One notebook is just our scores from Kings, our names written in all the different languages I speak. Russian, mostly, some Hebrew and Korean. Sometimes I have inflected the names to show that one of us loves the other.
The room is a vibrant, creamy, whipped buttery yellow that’s close, very close. More flowery than that. That’s it. Now there is a big beautiful old wooden picnic table that serves as the dining room table. C’est vraiment chic, save the splinters.
The overhead light is very low, very yellow. It scatters across, oh, succulents and old mail, car keys and clogs. It scatters across Thai takeout and Italian takeout and Mediterranean takeout and cake.
It scatters across games of cards.
The small hutch where we keep the notebook is also a pale creamy buttery yellow. It intensifies the yellow effect of the room. Its yellow mottled top holds an array of figurines and menorahs and decorative plates and Lake Superior driftwood. It is witchy without menacing, and hotly materialistic.
A bright new grow lamp is installed above the unwieldy cactus collection in the corner. From this hangs a vivid magenta knitted uterus, a gift I’ll never get back when we break up. “And the uterus!” you’ll say when you list the things you say you’ll send me. “The uterus!”
All my serious boyfriends have to learn to play Kings, a complex game I assume my Quebecois family invented to have something to do all winter. It is a surefire entrée into Gamma’s heart, and Bapa doesn’t much care. I mean, you can go talk about hunting with the menfolk if you want. I’ll wait. We’ll just see how that goes.
They’ve all had ‘beginner’s luck.’ It is conventional wisdom in my family that first-time players always win. How many winners, I wonder, does it take for that to become folk wisdom? How many boyfriends before mine drifted in and out, mastering this one peculiar Canadian card game along the way?
You really took to it. We play a lot. It is a thing you want to do. I guess that’s why we have a whole notebook for keeping score. Page after page, pencil and crayon and marker and pen. I once spent all of one hour attempting to teach you Russian. I think we recycled the notebook from that.
Just after we moved in we had our first and it turns out only dinner party, hosting a great, inspiring straight couple, and we all got way too drunk. I was probably wearing a T-shirt. I have no recollection of what we served. Just my eyes sloshing around that increasingly warm yellow, and thinking how we would do this over and over.
We often played Kings at the corner bar. We both wanted to be out, because in meant you were dead. We played Kings and ordered pint after pint of hard liquor, which is what drinks were there. In that room so red where I hid my tears so many times. Strange to think of a time when you were too close to a person you don’t talk to anymore.
Almost always good music on the stereo, ’til some fool turned on the jukebox. Every server in every dive bar must fucking hate London Calling. Easily one of my top ten favorite records, but I feel bad for people who have to hear it every day.
You had the music taste of a hyperactive German raver. Indiscriminate and enthusiastic, you helped me take music a little less seriously. Or you helped me find the serious side of dancing without rhythm. Or –
Or I don’t even know anymore, because we both know we mostly fought. We fought quietly and sadly, reserved, resigned and drunk. We both had hot, angry needs behind our eyes that spread out over the table but never met. We were banging the table with the fists in our hearts and trying not to be seen.
I thought I was right because you were too bourgeois for morality, but as the Russians say, one’s own shirt is closest to the body. Wonder if I ever tried to teach you that aphorism. Wonder if you remember anything about me.
The room I sleep in is a pale buttery yellow. Less sweet, more pure dairy. Once when I’m stumbling to get off my boots, the dark dark indigo dye of my new jeans leaves a cobbly blue smear across the nubby yellow. It is the guest bedroom. It’s only now I see how fitting this is.
You entertain, and I watch. This is your life. These are your friends. We say “we” and “our,” but none of this is mine. You can kick me out at any time – you did. Two days later we sit at the bar playing Kings and you say you’re not coming to my next show. For some reason I am so sad. You can burst my heart, but you’re really not coming to my next show? I want to cry again. I stare off at the cognac leather booths, the red walls. You jut your chin out in that way that says it would be wrong of me to press it. You lead me around, even by the chin. I am stuck.
You text me stories about wild orgies on boats after we break up. I believe you for the fun of it, and then you tell on yourself. When was the last time we played Kings? Did I cry that night? How would you do if we suddenly met again today? Would you remember any of the rules?
What would it be like? Would we cross the street? The image makes me laugh and fills me with panic. Somebody brought Danish kringle to the office today, and I wanted immediately to text you, then remembered we’re not even speaking.
My new boyfriend doesn’t much like playing Kings. Maybe that’s a good sign.