Their laughter doesn’t echo like the sharp giggles of women. Men are different. They laugh full bodied. Their deep bellows sink right into the paneling. They scoff and spit with such determination their hands slap the table. In my own childish uncertainty, I am frightened…I am always on edge waiting for the laughter to turn to yelling. And the possibility of violence; that’s what troubles me the most.
My bedroom is the next to the kitchen. Nothing escapes my ears, even with a pillow on my head. I tremble beneath my quilts as the beer bottles knock against the wooden table. The cigarette smoke settles beneath the crack of my door. I close my eyes as if I can make it all disappear.
I toss and turn with the shuffling of the cards. Smack. Smack. Smack. Smack. The cards make the round to each player. Cough. Groan. Mumble. Sigh. Men have a way of verbalizing without words.
I listen hour after endless hour to the verbal bets, raises, and checks as the quarters ding, rattle, roll, and spin across the wood and against bottles and cans. Occasionally the coins thump completely off the table and mute into the linoleum floor.
I can almost see the beer cans flatten as I hear them crumple beneath the stomps of steel-toed work boots.
“Cards are starting to bend on the corners. We need another deck.”
The pitch of the shuffling becomes sharper and firm. The cards are clicking together, no longer comfortably sliding into place.
“You’re just a damn cheat!” Raucous laughter. Fists slamming the table. The bang of the front door. Thump, the kick of boot against rubber tire. The clank of the truck door and the roar of the motor….tires spinning away from us until the humming can no longer be heard.
Crash. Crunch. I recognize the sounds. Another one of my mother’s kitchen chairs. You’d think the fat man would know by now not to lean back as he studies his poker hand. This must be the third chair he’s broken. I know my mom is going to fuss about it for weeks, but every time he apologizes she’ll smile sweetly and tell him it’s ok.
One by one I listen to their leaving noises and watch their high beams bounce around the walls of my room. Finally all is quiet. I drift off enveloped in the scent of stale cigarettes and sour beer.
Early morning light warms my cheeks and dances across my bed. The only noise I hear is the long-awaited melody of the blue jays in the cedar by my window.