Simple Things – No. 118

“Hey, Great Uncle Barry!”

Barry winced, and stared at the cards in his hand.

Like a train run off its track, Eddie thumped against the side of the kitchen table, jiggling the piles. Lifting up on his tiptoes, he peeked over the edge. “What are you and Auntie Paula doing?”

“Playing cards,” said Barry. He neatened the discards, then drew two from the draw pile, and tossed one back into the face-up stack in the center of the table.

“Want to watch?” Paula pushed back, her chair squeaking against the tiles, and waved Eddie toward her.

Eddie frowned at the cards arranged before her in crisp rows of alternating black and red suits. “I guess so,” he said, hopping into her lap.

Leaning onto the table, Eddie touched the rounded corners experimentally, and then picked up the last discard. He flipped over the five of spades, scowled at the paisley backing, and then set the card onto the stack again with care.

“How do you play?”

Paula shifted him to one knee. “Let me show you.” She encircled Eddie with her arms and revealed her hand. “You draw two,” she said, doing so, “and then see if you have anything that matches.” Her eight of hearts and Jack of diamonds failed to find a partner so she slipped them into place and discarded a four of clubs. “Then you have to give back one.”

“That’s it?” Eddie cocked his head, and began picking his nose.

“No,” said Barry, taking his turn. “If you get three of the same number, you can put them onto the table and add to them later, regardless of the suit. Each card earns a certain number of points. The idea is to get rid of all of your cards and have one left for the discard pile, then you’re out and whatever’s left in your opponents hand counts against their point total.”

“Oh,” said Eddie. He slumped back against Paula’s shoulder with a yawn while she drew and sloughed a six. “Aren’t there any timers or a board or lights or something?”

“No,” said Barry. “Just two decks and four jokers. That’s one hundred and eight cards.”

Eddie wiggled, and swung his legs so his bare feet smacked against the table’s underside. The two piles shifted and the rows skittered out of alignment.

“Why don’t you go for a swim?” asked Barry.

“I’m tired of the pool,” said Eddie.

“And I’m sure it’s a little dark for that anyway. I think Frank and the others might be downstairs.” Paula raised her arms, while keeping her hand shielded from Barry.

Eddie leapt for the opening, dashing across the kitchen and through the door leading to the basement. Laughter and electronic voices echoed up the stairwell before the door slammed closed.

“You’d think he’d never played cards before,” said Barry.

“I don’t think he really understood your explanation of the rules.”

“You know what else they’re missing these days?”

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me,” said Paula. She scooped up his discarded Queen and laid down five ladies alongside the Kings already on the table.

“Simple stuff like reading a book, watching the sun set, going to swim somewhere not purified by chemicals.”

“The lake’s fish poop is better?”

Barry sighed, examined at his hand, and then his gaze washed across her face-up cards. “How many do you have left?”

“Three,” said Paula, without looking at the two Jacks and lingering eight. “What do you expect from these kids? They’re growing up in a different time than us.”

“I know, I know. I just wish they could enjoy something simple, like this.” He discarded a Jack.

Paula pounced. Plucking the discard, she set down the trio of face cards, and then tossed down the eight.

“No fan-fare or swirling lights to accompany your victory?” asked Barry.

“No, but I’ll have another glass of wine. Do you want one or would you prefer chocolate milk to go with your whining and losing streak?”

“Ouch.” He rubbed above his heart. “You know I’m a simple man.”

“You deal, I’ll pour.”

Smiling, Paula heaved up to her feet, grabbed both their empty glasses, and headed for the open bottle in the refrigerator. Behind her, Barry tallied points, shuffled and then distributed another hand. She emptied the bottle, and padded back to the table while a summer breeze swept through the screen door. Offering Barry his glass, she sat. He held out his wine, and she clinked against his.

“Now,” he said, taking a sip and then delving into his cards. “Let’s show those kids how to really have a good time.”

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