THE FLOP – A Short Story

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As he pulled on his belt, it did not slide away from the loops of his trousers with the ease and finesse that he had hoped. The black leather belt was slightly too wide for the loops, put up a fight and threatened to bring the material with it on the way out.

  Stephen grinned, looked at the surrounding faces and carefully withdrew the offending article of clothing. He coiled it like a snake and placed it at his side. With that done, he sat back on his heels and the next hand was dealt before him. His opponent sat with a serene expression on her face.  

The pocket cards were Aces. As he looked at his hand, he tried not to reveal the glee and excitement he felt. He had pursued Gemma for months. Although they occupied the same social circles, it was rare for them to be in such close proximity. She usually stood at the opposite end of the room at parties and in the pub, glanced in his direction and continued her conversations with others. He was peripheral to their social sphere and was comfortable with his place there. He was not a great talker and preferred the company of his online poker pals. Having said that, Gemma’s existence in their circle of friends and the possibility of meeting her now and again where alcohol was involved was promising and kept him from becoming a hermit within the confines of his bedroom.  

The poker game had been an impromptu suggestion from Ricky. The group had exhausted both their funds and the publicans in town and left them with nothing to do but to take a walk to Ricky’s flat in Morningside. Once there, he produced the last remaining bottles of Merlot from the rack and a pack of playing cards.  

“What’s the buy-in?” Stephen asked. “We’re all skint, right?” 

Ricky dropped himself on the sofa and leaned towards the coffee table. Its surface, scuffed and burned from careless cigarettes was wide enough to accommodate six people for a game of texas hold’em if all the players sat on the floor.  

“How about strip poker? We’re even on lads and girls.” 

Anna, who had positioned herself beside Kevin on the floor raised an eyebrow. “Dirty sod. I’m not playing strip poker with this lot.” She winked and pulled her jumper off over her head.  

“You have to play the game first, Love.” said Lindsey.  

Stephen, who had until then been struggling with a wine bottle and corkscrew, looked up and saw Gemma smiling. Normally, he would have been appalled at the idea of polluting his favourite game by playing it in such a way, however, as he looked at Gemma; he began to ponder the possibilities. Beside, he thought, he could out-play them all. The hours and hours in front of the computer at night would not be a waste after all.  

“How are we going to bet? None of us are wearing enough to play more than a hand or two.” asked Gemma.  

“Everything has a value. Shirt can be a fiver; one shoe is two quid, etc. etc.” suggested Ricky.  

With the terms laid out, the group settled into their game. As the poker progressed, Stephen began to feel sorry for his friends. He realised that most of them were not entirely familiar with the rules. He could tell by their clumsy betting and poor judgement. Clothes were being removed and dropped to the sides of the table at an alarming rate. Only he and Gemma seemed to be concentrating on producing the best possible hands from their pocket cards and the shared cards on the table. One by one, the players were eliminated from the game.  

“Stevie, what do you call it when the three cards are put out face up?” asked Lindsey. She sat in her knickers and socks. She had withdrawn from the game once she was forced to surrender her bra. She sat with a throw over her shoulders and there were no more than dregs at the bottom of her wine glass. 

“It’s called the Flop. First comes the Flop, which is three cars face up, then the Turn and finally, the River. You make the best pair out of your pocket cards and the five cards face up on the table. Weren’t you paying attention?” 

Anna, now stripped down to her knickers and smile, drained her glass. “I don’t know about Lin, but I wasn’t.  

“Come on Stevie, you’re being boring. Finish the game already.” said Ricky. He had lost the bulk of his clothing in the first hand.  

Stephen had just removed his belt and saw his Aces when Gemma, at her turn to bet surprised him. “All in.” she said.  

She wore a pink jumper with one of its small white buttons missing, baggy blue jeans and socks. Of all the others, she was the one who wore the most. Her hair, held loosely behind her head in a ponytail, began to slip from its knot and fell about her small face.  

Stephen looked at his hand. For so long he had imagined what it would be like to see her lovely figure undressed and close to him. The opportunity was before him and would most likely never come again. Yet, the notion of taking advantage of someone he had admired for so long, for her grace, her loveliness and at that moment, for the childish eagerness of her face sent a pang of remorse through him. 

His mind swam at the thought of letting her go, or letting her win a hand to make it a prolonged, less humiliating fight.  

He glanced up and met her mischievous smile and made his decision. He could stand it no longer.  

“I call.” He said and laid his cards down face up for all to see his pocket Aces.  

She smiled, nodded, and with perfect calm turned up her cards.  

“Two twos.” She said.  

As Kevin dealt the remaining cards, Stephen imagined how she would look without her clothes and how they would laugh someday about the drunken poker game they all shared…and then came the Flop.  

Kevin revealed a pair of twos on the table and the Queen of Hearts. By the sheer force of blind luck, Gemma had made four of a kind.  

When the Turn predictably produced a low card, Stephen realised several things at once, not the least of which that he was wearing briefs that night.                 

© Eliza Dashwood 2007

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR – 888 words

 I could tell Tiffany was upset about something when I found her on the swing set in the back garden. She’d come over sometimes, never unannounced, with her hair held back in the restrictive bands of floral patterns that her mother Angela made her wear. With Susie and Jim now grown up and moved away, I didn’t mind Tiffany’s occasional visits to our back garden. She would arrive on random days, just off the school bus and take the short detour home via our front door. Her gentle knock, once answered would signal for me to wave her past the living room into the garden and send me to the kitchen to fetch the squash she never asked for but always accepted.   

On this day, I had been doing the laundry in the garage. My whites were done and I was just transferring the soaking darks from the washer to the dryer when I looked up through the window and saw her. She rocked back and forth on her toes, with such a slow momentum that had no further force than her meager effort been applied, she would have sat perfectly still. The hair from her band was loose around her face and although partially obscured, I could see a tearless expression of pain.  

I abandoned my laundry basket and went out to her, surprised and a little angry with myself for my instinctive annoyance at her being there without permission and having left the back gate open.  

At hearing me approach, she looked up, but said nothing. I settled into the swing beside her and made a note to myself to lay off the tea cakes. “Hi Tiff. How’s it going?”

  “Fine, I guess.” She said. “Mum’s had a fight with Daddy and he had to go.”  I remembered hearing a row next door that morning, but thought nothing of it. From the times I had sat chatting with Angela over coffee in her kitchen, everything seemed fine on the surface. They had been married for a long time, Kev earned a decent living as a builder and Tiffany was the light of their lives. They had their routines and their holidays like any other family.  

“What did they fight about?” I asked. “Can you tell me?” 

“It’s because of something I found. I was looking for some loose change in Daddy’s sports bag and I found a receipt.”  

She turned to me and I could see what was coming. How many times had these events played themselves out in how many families? 

“What was it for?” I asked, understanding that it probably didn’t matter what the answer was.  

“It was for a spa day at the Hilton in *******. It’s just that, the receipt had Mrs. Ferguson’s name on it.” 

My heart sank. It was a bit funny and pathetic to think of Kev playing away with some stranger, a shop girl or some bint he’d met on the job, but quite another thing when it turns out to be Alison. She and Alan lived next door, on the other side of us. Kev had rebuilt their driveway over the summer and we had all known each other for years. Although we were all neighbors, we were not what I would have considered friends, but it was surprising just the same.  

“What did you do, Tiff?” 

“I showed it to Mum. She took it from me and sent me to my room. I heard her go out and about a half hour later she came back and went up stairs and called Daddy and told him to come home. When I looked out my bedroom door, she had a scratch on her cheek and she was shaking.”  

I imagined Angela marching across our front lawn and confronting Alison. Angela was not a large woman, but she was tough. I didn’t envy Alison at that moment, but I secretly wished I had been there to see the catfight that ensued.  

As we sat on the swings, I found my glance drifting to the left, in the direction of Alison’s house. I thought of the neighbourhood parties we’d had on the gala days and how we all got drunk together while the kids played on trampoline in the Ferguson’s back garden. From my kitchen window, I had seen their comings and goings. Alison’s house was always perfectly kept, the garden well groomed and Alan, the attentive husband appeared on random days with flowers for her. 

It took a moment for me to realize that Tiffany had been staring at me.  

“When Daddy came home he said he didn’t do anything, but Mum said she knew everything. She said, “that woman” told her everything. A few minutes later, Daddy started crying and said he was sorry.” 

I petted the back of Tiffany’s head. “What did your Mum say?” 

“She told him to get out and not to come back.” 

I nodded, stood up and held a hand out to her.  “Come on, Tiff. It’ll be all right. It’s not your fault. Sometimes grown ups do silly things.” 

She took my hand and I led her to the gate towards the house.  As I handed her a glass of squash, I looked out the window and admired the driveway Kev had built for me last summer.   

© Eliza Dashwood 2007     

DESIRE – 300 words

  She sat and stared. For weeks she had looked out the window of the office where she worked towards the shop across the road and admired the object of her desire. Everyday he sat, near the front counter with an indescribable sweetness to the contours of his shape.  

With the warm arrival of spring, his appearance in the shop had made her imagine what it would be like to peel away the layers that covered him like a cocoon. With each day, she reproached herself for her weakness, yet her eyes were drawn in his direction.  

Throughout the day, she thought of other things; of the work at hand, of the approaching holidays, of her post-work date with the treadmill, (Christmas had been unkind), and of the quiet flat that awaited her at the end of the day. However, as the hour of her coffee break approached, she found herself looking back across the street and pictured what it would be like to put him to her eager lips.  

What is he like on the inside? She thought. She grew excited at the possibilities.  

She wished he could be hers that she could tear what covered him and toss it away into the corner so that she might devour his whole body at her leisure.  

Finally, when all resistance had melted away, she drew herself up and went across the street. He had to be hers.  

The man at the counter greeted her with a look of expectation and recognition. “I thought I might see you in here.” He smiled and leaned in towards her, his hand sliding across the polished glass of the counter. “Is there something in particular I can do for you?” 

A mischievous smile spread across her face. “I’ll take the chocolate bunny.”   

© Eliza Dashwood 2007

War Games – 55 words

As the evening wore on, the boy grew more and more frustrated.“We’re like two opposing armies.” he said. “You keep putting up boundaries and fortifying your position.”

The girl pushed his hand away from under her skirt. “I think we can find a diplomatic solution.” she said, as she bent down towards his lap.

Mom and Grace – A Memoir

It started at around 2am. I had already been asleep for several hours when she came into my room to wake me. Tugging gently at my warm wool blanket, she bounced lightly on the bed while I struggled to understand what she was saying. No matter how often it happened, I was always startled. My eyes, heavy with sleep, could see flickering light coming from the living room and an anxious expression on her face.“Mom, what is it?” I said.“The Swan. It’s about to start,” she said, and then helped me into my terrycloth robe, the pink one with the little hole in the right sleeve.“Which one is that?” I asked.

“The one about the princess and the tutor. You know, Grace Kelly and Louis Jordan. Oh…and Alec Guinness is the prince.”

“Who?”

“Obiwan Kenobie.”

“Can’t we tape it?” I asked.

She shook her head. “That would be cheating.” We never taped the late night classics. The idea that we could miss something crucial kept us glued to the T.V., soaking in every word of dialogue, every screen kiss.

I yawned and slid my feet into my slippers as I got out of bed, thinking of the cold ceramic tile that lay between my room and the couch.

Within minutes, I was tucked in with a comforter around my legs, surrounded by pillows on the couch in front of the T.V.

Mom went to the kitchen and threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave and brewed a pot of tea. She joined me as the film began. Grace Kelly’s lovely face filled the screen and the opulence of the palace made me forget our cold living room. Soon after, there were only the actors on the screen and the enormous red Tupperware bowl of popcorn on my lap.

Mom sipped tea while she sat in the deep cushioned chair with a serape from Tijuana wrapped around her shoulders. Her pleasure and excitement by the action on the screen and my obvious enjoyment showed in her dark eyes. I think she liked it when I asked her about the actors, the story and the other films she enjoyed. This was our tradition, our means of communication. Every week when the TV Guide turned up at the house with the address label curled at the edges, she would sit and flip through its pages seeking out old friends; Garbo, Bacall, Dean, Stewart, Bogart and Monroe. When their names appeared, she circled the entry with a thin black marker and made a note in the calendar, indifferent to whether or not it was a school night. As I passed, I would gauge how much sleep I could expect to get that week.

Even now, many years later and thousands of miles away, I search the cable guide for mutual friends, each one a link to those lost late nights. I found Monroe and Curtis the other day and I promised to send her their regards next time we meet.



© 2003 Eliza Dashwood

Competition – 55 words

He looked at the girl running near him, her hair, tied back bouncing behind her. She quickened her pace. He quickened his. She pushed herself harder, he kept up; a girl could not outrun him. Later, in the ER they told him to be sure to tighten his laces next time he tried the treadmill.

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