TW: spousal abuse

Their dad had all taught them to play poker. When he died, twelve years ago, all six of them agreed to start assembling once a month for poker night. In his honor, as a way to stay connected.


Jonathan lived in Eugene, Oregon and Gene lived 20 minutes south in Springfield so Jonathan would pick him up and the two would make the two and half hour trip to Coos Bay together. Jonathan, having a lead foot and zero fear, not only scared the living shit out of Gene but made the trek in well under two hours.


“For fuck’s sake, Jon. It’s an Explorer, not a fucking Lamborghini. Would you slow down?”


Jon laughed and shook his head. “Pussy.”


Gene reached into his pocket and pulled out his Xanax, popped two into his hand then his mouth and swallowed them dry. To take his focus off the turns his brother was taking at a speed that could hurl them into the lake next to them he sighed and asked, “Do you think Amanda will be there tonight?”


It was hit and miss on whether she’d make it or not. If Sam was out fishing, she’d be there for sure, but if his boat was in, it all depended on whether he’d let her loose for the night or have some drama that required her to be at home.


Jon shrugged and reached into his pocket for the joint he kept in there, Gene nervously looking from him to the road as he lit the joint, not slowing down one little bit. “Tuna season hasn’t started yet,” Jon finally said after exhaling the big hit he’d taken and passed the joint to Gene. Meaning Sam wouldn’t be out; he’d be at home.


Gene took a hit and exhaled himself, grateful they were almost to the 101 where it wasn’t so winding, and he could relax. “Do you think Sam hits her? She had that black eye last poker night she came to.”


“It’s not our business.”


Gene didn’t agree but didn’t want to start fighting with his big brother. It was their business. Their dad wouldn’t want something like that to go unaddressed with Amanda as the sole girl of the family as well as the youngest.


To clarify his point, Jon added: “She’s 33, Gene. If she puts up with it, it’s her bad,” and then he chuckled a little bit, which Gene didn’t understand--there was nothing funny about their little sister potentially being abused--until Jon added, “If she isn’t there, at least we’ll all walk away with our money.”


At that, along with the effects of the two hits he’d taken off the joint before passing it back and the Xanax hitting his system, he laughed as well. She had a poker face to beat them all, no matter whether they were playing hold ‘em or stud hi-lo.


“It’s a good idea,” Gene said absently.


“What is?” Jon said, passing the joint back to Gene.


“Poker night. I think it was a great idea that Mark had.”


Jon looked at him and Gene wished he’d keep his eyes on the road. “Mark didn’t have the idea. It was Steve’s idea.”


“No, you just think that because Steve’s overtly sentimental. Mark’s the one who came to me and suggested it.”


“Well, Steve’s the one who came to me and mentioned it.”


“Yeah, because Mark ran it by him first,” Gene replied, “which of course he did because they’re the closest in age and only live a couple of miles from each other. I guess we’ll ask when we get there,” Gene said, still not wanting to fight. As the second to the youngest, he was used to keeping the peace among them all.


When they got there, Mark and Steve were already there at Dan’s, the person with the biggest house and therefore the chosen one to host the monthly event, to the dismay of Cheri, his wife, who didn’t understand what it was like to have a big family, being an only child. She grudgingly greeted them both and then took off to hide away wherever she went when they’d all assemble.


They settled in at the table after grabbing their Samuel Adams bottles from the fridge.


“Is Amanda coming?” Gene asked as he sat down, addressing Dan.


Dan shrugged. “She said she’d be here, but Sam’s in, so, you know how that goes. Right before she’s ready to take off, something happens where she has to stay," he said, rolling his eyes.


None of them understood why she had married Sam a few years back. She had been a tough independent kid, no doubt from growing up as the only girl with five older brothers teasing her, putting her in head-locks, and generally harassing her.


Gene nodded a little and addressed Steve and Mark who were sitting next to each other. “Jon and I had a little disagreement about whether poker night was your idea,” he said, nodding at Mark, “or your idea,” he added, nodding at Steve.


Both shrugged and shook their heads no. “I thought it was Dan’s idea,” Mark said.


“It wasn’t my idea,” Dan said definitively, “I thought it was Jon’s idea.”


“I thought it was your idea,” Steve said looking at Gene.


“That leaves Amanda,” Jon said quietly.


Steve laughed. “Of course. That would be right. She needs the spending money she gets. Sam’s such a fucking cheap-ass motherfucker.”


At that, they all let out small laughs of their own and offered up their $50 in exchange for poker chips and Dan dealt them out to each, placing the money in a pile. Once everyone had their chips, he handed the money over to Jon for safe keeping.


Gene was high and thoughtful and as they were in the middle of their third hand of Texas hold ‘em, he asked, “Is Sam hitting Amanda?” to no one in particular. He watched Mark’s face. He was the closest to her and if anyone knew, it would be Mark.


Mark nodded a little that he thought Gene had it right but said, “I don’t know. She always has a reason and working in the packing plant, she’s definitely in the line of fire; it’s not easy work. It’s pretty easy to get beat up in there.”


At that, Gene dropped it. Mark had admitted that he had the same suspicions and that Amanda wasn’t ready to address any of it quite yet.


In the middle of the sixth hand or so, Amanda bounded in and chirped, “Deal me in. Sorry I’m late,” and placed a big bag down next to her seat, plopping a bottle of Patron on the table then handing her money to Dan for chips. She opened the bottle of tequila and took a big swig and then said, “I have to catch up with you five,” and then took another swig. After settling at the table, bottle firmly in hand, she focused on her chips, stacking and restacking them until she had the configuration she wanted, taking an occasional drink, lost in thought.


“What’s with the bag, Sis?” Jon asked quietly, noticing as the rest did that her cheek below her left eye was red and starting to swell up and her lower lip was cut.


“Gotta have something to take my money home with me,” she said teasingly and gave everyone a big smile. When everyone was looking at her and didn’t say anything, she said, “What? I said deal me in. Let’s go.”


“Slow down on that,” Gene said as Amanda took another huge swig from the Patron bottle.


“Fuck you, Gene,” she said good-naturedly, with a slight slur.


Dan laughed. “You should be encouraging her to drink faster. She’s easier to read when she’s had too much.”


After she had half the chips in front of her she looked at Jon. “Hey. Can I come home with you, Jon? I mean, do you think that’ll cause problems with June?”


“June loves you,” Jon said quietly, “of course you can stay with us, Sis. For as long as you need to."


“Thanks,” Amanda said quietly.


The five brothers looked at each other, nodding a little that they would take care of the Sam situation later and Amanda caught it. “Don’t hurt him. Karma will get him. I don’t need to go visit any of you in prison.”


They played a few more hands, discussing superficial things to take their mind away from Amanda and Sam. Gene finally said, “It was a good idea,” to her.


“What was a good idea?”


“This. Poker night.”


She giggled. “Well, it works for me. Sam's so tight with money that even the money I earn was his money. But it wasn’t my idea.”


“Who’s was it?” Dan asked, head cocked. “We were all talking about it, and it wasn’t ours, so if it wasn’t ours or yours, who suggested it?”


“Daddy did,” she answered softly, tearing up a bit, “it meant so much to him that he put it in his will. He was the glue that held us all together and wanted to make sure we stayed around for each other." She looked at Jon affectionately and said, "I thought you'd remember that as the executer." She collected her chips and handed them to Jon. “I’m tired. I’m going to lay down. Cash me out please. It’ll give you five a chance to walk away with something.”


They all watched as she pocketed her winnings and went and laid down on Dan’s couch and pulled the crocheted orange and yellow blanket that hung from the back of the couch over herself. They went back to playing.


After a few hands, Mark looked over at their sleeping sister and whispered, “Let’s go.”


Gene quietly replied, “She doesn’t want us to hurt him.”


“She didn’t say anything about his truck, did she?”


They all smiled and stood up one by one and followed Mark out the door, Jon grabbing the bat that Dan kept by the front door. 

June 13, 2021 13:28

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