Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1493
There are sounds everywhere around him, and Keith works hard to hear each of them. The sound of chips being played and stacked and counted, like a cacophony of insect friction. He has to break his own habit of not listening so he can hear. The clink of chips, the “toss and scatter,” dealers and players, a persistent ringing that no one else hears.
Here, at the poker table, he fits in like nowhere else. In his off hours he chats with the dealers and almost becomes one of them. Sometimes, in the middle of a game, he gets the urge to walk out of the room and get on a plane, pull down the shade, and fall asleep. By the time a fresh deck of cards appears, however, he is again ready to play.
There is no fitness center in the hotel, but he finds one nearby and visits regularly. No one seems to use the rowing machine, and Keith does not particularly like it, either; however, he often feels the need to pull and strain until he is exhausted. He sets the resistance level high. He works hard and then showers in the mildewed locker rooms. He stays away for a while and then returns, setting the resistance level even higher.
One day Keith rents a car and drives into the desert. When he returns home in the evening, he looks down on the “feverish sprawl of light” and finds it hard to believe he is part of it, in the middle of it. That is because he lives inside rooms. He just now realizes how “strange a life” he is living—but only from out here. From the inside, everything feels perfectly normal to him. In fact, to him nothing seems more normal.
Right now he is avoiding Terry Cheng. He does not want to talk to him, listen to him, look at him, or watch his cigarette burn to nothing in front of him. He does not want to talk to the reinvented Terry Cheng, the man who converses easily three years after the planes.
Keith used to think about Florence Givens every day; he still does, most days, though he has never considered going back to her, crossing the park to spend time in her apartment. He thinks about her as he does a childhood home—nostalgic, thinking it would be nice to visit but knowing it is something he will never do. He never told Lianne about his visits to Florence, those four or five encounters over several weeks.
In the end is who he is that counts, not luck or skill. It is strength of mind, mental skill, and something more—the narrowness of need or “how a man’s character shapes his sight”—that make him win. He wins, but not so much that he becomes someone else. The money matters but not as much as the chips do. He plays for the chips, the discs, the colors, the stacking. It is a “dance of hand and eye,” and that is who he is.
One night Keith is in his room doing the old exercises, flexing and bending to rehabilitate his wrist. It is after midnight and room service is closed for the night. “He is not lost or bored or crazy.” There are no days or times except for the tournament schedule. Hands are played, roulette wheels are clicking in the aisles, and women in miniskirts are serving drinks. As a point of practicality, he is not making enough money to justify this life; however, there is no such need. Perhaps there should have been, but there is not; and that is the point. He folds six hands and then goes all in, hoping to make all the losers bleed. These are
the days after and now the years, a thousand heaving dreams, the trapped man, the fixed limbs, the dream of paralysis, the gasping man, the dream of asphyxiation, the dream of helplessness.
A fresh deck arrives at the tabletop. “Fortune favors the brave,” he thinks, regretting that he does not know the original Latin adage. He has always lacked “that edge of unexpected learning.”
When Lianne was a girl, her father had let her add a twist of lemon to his drink, giving her detailed and...
(The entire section contains 1493 words.)
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