We sit on stools of balsa wood, in the kitchen. There are no windows, so we keep the door open to let the night in. Under the floorboards is the grunting and squealing of three pigs in a constant state of wretched panic, one has tumour hanging from its face. Chickens keep trying to sneak in the back door to steal the kitten’s food and clouds of termites whizz aimlessly around the room before shedding their wings in my drink and crawling away to eat the house.
A hippy and I are playing cards, gin rummy, and I am winning, again. Being a hippy he is pretending he doesn’t care that he’s losing at cards because “hey, it’s only a card game” and “all good”, but I can see a Rumplestitskin rage leaping furiously under his face. He says,
“Oh so you’ve won again have you? Well, I’ll win next time you know? I will. I always win at cards.”
I win again.
I don’t consider this any particular triumph, I sold my soul to win cards as a child, and I now consider it only right that I win. If I ever start to lose then I can rejoice at the thought that my soul maybe growing back and I have nothing to fear from death. Either way I’m happy.
But then he pulls a trick. He gets up, walks once around his stool and sits down again. He has a smug look on his tufty-bearded face, his red apple-cheeks are glowing.
“What was that?” I ask.
“Magic. You’ll see, I’ll start winning now.”
I flick the ash from my roll up, made with pipe tobacco and a toilet roll wrapper held together with spit, through the crack in the floor.
“Surely if that’s true then it’s cheating,” I say.
“Because I believe that magic can only be used for good,” he says.
“But cards is a game of skill and luck, if you use magic then that is cheating.”
I know at this point that I’m a hypocrite, but he doesn’t know that.
“Actually, it’s not magic” he backtracks “I’m just messing with your head.”
“But that’s even worse, messing with my head in order to win at cards.”
“Well, it is magic after all and now we’ll see who starts winning,” he says, his eyes a-twinkling, milk drops glistening in his tufty beard. I pick at the blisters on my hands and pretend not to care.
And then the bastard starts winning. One game after another, and it turns out I’m wrong, I do care.
“Hee hee hee,” he says gleefully with a loud fart, “you didn’t believe it, but now you see, eh?”
“But if it works, it’s only because you are foolish enough to believe it, not because it is real magic,” I say sulkily. I flick my cigarette again, half of the tobacco falls out of the paper and through the gap in the floor. There is a frenzy of squealing as the pigs beneath our feet fight to eat it.
“But you wait, soon you’ll be doing this too,” he says.
“No, I won’t,” I say.
“Yes you will, if you get that desperate.”
“What could make me so desperate?”
“If you lose the next three games.”
“And what could make me care so much about a card game that I try using a magic that I don’t believe in, in order to win?” I say, feigning loftiness.
“Hee hee, you’ll see.”
I can’t bear to look at his foolish grinning face another moment, so I wander out to the outhouse to keep my calm. The cicadas are singing up a storm, a thousand thousand stars litter the sky, and beneath them, a thousand thousand glow bugs flash on and off like a broken reflection. The outhouse hole is glistening with maggots, so I piss under the tree that is thought to be a cure for cancer. A storm is flashing over to the east, thick clouds are creeping through the mountains. Over to the west is the shadow of the forest, a lush dense twist of foliage, each tree struggling to stay upright under the weight of moss and orchids, their insides stolen by woodpeckers and ants. I walk back to the house but I’m not ready to rejoin the game, so I sit on the porch watching the moon overload on light, letting my attention drift wherever it chooses. There’s a smell in the rainforest that gets under your skin, like wood smoke; like fresh leaves and mud. One by one, each buzzing voice of discontent and paranoia drops away from my head. The clouds drift lower down the mountain, like ghosts. Lightening silently empties the sky of stars for a moment. Bats swoop, zancudos nip at my ankles. And then a loud hippy voice twangs behind me,
“I’ve always had a real mystical connection to the moon.”
I turn to see him, the tufty, fake-magic-spinning gimp, grinning up at the sky.
I fold up my serenity. Pull my cloak of bitterness and irritation around my twisted features and skulk back into the house to sweep the roaches aside and win that fucking card game.