even if everyone has a price



mundane moments in a mundane life
"...not everyone's price is the same.”
for Carol
My innards rearranged themselves in concern. Each time I bent down to shoot, I fully expected my heart to run up my throat in a jailbreak for freedom. Pins and needles buzzed along my hands and terminated at my fingertips in explosions of high-strung pain. I trembled as I made my way around the table. The carpet tripped my shoes and the table edges caught my shirt more than once.
I sank the last ball and looked at him. He scowled. “You ran out,” he said, very evenly.
“Oh, God. Did I?” I struggled to sound neutral in spite of my giddiness.
“You did,” he said, even more evenly. He threw the balls on the table and viciously racked them together. He leaned back against the stool with crossed arms. “I didn’t know you could play like that.”
“I got lucky,” I said with a nervous chuckle.
“I’m sure you did.”
Feverish excitement borne of doing something deeply illegal carrying a terrible penalty pulled my decisions back and forth. I looked at him again, and I was afraid. I knew what I should do. And yet—
I giggled apologetically and smashed the loose rack.
I ran out again.
I could see total, dominant wrath on his face. He towered over me as he unscrewed his cue. I did not dare look up. “What. The. Fuck. Was that?” His voice was low and smooth with danger. Everything under my skin tied and untied itself in tortured knots. My fingers twisted each other until I sprained one.
“I, uh—sorry.” I said meekly.
In spite of my rapidly growing fear I tilted my head down the tiniest bit and smiled. I was visibly trembling now and the unknown penalty began to coalesce into an awful vision. I held my breath as my heart beat so hard I could see it stirring my shirt. I was very cold. Seeing that I was sufficiently cowed, he stepped back. This meant I was allowed to look up. I breathed out carefully in secret relief. I knew I should keep quiet and get ready to leave. I had ruined our fun night of pool.
Instead, I asked him gently, wonderingly, “Why are you the only one allowed to win?”
He narrowed his eyes. His face bore a terrifying expression as he raised his hand.
Young love is often as foolish as it is strong. He was the better player when we met. He owned custom cues and talked importantly with cuemakers and industry people. I was not at his level in play or cultural sophistication and I was content to stay in the background.
One day, as he talked importantly with a cue dealer in his shop, I began to play on the dealer’s table. The dealer stepped out and watched me for a few minutes. He came out looking for the dealer. “She plays pretty good,” the dealer said to him. “You should enter her in some tournaments. She could get on the pro tour in a year or two.”
He said coolly, “Are you kidding? She’s terrible.” He walked back in the shop and the dealer followed him.
In the car ride home he told me, “He was just being nice saying you could get on the pro tour. You’re not even close to being decent.”
In the following months, I was never good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. Wasn’t smart enough. Didn’t play well enough. Yet, if I were to beat him in a game, terrible tantrums or cold silence would follow. I learned to miss. I learned to lose. I let my game go to shit because I believed peace was worth it and was told sacrifice was required of any relationship.
Friends asked, “How can you let this go on? What are you doing?”
Confused, yet vaguely understanding something was not right, all I could truthfully answer was, “I don’t know.”
“You never take anyone’s shit,” they said. “What the hell is going on?”
Again, I could only truthfully answer, “I don’t know.”
I never played on these front tables, the tables reserved for rich men and champions and money players and their chosen protégés. He only liked to play on the front tables. This was a treat. Here, with the pristine cloth, the well-kept rails, and the railbirds in the shadows judging like Anubis himself, something in me had snapped and I wanted, more than anything, to PLAY.
It was a wild horse kicking over its traces running over everything and everywhere in unbridled joy. It was all the times in my youth I trudged through sand with weights until race day when the weights came off and I flew. It was jumping out of an airplane, fucking up your chute, and then fixing it just before the earth rushed up at you forever. I had gone crazy with exhilaration.
Now I had to pay the price.
I glanced at his raised hand and for once I felt no fear in his presence. I had never known what to say or how to act in a way that would please him, but this—a pure, physical fight for survival—I knew. He was very strong, it was true. But I was no longer invested in his well-being. He would not win undamaged. I adjusted my stance ever so slightly into readiness.
He looked away and seemed to remember he was in a public place. He lowered his hand and left. I walked home.

• • •

A few weeks later, he called.
He said in clipped, harsh tones, “I’m sorry but I think it’s over.”
“Are you fucking serious?” I laughed long and loud and clear. “You only figured that out now?”
“Dude, I gotta go.”
“Where are you?” he demanded.
“Vegas! I have a match right now, so—yeah.”
Then I hung up.


yours truly