Solitaire

By Dennis Norris II

I.

A storm is coming and Luke’s made sure we have everything we’ll need: enough dry food to get through the week, a bathtub filled with tap water, flashlights, batteries, extra blankets. If it were up to me, it would be nothing but condoms and booze, but Wyoming Luke is serious about survival. He wants to board up the windows but I’ve asked him not to. I want to watch as third avenue becomes a small river, as coffee cups, plastic bags, and wayward umbrellas emerge from the canal and float like spirits down the street.

This isn’t the kind of affair where he tells me he loves me. He doesn’t buy me gifts, or promise to leave his wife. He doesn’t miss me when I’m not around, or pursue me when I don’t answer his texts. Wyoming Luke is with me because Hannah is visiting her sister in Arizona. He’s protecting us, but he wants to get back to her.    

II.

I am Luke’s first man. The night we met, he bought me a drink at a jazz club. He led me to his apartment, his callused hand on my back, his lips breathing the singer’s tune into my neck. Once we were at his place, I was bold enough to pull his clothes from his body, to remove his wedding band before slipping his finger into my mouth, but then he pushed me to my knees. He covered my mouth, pulled my hair, gripped my neck. He made sure I knew who was boss. Afterward, he held me through the night, pulling my cheek to his chest, entangling his legs with mine, at random moments kissing my neck or nibbling my ear. 

In the morning, he told me not to call him. “My wife,” he said.  

When I came to New York, I wanted a scrappy town, a place where bad things could happen. I wanted to live in a place where you were never too far from destruction. The brownstone behind my apartment has a back porch. Mannequins clutter its’ roof. I look at them every day. Six moldy torsos. A trash can full of heads. But it’s the limbs that interest me most. Here, an upturned foot. There, a knee bent at ninety degrees—all frozen as though photographed alive, in motion.  

In some way, each mannequin manages to touch the one next to him. When I look at them, I think of vacation nights spent with my cousins as children—five of us crammed into one bed, determined not to fall asleep, though we eventually tired of each other and slept like death until the rancid smell of chitterlings woke us. We clambered from the bed, rubbing our eyes, covering our noses, running from Grandma’s house into the brightness of the Carolina sun.

III.

I sit cross-legged in a chair and watch as Wyoming Luke plays solitaire by candlelight. His fingers expertly shuffle and pile the cards as he deals himself another hand.

“You wanna play?” he asks. Outside, the wind screams and the rain pounces. He doesn’t wait for me to answer before he starts playing again. I get up and go to the kitchen. I open a bottle of cabernet and pour one third of it into a freshly cleaned balloon glass. I hear Wyoming Luke in the living room every time he slaps the table as he places each card.  

Through the window I watch the neon sign for the auto body repair shop that hangs across the street. It moves more violently than I’ve ever seen. I wonder if it will fall to the ground and shatter, sparks shooting from it, dying in the water that amasses in the streets, or if it will continue as before, hanging, slow-swinging, its’ movement sparse.

A storm is coming and I have everything I’ll need. If Wyoming Luke stopped playing card games, rested his long arms against the back of the couch, spread his legs and nodded at me, I’d be immediately in front of him, on my knees. Instead I drink my wine, and he plays on, the sound of the cards landing against the coffee table relentless in my ear. 

Originally appeared in Bound Off.