Two Blocks Of Ice

‘Cubes, blocks whatever. That’s how I take it.’
She smiles, trying not to be the bitch the waitress now thinks she is.
The drinks are free after all.
No they aren’t. It is an integral part of the business plan of the casino. The more you drink, the more you gamble. And less carefully. Idiot.

She returns her gaze to the felt table, and to her hand of cards, as she tries her best to hide the nasty sneer that’s emerging on the left side of her face.

A new game, one she hasn’t heard of before. Perfect, considering what she’s come here to do. The rules don’t seem to make much sense, but as with all things, the only way to truly learn is to do.

The fat man to her left requests another card. The player on the other side of her, a painfully thin and quiet Chinese man, squints at his and says he is happy to wait. The woman facing her opens her eyes just long enough to peer at the croupier. And nods for one more card.

An ace, three kings. One red, two black. This is surely a winning hand. She looks up and waits for approval. The croupier shakes his handsome head and scoops away her chips.

The fat man grins from behind blubberous cover.
‘It is a game of chance and very little skill. That is why most of us play it,’ the repulsive man says to her, his breath an olfactory blend of every meal he’s eaten today.

She smiles and refuses to say anything.
‘That’s why I’m playing it fatso.’

She decides to apologise. She bites her tongue.

The obese gambler nods his head, and returns to his own game as they all receive new hands.

The drink arrives and she wishes she could tip, but this is a cashless casino. The one rule of entrance.
‘And another,’ she says to the beleaguered serving girl, ‘I’ll be finished this one soon enough.’

‘Last game of the set. Those with points below par upon the fold will forfeit their stake.’

‘Bitch,’ she screeches before she can stop herself.

Of course there is no rule that states that what you bet must be desirable, to either yourself or your fellow players. This makes for an interesting dynamic. Sat around the table can be any combination of people determined to win or lose. And part of any game is guessing what everyone else has.

Behind her she hears someone’s fortune turn sour at the roulette wheel. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the man disintegrate. Had this been what he had secretly hoped for? she wonders. The smell of charred flesh fills her nostrils as she glances at her cards.

Three sixes?
No requests for an extra card are spoken. And she is terrified. Is this good or bad? Suddenly she wishes she understood exactly how this is supposed to work. But it has taken her years to get this place, to relinquish all control. And she is determined.

She blinks and suddenly, although of course this is impossible, all of the cards are facing the ceiling. The fat man smiles.

The croupier lifts his hands and indicates the winners – the Chinese man and the sleeping lady, and the loser, the fat man and her.
‘What do you bring?’ he asks, unfolding his casino tie.

‘One tremendous appetite,’ the enormous figure to her left says with a laugh.
‘I had hoped so,’ says the Chinese man. ‘I have a wasting disease and no desire to eat. If your gluttony gives me an extra month of life with my sons this will all have been worth it.’
They leave the table and join the shadows.

The croupier looks at her, silently asking the same question.
‘One soul,’ she says.
‘The ultimate prize,’ he whispers.
The victorious lady smiles and nods. ‘And that is what I had hoped. I am sorry but I must take it. I lost my own many years ago and have been here ever since, slowly gambling everything I have left. In the hope that one day I’d win a new one. It is what I would advise you to do now.’
‘If you have anything left to give,’ says the sad croupier.

She smiles. ‘No. This is my last game. I am glad to have lost.’
She hisses. ‘Bitch, I hope you burn in hell.’
She smiles again. ‘Please ignore me.’

And now the gamble.

The cold, heavy weight is lifted from her, up into the thick, hot air, and across the room. The lost lady nods her thanks and leaves before she has to witness the repercussions.

The drink arrives.
‘Thank you very much,’ she says with a sincere and warm smile, ‘but I don’t drink.’

A single ice cube bobs happily in its glass as the casino slips away into nothing.

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David Baillie is a freelance writer and artist. Born almost thirty years ago in Scotland, he now lives and works in the East End of London.

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