“Dad, do you still play poker?”
It’s in the evening, after Shazaam’s Parlor of Magic and Splendor has closed for the night. Dad lives in a townhouse with a small patio out back, so we’re outside sitting in a couple of white plastic chairs. The sun has left our patch of earth but still shines upon the top floors of a nearby highrise. Each window is lit up like a brilliant tangerine.
“Sure, Janey. You know I do.”
“Don’t the guys you play with get tired of your winning all the time?”
“I’ve got it down. I don’t win enough to make them mad, just enough to make me happy.”
“That’s a decent philosophy.”
Dad hands me a cold beer and my own personal bowl of salted peanuts. This is a replica of exactly what he is eating and drinking, all the way down to the paper towel wrapped around the beer bottle and the paprika sprinkled on the peanuts. “If someone grouses, I switch groups for a while. There’s always another game to get in on somewhere.”
I tell Dad about my success the other night at Jenna’s “women’s group.” He nods along as I describe the evening. He doesn’t need to ask whether I cheated or not; it’s a given. Cheating at cards is part of the O’Brien code of honor. He even offers me a couple of tips on moves that work for him that I might not think of on my own.
“‘Winning practice.’ The women call their poker games winning practice,” I tell him. “Jenna says that women may claim we want to win in the workplace or at love, but when it comes down to the critical moment, we tend to feel so much empathy for the losers that we can’t bring ourselves to do what it takes to get what we want.”
Dad walks over to the cedar chest where he stores his outdoor gear: a watering can, a gardening trowel, a ball for when his girlfriend’s grandson comes over. He pulls out a jug of red liquid and refills the hummingbird feeder. “I wouldn’t know anything about that way of thinking. And please, Janey. Tell me you don’t either.”
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.