Camp Harbert Pines

By Harlyn Aizley
© The Sierra Nevada College Review, 1999.

Poker is the size of a matchbox or a really small carton of Reds. He's like the littlest of all of us here this Summer at camp tie-your-own-damn-knot, and nobody's interested in anything he has to say, and he's got a lot to say, let me tell you.

Poker's sent here every year by his mother who's some big heiress to a fortune of booze. Her father - and it's even her step-father - owns the biggest liquor store in all of Fayetteville. So Poker's rich, or at least one day he'll be rolling in dough, because his grandmother's going to get it all from her second husband, Poker's step-grandfather, and she's definitely leaving it to Poker's mother because that's her only kid, and Poker himself doesn't have any brothers or sisters, so one day he's going to be rich. But that doesn't matter now at twelve, because nobody likes Poker at all, at least nobody at Camp Harbert Pines fifty miles north of Fayetteville on the great lake Moaney, which isn't one of the great lakes really, but is huge just the same.

Poker doesn't have any friends because he can't stop talking and he's puny as a dime, which is death when you're a boy. It's like he talks to distract you from sizing him up and down and thinking maybe he's some kind of freak. When, actually, it's the talking itself that makes you want to be rid of him, not the fact that he's small like a red potato.

I first met Poker early one morning when we both were walking alone by the lake. He was talking to himself a mile a minute, and then to me with like no transition at all, so that after about a half a mile of it I was able to slip away, with him still going on just like nothing had happened. The next morning it happened again. I crawl out of my bunk before the loudspeaker blares reveille and take my constitutional down by the lake, which is really just an excuse to be alone - something that is virtually impossible at any other hour of the day except at dawn, because that is when everyone else is sleeping - and it turns out Poker, too, thinks this is his time. So, there he is again rolling out a carpet of conversation which I ride for a while and then jump off without having to say a word. The next morning it happens again, and then again, until he's like some kind of ritual meditation, a comforting drone that makes me feel even more alone than I did before. And I like it. So, Poker and I become this weird couple that meets every day at dawn, he talks and I make like I'm listening though I'm really not, and then we go our separate ways, or at least I go mine. Later in the day I might see him down in the lodge by the pool tables, or in the mess hall, but I pretend I've never seen him before because of that talking - which just does not work at any other time of day - not, like I said, because of his size.

Then one morning while we're walking the lake, out of the blue, Poker asks me my name. It comes in the middle of everything and I hardly hear it, like the question's coming at me from some place far away like in a dream or a movie, only it's real and live and it's coming from Poker, the tiny kid with the endless talk. And after he asks it he even pauses, like he's waiting for an answer.

"What?" I say because it's early and I'm not sure what the heck's going on.

"What's your name?"

Poker stops dead in his tracks, so I stop too, and all of a sudden we're no longer walking but just standing there on this trail in the woods with the lake peeking in, and the sun coming up, and because I'm so surprised and kind of asleep, I answer him.


"Danny what?"

"Danny Price."

And then Poker goes back to his talking, on and on like I'm not even there. So I drift back to sleep in my head, or back to wherever it was that I lived before the talking stopped. But it weirded me out, and the next morning I didn't go to the lake. I woke up before everyone, like I usually do, and went to the showers and turned on the water and took off my clothes and just stood there like I was caught in the rain, or had stumbled upon a waterfall deep in the woods. When I heard the first kid of the morning push his way in, I gathered my stuff and left. No big deal. Until lunch.

At lunch that day Poker's looking for me. He's got a tray of food, and even though he's supposed to eat with his bunk, he's scanning the room like a cop, and his lips are moving like he's already having the conversation he's looking to start. I think it's because of him having asked me my name the other day that I kind of know way down inside that he's looking for me, which is so not cool. I bury my head in my food and start shoveling it in so no one will get suspicious and wonder why I'm hanging low in my plate, so they'll think I'm starving instead of homesick, which also is just not very cool. But Poker finds me anyway, and stops in his tracks again like he did the day before at the lake, and in front of all the other guys says, "Danny Price, where were you this morning?"

Well, fuck me, if you know what I mean, and I pretend I have no idea what he's talking about.

"You weren't at the lake," Poker says, staring at me like I owe him something; like he deserves some kind of explanation or some kind of compensation for me having gone to the showers instead of to the lake, which is my business, after all, not his. He's looking at me like we've got a thing between us aside from the fact that we each like to get up early and go for a walk. And that's when I hear the first, "Fag" being whispered from one of the tables.

Soon the whole mess hall is saying things like, "Danny's getting poked at the lake," and, "Yo, Poker! So that's how you got your name." The head counselor tries to shut them up but, of course, he can't because it's like a wild fire or something spreading across the room. That's when I get my idea. That's when I come up with a plan to out freak them, to regain my position of power, as they say. It's life or death, and despite all of our walks alone together, or maybe because of them, I'm getting more and more pissed off. So, I put down my fork and stand up real cool and tall on my tiptoes, and say, "Come here, baby," to Poker. And incredibly enough he follows my instructions, drags his tiny butt and his huge lunch tray across the room and directly my way.

"Sit down," I say real sweet, and point to the seat across from me. Poker sits down. His eyes are wide like he's seen a ghost, but he's kind of smiling, too, and I realize it's the same for me, that as much as I detest him, I have come to trust him and his endless stupid drone. And that, unfortunately , pisses me off even more, informs me that I will have no problem whatsoever going ahead with my plan.

The guys are still hooting and hollering, "Poker, are you going to give it to Danny with those French Fries?" But it's like Poker doesn't even hear them, like he truly believes me and him are in our own separate universe, and not that I have my ears trained on a whole other world. I lean forward, so close I can smell his greasy French Fry breath as he goes on and on, "I was looking for you all morning, Danny Price. Usually you're always there at the lake."

That's when I kiss him, long and hard, right on the mouth. And the whole cafeteria gets real quiet. Even Poker himself, for the first time in his life, doesn't know what to say. Then his scared look kind of takes over his happy look, and he starts to cry, slow at first, his eyes watering and filling up, before actual tears start falling and his shoulders are up to his ears because he's heaving, slightly like a girl, and then suddenly ferocious like there's no tomorrow.

I just stand there not sure of what's going to happen next, when first one boy and then another, and another, and then the whole mess hall, starts laughing and howling and kind of chanting, "Danny! Danny!" And Poker's sobbing and now I know I'm a hero because the plan worked.

The next morning at 5:00 I go looking for Poker and his crazy talking down at the lake, maybe so I can apologize, or maybe so I can yell at him, or maybe so I can kiss him again, but he's nowhere to be found and at lunch this boy from his bunk named Steven says, "Poker went home last night."

"He did?"

"Yeah. His mother and this old guy in a Beemer came and got him after everyone went to bed. You really showed him, Danny," he says to me.

"Yeah," I say, "I really did."





© 2003 Harlyn Aizley