by June Kino-Cullen

Days go by without winning. I tell myself it’s okay. It’s the process that counts. Keeps my old brain sharp. The more I play, the quicker I move that red five on top of the black six, the black queen on top of the red king. Then my mind starts to wander, imagines the Ace of Clubs is burdened with a club foot, but because he was born into that pedigree of aces, he gets to move to the top of the hill and governs with a just hand. He’s so good and saintly, he becomes the pope who rules over his nephew, the King of Diamonds. King of Diamonds expands his territory through an incestuous marriage to an elite cousin, Queen of Diamonds. Their consummation results in a son, Jack of Spades. Relieved that the interbreeding didn’t result in any abnormalities, they name him after their favorite game:  Black Jack.

On his twenty-first birthday, Black Jack gets lucky and finds a girlfriend, a ten with a heart, brains and red hair. They get engaged. But then one day, Black Jack’s nemesis, Diamond Jack, from a neighboring fiefdom, shows up, spots Black Jack’s girl with her luscious cherry-red lips. Miss Ten-of-Hearts notices handsome Diamond Jack winking at her. Her heart quickens. But, alas, she has already agreed to marry Black Jack. Their engagement is known throughout the land. And rules are rules. She can’t just stroll over to Diamond Jack and whisper, “Damn the rules. Let’s run away together.” Unless of course, one cheats. But what’s the point of cheating at solitaire? But then again, already steeped in a world of make believe, what’s the harm of playing around? I let Miss Ten-of-Hearts sneak away in the middle of the night. She lies on top of Diamond Jack. The next morning Black Jack finds them together. Furious, he kills the competition.

Black Jack takes back Miss Ten-of-Hearts, but she’s pining for sexy Diamond Jack and starts to lose the color in her cheeks. She starts to turn pink, which isn’t so bad, but when she turns white, Black Jack questions her place. Not only has she cheated on him, now there’s that inter-color thing. But he can’t help it, he still loves her. He beseeches the goddess of cards, Lady Luck. Happy to be summoned by the gallant Jack, Lady Luck sidles up to him in the shape of a cumulus cloud and strokes his cheek, but when Black Jack asks for help about the still gorgeous Miss Ten, she gets jealous, turns cirrus and poof, she’s gone. So much for luck. Black Jack stares at the pale woman next to him with her disheveled red hair, which is starting to show strands of platinum blonde. He sighs. She used to look so good in that red dress with the slit on the side.

Now what? Should Miss Ten be punished? Should she die? She did betray Black Jack. Then again, shouldn’t women have the right to change partners just like female chimpanzees who copulate indiscriminately? Again, I stray, although tangents are loopy and fun. Back to my story. Should I stick with fairy tale plots where disloyalty is punishable by death? But so many of my stories have sad endings. I decide that Jack lets her live. He lies down with her, or is it lay down since he’s a card? Anyway, he gets laid.

Several weeks later, Miss Ten announces she’s pregnant. “Who’s the father?” asks Black Jack. Miss Ten smiles and gives him a deep kiss. Black Jack rubs his stubble and thinks, There’s a chance it might be mine. He decides to let her live. He kisses the top of Miss Ten’s curls which by now has turned from platinum blonde to snow white. But that’s another story.

A beautiful, chubby son is born, a maroon ace of clubs. Maroon? Jack scratches his head, but is relieved the baby doesn’t have a club foot like his uncle, the pope. Miss Ten coos and kisses the baby; hands him over to Black Jack. “Oh, Jack, he has your eyes.” He’s elated until he spots a birthmark in the shape of a diamond behind the baby’s right ear. Drat, this is taking a tragic path.

I’ve never written a romance before, and according to the Romance Writers of America and Britain, romance must have happy endings; rules are rules. Then I tell myself that in the days of old, magic prevailed where anything was possible. I make myself the court jester with a three-pointed fool’s hat. Bells ringing, I prance around the deck trying to come up with a good ending. The court grows restless; dusk is upon us. Out of breath and ideas, I bow and announce that I’m done with this fractured fable and make a fast exit. As I’m running, I remind myself that, like a game of solitaire, if I keep playing long enough, I’ll win someday and get one good story before mylife folds.