Shooter, In The Land Of No Clocks

IMG_0754.JPG

My older brother Jordan seemed normal this Thurs- day afternoon, when I saw him placing bets at the craps table in Maryland Live Casino. At least there, he thrived, even if success sometimes eluded his grasp. He pretty much lived in the kaleidoscopic building. One time, he brought a sleeping bag and raggedy pillow, and took a nap by the slot machines. He should have been kicked out by the bouncers, but Jordan charmed his way out of it, even managing a free jack and coke out of the ordeal. Even bummed a cigar, off one of the cocktail waitresses. That was Jordan, a charming guy. Nothing seemed to bother him. Nothing except for losing, which happened, often.

I walked over to the main gaming area, headed straight for the section with five craps tables. I smiled as soon as I saw my brother. This time, Jordan was cradling a bourbon with his left hand. He winced as he lifted his drink and took a long sip. He stroked his dressed right hand with his thumb, slow- ly and carefully. I blinked back tears, my heart thumping, as I gazed at his injury.

Jordan fiddled with the small sutures on his right hand and gently touched the white adhesive bandage covering his fingers. A thick Band-Aid draped his thumb, dried pus jutting out. Blood seeped from his wound, and dripped on the floor. Jordan took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the blood from his hand. He continued to massage his right hand, this time with a cigarette tip. Although I was accustomed to seeing him get into trouble, before to- night, I had never seen him injured this badly. I want- ed to ask him: What the fuck happened to your hand? But it would be a terse and pointless dialogue because I knew. And now it was crushed, like his spirit, like mine. Jordan was paid to play on the Steinway grand piano every other day, at O’Henrys Lounge, and now I didn’t know if he would be capable of playing.

I moved quickly through the crowd of beautiful and well-dressed people, trying to speak to my broth- er, but Jordan was in his zone and focused on the table. He pursed his lips, lifted the cigarette, and nib- bled on it. I wished to get him out of there, even though I knew, in this place, he could feel normal, or a semblance of normalcy. I didn’t want to hover over him—like a concerned parental figure, a short

shadow, or a guardian angel, but he acted careless, made impossible decisions, and then relied on me to get him out of debt. After the fifth time we agreed on an arrangement. I would budget all his winnings. I held on to his funds, in order to manage his spending habits from descending into frivolity and chaos. And I allowed him to spend 60 dollars every Thurs- day afternoon, and only on Thursdays. Our mother was born on a Thursday.

I looked down at the laminated playing card in my clutch and pressed my finger around the surface, reading the messy description: “I, Jordan Fitzcarter, agree and promise to not spend more than 60 dollars on Thursday afternoons. And that my sister, Victoria Fitzcarter, will hold onto my money and my winnings. If I break this promise, I will have to stop gambling for 8 months, and not a month less.” He had the same card, white and laminated, enclosed in his leather wallet. At least, I hoped he did.

From a few feet away, I stood and worried. My hands perspired and my heart raced for my brother’s well-being. A group of nine beautiful people leaned over the green felt top, and placed several 10 dollar bets behind the No Pass line. Some added another 10 dollars to protect their initial bet. The people cupped their hands over their mouths. They narrowed their eyes and shouting loudly. “C’mon shooter, roll a 7 or 11.”

Jordan, the current shooter, fidgeted silently. Like a king, he stood behind a giant fortress made out of three towering stacks. Red and green and purple playing chips. He grabbed half of the chips with his left hand, and placed them on multiple sections of the green. With his right hand, he clutched the pair of red dice and hunched over the felt table. He bent his el- bow back and launched the dice against the black foamboard, exhaling a breath.

The dice revealed an 11 for the first roll. Jordan smiled broadly and clapped his hands with gusto. The group of well-dressed and beautiful people standing around the craps table broke out into an applause. They gave him a standing ovation, clapping their ap- preciation. Others whistled and fist-pumped. I smiled as well, glad to see my brother winning. I wanted him to win, instead of plunging into madness. I wondered how long his high would last—this winning high. It never seemed to last the night.

I crept forward, watched as Jordan cracked his fingers back and stretched his wrists out, like a ball- player reading to throw his first pitch. A gorgeous, skimpily-dressed lady holding a tray full of drinks, handed Jordan a bourbon. He smiled at her— distract- ed easily. She turned around, blew him a kiss good- bye. His cheeks grew pink and he laughed. The grey mustached dealer passed Jordan the pair of red dice and huffed. Lighting a new cigarette, Jordan noticed me in the crowd and waved. Not wanting to be seen,  

I bit on my lower lip and waved back.

Jordan winced and then rolled the dice across the green felt top. The dice hit the black foamboard, rolled around on the green, and tumbled back and forth. And then, finally, the dice revealed an 8. The group of well- dressed and beautiful people murmured their approval as they leaned over the table to place their bets.

They made all kinds of bets, the playing chips ranging from 10 to 25 to 100 dollars, some on a single space of green. They spoke in a hushed and rushed manner, as though they were speaking a foreign language. After the bets were placed, lighters ignited and cigarettes were smoked. People drank their liquor and beer, all of their eyes falling back onto my brother.

This made me uncomfortable. I watched Jordan, once again, picking up the pair of dice. He winced and grabbed his right hand. I took a deep breath. He lingered around the craps table and circled it like a panther prowling a wounded beast. He wore a beat-up black turtleneck and blue sunglasses, spotty pleated pants. I assumed clothes he bought from his past winnings.

Jordan, leaning over the green and swinging his arm back, trembled when his fingers let go of the dice. This time, they bounded roughly against the black foamboard. He raised his hands up and pulled his thinning, black hair, as a seven appeared on the green felt table top.

The grey mustached dealer groaned and gave a look of fake sympathy. He smiled, as he bent forward and picked up the multitude of bets. He stared extra-long at my brother and gave him a wink, as though he were blinking something out of his eye. Jordan laughed bitterly-- and flipped the dealer the bird. The group of well -dressed people moaned their displeasure and shook their heads. Some of them patted my Jordan on the shoulder. And some of them glared at him, burning and steaming. Jordan pounded his fist on the cushioned siding. He craned his head around and looked at me with a blank stare, the creases in his dimples slackened, and his face bloomed with pink embarrassment. He mouthed the words: I’m sorry Vic.

I leaned over and tried to give him a hug, stretching out my arms, but my hands weren't strong enough. They couldn't keep Jordan’s upper frame from crumbling. He cleared his throat and dropped his cigarette butt in his leftover bourbon. And then, he dropped his head in his hands and screamed silently. He looked up as the mustached dealer reached forward and grabbed the pair of red dice with a hooked wooden rod. Jordan winced and grabbed his right hand, holding it like a ba- by. The group of beautiful and well-dressed people started to exit the area. Jordan dragged his feet as I pushed and shoved him away from the crowded craps table. I asked him, “What happened to your hand?”

Walking towards the entrance of the casino, Jordan turned around, unravelling his lanky body from my tightly wound grasp. He did not make eye-contact, rather choosing to stare at the casino’s bejeweled carpet floor. As Jordan rolled his shoulders nonchalantly, and began to walk away, I grabbed his shirt sleeve and pulled hard. He was yanked backwards, spinning around slowly, like a top being uncoiled.

“I made a bet earlier, using someone else’s chips,” Jordan said, still engaged with the carpet. “We agreed that if I won with their money, I’d keep half of the winnings. If I lost they could have my watch.” He paused.

The watch Jordan had pawned cost 250 dollars. I knew this because I had bought it for our Mother’s birthday a few years ago. My brother lived in The Land of No Clocks. Sometimes I saw him with the watch. I guess he wanted to know what time it was, always. And now, his time-management was finished. He tried to place his arm around me and cheer me up with a smile.

I stepped in, “Then what Jordan? Then what? Jesus, look, your hand is battered.”

“I lost the entire bet. All the money’s gone,” he said.

“Then what?” I said impatiently.

“Those fucks took me out back behind the dumpsters. Set my arm down on the pavement. First, they ripped the watch off my wrist, then he pulled out a hammer.” Jordan stopped. I embraced him.

“I pleaded with them to stop,” he said.

I held my brother’s head all the way to the hospital and all the way home afterward.

Jordan and I shared a two-bedroom red brick loft in Alexandria, VA. I turned the heat up on the stove, and grilled Brussel sprouts, baby potatoes, and marinated chicken strips. As I cooked the meal, I poured myself a gin and tonic, drank it completely, and then made a sec- ond gin and tonic. Jordan came over, pulling up a chair, sat down, and reached forward. Before his fingers could touch the glass, I picked it up and guzzled down the drink. He frowned.

“You’re on painkillers, you idiot,” I said to him. “How can you still be angry with me?”
I continued preparing dinner.

“I’ll get the money back. I’ll win tomorrow. It’s just been a bad week. Winning streaks always follow losing streaks.”

“That was mom’s watch Jordan.”

Jordan nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said.

I shook my head and said, “Are you though?” “I’m telling you, I’ll win next time.”
“With what money?”
“I’ll—”

 “You’ll what? Gamble again? Lose your other hand?”

Jordan huffed and drummed his fingers on the counter. He got up from his chair and started to walk away. “Nice talking to you Vic,” he said.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Where do you think I’m going? Over to the next room.”

Besides the kitchen and the bedrooms, the only other room in the loft was the living room. The maple up- right piano stood there. I turned off the stove and the fire dwindled. I took a spatula and picked up the food, placing it on two paper plates. “How are you going to play piano with an injured hand?” I asked, taking a napkin to wipe off the grease from the frying pan.

Jordan shrugged. The sound of the piano filled the house within seconds. I set my glass down on the coun- ter, smoothed out the wrinkles in my cardigan, and fol- lowed the sound.

I pulled up a chair, sat down, and watched Jordan while he played the keys gently and fluidly. He was playing the piano with only his left hand. He wiggled the fingers on his right hand, ever so slightly. “Not exactly Mozart am I?”

I laughed. Jordan turned back to the piano and began to play the keys again. I stood up from my chair and left the room, at ease.

The next morning, when I woke up, Jordan was gone. And so was the piano. I rushed over to the casino, headed to the craps table section, but he wasn't there. I lit a cigarette and smoked, fidgeting, as the dice were rolled.

The grey mustached dealer motioned me over. “What’s wrong?”

I blew out smoke. “I can’t find my brother.”

The dealer nodded and said, “He’s one of the shooters right? A regular?”

“Yeah, he comes here. A lot actually.”

“He was here earlier; the one with the broken hand right?”

“That’s right,” I said.

“He mentioned the pawn shop. Try there.”

I thanked the dealer and left the casino. I found the pawn shop sandwiched between a Chinese takeout place and a theatre playhouse. I went inside and shut the door behind me. The upright piano was standing up against the back wall, behind the counter. A burly man rested his arms on the table, and watched me.

I smiled. “The man who pawned that piano.”
He nodded. “Just missed him.”
For the second time that day, I thanked a stranger.

When I got back to the loft, I went to the kitchen, poured myself a gin and tonic, and then noticed that Jordan was laying on the couch, asleep, clutching a pillow. I wanted to grab him by his shirt collar and shake him. But then, as I walked over to the coffee table, I noticed something sitting on one of the magazines.

It was my mother’s watch. I picked it up and inspected it carefully. I couldn’t believe it was sitting in the palm of my hand.

I squeezed Jordan’s arm. “How?” He smiled, but kept his eyes closed.

 

Andrew TranComment