Sam Nam

On The Button

Here is what she knows:

She knows four thou­sand dol­lars is a lot of mon­ey.  More mon­ey than she has ever lost or won.  Four thou­sand dol­lars could pay for her entire stay at the Bellagio, her room ser­vice, her bar tab, her flight home to Indiana, her husband’s birth­day present, and a “Haha, I’m quit­ting to become a pok­er pro” out­fit to wear to her last day at the office.  The man sit­ting across from her, the man she likes to call “Big Country,” plays his cards fast and loose.  He has bluffed sev­er­al times tonight, and he has pushed her around before.  Everyone at the table is expect­ing her to fold because that’s what lit­tle old ladies do when fac­ing aggres­sion.  Men don’t respect her game, and she has used this belief to take their mon­ey all night.  She’s a bet­ter pok­er play­er than every­one at this table com­bined, and that includes Big Country who just raised her all-in.

Now here is what she thinks:

She thinks Big Country is in his late fifties.  He came from hum­ble begin­nings.  He grew up on a farm, maybe a small hick town in East Texas.  His par­ents were peo­ple of low I.Q.  He didn’t go to col­lege.  He used some sort of mechan­i­cal skill with cars or trac­tors or har­vesters to get ahead and start­ed a busi­ness no one else con­sid­ered.  This made him a very rich man.  His wife is like­ly his age.  Her skin is weath­ered from tan­ning salons, and her ears and fin­gers are sparkling with dia­monds.  Right now she’s in their hotel room, wear­ing a bathrobe, watch­ing TV from bed, annoyed that her hus­band has been play­ing pok­er for sev­en hours straight.  Because of this, Big Country has to go.  It’s get­ting late.  He has one foot away from the table, and he sighs impa­tient­ly.  Players that want to leave typ­i­cal­ly do stu­pid things.  Stupid things like bluff bad­ly or over­play their last hand.  That fact alone should make this deci­sion easy.

But this is what she fears:

She fears los­ing this hand, not just this time, but every time she sees a play­ing card or a pok­er chip.  She fears won­der­ing what she could have done with four thou­sand dol­lars every time she pays her cred­it card bill.  She fears the deri­sion of her friends and fam­i­ly when she con­fess­es she want­ed to become a pro­fes­sion­al pok­er play­er at the age of fifty-three.  She fears the slow painful drain of her ambi­tion, her dreams, her hopes, slip­ping away as the deal­er shoves all her mon­ey to the fat Texan.

And then this is what she remem­bers:

She remem­bers her father lec­tur­ing her broth­er to get good grades and then dis­re­gard­ing her straight A’s.  She remem­bers her moth­er telling her to how to keep a clean house for com­pa­ny.  She remem­bers thir­ty-six years of cler­i­cal jobs because her par­ents nev­er encour­aged her to go to col­lege.  She hat­ed her par­ents for that, but then she for­gave them because it was a dif­fer­ent time back then, and then she hat­ed them again every Monday she went back to work.  She remem­bers being a lit­tle girl watch­ing her father and his friends play cards in the garage.  They were ter­ri­ble pok­er play­ers.  She used to sit in the cor­ner and cor­rect­ly guess all their hands.  She fetched them beers just for the priv­i­lege of watch­ing them play.  She relives the moment she first entered a casi­no, the bright lights, the clat­ter of chips, the ener­gy of that lit­tle girl inside her com­ing back all at once.

So that is how it’s decid­ed.

~~

Sam Nam’s fic­tion has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Annalemma Magazine, Night Train, JMWW, Smokelong Quarterly, and The Wrong Tree Review.  He is cur­rent­ly an MFA can­di­date at Cornell University and an assis­tant edi­tor of Epoch.