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Three Cards, No Play

by Jan Ackerson  
8/09/2011 / Short Stories

This job suits me. In the morning there's a large basket of papers and envelopes to be inserted into hundreds of perfectly alphabetical mail slots. My workroom in the basement is quietI work alone. And I can control the lights and the temperature. It's never too bright down here, never too cold or too warm.

It's very satisfying to bring order to the chaos of the mail basket. Sometimes, before I fill the slots, I arrange the mail into neat piles by size and category: single typed sheets, small white envelopes, large white envelopes, brown envelopes with string closures. The piles of mail do not expect anything of me. I never have to try to interpret their faces, their gestures, their voices.

I finish the first basket about 10:30 and take a break at the square table in the corner of the mailroom. I always play five games of solitaire, using my cards with all-red backs. All-red backs, so the deck never has turned-around cards when I shuffle. My English grandmother called this game "Patience". It's a good nameif I have patience, the cards will eventually fall into the correct order: red on black, black on red, in four tidy stacks. Spades, diamonds, hearts, clubs.

My sister Joy used to cheat at patience. "Why do you do that?" I'd ask. "It's not the right way to play."

"Shut up, freak," is what Joy would say to me, her cards haphazardly splayed on the table.

I've just started my second game of patience when I'm startled by a sudden brightness. Someone has switched on the rest of the lights.

"Oh, gee, I'm sorry, I didn't know anyone was down here. I justthe pop machine upstairs is out of Mountain Dew."

I know I'm supposed to say something, to look at this man's eyes. I remember my lessons: Meeting Someone New. I drag my eyes upward and manage to find his chin. Polite greeting. "Good morning. Nice to meet you. I'm Faith Townshend." Smile. I position my lips correctly. Shake hands. Reluctantly, I hold out my hand. He shakes it. Too hard. His hand is warm and damp.

He puts some money in the pop machine, and I continue my game. Three cards. No play. Three cards. No play. Three cards. Jack of hearts. Three cards. No play.

"Red six on the black seven." The man with the Mountain Dew is standing over my shoulder. I can feel his breath on my neck. I sit very still, and hope he will go away. "Faith, is it? Looksix of hearts on the seven of clubs." He reaches over my shoulder and moves the card.

I freeze. This man is making everything not right. He should leave. I try to remember my lesson on Social Situations. Eye contact. Use "I" words. Polite. This time I look at his nose. "I think it's time for you to leave now," I say. "Please and thank you."

"Oh, sure," he says. "Wellcatch you later, then."

That's just silly. He won't catch me, because no one will throw me.

The next day, he's here again. I'm playing my fourth game of patience when I hear him coming. Perhaps the upstairs machine is still out of Mountain Dew. Three cards. No play. Three cards. Four of spades.

He leaves the lights dim, pulls a chair to the table, and lays out a game of patience. "Morning, Faith," he says. I don't know how to read his voice. "Mind if I join you in a game of solitaire?"

Polite. Smile. "I don't mind." I show my teeth.

He comes every day, and always plays four games of patience. He's not very good at it; sometimes I look at his game and see cards that he has missed. I thinkI'm not surethat he likes playing patience in the mail room. I don't know why, though. He misses lots of moves, and he never wins.

He doesn't say much, but he smiles a lot. He doesn't cheat. I don't talk--I won't give him a reason to say "shut up, freak" to me.

On his second game today, he pauses for a long time. Is he waiting for something? I stop my game and look at his cards; he has missed a play again. I find his eyes. I think they are kind. "Black eight on red nine," I say, and I resume my game. Three cards. No play. Three cards. No play. Three cards. No play.

Jan is a Christian who has traveled through sorrow and depression, and has found victory and grace. She dedicates all writings to her Heavenly Father. Check out Jan's website at
Copywrite Jan Ackerson--2006

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