On Taking Wives (Flash Fiction)

“Ah shit, man,” Bob said. He closed the cooler lid, and it made a plastic squawk. “We’re almost out of beer.”

Brian shrugged. “We can always get more.” He was giving his cards an intense stare and only halfway paying attention.

“No, dude, you don’t stop in the middle of a card game to go on a beer run. It breaks the flow.” Bob looked at the other faces surrounding the table in search of support. The returning glances were noncommittal at best.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ll finish this hand and take a break. Get some beer. Get some snacks. I could use something to eat anyway.” Brian put his cards face down and nodded in agreement with himself.

“I thought we were getting pizza,” Bob said.

Brian made a face and cracked a smile at the rest of the group. “Dude, you sound like my wife. I came here to play cards, not get nagged.”

Snickers and smiles bloomed around the table. Bob shook his head and turned the river. It was the four of clubs, and the three dollar pot was claimed by a pair of jacks. “Such bullshit,” muttered Bob.

“Now now, don’t get emotional, honey,” Brian said with a smirk. He made a neat stack with his newly collected chips. “Don’t go taking your cramps out on us.” More snickers floated around the edge of the table.

“Dude, lay the fuck off,” said Bob. He dealt the next hand of cards quickly, and the players were forced to catch them before they flew off the edge of the table. “You know Catherine and I are going through some bullshit right now. You’re supposed to be my support, not take cheap shots.”

Brian scooped up his cards, tried not to show that he had just scored pocket aces, and swallowed his pride. “You’re right,” he said with a subtle nod. Bob finished the deal and gave him a doubting glare. “No, seriously,” Brian said. “I shouldn’t be taking cheap shots. Lord knows me and Suze ain’t doing so hot either. We gotta back each other up.”

A slow silence held the room.

“Do you ever think the whole thing is just a con?” asked Brian. A quick “yep” popped up from his right, but he couldn’t tell who said it. Brian laughed. “No, seriously. We’re all married. We’ve got the whole jobs, wives, kids thing going on. Is this whole marriage thing just a sham?”

“I looked it up once,” said Bob, feeling very confident about his pair of eights. “There’s like only a dozen animals on the planet that mate for life. Everything else just makes more babies and moves on.”

“Really?” said Brian.

“Yeah,” said Bob with a voice of frustration. “Most of them are birds.”

“Birds of a feather and all that,” came that same voice from the right. Brian missed who it was again. And why can’t I ever remember that guy’s name? he wondered.

“Well then?” Brian asked. “Why the hell did we get married?”

The slow silence crept back into the room. Bob laid down the first three cards and felt his confidence in his paired eights wane. There was a light knock at the door. It opened, and Catherine stuck her head in, greeting the room with a modest smile.

“Hey, babe,” Bob said.

“Hey. Hey guys,” she said with a quick wave. “Bob, I just wanted to let you know that I’m gonna take the kids over the my sister’s and let ’em swim. That way y’all can have the house to yourself and enjoy your game in peace.”

“Oh, okay. Cool,” Bob said.

“I bought more beer at the store, too. I put it in the fridge. It’s a 24-pack, so hopefully it’s enough. And I bought some chips and pretzels and some chicken in case you guys wanna barbecue later.”

“Wow,” Bob said. “Thanks, babe.”

“Sure. Okay then. Cya.” She gave the room a flash of a smile and a wave and closed the door.

That slow silence flowed into the room once more. The players around the table only looked at their cards, and Bob soon folded on his eights.

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