11 Jul Queen of Hearts
Queen of Hearts
So Five Card is my favourite game to play. This is mainly because I don’t have the patience for hold’em. There’s too much waffling and waiting. The flop, the turn and the river makes me want to drown in one. That and it’s hard to stay sober when the games go all night. At least with my mates they do. I like Five Card because it’s easy to play even with just two people. It’s intimate. That’s how I got to know Sofia. See, hands go really quickly and it’s all about reads and getting to know the other person’s tells, their habits. You can tell a lot about someone in a game of Five Card.
I had just broken up with someone after three years of very rocky ground. Breaking up and getting back together, domestics in public, my shit getting fucked out windows. Proper horror show. That being said I did love her and was pretty torn up. Now I personally didn’t agree with this tactic recommended to me by a friend. Come to think of it, he is the same friend that taught me how to play Five Card but nonetheless is still a drug dealing parasite alcoholic who hasn’t had a girlfriend in about ten years so why, you ask, am I taking any advice from him? I’ll tell you why, because I felt so low that I was thinking about doing myself in seriously and I’ve no problem saying it. I was desperate to feel something else. He said to go to this hotel near the airport and exercise my natural human instincts. Free myself from the shackles of bondage and get a ride while I was at it. I couldn’t feel any worse, we agreed. The only problem is, when you’re half-cut and really depressed, getting it up can be an issue.
When I got there I was really feckin nervous. Amsterdam is a different story all together with your mates having the craic, in and out jobs and more craic. You know where you’re going for a start. This was like being alone in a dark maze, uncertainly shitting it, going up a never-ending stairwell. I felt like maybe I was going to be robbed or arrested or something. Getting intermittent texts telling me where to go and directing me to the room with a little blue flower pot outside it as a marker. No numbers on the doors. The blinking light down the hallway didn’t help either. When I got to the blue flower pot the door opened as though she’d been listening, waiting. It was like the shock the wise men must have had when they saw the angel. Or maybe more like himself being tempted by Satan in the desert. I was pretty thirsty to be fair and as if by magic she presented me with a cocktail. She was radiant. And description of her beauty would not do her justice.
The place from the outside looked like a real shithole but inside the room was really lovely. Really clean, nice hardwood floors, beautiful bedspread and nice smelling candles everywhere. She looked at me in the eyes with what I thought was genuine concern. I guess it was pretty obvious that I’d been crying or had been punched in both eyes. I was drenched because it was pissing outside. Broken and soaking wet, I was in a jock. The room was nice and warm and the cocktail was pretty refreshing. She undressed me hushing my mouth first with her finger and provided me with a comfy robe. She told me I should take a nice long shower. It would make me feel nice and relaxed. She was going to take good care of me. I thought she was just trying to run up the clock and charge me more or something. I did politely ask her if we’d have enough time with the shower and all, showing her the two folded fifties which was all I had. She put her finger on my lips to hush me again which was strangely comforting and told me that my mate had taken care of it and that we had more than enough time. Maybe he wasn’t such a prick after all. Or maybe he just wanted a favour when all was said and done.
After the shower I felt a lot better. My mind was at ease and when her robe dropped to the floor I felt something like a moment of clarity.
I had however drank close to a bottle of vodka earlier on that day and a few cans so as things progressed despite her best sexy efforts it was clear that I was out of service. She was caring and said that we had all night and not to worry, we could try again later on. And this is what I’m telling you, we didn’t try later on, we just played Five Card for hours and got to know each other, masks off.
I’d been ambling around trying to seem somewhat composed, commenting on some of the books she had on the shelf and after noticing a deck of cards we began to mess. First she tried to teach me this mental Romanian card game that was too complicated for me. I want to say the alcohol had something to do with that. Then I tried to show her the one card trick I thought I knew. I asked her did she like poker. She said she only played strip poker jokingly before expressing shared sentiments about hold’em. I sold her on Five Card explaining the game’s intimacy and mocked myself, alluding to the fact that it was probably the only shot at any kind of intimacy we had.
“You deal, handsome.”
She tore a piece of paper over and over to make chips. I explained the rules in a few test-hands and off we went. So it turns out I’m shite at Five Card too. In no time at all she could tell when I was bluffing and she took me for every chip I had but we just kept playing. Again, I’d like to blame this on the booze. As we chatted her witty, clever sense of humour became apparent, juxtaposed with my goofy puns. They did make her smile mind you. She asked me a lot about me and I went a bit shy but she told me she knew my type. Sad but sincere and too trusting. I trusted her. I made Romanian gypsy joke seeing as how she could tell my future, half expecting a reaction, but she laughed and gave me some stick about being Irish, I can’t remember. My life story told in record time, half by me, half by her. I said I wouldn’t start asking her anything personal assuming she would keep those cards close to her chest but she forthcame. She forthcame a lot.
She told me she only did this kind of thing at weekends. She was working and studying during the week. She was a dental assistant almost qualified as a dental hygienist and she planned on studying all the way to being a dentist. Tuition didn’t pay itself and she wasn’t entitled to any grants from the state. She was totally independent. No pimp, no agency. She had health insurance and took care of herself and was always safe. The booze in me made it hard to feign total belief and this struck a chord with her. Removing her massive heels, she marched into her room to grab her bag and when she returned she showed me all these ID cards with her dental license, library cards and college ID. I then was convinced.
I did wonder about the monster in the adjoining room I’d been eying, ready to come out and bash my head in if I was getting out of line, that or if I made a comeback in the next game of Five Card, I joked. She reminded me of her independence and tossed a Taser, a pair of brass knuckles, and a can of pepper spray out of her bag. I was starting to sober to the point where fear was a possibility but I was simply intrigued. She would prove that there were no monsters in there as though I were a small child again too afraid to sleep, leading me by the hand to the threshold.
She clicked open the door to the adjoining room which was in total darkness. The lights came up with a motion sensor, illuminating a home gym machine, free weights, a yoga ball and all sorts of fitness equipment.
“I wasn’t blessed with this body,” she said.
There was also a stack of canvases in a corner accompanied by a box of paints, brushes and a pair of easels. A well-organized desk with a computer glowed and loomed from the loft above. I joked about it being hard for accountants to get any space these days, looking up at the desk. She led me back into the first room beaming in victory, having achieved her desired response. I was well and truly mystified. I had so many questions.
She said, “over cards we’ll talk.”
That cold room sobered me up and in its bright light I saw her more clearly. I could see some crow’s feet and roots beginning to show. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a stunningly beautiful woman, she was just a little older than I’d recalled from the beginning of the night. Maybe all that time with me aged her. How long had I been there? Maybe outside time was flying by. Maybe I’d step out onto the street and turn into an old man, wilting away, my bus passing by.
She went on to explain that she’d been doing this job a long time. First in Italy, then Spain, and then the UK before coming to Dublin. Over the years she’d met a lot of interesting people and had always used art as a form of therapy. She had been quite overweight when she was younger and this depressed her. She revealed never having had any issues with drink or drugs but with food. A vicious cycle. Back then she ate because she was sad and was sad because she ate. But for years she would workout really hard to get a runner’s high. The endorphins and serotonin release helped relieve her pain and allowed her to paint for hours. The art helped her gain perspective and get her life together.
She had thought about killing herself too, back then. I couldn’t remember telling her that and figured my friend must have told her this before I got there but she reminded me of what I’d forgotten. Apparently I had blacked out in the shower hitting my head as I fell. Barely able to stand she had come to my aid, helping me stand, assuring me everything would be ok. She washed me and put a bandage on my head. I was reminded of a monologue I went on. All the respect and admiration for my dead mother. How women were the mothers of the earth and all this shite about how I don’t blame my ex. She was a product of her own history of abuse and that I wished I could have helped her. That it was hard to connect with anyone and how that’s all I ever wanted, a true connection.
“Maybe someone holding you up while you pissed in the sink was the beginning of a beautiful connection”, she added, holding my hand and acknowledging the tears in my eyes. “I know how you feel, I’ve felt it too.”
I guess it was then I must have said something about killing myself, keeled over bleeding in the shower. I wondered if I’d hit the wall on purpose but I couldn’t remember.
She put the cards down and asked me if I was hungry. I asked her if she was folding. She smiled and went into the kitchen. I flipped over her cards on the sly. I had fuck all. She had a flush. I was confused because I’d not been to too many ladies of the night in my day but I was pretty sure than this was not a normal experience. I thought maybe because my friend who’d referred me here had a disability and I was suicidal that maybe she was some kind of angel escort to the damned or maybe there could be like some kind of high end intervention service where they know you’d be in no fit state for any action and were there to give you an uplifting experience to help you believe anything was possible. Paid actor? The dentistry, the sob story about being a fat girl and all of that stuff, an amazing scheme.
An ornate chopping board was presented with something sweet and something savoury. “I told you I was going to take care of you” There was this delicious sausage made from mutton that was spiced with chili peppers and garlic. They are dried then smoked and were good with a little mustard, I learned. I asked her what she thought of Irish food and she just laughed before talking me through this sweet bread filled with walnut paste and topped with poppy seeds. A culinary delight with a coffee and everything.
By this time she was looking at the clock and it was almost two in the morning. There was a late-night punter that wasn’t hers apparently that was coming over at three. She needed to tidy up and leave the room ready for her colleague who was arriving shortly.
Standing in the doorway she kissed my forehead and reminded me, “I am independent. I don’t have to see anyone I don’t want to.”
She really did enjoy the Five Card. I said we should do it again sometime.
“Next week, off the clock if you like?” she said and mentioned a coffee shop I knew.
I said, “the next you know we’ll be meeting each other’s parents.”
She kissed my cheek and reminded me that mine were dead and hers were in Romania. If I was going to get some more of that sweet bread perhaps a trip to Romania would have to be “on the cards”. Stranger things had happened she noted.
“I could meet your cat first,” she remarked referencing the background of my phone.
She said something about men who love cats. I was blushing.
“Now I know we have a future.”
The moment was extending past rehearsed escort flirtation into some genuine awkward first date “will I or wont I” moment and then she did it. She kissed me on the lips and held me close to her. Closing the door, she smiled and just said “Cards next week, you need the practice”. Standing in the blinking hallway it was as though I’d awoken from a dream.
At the bus stop I dug around in my pockets for antacids with no luck but what I found was eternally more soothing. She had slipped the two fifties and a card into my pocket. A Queen of Hearts.
“Tuesday or Thursday? 0871273633 – Anca?”
Bio: Gary Grace is a writer of narrative nonfiction from Dublin. He has an honours degree in English Literature. He is an active member of the Dublin Writers Forum and regularly volunteers at Fighting Words. His shorts have featured in Wordlegs,The Penny Dreadful and The Scum Gentry.In September 2019 he will begin an MFA in Creative Writing at American College Dublin.