069. Horseshoe. Joel Fishbane

We take the metro to Ile Ste. Helene, warmed from drinking raspberry vodka out of a bottle meant for club soda. The bus to the casino is free. I tell her how I used to ride it with Dad. Quality time, he’d called it, before losing his money and mine.

It always looks the same. First floor slots, second floor slots, third floor slots. Slots by the stairs and slots by the bars and slots in the stalls for your cup while you pee. We find the Super Triple Seven machine, big as God, and two bucks get me ten. Then it’s forty, then eighty, and then the jackpot’s spitting gold. She lays one on me. That’s a jackpot too. A French kiss spitting gold.

You’re my horseshoe, I say.

You should marry me.

Maybe I will.

You mean that? I don’t care what they do to us, I’ll take the chance.

Of course she will. She’s a gambler too. Even when the guy’s all wrong, she just keeps doubling down. I’ll lock in a few more wins, then take her home. Down the hall are special rooms – hautes mises only please. Dealer’s hands cross felt as men, bricked like houses, stand guard. Women sit planted in chairs, fat rolling off their sides, while their husbands are elsewhere, gambling the rent away. There’s apathy in victory. In a place full of games, no one’s having fun. But the rollers keep rolling until they’re flat. That won’t be me. Show ’em how it’s done and then I’m gone.

Hit me again. I’m running hot. I’m King Kong and she’s that woman he carried, all blond and dressed in white. A drunk thinks we’re honeymooners and buys us drinks. When she goes for a smoke, he steals the moment to tell me my wife is one kick ass dame.

My wife’s at home. That’s her kid sister.

Tha’right? Whadda hell you doin’ here?

Quality time.

No way that ends right.

She’s good luck. What can I do?

I play fast, trying to run out the clock before the streak goes cold. It’s going well til I draw an ace-eight and tell her to pray, sweating blood, cause the dealer’s showing sixteen. He takes a breathe, I’m holding mine, he draws an eight, and it’s done. King Kong lives.

The bus takes us back. The sun’s coming up and she dozes with her head on my coat. No way this ends right. One more week and that’s that. Dad said some people are charms but you gotta be careful or you rub out the luck. The button on my coat imprints her cheek, like a ring of gold. The wife will want to know where we’ve been. We’ll invent an excuse. It’s 50/50 she believes it, but I’m feeling good. I always like the odds.

068. Headlines. MJ Iuppa

Now that the war is ending — and you wonder which war is ending? The newspaper wrinkles beneath the weight of your hand that presses down upon the depths of up-rising revealed in three column inches beneath a shaky photo that stills the action of soldiers to just before every-thing explodes or implodes into the confusion of brick and boards and bodies drenched in blood and dust— a cloud of alarm sounding — so loud that your ears dredge up what you left behind to come here. Your broken hands still damp from the cold fear that never leaves you.

067. How to Stay. Justine Anjanique Jordan

Look for shade, preferably a tree near a river. Remember to bring a sewing kit – a case with one long needle and a spool of thin wires. Stitch your right palm onto the sole of your left foot. Do the same with their opposites.

At first, as you pierce the sole of your foot with the needle, you will see blood oozing from the hole. The sting will weigh you down because of the breeze. But you should know that the breeze is only there to calm you, so that you can keep on stitching. Sole against palm. So you do.

You will do so with skill. Trembling fingers and loosening teeth. As you press the needle deep into the heel, you will manage to bring it back to the surface, after the needle’s point has touched your heel bone.

The wind also caresses the dying leaves of the tree you sit under. Some of them will fall on your head as it sweats in nervous awareness. Some on your bare back, also covered with bulbs of sweat. Some on your hand, covered in broken bulbs of blood.

You will struggle to keep your rapid heart from collapsing. Yet, you will collapse. Several times. While stitching your bloodied fingers onto the powdery sole of your foot, only to awake in a state where your heart will be beating or pouncing at your lungs. You will observe the rush of the river, moving downstream. It will mingle with the sea, and you will observe that your tongue feels dry.

But you will manage to stitch all ten: your right hand with your left; your left hand with your teeth. Even your tongue and gums bleed from this exercise. But it will pay off soon.

It will pay off once you un-stitch yourself there: under the tree, near the river, amid the breeze. It will pay off once your tongue and gums cease to bleed, and your teeth are ready to pull the wires gently from your skin. It will pay off once you sit calmly despite the nagging ache all over your dripping body.

Only then will you realize what it is like to remain.

Maintain your focus on the river.

066. From Where She Sat. MJ Iuppa

Late afternoon, too humid to move quickly, a terrible storm rolled in and toppled her ruffled peonies; and, after the air cooled, she sat in the shadows facing the lake, staring at the bleed of sky and water. The ice in her rocks glass cracked when she’d swirl her gin and tonic; thin wedge of lime, like her mouth, turned down, and her big diamond, like an anchor, scrapping the bottom. So much to hang on to, but nothing held her steady. Her daughters made her into a cruel joke to their father. She heard them fighting over her ring.