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Coney Island Knock Off

Tablet Original Fiction: Broken lives collide in the shadow of the Cyclone

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Burton had finished his free meal. He didn’t think there was anything much there behind the store or above the permafrost, but OK, why the hell not, as long as it didn’t cost him money he didn’t have. He took Zenia’s hand, and she hopped off the bar stool as if she were descending from a filigreed carriage, and they departed into the night. He hoped he could be a banker until morning, or perhaps, if she agreed to come back to his apartment he would come clean about the credit card business, which was kaputzsky anyway.

The amnesiac watched them disappear, arm and arm into the chilly air, imagining they were going on a long journey, never realizing the ends of the earth were right around the corner.

***

Dina bumped into the heavy-set dancer just as she was entering the restaurant. He was alone and looked up and down the avenue before going back inside. He lumbered into her dress, almost knocking her over, and she reflexively snapped at him to watch it, though she didn’t want any trouble from him. He ignored her. She made her way up the bar, and from her perch looked around the room, but Zenia was nowhere to be found. A man at one corner of the bar bent over its mirrored surface writing in a spiral notebook. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, so sitting next to this man seemed a safe bet, but the engineer, feeling so detached from all possible anchors, was in a mood to give advice.

“If it’s money you need, I suggest the back room where I hear there’s a long running game of Texas Hold ’Em.” He jerked his head towards the door at the back. He must have heard this information recently, because long running was no longer a concept whose meaning he fully understood, unless parroting someone else’s speech.

“Do you play? Why aren’t you back there then?” She asked.

“I’m waiting for better luck.” The engineer fancied that luck was something you could measure as you might calculate waves, yet it was as unpredictable and as inevitable as earthquakes or typhoons.

Dina’s father and uncles in Cleveland engaged in a sacrilegious game of floating Friday night poker. The game rotated, but when it was at her house she liked to listen and watch. Nobody paid attention, no one said she should be in bed, and this game wasn’t for children, so she learned a bit about cards. Feeling nostalgic for the smell of cigar smoke and highball glasses etched with different states that were given away at the local gas station, she made her way through the dancers to the back of the room. Her dress sounded like rustling paper, and a man in a leather jacket grabbed her arm in an attempt to whisk her into a dance. Couples spun like helicopters all trying to land at once, making it difficult for Dina to skirt the edge of the crowd. Finally she reached the heavy glass door partially hidden by some kind of metallic tweed curtain. She put her shoulder to it, and it opened. The game lay one flight of stairs below. It was easy. She was in.

Underworld, Dina thought defining the word as she descended, Persephone eats six seeds of the pomegranate and has to spend six months a year in Hades. Eighteen words done, four hundred and eighty two to go. Eighteen, symbol of life and good fortune. She could say the night was young and looking good, or at least not so bad.

***

Nachmann sat between a man wearing a large watch made of chunky silver links that clinked when his wrist hit the table and a woman who looked like she might have had a Rockette costume under her clothes. Nachmann had never seen the Rockettes, but this was what he imagined. There were four other players, and as the amnesiac at the bar had indicated, the game was interesting and stakes fairly high. Two of the four wore dark glasses, so their eyes wouldn’t give away the gap between their hand and how they played. His strategy was to only play a few hands but to bet and raise often. The dealer laid five cards on the table: two of clubs, ten of diamonds, nine of diamonds, three of spades, queen of spades. The pot was up to $20,000. A few onlookers murmured. His first hand wasn’t bad. Queen of diamonds. Jack of diamonds. He bet $1,000. Combover sitting across from him folded, cut his losses, pushed himself away from the table. Heavy watch bet $3,500. He had a good hand, but as it would turn out, not good enough. Nachmann looked at them, the ones who ringed the table, watching women, mostly. A girl in a silver dress standing behind him made too much noise when she moved, and it annoyed him a little. He turned around once to look at her. She was maybe too young to be in the basement, but no one was going to tell her to get lost. The Rockette bet $2,000 two aces. She cleaned up. The next round Nachmann lost steadily, then he began to win a little back. Feeling good, looking better, he thought.

Just as he was about to put $3,000 on the table the lights flickered, just for an instant, then the room went completely and utterly black. At first no one said a word; it was almost a religious silence. Everyone froze, expecting the power outage to be only temporary, and the lights would flicker back on in a second, but they didn’t. The man next to Nachmann frantically pushed buttons on his watch to get some kind of illumination. Cell phones were held up, not as illuminating as you might think. A muffled sound like a cap gun going off could be heard somewhere in the inky fog, except judging from these patrons and this place, it was unlikely any of them carried cap guns. A stifled scream came from the direction of the Rockette. Somewhere in the dark there was a table with a pile of money on it; hand accidentally touched hand as players groped. Nachmann shoved his $3,000 and small winnings back into this pockets, grabbed the hand of the woman behind him, the one in the rustling dress, and allowed himself to be buoyed out some unknown passageway that someone in the crowd seemed to know about, an exit that did not lead back through the restaurant.

They emerged in an alley alongside a furniture store. Nobody in the alley made eye contact, and no one wanted to hang around to speculate as to why the lights went out. A man in a houndstooth jacket over a Smiths t-shirt bumped into Nachmann. Nachmann instinctively checked for his wallet, then told the fellow to watch the fuck out. Strains of music came from the vicinity of the shuttered furniture store whose power was mysteriously unaffected by the sudden blackout. Nachmann let go of Dina’s hand.

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Coney Island Knock Off

Tablet Original Fiction: Broken lives collide in the shadow of the Cyclone