in place.

“Don’t judge me. Let me see it.” I look into her brown eyes, a cold enigma, and slide the gun across the table.

Pale fingers wrap around it. Using both hands, it steadies at eye level. Her nose wrinkles ever so slightly. I watch, pressing the cold shot glass against my cheekbones like a focal point for my thoughts.

“Hard to believe it’s November 17th already,” she murmurs, setting the mag. down gently.

“Do you have it?” I ask, closing my eyes. Even with all the lights out, the city seems too bright. I wish I’d closed the curtains. I hear a small revolving clink against the table and open my eyes. Heads up.

We’re quiet, the quarter and gun watching us impassively. Unsteadily, I reach for it. The metal holding my life is thin and warm from her pocket as it rests against my thumb and forefinger. “Tails, I die. Heads, we wait until next year,” I murmur, flipping it into the air. Our eyes watch it, trained by the tense room, until it clatters against the coffee table directly beside the gun. Heads.

I deflate, grabbing the quarter and pocketing it. “Happy birthday,” I mutter. She slowly releases her breath and grabs the handgun. It conceals easily in her purse as she stands.

“See you.” She hurries for the door, and I notice the ring on her finger is gold. It has replaced the unsympathetic diamond for one night. I know the band is my brother’s. It's all she has left of him, except track marks and this game.

After she’s well gone, I slide the quarter from finger to finger, never letting it fall lest its sacred nature be corrupted. My brother was infamous for amusing kids at parties or always winning petty gambles. But six years ago on November 17th, he flipped the quarter and bet on tails.
We’ve always played this game since then. It’s like a pre-holiday to start off Thanksgiving; which she always spends with her fiancée, and I spend with a double-sided quarter that ruins lives.





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