I don’t know what made me do it.
Maybe it was the wine, or it could have been the challenge of the dare, maybe even the strange pull of a voodoo moon led me here.
In any event, it is two o’clock in the morning and I am in the grungy backroom of some insignificant dive bar playing cards with Death.
I should never have agreed to drink with him.
Only bad karma will come of this.
But the deck is shuffled, the cards are dealt, and a game of Man Or Mouse is on.
Death plays for the prize of a kiss while I play for the life of a friend.
And so here we sit, in a silent stalemate, each of us aware of what destiny has dealt the other, wondering silently which one of us fate loves better.
Death has the deuce of spades held up against his skull, the blackened shamrock alarmingly dark on his calcified forehead.
He appears even more unsettling now that I am just feet away from him in a room full of stagnant air and bad music.
My heart beats in anxious anticipation. What are the odds that I, too, have a deuce up against my forehead?
The laws of percentages are screaming at me to man up and ante my friend into the pot.
My friend. He is dying of leukemia and I know Death is really at the bar looking for something to do until he has to clock in and snuff someone, maybe even my friend.
I close my eyes and concentrate.
The stakes are incredibly high, for the both of us.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, I can feel the Queen of Hearts brush her matronly fingertips across my brow.
Women have always liked me and this time it is paying off because I have trumped Death in a wickedly evil game of chance, an endeavor I should never have agreed to in the first place.
But instead of gloating triumphantly, I sit horrified by the knowledge that I have just beaten Death in a game of his own choice.
If I ante my friend into the pot, I can call Death’s bluff and waltz my friend back home to his grateful wife and fortunate sons.
It is such a tantalizing temptation. How can I resist the chance to wear the hero’s cape and extend the most amazing gift of all?
As I push his life into the pot, I realize what is really at stake here in this bizarre and accidental game.
There is no room for fleeting hesitation, unspeakable regrets, or horrid guilt.
But I know if I looked into a mirror right now there would be no reflection based on what I am about to do.
Death raps his bony fingers against the table. He is impatient for me to man up or mouse down.
His agenda can be so annoying, but he is right. The time has come for the winner to take all.
My breath is hung up, refusing to move in or out, as I fold my Queen of Hearts upside down over the pot and concede the hand, the game, and the life.
Death would grin if he had the lips, but instead he leans eeriely over the table and claims his kiss.
Five years of breath escape from my mouth as the frozen touch of this passionless gesture rivets the scene forever in my soul…or what is left of it.
Death picks up his scythe to saunter victoriously out into what’s left of the night.
I know immediately where he is headed.
A renegade tear drops onto the unturned Queen of Hearts and burns a hole through her compassion.
There was never a way to win this hand.