Bethany Steeve 3259 – 240th Street Clarinda, IA 51632 (712) 542-1100 email@example.com Queen of Spades Carpe Verbum Short Fiction Contest Carpe Verbum Short Fiction Contest Queen of Spades Queen of Spades I‟ve never understood how I ended up in this family. I‟m fat and no one else is - and it is remarked on. And it isn‟t like I haven‟t tried to lose weight, I have. I‟ve even been kind of successful at times. If a person can blame “lifestyle” on weight gain, I probably have a good case. In my dad‟s family, we‟re the “deadbeats.” My mom‟s family is mostly deadbeats, so we don‟t really get special attention there. In fact, in my mom‟s family, we‟re kind of the successful ones. My mom - her name‟s Marie and that‟s what I call her - Marie‟s nerves are bad and she could never stand to be home alone. Not a good thing for a family with two young children. Even when my dad had jobs, she‟d call and tell him she needed him at home or there would be some crisis, or she‟d be sick, or one of us would be sick - whatever she needed to say. Sometimes the employer would put up with that for awhile, but eventually he‟d get fired. You have to add into the equation that my dad, Joe, has a big mouth. He‟s really good at getting his point across, which didn‟t help anything with his bosses, since his point was usually diametrically opposed to production. So, finally, they just stayed home together. And, of course, we had no money. My grandparents helped out a lot, but there were always “strings attached” and it was never enough help. When we were little, it didn‟t matter, but when we got old enough to drive and all of our cousins had cars, well, my parents didn‟t even have a car to drive. They were lucky to have a valid driver‟s license, which sometimes they did and sometimes they didn‟t, and sometimes they do and sometimes they don‟t. While we were growing up, we were a family constantly on the move. We lived at Marie‟s parents‟ house, at Joe‟s parents‟ house, in rentals - until we were kicked out for not paying the rent, or - in the case of the grandparents - the inevitable fight of two families living too close together, especially as my folks never had a dime to contribute. Of course, they always managed to buy cigarettes. See, it wasn‟t just feeding and clothing, it was also keeping my parents in cigarettes that created a drain on anyone‟s budget who tried to help them - myself included. When I was six years old, (Jake was four) my mom and dad got into a fight with my mom‟s dad, Bob. We were living in a house that he owned. Grandpa kicked the windows out - not just kicked them out - broke all of the windows out of the house and in general went on a rampage that made the house unlivable. That “bad nerve” thing is apparently inherited. Marie and Joe shifted between parents and rentals for about five years – outlined above - until Joe got a job that paid well and lasted about six months. At the end of the year, they got a big tax return because he‟d had that good-paying job for only part of the year, hence, low annual income. It was a bona-fide miracle. Dad had managed to keep the taxes paid on a couple of acres in our small town, and they were able to buy (in cash - they had no credit) a trailer home, and get it set up on that small acreage. Getting promoted to “trailer trash” was a big step up for us by then. We kids were just happy to be someplace where we belonged, instead of just camping out. Between the grandparents and the jobs that Joe got off and on, they managed to keep the utilities paid until I was out of high school. I graduated early with excellent grades and started college when I was 17, going on 18 - or maybe 50 by that time. Jake‟s had a couple of brushes with the law, but managed to get his GED when regular school was too much, and has a year-old baby girl. He‟s living with Brittany‟s mother. Brittany is his daughter. After a pretty stressful growing-up stage, he seems to be settling down and getting along. I‟m the oldest and I‟m a mess. I hate everybody in my family and I‟m so pissed off at the world that I got such a raw deal in this family. What did I ever do to deserve such selfish, shiftless parents? Marie was 16 years old when I was born. She actually married my father, but they were both young and unprepared to take care of themselves, let alone a baby, so that didn‟t last long. She hooked up with Joe, my step-dad, not long after and they got married and had another baby. I‟m a great example of why adoption is sometimes the best answer. But when I was little it wasn‟t so obvious that they couldn‟t manage their lives. Dad had a decent job and they lived in the little house that Grandpa Bob later trashed. I didn‟t tell you the reason it was trashed. Joe and Marie were having a little party with friends where the refreshments weren‟t all legal. Grandpa Bob took exception to that, considering they had two small children in the house. Maybe I didn‟t mention that one of the vices that has kept our family from prosperity is meth. Meth and cigarettes and a complete inability to make adult decisions - I will say that is mostly my mom‟s fault. Jake and I outgrew her maturity-wise by the time we were in junior high. Which is about the last of a regular class schedule that Jake attended. I keep getting sidetracked. But it is a lot easier to harp about the tragedy of my childhood than the tragedy of my adulthood, for which I guess I have to take some responsibility. At least when I was a kid, I was at the mercy of my environment. What saved me after Mom and Dad essentially became homeless for most of my growing years, you ask? I was one of those blonde, blue-eyed cute little girls who loved horses. And my Grandpa Joe loved them, too. Better yet, he made his living from horses and he had a lot of them. My cousin Noelle is a year older than me - and she had everything I didn‟t. A normal family - at least until they were divorced - but she always had a house to live in and her dad worked and paid child support. She wasn‟t as cute as me, but she was cute - and worse - she matured into a size three with boobs and I matured into a blob. It‟s amazing the difference one letter makes in a word. Boob versus blob. You can imagine how tough family prom pix were with us side by side and I made two of Noelle. That‟s probably about the time I started hating her. Again, I have to get back to my story. Grandpa Joe had horses for us to ride and bought saddles for us. We were in every local horse show, in every qualifying event. Those cute pix of us pulling ourselves into saddles when our heads barely touched the stirrup are all real - and we won about everything we were in because we really could ride those big horses. We competed all through junior high, then Noelle became enamored of boys and I just kept getting bigger. Who wants to ride when people say they feel sorry for the horse carrying you? I still ride, though, but not often. A good horse has an empathy that few humans can match. Where am I now, you ask. You‟ve filled us in on your brother, but who are you? What are you doing? Well, I‟m not doing drugs. That‟s who I‟m not. But it‟s a fine line. I read in my psychology class that we (women) tend to be attracted to men who are like our fathers because that personality type is familiar. Not that it is what we want, but we know what to expect, and we know how to manipulate them to get what we want, or (depressingly) what we think we deserve. Maybe I just don‟t “deserve” enough then, because the men in my life have been disappointments. I really love my boyfriend, Tom, but he just can‟t find work that he likes and he messes with drugs. I guess I‟m just not ready to talk about myself. It is making me feel bad, making me mad. My brother Jake came in this morning and said that he needed a ride to fill out an application for a job at Pete‟s, a local mechanic. He had a great job doing the same thing a year ago, but he was two hours from home and he got homesick. Since then, he‟s been doing odd jobs, none that paid well or consistently. I was thrilled to take him for an application. I‟ve started college a couple of times. As I‟ve already said, I graduated early from high school and started the second semester at the local JC. Because my parents didn‟t work, or work regularly, I qualified for every kind of aid. That was great, but it didn‟t really help me live. I mean, Joe and Marie didn‟t have enough room for me to live with them where I had any space of my own - read: “a room” - so I got a subsidized apartment. That was great, but even with low or no rent, I still had food and car expenses. I finished the spring semester then got a job during the summer and didn‟t go back in the fall. But I hated the work, it was a boring factory job and I started getting to work late and finally they “laid me off,” which is better than getting fired. Last night I was at G&G‟s for supper. Grandma gave me this computer game. It has different card games on it. They play Solitaire on the computer all of the time, but I think Solitaire is a dumb game. Dad was here today and started playing some of the games. He was playing Spades. He was showing me how it works: the spades are always trump, so they will always take any other suit. The hard part is calculating how many tricks you can win, because if you underestimate, you only get 1 point for the extra tricks you didn‟t count, instead of 10 points. But if you overestimate and can‟t take that many tricks, you go set. Going set is a major penalty. I played the game about five times last night and never won any of them. There‟s another piece that I haven‟t figured out yet - nil bid. It‟s kind of like Hearts, you don‟t want to take any tricks. Blind nil is betting you won‟t take any tricks - without looking at your hand before you bid. No one bids that very often. I tried it once and ended up with about eight spades. Having eight spades is very bad. I went set 200 points. The characters that you play with can be pretty vicious, too. There‟s an old German broad who says mean things even when she„s winning. On with my life story. Working had a couple of drawbacks. My family all crowded in with me at my apartment and while I was at work, Joe and Marie (who, of course, didn‟t have wheels) drove my car around all day, burning up my gas, even using my ATM for cash. Yeah, I know I was stupid to give them my pin number. So - I had no space or privacy in my own apartment, and had to put gas in my car when I hardly went anywhere. Then I had to buy all of the food, and even keep my lame parents in cigarettes. They were worse than a bad boyfriend. It was easier to be broke and not work. Then things kind of got better for them. They were living in Marie‟s dad‟s house as Grandpa Bob was living with his girlfriend (who is very nice.) Joe was working off and on at carpenter jobs. I moved out there because I could live rent-free and essentially sponge off them for a change. But I got tired of doing nothing and not having any money, so I signed up for college again. I got a “grant” from the government for my classes and a new computer as I had decided to take on-line courses. That way I didn‟t even have to show up at a class, get dressed and try to fit in with people who had real parents, real homes and some cash back-up. No one told me how hard those classes were to pass, though. I started out with a normal class load, and I would have had to study all day and all night to have passed those classes. It was so disheartening. That was about the time I met my boyfriend, too, and that was a little distracting. I was always so smart in high school, but college has been a whole different ballgame. Now I‟m back to trying to figure out how to get along with no income and not having to get out in the real world to work. How pathetic is that?! Sometimes I hate myself. Not to mention that now I‟m getting letters that I have to pay the college money back because I didn‟t pass. I‟m getting hooked on this computer game. When I first started playing Spades, I didn‟t really like it. It took me awhile to get the bidding right. I‟d never played other bidding games that were common in my family. In fact, when we had family get-togethers and they started playing cards, I just left or curled up and watched TV. Of course, the card games my family plays are dumb, so I didn‟t really miss anything. The point is, I didn‟t have any experience with bidding. I‟m finally starting to get it right, though. This is my strategy: void (no cards in a suit) is 2 points, 1 card in a suit is 2 points, and 2 cards in a suit is 1 point. If I have 1 card in a suit, that is 2 points because I can usually cut the next 2 cards with spades and take the tricks. The language of the game is funny, too. Tricks. That always makes me think of the movies with prostitutes and cops talking about “tricks,” which is just another hustle, I guess. But “tricks” sounds better than “lay” “job” or any other description I‟ve heard. “Void” isn‟t so cool, though. I‟ve worked in nursing homes quite a bit and “void” is pee. Did Mrs. Jackson “void” last night? Not really the most fascinating subject. Jake called a little while ago and they called him to go interview. I guess I‟ll drag my ass off this couch and give him a ride. Well, I waited around for Jake so I didn‟t have to make a second trip. I went by Casey‟s to see if they had any openings. One of the cashiers was in a college class with me. She said they don‟t have anything now, but maybe the one on the highway could use someone part-time. I‟ll go over there after I take Jake home. Anyway, I was playing Spades last night and I went set the first game. My partner was Tony, a really cute guy with a voice I hear in my dreams. I can choose my partners, and I usually choose Tony. He says nice things like “You made that nil bid look easy,” in a low, very sexy voice. Tony almost never goes set, but first I went set, then he went set and the next thing I knew we were down 150 points! My first reaction was to just start over. Who wants to waste time trying to climb out of a 150 point hole when it takes 500 points to win? Because I was playing with Tony and he always says cool things, I just kept playing. The next game, the bear and the dinosaur went down – yeah, there are talking animals in this game, even an extra-terrestrial. He says things like, “did you see that play, and I‟m from a billion lightyears from here!” when he makes a lot of points. Well, this is a long, boring monologue so I‟ll cut to the chase. We won. We actually dragged ourselves out of that 150 point cellar and won! I knew I was smart, but I‟m starting to really believe I‟m smart, the way I‟m figuring out this game! I do have some cashiering experience, but mostly I‟ve worked in nursing homes. I got my CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) license last year. That gives me the qualifications to work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, even the state hospital where the benefits and pay are a lot better. But I just hate the work. It‟s heavy work with lots of lifting, and even though most of the people are nice, there‟s always a few who have to be fed, or helped to eat, and that is just too gross. We won‟t even talk about the other end. I went to the Casey‟s on the highway and the girl working the register gave me an application. She said she thinks the only thing open is nights and it‟s only a couple of days a week. I don‟t mind working nights, though. A lot of times I can‟t sleep anyway and I just mess around on the computer. I might as well be working. Jake called and he got the job. I‟m really happy for him. It‟s a grownup, man-job and Jake is really proud to have it. Plus, he‟s got good experience and it should be easy for him to do well. He worked in a big truck stop before and learned how to change all kinds of big tires. My friend Michelle called me this morning. She moved to Louisville (Loo - uh- ville, she says) last summer, and she wants us to go down there and see what it‟s like. She says we can stay with her awhile and there are lots of jobs and it‟s warmer than here in Iowa. I want to go so bad. Tom does, too. He‟s as sick of this place as I am. He has his own family problems, and his own ghosts. Even though I wouldn‟t mind working at Casey‟s, it would barely be enough to pay for groceries unless I can get a lot more hours. But I really want to go someplace where I can get away from my family and my own past. I‟d like a chance to have a job that I could half-way like. Oh, and Jake loves his job. So, he‟s working and that will keep my parents going for awhile…. I just don‟t think I can pull a move off financially right now. I guess I‟ll have to get a job and work to save some cash to make a trip to Loo-uh-ville. I told my parents that Michelle called and I‟d really like to go down there. They are having a regular fit. I won‟t bother to repeat some of the things they‟ve said to me. Imagine, they‟re calling me irresponsible. With my CNA, I could work in nursing homes or an extended care facility and make a lot more money than I do here. I could handle the work for awhile to get a start. Or, it should be even easier to get a cashiering job down there, but it is also a lot more dangerous, especially if I have to work nights. What I don’t have is longevity at any job. Probably not much for references either. At first, I didn‟t understand how to help my partner if he had bid “nil.” “Nil” means nothing, zero, zilch, take no points. This is a great stategy, and one of the reasons why I‟m really getting hooked on this game. The nil bid gives a guy with a seriously loser hand a chance to win. If you bid nil and make it (no tricks captured), you score 100 points. I just love the fact that a losing hand can turn into more points than a winning hand. So. When I bid nil, I was playing it like a regular hand, not changing my strategy. Then when I finally figured the nil bid out, I wasn‟t really translating the importance of supporting my partner when he bid nil. (Sometimes I didn‟t even pay enough attention to know he‟d bid nil.) I would stick with one of my favorite strategies, which was hold my ace of Spades and grab the last trick. Eventually I realized that if you (the nil bidder) only have so many spades and one of them is a high card (not good), you need your partner to lead high spades so you can dump them - all the time remembering the opposing team is trying to sneak in small cards and force the nil bidder to take the trick. You only have to take one trick to cost your team 100 points. Not good. I never thought of myself as a strategist, but I‟m telling you, I‟m getting the hang of this game! Did I tell you that my mom is as skinny as any teenager‟s dream? By the time I was fifteen, I was twice her size. Getting back to current events. Bill, my real dad - that‟s not his real name, but I might as well protect the ignorant - Bill‟s family is all thin, too. So where does this “bigness” come from? All of my various family branches are thin, or at least normal sized. Now I‟m really getting back on track. What I was getting to about Bill is an entirely different subject. I called him this morning, which is something I‟ve hardly ever done. I told him that I‟m really wanting to relocate down to Loo-uh-ville, and it would really help a lot if he could give me some cash. I told him about my CNA so he understands that I am employable. He said he wants to see me. I didn‟t tell Bill, but the other thing is, if I can figure out that dumb Spades game, I ought to be able to figure out this job thing! It‟s not a lot of money, $1500 - but it‟s enough to help me get to Loo-uh-ville and check out things down there. I am so excited. And I‟m so excited that Bill gave me the money, plus he told me he knows I can do it. For the first time, I really understand the value of being his only child. Anyway, there‟s a lot of life in card games. Strategies are strategies whether it‟s work or play or just a dumb card game. Also, I haven‟t eaten a potato chip or drank a pop since Michelle called. It‟s not much, but I read an article on-line, (I have to go to the library for that now,) and one of the tips for long-lasting weight loss was to just start with something simple that you can do long-term. I like iced tea and if I really want a pop, I‟ve let myself have a Diet Dr Pepper a couple of times. I‟ve lost five pounds, it‟s not a lot, but that‟s going in the right direction. I feel like I can do it. I just talked to Michelle and she says she‟s got a line on a couple of job interviews when I get there. We leave on Saturday morning. Tom and I are going. Tom calls me the Queen of Spades!