© 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
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
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."
"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."