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Robert Lopez

Nine off the Break

Wed 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.

Id 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 Id made in weeks that didnt 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 didnt 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 wouldnt let me examine her, even after I begged.

I said let me have a look around, make sure they did a good job.

Im not a doctor, have never been to medical school, but Ive 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 youve seen me operate before. 

She said bowling pins and billiard balls. She said they were breaking all over.

I told her I wasnt 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. Its 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 decision.

I had to start thinking way over my own head.

I told her if she survived till next week Id 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 shed never been more beautiful.

She looked up at me, all broken and spread out. She said billiard balls, bowling pins.

I said I know, its terrible.

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.

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