stories from the city beneath the city
If you keep playing cards it’s possible you will be dealt a card you’ve never seen. You will show it to your friend of many years even though you should never show your cards. After a good laugh together, you and your friend agree to put the new card aside so you can go on with your game.
When you’re done for the evening, you clean up as usual, but you leave the new card on the table where you find it the next evening, when you come to play again.
Your card games, which you’ve played every evening, become enlivened with an unknown vitality, an urgency they hadn’t had. During the game, you and your friend both ever wondering what the new card could mean, invest more playfulness in your playing. You both play a more crafty game.
The complexities of chance, probabilities, the extent and the limitations of numbers play out in your mind. You discern now the myriad absolute differences between a three and a seven. You comprehend that although the combination of the cards 2, 6, and 7 mean the same thing in the arithmetic of the game as the combination of the cards 3, 8, and 4, these two sets have completely different significances based on the way one number interacts with another, or the way two combinated numbers interact with a third, or the way three combinated numbers would interact with a fourth.
License wanted this to happen next: Waking up in the middle of the night, you go into the salon where you play cards. The new card lies on the table in the darkened room, illuminated, radiant, emanating….what? You don’t even know what. It’s something real but unknown.
That doesn’t happen. This happens: at 3:12 a.m., you awaken. You walk the short hallway to the stairs, up the eight stairs. It is dark all the way. You don’t need light. In the common room, there, on the card table, the new card, not visible at all. Any illumination at all is your own, it comes only from inside you, any radiance, luminosity, nuclear energy.
You walk to the row of eight oblong windows that look out over the cliff to the sea, windows you and your friend look out of everyday, either with a purpose, gazing, or casually, hardly noticing. In her absence, your friend’s voice speaks to you. I don’t know if you’re reading my mind, she says, or I’m reading yours. You say, quietly but aloud the names of everyone you know. It takes a long time. Each name interacts with every other name in an ongoing and only nearly infinite series of combinations constantly rearranged by the forces of every human emotion a list of which you begin — but don’t finish — compiling on a blank piece of notebook paper left on the card table three days ago by your adolescent niece who had torn it out when you had asked her to write a poem for you but she could’t think of one until later that evening when, in another room, far from the new card, she recited a poem about a girlfriend who had been cruel to her. When you told her to forgive her girlfriend, she demanded an apology first. You wrote cruelty down on the list of human emotions, then wrote forgiveness.
By dawn, the daily Coast Guard patrol boat passed by, east to west, at its precise appointment.
That afternoon’s card game went somewhat differently than usual. As you played, you kept score on a piece of paper laid over the List of Human Emotions. At one point you said to your friend, I don’t know if you’re reading my mind or I’m reading yours. Your friend laughed, of course. We’ll see who wins, she said. But you tell her, It has nothing anymore to do with winning or losing. Your friend answers you: You’re falling into clichés. You must not have slept well. Winning or losing will always be important.
No, no, you tell her. I don’t mean it like that. Every day, yes, winning or losing makes a difference. But I mean it scientifically, scientifically it has nothing to do with winning or losing. Think about it. E=MC2 has nothing nothing at all to do with winning or losing. Just because, your friend says, Albert Einstein was your Uncle…. It has nothing to do with that, you interrupt her. I’m trying to explain something to you.
Your friend takes the new card from where it sits on the table, tears it in half, tears those two halves again into four, tears those four again into eight, says, ok, now let’s play cards!
Why, you ask her, counting the torn pieces of card, are there nine pieces here. Why? Laughing, you throw them into the trash. Don’t think, you tell your friend, that it won’t happen again. If tomorrow, if a thousand years from now, it doesn’t matter.