“Let’s go over and visit Lucy.” Mother collects her playing cards and her bag of pennies.
“Okay Mom,” says Johnny.
Lucy lives two blocks over. At Lucy’s house everyone starts off sober. They sit at the brown card table. Mother produces cards and the bag of pennies. The pennies get distributed.
The first poker hand is dealt by Mother. Johnny wins. He scrapes up the pot.
“Lucky,” says Mother, smiling. Johnny smiles back as he stacks the pennies.
Lucy goes to get highballs for she and Mother. Cigarette smoke snakes from the big green ashtray. As Lucy walks off the carpeted floor, barefoot onto the linoleum, she starts to cough and gag. As she gets the drinks she is gagging and coughing and this continues until she is back on the warmly carpeted floor. Mother and Lucy hold the cigarettes in their mouths as Johnny asks “What’s the matter, Aunt Lucy? Why are you choking?”
“I always gag when I walk barefoot on linoleum,” she says, sitting down.
“So why don’t you put on a pair of socks?”
“Ah, no big deal. It won’t kill me.”
Lucy deals the second hand of poker. Pennies lie in piles in front of each of them. They toss pennies in the pot and drink the highballs as they play. The second hand is also won by Johnny.
Lucy is a retired hairdresser. Styrofoam heads in fancy wigs line the windowsill in the living room. The children pedaling by in the summer point and comment about the blank faced well-groomed heads in the window of the bright brick house.
“Look at the heads—“
Mother and Lucy have another highball each and then switch to vodka and orange juice. Lucy and Mother are getting buzzed. Johnny’s sipping at his Coke. The smoke lies in layers about the three. Johnny deals the third hand, which Lucy wins. As a part time job, Lucy does the hair of corpses down at Bronson’s Funeral Home. It pays enough money to keep her in liquor. She gets the brandy. They are drunk now. Butts litter the ashtray and some of the butts spilled off onto the tabletop. Mother deals the next hand, and wins the game and the pot of pennies. They switch to seven and seven. Bottles are on the table along with glasses and the full ash tray. The fifth hand is dealt by Lucy. Johnny wins the hand. Johnny’s got the most pennies since he has won three hands out of five. Lucy goes to the kitchen gagging and coughing and gets the whiskey, a couple of shot glasses and two forty ounce beers. Johnny drinks Coke. They are drunk now. Lucy talks about old Mom Potter, the best corpse she ever worked on at the funeral home.
“Her hair was so fine, so soft. So easy to do.”
“It was like she’d been alive; I almost found myself making conversation with her as I did her hair.”
They all chuckle. Mother goes to the bathroom as Johnny deals the sixth hand. Mother sways back and woozily sits down. They drink the shots and beers. They are plastered. Lucy wins the hand and they decide to stop playing poker. A cigarette dangles from Lucy’s mouth as she asks if anyone wants coffee. The smoke dances around the tip of the cigarette in time with her words. Lucy goes to get coffee, gagging and choking. Lucy is a widow. Her husband is in a shallow grave dug in the dead of winter. Mother is divorced and Johnny’s going to see his father tomorrow. The two women are plastered; they each have a final cigarette and coffee and chat, until Johnny drains his Coke and pipes up.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Daddy.”
Mother frowns and flashes her eyes at Lucy. Lucy’s mouth is set.
Johnny fingers the empty Coke bottle, before adding:
“It’ll be good.”
“Yeah, it’ll be good,” said Mother, nodding, looking down. “It’ll be real good.”
Mother rises frowning and boxes up the cards and sweeps the pennies back into the bag. Lucy looks on helplessly, watching Mother’s face—then she rummages in a bag and hands something to Mother.
“Here,” she said—“Here’s a breath mint. It’ll help—“
Mother takes the mint. She wants to say something but has no words. Johnny helps his Mother home toward Father. He at least will be glad to see Father. Father, and another dark night to follow, before the next poker game with Lucy.
Jim Meirose’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Collier’s Magazine, the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work have been published and his novels, Claire, Monkey, and Freddie Mason’s Wake are available from Amazon.