Coney Island Knock Off
Tablet Original Fiction: Broken lives collide in the shadow of the Cyclone
“How’d you do?” she asked him, referring to the game.
“I used to have to ask for money to play video games in arcades. Now they give me cash before I even say one word.” With the final land grab at the moment of the blackout, he’d about broke even. Nachmann smiled his most charming cat-in-the-bag smile, and put his hand protectively on the small of her back, only to come in contact with the prominent teeth of a metal zipper from the Eisenhower era.
“I watched you play, and I have to say you were a little careless.”
“I have my methods. If the lights hadn’t blown I would have done very well.” Who did she think she was? If he were superstitious he would believe she made the lights go out, a witch, her shoulders covered by a pilly black sweater that had a salty metallurgical smell. They walked toward the boardwalk, neither going their separate ways, nor, for a few minutes, saying a word.
“The truth is, you never know when someone is going to have a better hand than you,” Dina finally said. “Even if you have a good memory and can figure what’s likely to be left. There are too many possibilities.” She used the same tone of voice she used for her oboe students.
“This is news?”
When Nachmann drove for Escort Plus there were tips and a reasonable salary. He knew some of the escorts. They knew how to dress even if they had problems, not like this girl with close set eyes, maybe drunk, but maybe not, who knew a few things about poker and whose fingers twitched as if she were playing an instrument as they walked. He asked her where she lived, and she pointed in the general direction of her building, not sure she wanted to give him her exact address. Well, maybe it would be OK. Zenia wouldn’t be back until the morning. She was already telling Zenia how it happened. He asked me, so I said, sure, why not? Come on up. Because this was something she didn’t do very often, and it was the calligraphy and pictographs of her friend’s daily life, she wanted to join the party, even if only temporarily, to have something to talk about, instead of always listening to how it went. The probability of winning large at a game of Texas Hold ’Em was far greater for Dina, so when Nachmann took her hand after the lights went out, she thought, sure, why not?
“Walk me home. You can come upstairs if you want to.” She explained the situation with Mrs. Katan. It was late for her to be lurking around, but sometimes there was a holiday which involved the men in her family staying up all night, and you would come home to find Mrs. Katan’s door open, smells of coffee and cardamom filling the hall. You have to understand, Dina warned, this woman doesn’t sleep, so walk as noiselessly as possible. “Really. I think it would be OK.”
Probability: the likelihood or chance, odds that something will happen. What is the probability that you’ll win the lottery? It was a definition she’d left unfinished; it bothered her. The company sent urgent emails: we need probability now. You’re way past the deadline.
“Not tonight. I’m not done working,” Nachmann said. Actually, he did want to go home with her, and he was very much finished working. He had enough Benjamins in his pockets to stay off fire escapes for the next week, at least, by which time all the little obstructionist huts would have been removed, and put away until next fall. Nachman had been very lucky in one department that night. He wasn’t greedy, and didn’t want to push his luck, so he turned down Dina’s offer. He noticed once again that she wasn’t exactly Escort Plus material; those girls wore only new clothes and kept bags full of make up in bright containers that looked like collections of Christmas tree ornaments.
Dina’s hair blew all over her face, obscuring her vision of the Atlantic as if she were looking out from behind bars. She needed more of those little metal hair clips but felt armored enough already without her head looking like a helmet. So he didn’t want to go home with her; she thought he was wagging his tail, but evidently not. The story, telling Zenia about this man she met a poker table would have to wait.
Nachmann reached into his pocket and gave Dina the magic card. He couldn’t use it again, the card was done for him, but it might renew itself for someone else. The silver witch looked like she could use some cash. He took her hand and put the card in her palm.
“This card will only work at one place. Ready Checkplus on Stillwell. They close at midnight.” He looked at his watch. “You have ten minutes. Let me know if you make it.” A skilled pickpocket, Nachmann suddenly held Dina’s glittering phone in his hand and punched in his number. “Call me.”
Dina held the piece of plastic in her palm for a minute, more offended at getting the brush off than aware of her good fortune. She hiked up the loud dress so she wouldn’t trip, and jumped, mushroom-like, off the boardwalk, but didn’t run up the street. She looked back once to see Nachmann waving, go already, still she didn’t run. Could it work? Taking her time she considered, what if the card did work? Why did he hand her the bit of plastic as if it was a golden key? She had a vague idea that to the northwest industrial spaces hulked, encroaching on blocks of apartment buildings. A wrong turn and you’re in a no man’s land of warehouses, anonymous cinderblock structures, empty lots, and blocks that go on for maybe a quarter of a mile, so even if you turn back, you’ve gone a long way and are easily swallowed. She began to run up Stillwell, past the mural of Neptune and mermaids, a painting of a man whose eyeballs popped out of his head tethered on springs, past a twenty-four-hour bodega where the man behind the counter kept his eyes on a televised soccer game because it was morning somewhere in the world; she ran directly under the elevated train tracks that, in the middle of the night, looked like the dark de Chirico twin of the Cyclone.
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