From “Glasnost,” Meridian: The Semi-Annual from the University of Virginia, Issue 16, Fall/Winter 2005
WE WERE PLAYING CARDS inside the house at the kitchen table after the plates had been picked up and put in the sink and there were beer cans all around. Martha sat at the head of the table and was dealing, and I sat between Arthur and Julie opposite Martha.
Outside, the wind had died down some for a time, but every so often it cranked back up again so that the windows on the eastern side of the house would rattle and shake against the sills. Scott was reading in the den,stretched out on the sofa with the television on low. Martha’s mother and father had been playing with us, but they kept arguing and never even finished one hand. They were in their bedroom now, which was off the den, trying to go to sleep, but fighting instead.
“Hank, for God’s sake,” Martha’s mother kept saying.
Martha had cooked the steaks perfectly, and she’d also done some baked potatoes in the microwave, and everyone had been pleased with the dinner that had appeared from out of nowhere right when everyone was just about to go over the edge.
Julie didn’t know anything about poker so Arthur kept reaching across the table to help her, and every time he did this I could see her cards.
Arthur started talking, between sips of beer, about his ex-wife and what she’d done to make him leave her, back when he’d been the harbormaster at Truro and she’d been a writer, when they were young and they’d had so little money. Arthur had made some money since then doing real estate deals in Dennisport. Julie listened.
“She’s published now, the little monster,” Arthur said. “Back then, though, it was a different story.” He was stacking his cards in his left hand and shifting them around, and Julie had a look on her face, a look I hadn’t seen before. It was a look like she was watching her father say something very important, about what to do next and what not to do, but it was her boyfriend and her fiancé who was speaking and not her father at all.
“She would have these parties, the bitch would,” he said, “with all these wannabes and fakers, writers and actors.” Arthur shook his beer can which was now empty. “These parties would go on all night, every night, and there’d be all these freaks and transvestites down from P-Town standing around my kitchen sink drinking my gin. And in the morning they’d all still be there, having done God knows what to each other on my couch.” Arthur scowled at his cards then looked around the table, his eyebrows raised. “And in my tub for God’s sake,” he said.
Julie was small and had hair that was long and straight and light brown, but it was turning blonde from all the time on Arthur’s boat. She was fit and looked like she liked to swim or run and she listened hard to what Arthur was saying as though she was hearing it all for the first time, but the look on her face had gone sad. Now she was sad for Arthur or maybe his ex-wife, either because she felt sorry for all Arthur had been through before he’d met her, or for his ex-wife with whom she might have had much more in common than she had thought before.
Julie looked at her cards and frowned, and would not look at me or anyone else.
“Did she ever write about you?” I said. Arthur looked for a moment like he’d forgotten what he’d been talking about, but then he nodded.
“In her first book she painted me up to be some kind of Norman Mailer ape,” he said, “running around punching things, and hurting people all the time.” Arthur put down on the table a pair of jacks, spades. “In the second one she made me out to be gay.”
Julie perked up at this. “Which is absolutely not the case at all,” she said. She smiled and put down on the table two pairs—threes and sevens—and looked to Arthur for approval.
“I stopped reading them after that,” he said. Arthur wasn’t looking at Julie; he was looking at me and waiting for me to put my cards down.
“I’ve got nothing,” I said, and I put my cards face down on the table.
Martha put down a pair of threes.
“Did I win?” Julie said.
“Yeah, Honey,” Arthur said. “You won alright.”