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mundane moments in a mundane life



I saw that almost every table was in use. It had been a hot, humid day and everyone had had the same bright idea to escape to the reliable air-conditioned darkness of the pool hall. The best practice tables reserved for the serious players were all occupied, so I took one in the no-man’s land amongst the recreational players.

I walked over to my table and cleared off all the chalk cubes from the table except for two. I placed balls one through ten and the cue ball on the table. The tray with its remaining five balls went on the shelf set into the wall which I shared with the next table. I placed my eye drops in one of the cups of the ball tray and a tip tool in another. I took out my usual bottle of iced tea and shoved the bag under the shelf with my foot. I looked at the orderliness of everything and sighed with contentment.

I leaned my cue case against the shelf and tried to unzip the cover. The zipper pull had broken some time ago and I had replaced it with a paperclip. As I tugged at it, I suddenly became aware of feet clad in very white canvas shoes. I looked up and saw him, college-aged, dressed in very white shorts and a pastel pink polo shirt with the collar flipped up. His hair had been bleached orange. He was holding a two thousand dollar cue. I felt he had been watching me for some time. I smiled at him in a neighborly manner and went back to tugging on the zipper. The case finally opened, not because the zipper had worked, but because the zipper had ripped from the fabric. I heard a loud hiss of disapproval. I looked up and he very pointedly moved his leather cue case, which had also been leaning against the shelf, away from me. He curled his lip at me in disgust and walked back over to his table where a girl, dressed almost identically in white sandals and shorts, pink polo, and orange hair, was lining up a shot.

Only then did I become aware of what I looked like.

My clothes were sweat stained and dirty, as was my bag, my now-broken cue case, and my own self. No matter. I had come to work on my game and these were the clothes I wore to work. I assembled my cue, put in my earphones, and got down to business.

I started with some games of ten-ball. After I finished, I sat down and drank a little iced tea while observing my pink-and-white neighbors. Almost everything they had was expensive. The one outlier was the girl’s bright pink cue. He directed her on how to shoot. She dutifully followed his instructions. He saw me watching and scowled. I smiled back and resumed practicing.

I switched to eight-ball and played well.

When I sat down at the end of the set, he no longer looked upon me with contempt but with real hatred. I smiled charmingly. He turned to his shot and viciously struck the ball, missing the pocket by a good foot-and-a-half. It was her turn, now, and she carefully drew the line from pocket to object ball, then from object ball to cue ball. She considered the cue ball meditatively as he paced irritably behind her. She bent down to shoot and stroked oh-so-slowly a dozen times before rolling the cue ball to just barely tap the object ball. No rail. Foul. He swooped in and snatched the cue ball. Eagerly, he set up a shot, made it, and bricked the next one. Her turn again. She spent several minutes on a shot that ended in a miss. The angrier and more impatient he became, the slower and more conscientious she became, which only made him angrier.

I switched to nine-ball and played even better. The set took me a half-hour, but it felt like only a few minutes. I sat down again and looked to my neighbors.

They were no longer playing together. She sat at attention on a barstool and watched as he played nine-ball by himself. His movements were jerky. He had not been a good player to begin with and his increasing speed which indicated his increasing frustration served only to bring his game down. Watching him, a curious thought crossed my mind.

I went to my table and racked the balls. I broke and made four balls. The rest lay open and I ran them out. The whole game took less than a minute. It was the most perfect game I had played all year. I sat back down and looked over at him.


If there had been no one else in that pool hall he would have tried to kill me.


Sweaty, red-faced, and trembling, he racked the balls on his table. He almost tripped in his hurry back to the head of the table. I glanced over at her. She had not moved, I do not think she had even blinked. His glare would have melted sand dunes into rivers of glass. He lined up the cue ball and took a few rapid warm-up strokes. He swung and struck so hard the sound made me flinch.




The cue ball rolled forward a few tired inches as wisps of dust spiraled up like smoke.

He made a strangled sound, picked up the cue ball, and threw it at the rack. She raised her arms instinctively and I jumped off my stool. Then we were all in a Mexican standoff. Her arms swayed awkwardly at her sides as she wavered between offering him consolation or solitude. He stared murderously at me, sweat sticking his hair at odd angles, his collar wilted and askew, his shorts spattered with chalk, and his shoes smudged where he had stumbled against himself.

I said one word.




He tore apart his cues, flung them into his case and without latching the top, practically ran out the back door. After a spell, she collected the balls and put them in the tray. She disassembled her cue and put it in its case. She carried the balls, her case, her purse and a jacket he had left behind to the front counter. The light over their table winked out.

She glanced at me on her way out. There was no anger in her eyes, only confusion, and I struggled against the flood of understanding seeping in at the seams. I knocked the balls dully around the table. He had got what he deserved. I had proved a point, won some sort of war—hadn’t I? No. We had all lost. But she was the greatest casualty and would suffer most of all.