Sunday, March 28, 2021

Romayne's Game

 My grandmother fans a deck of cards across the table and back again. She plays with the standard Hoyle Pinochle deck. The back of each card is printed in red ink with images of Neptune emerging from a shell. She cuts the deck in half, taps it against the table, then brings each stack to touch at the corners, her thumbs guiding the flipping cards to sift together. Cobalt veins bulge in my grandmother’s hands, map up the length of her bare forearm. After sliding all of the cards back in line, she taps a perfect, frosted fingernail of pointer finger on the top of the deck.

It is summer. A small glass of pale beer waits for my grandmother’s sip. The door to the apartment is open to the shouts of the landlords kids who are playing a lazy game of two-kid football on the lawn outside. Their little dog, Tannie, yips, leashed to her doghouse in the wooded grove by the salon. It is warm and humid. I can feel my hair expand. The waistband of my shorts cuts into my belly as I peel off the top layer of a licorice Allsort with my bottom teeth.

I am finally learning how to play pinochle. Romayne’s game. This is it. I’ll be an adult. No longer relegated to games of Uno or Go Fish, or simply watching from my spot on the floor as cold cuts are passed, and laughter fills the room above me.

Romayne cuts the deck, snaps the edges down hard, sifts them together. She lights a Parliament, dragging deeply through pursed lips, then on the exhale begins to explain the two-player rules.

I hear a lot of words that are new to me: trump, meld, trick. There are classes of suits, and assignations of points for certain cards. I don’t write anything down. If my grandmother gets this, so will I. We are soulmates.

I suck the nonpareil off of a jellied Allsort as she deals. The cards brush onto the table like waves against sand. My grandmother has become Neptune, welding her trident of cigarette, describing “melding the dix” and “declaring out.” My brain buzzes with sugar. Numbers blur with hearts, and I mistake a club for a spade.

It’s not time yet. I’m still too young, but she doesn’t say so. She simply rises out of the waters of the game and we shift to Uno, or Skip-Bo, or Go Fish. Games where I live for the giddy power of Reverse.

No comments: