Dang. My husband’s always doing that, overbidding me when he knows fool well I can make my bid and he’s got diddly-squat. Of course, nine hearts is the perfect bid—for Ed. If he wins the round, he’s a hero for pulling it off with a hand like a foot. That’s what we call it when our cards stink, a hand like a foot. If we get bumped, he’ll blame it on me, say I inkled wrong, made him think I could get more tricks than I could. Never mind that I bid spades. That won’t make a bit of difference when we replay the hand at the top of our lungs after Dan and Jean have gone home. Either way, nine hearts makes him look good and me look bad.
“You must have a mitt full of hearts.” Dan slides the blind over to Ed.
Taking away a perfectly good seven spades bid from me, his partner, is definitely not on the up-and-up as far as Hoyle is concerned, but that doesn’t matter to Ed. He always laughs at me and my family and how we play cards. Over all the years of playing 500, we Simpsons have established certain things you just do or don’t do when playing the game. These have become our own “Rules of Hoyle.” Although I’m not exactly sure who Hoyle was, I pretty much stick to Our Hoyles. Never send a boy to do a man’s work. Never overbid your partner in the opposite suit unless you’re positive you can get it all by yourself. And never, never overplay your partner’s card if he’s already won the trick. Ed likes to break at least one of our Hoyles every time we play cards, usually the second one. Like he’s doing now.
He whistles through his teeth while he takes the blind toward himself. Before he picks up the cards, he slides his empty tumbler across the table at me, “While you’re up.” He doesn’t look up from his hand.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jean’s jaw tighten. She puts down her cards and takes a deep breath. I know there’s no love lost between her and Ed. The only reason she still comes to play cards every other Saturday night is for me, to keep me sane. But, more and more, I see her losing patience with Ed and his cocky attitude.
Years ago, I stopped confiding in Jean about Ed. It just got her all riled up about how he treated her baby sister, and it got me feeling all guilty because I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to him or leave him. But, yesterday, I snapped and had to talk to someone.
Ed and I had just gotten done arguing about whether or not we could afford braces for Melanie when Jean called. As I picked up the phone, I noticed a new gun case propped up in the corner of the living room. “I can’t believe it. He bought himself a new deer rifle.” I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud until I heard Jean’s voice on the other end.
“I don’t know why you stay with that man, Delores.”
I ask Dan to skootch in so I can get around the table to get Ed’s brandy and water. He likes them dark–just a splash of water and a few ice cubes–the color of weak iced tea, a little darker than apple juice. As I rinse out his glass, my mind jumps to the liquid drain opener under the sink. I’ve been having terrible, terrible thoughts like this one lately. I know it’s awful, but I start to wonder how much it would take to poison him. Would the strength of the brandy cover up the taste of a teaspoon or two of the Drano? I am so preoccupied with the wondering that I realize I’ve brought Ed’s glass with me into the bathroom when I go to take a tinkle. There are lots of other lethal cocktails in here, toilet bowl cleaner, bleach; even my anti-anxiety pills, in the right amount, could kill him.
“Hey, what’s taking so long? I’m ready to win this hand in here!”
I flush the toilet, splash water on my face and return to the kitchen to finish making Ed’s drink.
“Sorry,” I call from the kitchen. “Anyone else need anything while I’m up?”
“You don’t need to wait on me, Delores.” Jean’s comment is aimed at Ed, but its meaning isn’t lost on me. I pour Fritos into a bowl and return to the game.
Before I can sit down, Ed is already slamming down his lead card. It’s gonna be one of those hands where he slams down lead after lead not bothering to pick up the tricks he’s already won. Now, some people hate the lay-down hand, and I can’t disagree. It’s completely unsatisfying to watch someone lay down their perfectly-fanned cards, no doubt that they would have taken all the tricks if the hand had been played out one at a time, but I have to say I hate the slam playing even more. I know Ed does this to try to psyche out the other team, make them feel like he’s so confident it doesn’t matter what they throw on his leads, he’s gonna take the tricks anyway. Funny thing is we’ve all been playing with him long enough to know that the slam-lead means he doesn’t have the cards to win. He’s hoping someone will slough off the wrong card and make a dinky one of his good.
Jean is rolling her eyes, taking her sweet time throwing each card. So far, it doesn’t look like she has anything to stop him although she is staying with him trump for trump. Dan ran out of trump after the first trick. It looks like if anyone is going to stop Ed, it will have to be Jean.
I’ve been counting trump—something Ed refuses to do saying that’s the way dim bulbs play—and with the slap of his card on the table, I realize what has just happened. He’s played himself out of trump and his highest card, on the table now, is the king of spades. He’s counting on me to throw a small card and hold back the ace for the next trick. Jean plays her nine of spades. I know Dan is powerless to take the trick. According to our third Hoyle, I should let Ed take it. That would sew up the hand for us.
Instead, I throw my ace and take the trick away from him. He looks at me in disbelief. I shrug. “I had to follow suit, sorry.”
I lead out a small club knowing that Jean will take the trick with her remaining trump and we’ll be bumped. Ed doesn’t know what hit him until I throw my six of spades—the card I should have thrown on his king. He glares across the table; a vein pops in his neck.
I want to tell him he’s not the only one who can buck Our Hoyles, but I watch silently as he lifts his drink to his lips. He bares his teeth slightly as he pours the liquid into his mouth like he’s trying to drink the whole thing in one gulp. He sucks air through his teeth as he slams the empty glass on the table.
“That drink tasted like piss.”
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