Nine off the Break
We’d been to this
pool hall before. Our habit was for me to play a few racks while she
sat on a stool and feigned interest. She would say things like,
good shot or you are a handsome man. I could never get
her to shoot with me. I told her I would make it worth her while,
twenty a spin, spotting her the break and the five. She said the
game was too violent, that it was beneath her.
I’d known this woman
for a year or so and she was right about all of it.
I decided to lay down
my cue and walk to the bar. It was the first decision I’d made in
weeks that didn’t concern stripes and solids, english and position.
I thought it was a good start, something to build on.
I ordered two whiskey
sours and brought them back to the table. I said take your medicine
and handed her one.
This woman was
operated on last week. She called it a minor procedure, but didn’t
say what they fixed or what was cut out of her. I looked for scars,
tremors, signs of infection. I think her left pupil was dilated. Her
tongue appeared swollen, her lips ashen.
She wouldn’t let me
examine her, even after I begged.
I said let me have a
look around, make sure they did a good job.
I’m not a doctor,
have never been to medical school, but I’ve watched a lot of
television. I told her all of this.
Then I told her I
would start at mid-thorax, explore the alimentary canal and check
for irregularities. I told her I knew my way around the innards, the
same as a tough layout in nine-ball. I said you’ve seen me operate
She said bowling pins
and billiard balls. She said they were breaking all over.
I told her I wasn’t
that man anymore, that I need things spelled out. I asked her where
she got the bowling pins. I said plain English.
This is how we talk
to each other sometimes. It’s senseless.
The trouble is this
woman is smarter than me by at least half. I realized I needed a new
strategy, something else to go on. This is how I came to the second
I had to start
thinking way over my own head.
I told her if she
survived till next week I’d do something nice. Maybe buy her a ring
or an expensive dinner. Then I said please.
She said fine, but
just this once.
Her next move was to
get up from the stool and limp over to the table. She cleared a few
balls away from the near side and laid herself down on the felt.
Close to her head was the six, which was inches from the nine, which
was lined up perfectly with the far corner. Under those lights
she’d never been more beautiful.
She looked up at me,
all broken and spread out. She said billiard balls, bowling pins.
I said I know, it’s
Robert Lopez is the author of two novels, Part of the
World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River. His fiction has
appeared in dozens of publications and a collection of stories,
Asunder, will be published by Dzanc Books in late 2010. He
teaches at The New School, Pratt Institute and Columbia University.