Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Writer's Block (Fiction)

The air was brisk on my face as I made my way down the uneven path. Clouds were rolling about in the overcast sky and I could smell rain coming. Small shoots of pain were radiating up from my heels each time my feet hit the pavement, but I kept on. I passed by a yard and spotted the Saturday Post. Saturday, finally. I started the day a little later and I was feeling off. I couldn’t tell if it was a physical thing, or if it was just that the sun wasn’t out, rare for late July in Swift Current. Whatever the reason, I felt anxiety raising the hair on my arms and neck, and I kept swallowing against an uneasy lump in my throat.

Determined to lose weight before my ten-year college reunion, I’d been jogging steadily for the past few weeks. The exercise had paid off—I was down nearly fifteen pounds by scale, and a reasonable bit by measurements, but I was still relieved the reunion was the following weekend and I wouldn’t have to maintain the pace. I knew I shouldn’t care what other people thought, but I’d been really thin—model like—in college, and the thought of showing up as an overweight divorcee was a hard image to bear.

Rain began peppering my face and I picked up speed, hoping to get in at least twenty minutes before I got too wet. Friggin rain. Ever since I worked as a television photographer, I wasn’t overly fond of the weather. Life as a shooter is much worse than a postal carrier’s; you don’t just have to just be out in the weather, you have to record it—make it beautiful for viewers to watch. On a typical “snow day” when everyone else has a slower day, or even stays at home, we’re busting our asses trying to get shots of cars stalled, people shovelling, any shit you would associate with a heavy snowfall.

The last snow day happened late spring, and I couldn’t find a single pair of winter gloves at the nearby deserted mall. I’d spent the day literally chasing ambulances, getting footage of them having to stop at the end of a snowed in block, paramedics trying to get to some senior who had chest pains after a vigorous morning of shovelling. After years of covering that, you really began to resent Mother Nature.

The rain was falling heavier now, so I decided to turn and head back. Being cold made me miserable, and I wanted to try and keep my sour mood from developing any further. My feet were clapping against the sidewalk when the truck came careening at me. There was only a surreal whooshing sound before it jumped the sidewalk to hit me, the truck continuing on without hesitation as I lay bleeding and blacking out.

I remember nothing of those first 72 hours, and remember even less now, but the noise often wakes me at night to leave me chilled and covered in sweat, unsure of my whereabouts.


My face was wet, and my eyes opened to see moonlight streaming through the curtains of my bedroom window. It took a moment for me to determine I was at my parent’s house surrounded by the youth of my old room. I’d been dreaming about the college reunion again. This time I was newly divorced with three children, and I’d not been able to get a babysitter. Coming through the doors of the college lounge, the kids were crying and former classmates were strange and staring. “My name is” felt hot against my bare flesh, as I looked down in a daze to realize none of us were wearing clothes. I started to cry and the scene melted before me, like paint washing slowly off a wet canvas.

I shook my head to dislodge the feelings and images and went to the window. Out in the backyard, I could clearly make out a few jackrabbits humping in the garden. Nausea welled up in my stomach and I had to run to make it to the bathroom, weakness pulling at my legs. Hot spasms gripped me as I slumped over the toilet. My forehead was burning as I gulped in stale perfumed air. My mother wore Obsession by Calvin Klein, and it was lingering, oddly heavy in the bathroom. I could hear the faint snoring of my father coming from their bedroom down the hall.

After minutes of laboured breathing, the cramps began to ease and I finally stood, my reflection a harsh reminder of the torment I'd felt over the last few months. Sunken dark shadows were a permanent fixture beneath my eyes and my skin was paler than ever. Green eyes were a bit too bright, and my expression was fevered. I couldn’t remember when I’d had my last bath, and my hair hung in greasy clumps.

I’d been at my parent’s since the accident, and was on long-term disability from my job at the newspaper. Guilt plagued me daily as I worried over returning to work. Depression had settled in nicely, but being unfamiliar with such a thing, I thought I was simply tired and lacking in motivation. Despite assurances what I was feeling was natural, expected even, I shut down during the support group meetings I’d been forced to attend by my parent's doctor. I was in a living hell.

The slam of a car door startled me and I headed back to the window. The gate latch clicked softly, and I could see my mother making her way quietly to the porch, gingerly side stepping loose boards my father never bothered to repair. After a final tilt of her hand, she was inside and a car pulled slowly away, gravel crunching eerily under new tires. I fell to the bed, stunned. Her footsteps were stealthy and I remained frozen as she made her way up the stairs, my heart loud in my ears. I strained to hear her walk down the hall. She stopped in the bathroom and made quick busy noises, before switching the light off to creep back downstairs to the couch.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Smell of Victory:Part Deux (Fiction)

I was peppered with some pretty good hands for most of the night. Four times I had pocket Jacks and managed to get them to pay off. I'd had a few lower pairs pay the odd time when I bet heavy right off the bat, but my prime time hand happened early in the game, before the first break--in the first half hour.

Two seats to the left of me was a guy who irritated me, initially by sight alone until he'd hit a few good hands and got cocky. I was pissed off after I'd stayed in too long, hoping to hit something--anything, and he went all in on the river to force me out. I have a tendency to want to call every hand, as I think everyone is bluffing and I can't stand the thought of something getting put over on me. Like everything else, I managed to take poker personally and struggled to hear common sense telling me to fold when all signs pointed to it. This time I knew I'd have to be patient, and I reminded myself it would take a lot of cards, a lot of hands, and a lot of players to go out for me to make it anywhere near the final table.

I was dealt my first set of pocket jacks, the best hand I'd had to that point, and I bet a couple hundred to force a few people out. When I have something pretty good, but beatable, I like to bet big and get rid of anyone trying to buy a cheap flop. Cocky called and up came the next three cards. A Jack was on board and I checked to him, only for him to check back. The turn came up another Jack and I checked once more, accidentally knocking some of my chips over--I could hardly contain my excitement--but Cocky put in a pretty sizable bet and I re-raised. He called all in, and I couldn't get my chips in fast enough, my hands were trembling so bad.

Cocky flipped over pocket tens, for a full house, but he was drawing absolutely dead to my quad Jacks. He was out only a few hands later, and I could still hear him talking about it to people within earshot. To date, I think that's the best beat I've ever put on a guy. It took quite a while for my heart and nerves to settle down, but I managed to carry that luck through to the second last table. Shortly after though, I was getting crap cards, and I knew I'd have to play super tight to make it to the end. When I hit the final table of nine players, I had a mere couple thousand to gamble with, compared to everyones double and triple stack of white $1000 chips.

The blinds were 2 and 4 thousand and I was playing as conservative as possible. Everyone was playing tight, as you had to place seventh to come into money. Some guy a few seats to my right had even less chips to start than I, but he kept going all in and lucking out. Not me--two times I folded ten, jack off-suit only to see a straight come up on board both times. Coming around to me was a four thousand big blind, and I finally went all in on pocket seven's to the chip leader who took me out with an A, J when he hit a jack on the flop and an A on the river--bastard.

But, I'd hung on just long enough. Some guy went out in eighth the hand before, and I was the last woman standing, the first to come into the money, and more than happy with my performance.

Turns out Victory is a lot better than I thought and smell has nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Smell of Victory (Fiction)

Victory could only smell as good as a stale cigarette. That's what ran through my head when I opened the door and was enveloped in a fog of smoke. Anxiety began its familiar flutter in my stomach and I wondered what the hell I was doing here and why I had signed up for this. In a soft voice I told the poker room pit boss my name and fumbled as I dropped my wrinkled money on the table. I considered forty dollars a lot; I'm unemployed for the month of June, still havn't received my ROE from work, and was recently told my job would have to be posted and I'd have to reapply. Nice. Like the sixty or so others who'd entered the poker tournament, I really wanted to win.

My seat card placed me at table 4, seat 1. I was relieved the gaming spot light would not shine immediately on me, as I would have the benefit of starting on the "button". Nine other players would have to place their bets before me, giving me plenty of time to watch and wait, and warm up to the competitive atmosphere. I was nervous about looking like a first timer. Although I had a previous bit of casino tourney experience and had played many a home game, it was too easy recalling my last losing foray into casino Texas Hold-em. I had begun a cash game on tilt when I didn't realize it would cost me eighty to buy in. I didn't want to look cheap and walk away, but I had to borrow the money right there from Howie, and it went quickly down hill after that. In less than half an hour, I was out the door and owing him money.

Howie was also at table 4, in seat 4. That relaxed me even more, but he wasn't as happy. He's superstitious and is fond of pointing out that the last few times we've sat together and played at the same table, he's had shitty cards. I've done just fine on the other hand, but I'm not about to get that stuck in my head. He had just won over a hundred at Roulette and I caught myself thinking, I'm not lucky, as I watched him pull in pile after pile of lilac chips. None of my numbers hit and his first loss happened soon after I got there. I tried to quell my negative thoughts as he cashed in and we headed over to our table.

I was less than thrilled to see a few of the regulars sit down next to us. Bernie was a beach bottle blond who had long fake nails and was always seen carrying a beer and cigarette in the same hand. Tonight she had on her pokerstars.com jacket and I couldn't help rolling my eyes. Just looking at some people irritated me, and she always managed to live up to my expectations. Tonight was no disappointment.

Howie started off the first hand with pocket Aces. He limped in with a call of 25 and bet big when a queen and a couple of clubs showed up on the board. Bernie's eyebrows furrowed and her lips formed a sneer when she called. I folded along with everyone else. Another club came up on the turn and Howie put in almost half his stack. Her eyes narrowed as she called him once again. Nothing special showed up on the river and Howie went all in. Bernie shot him a look that said, what the fuck?! Shrugging her shoulders, her lips were pursed as she said, "May as well, fuck," and follwed by pushing all her chips in. I couldn't stop a smile when she flipped over her king and queen and then saw his two aces. She was royally pissed off and got up quickly and left, a black look distorting her drawn features even further. It was a harsh reminder for me not to lose control over my own emotions or impulses.

In my third casino tournament, I was the third person out and couldn't stop myself from crying when I got back to my car. More than wanting to avoid a repeat, I wanted to prove that not only could I play, I could win.