It’s 9pm now and still completely light out, dinner is over, and I wring the dishcloth one final time. The hot water heater is on its last sparks and now offers either lukewarm water or scalding hot lava. The plumber comes later this week. I pour myself a cup of raspberry tea. We’ve decided to play a hand or two with our 20-year-old cards.
I’m not a card shark, but I can shuffle. I can make a bridge with the cards after I shuffle, and I’m almost always the dealer. Our two decks of red Bicycle cards are so old they practically shuffle themselves.
We’re usually too exhausted to play cards in the summer, but this year His Majesty is here before his last year of college and we have been enjoying a game together more nights than not. The game is Shanghai, a series of gin rummy games of sets and runs that my grandparents played and I’ve played my entire life. His Majesty has also played his entire life — 22 years — and he knows all the idiosyncratic home-grown rules, but he can’t shuffle worth a dern. He has huge hands. A basketball and guitar playing dream come true, the Bearded One has long said.
But they’re awkward with a deck of cards. He’s on the couch mindlessly practicing now. Shuffling’s one of those things you just have to do a million times ’til you can do it in your sleep.
I stroll into the living room and observe for a brief moment or two. His Majesty has been staining deck joists all week, and his fingernails show it. During last night’s game, he told us about his recent dreams of needing to finish staining huge piles of lumber.
“What is the problem here?” I ponder out loud, as the cards in his large hands stick together and collapse.
“You’re watching,” says His Majesty, and grins.
“Let’s play,” I say.
The Bearded One is already at the kitchen table, working on jam labels. Our oldest daughter is getting married on August 24 and I am making 200 jars of jam for guest gifts. The labels are the Bearded One’s job.
His other wedding job is creating the cedar arch the happy couple will be married under, including the logistics of transport to and assembly in Seattle.
His Majesty places the cards in the middle of the round table and sits down in the rocker to my right, his usual seat. I’m between two tired guys.
The Bearded One moves the label project onto the empty fourth chair and sips his Coke. A jar of 24 wishbones is the only thing left on the table, our tribute to last year’s meat birds.
This year’s 60 Cornish Rock broiler chicks will be born tomorrow down in Oregon, and shipped to us two days later, on Thursday. The brooder is ready, as is the entire meat bird pen.
The Bearded One is worn out, but is rousing himself for the sake of competition.
“Ninety nine percent of good shuffling,” I say, splitting the double deck, “is setting them up right. It’s all positioning.” I begin the shuffle and thank goodness, it works, each of the 104 cards falling into place.
“Make the bridge, make the bridge,” chants the Bearded One, and I oblige, cupping my hands so the arched cards fall down over each other into a neat stack. The men applaud.
“What’s the game?” asks His Majesty.
“Three sets,” says the Bearded One, and I groan. I hate three sets and the Bearded One knows it. This is blatant flirting.
“Two runs,” says His Majesty, as he always says.
“Two sets and a run,” I say. The men agree, as they must, and that’s that. I deal 10 cards to each of us, snapping each card into place, and then give the Bearded One an additional card. “And the Bearded One gets the discard,” I say, as we each fan out our cards.
Kissing jokers is an idiosyncratic rule descended from my grandfather, one of our many crazy rules, and I kiss the single joker I’m dealt. The poor, joker-less Bearded One growls. Literally.
Then His Majesty, who has always been lucky, smiles and kisses his wild card, too. He’s got a good hand. No poker face at all. He’ll be shuffling in no time.