*by someone losing the strength
to lift them*
(frankie leone, just a man)
*he walks out of the water.
his clothes drip. close-fitting jeans, wife-beater, hole-filled shoes, and a bandanna folded thick over his brow. i recognize them- they’re all mine.
after he sits down on the bench next to me i look into his blind eyes. the irises and pupils are missing. they make him impossible to trust.
i breathe, “you’re late.”
“that’s your opinion,” he replies in a familiar voice. it’s almost a whisper but impossible to not recognize. i’ve felt its vibrations my whole life.
“where were you,” i ask.
“with another gambling man in manhattan,” he shuffles the topic, “your threads are pretty casual for the occasion aren’t they?”
his face has no expression. it looks a lot like mine. i’ve never liked it.
“how was the last guy dressed?”
“a lot like himself,” he answers.
i press forward.
“are we going to talk fashion until sunrise?”
“no pleasantries? not one drink or dance first?”
“this a business relationship. we can’t dance anymore.”
a smirk breaks through his unpretty features.
“sure about that?”
“there’s never music in east river park this time of night regardless.”
“the music plays when i tell it too,” he shoots back.
“that’s your opinion,” i respond.
tense quiet soaks into us before he picks up again.
“isn’t the first time you’ve skipped foreplay. it’s your prerogative if you want to try barreling right in.”
opening his bag he gestures towards the skyline and continues, “sublime isn’t it? always makes a special kind of promise from brooklyn. a dangerous one.”
“or tells a special kind of lie. a sexy one,” i contradict.
“i’ve heard them say that too,” he says drawing out a faded canvas pouch.
three dice spill from it and thud onto the ground. they’re too big and heavy to be casino dice. a gambler would need two hands to roll all three. the corroded metal they’re cast out of probably isn’t regulation either.
leaning forward i notice where dots should be are tips of .45 caliber bullets and caps of 25g syringes. i read the letters etched on the die’s upward faces- “colt automatic model” and “microlance hypodermic needles.”
an impressive attempt to ruffle me off my game.
“now i get why you didn’t take the l train.”
he winks a sightless eye and grins.
“needed a dip to clear my head anyways. found the materials next to crab traps. shame you didn’t keep them. you don’t mask your fear as honestly these days.”
i breathe deep and reply, “couldn’t afford them anymore. you’d know. you were my running partner while i spent everything in me.”
“what makes you think you can afford the veils you have now?”
i don’t answer.
“can you afford tonight’s stakes?”
he isn’t asking out of consideration.
ignoring the question i proceed, “find a craps table at the bottom of the river too?”
“you know cee-lo’s my game. this might be the burg, but it’s technically brooklyn.”
we start pitching.*
*it’s a long night. they always are. whether i’m waiting for him or we actually play. i can’t recall the last time i wasn’t doing one or the other.
tonight’s game’s finished. i only rolled four-five-sixes and there’s no double or nothing in games like ours. for the first time he has nothing to say. it’s been quiet over a minute.
this shouts he’s enraged.
i’m enjoying the silence but ruin it to whisper, “bring my winnings?”
his teeth are clamped in fury. i see his jaw muscles bulging.
they pry apart long enough to say, “how’d you win? even you know the dice are always loaded. you practically shave them for me.”
“did you bring my winnings,” i repeat.
“how’d you win?”
i doubt he’ll pay out until i answer.
“i stopped caring if you beat me,” i tell him.
despair dominates his movements. he raises his tattooed arms and the moonlight shows we have the same taste in artists and designs. his hands cup my ear.
the pot’s delivered at a softer volume than his normal bantering.
“you don’t have to play anymore. you never did.”
after he draws away i see tears coursing down his face. i lean back to watch him.
i don’t want to forget the night i made the devil cry.*
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