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The Slam
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THE SLAM

Love puts a damper on enjoying the game of Bridge. My partner and I could play competitively. Really, we are that good. But to please my tender-hearted Chris, we only spar with friends.

I do enjoy our games. Once a week, we clean the house and make a luscious dessert. I check the wine cabinet and inevitably run to the store for a better vintage.

Last night, the phone rang at six. It was Ginger. Her husband had been called back to work. I was so disappointed. They are both such good players. She sensed my gloom and asked. “Can we play anyway? I’ll bring a shark.”

I looked around making sure I was alone, shielded the phone with my hand and whispered. “As in card shark?”

Instead of answering, Ginger giggled.

“Okay, but I’m innocent.” I clicked off and knew I was in trouble. My sweet partner hated confrontation. Chris always bid to a dummy hand refusing to take the lead. It made me stretch as a player and our friends didn’t mind. Would Ginger make her “shark” understand? Would she make sure her shark would not attack?

I was a nervous wreck as I showered, dried my hair and fretted about what clothes to wear. Finally, I was ready but kept going back to the mirror. Anything on my teeth? Nose hairs? Black heads? My heart pounded.

The doorbell rang. When I opened the door, I was so stunned all I did was sweep my arm to indicate they should enter. The shark was Frank Stein, a notorious sore head and the Queen City’s Bridge Champion. I tried to stay calm. There’s no chance he’d lose tonight. Was there?

Chris didn’t recognize him. Once we relaxed with our wine, I enjoyed the game. We were losing but not by much. Ginger dealt the last hand and we all perked up. I bid first and everyone nudged the bid higher. Frank twisted the button on his cuff. Ginger hesitated and then taped her finger gently three times. I looked at Chris. My smart little dummy saw it. Chris hated a fraud.

Frank announced, “Six No Trump -- Small Slam.”

Ginger laid her cards on the table. Frank’s neck muscles instantly tensed. Nervously, I led the king of hearts asking Chris for reassurance. Chris put down the queen of hearts and I happily took the trick. The cards that distressed Frank had to be in Chris’ hand. Frank needed every trick now and I could easily lose by leading to his strength. I was in agony.

Across the table I saw a poker face. I didn’t know Chris had a poker face. The queen must be a signal. I took a deep breath and led a low heart.

Chris took the trick. Then with surgical precision, my partner slit open Frank’s slam and only relented by letting him take the last trick. We made his bid and tallied up the winning points. Frank looked ill and retreated to the bathroom.

Chris and Ginger cleared the table and brought out the desserts. A stubborn cork needed all my attention. Frank returned, downed the dessert and even complemented us.

Thankfully, our guests didn’t linger. I closed the door and turned to Chris who still wore that poker face.

“Did you hear?” Chris wanted to know and I shrugged. “He told me. ‘It’s what I get for playing with amateurs.’”

I braced myself then led Chris to the bedroom. The full lips of that poker face began to quiver. Surely tears would follow. Remorse hit me hard and must have distorted my face. Chris squeezed my cheeks and laughed.

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Short short stories

The Slam was my submittal to the Three Minute Fiction Contest.