Contessa, Jo Ann, and I had been seated at the dining room table. Contessa had nudged a gunmetal grey box of flashcards to her right, away from me. Looming, though. A torture device hanging about in the wings. She and Jo Ann exchanged knowing looks. I speculated. They want to know how malleable I am. How much I remember that may have to be purged. Whether to treat me as a newborn human or a rudimentary, Fortran-era programmable robot.
I’d overheard Jo Ann gassing with one of her occasional bridge buddies on the phone, saying that she planned to groom me to play bridge with her. “You’re lucky,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “I can’t get my husband to play with me. I’ve tried for years. He says he doesn’t want to disappoint me. That there’d be too much for him to catch up on. I told him not to worry about that. As long as we have fun. That’s the main thing, I told him. And I don’t care, really. As long as I can have him do all the driving. Especially at night.”
“Absolutely,” said Jo Ann, as the eavesdropping ham in me mimed putting on a chauffeur’s cap and opening the rear door of a limo. She pooh-poohed the gesture with rapid, downward flaps of her left hand and replied to her friend, “And I’d love that, too, naturally. But the fellow really does have potential. We’re going to let him splash around in the kiddie pool first, though, before we toss him into the deep end.”
The acme of nurturing motherhood. Throw the infant into the abyss. Now here she was with Professor Contessa, going back and forth over what they called ‘the entry point.’
“Standard American?” asked Contessa.
“I kind of like the idea of Two-Over-One,” Jo Ann replied. “We play it. Why not him? It ties into so many other conventions. Jacoby Two-Notrump, Splinter Bids, Fourth Suit Forcing.”
“That’s a lot to take in.”
“Yeah, true. But he’s good at math and logic. Used to be, anyway.”
It was as if I – “the fellow” – hadn’t been sitting right there at the end of the table, flanked by the two of them. They were playing a game of badminton, and I was the hapless, ill-fated shuttlecock. “Hey, you two,” I objected gamely, “I’m not deaf, you know.”
Good think I spoke up, too. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of basking in the glow of their stereophonic patronizing smiles.
“Just hang in there, Honey. We’ll let you know when it’s your turn to talk.” I think it was Jo Ann who said it. At that point, I couldn’t tell. They’d begun to merge into Drusilla, the predatory vixen and undead girlfriend of antihero Spike in the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I absolutely had to try to lighten things up. “Jo Ann says that duplicate bridge is the Fountain of Youth. Travel, meet new people, exercise the mental muscle, win prizes – the whole nine yards.” I couldn’t believe it when I found myself parroting that bilge. It was a Hail Mary gambit for empathy and mercy. Pathetic. And no response from either of them. They hadn’t greenlighted me to open my yap.
I pressed on, trying to establish some sort of rapport with the mind-melders. “She was telling me about how you all won big time when you competed in your first tournament together down at Virginia Beach.”
That got them off track for a spell, thankfully. They reminisced gleefully about their signature achievement of yore, coming in second in both parts of a two-session ‘gold rush’ and snagging an overall first place finish for a dazzling haul of more than twelve auric masterpoints. Judging from their hearty, self-congratulatory chortling and vigorous, albeit clumsily executed cross-table high fives, that result had to have been a very big deal, especially for partnership neonates.
I tried to extend the digression by asking about “that big bridge and tunnel Jo Ann was telling me about” – a breathtakingly long stretch of Route 13 over and under open water, spanning the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, running south from the southern tip of Maryland’s eastern shore. But they wouldn’t bite. There were matters to attend to. Matters of State. The State of Gordon.
Alas, all good diversion tactics do come to an end. I must have muttered something to that effect out loud, because Jo Ann shot me a what? in a mildly reproachful tone. She misses nothing. She’s the human sleuth equivalent of a canine über-crossbreed, with the ears of schnauzer and the nose of a basset hound. Figuratively, that is.
She and Contessa returned to playing badminton. They finally agreed on Two-Over-One. (Although I did come, rather quickly in the scheme of things, to appreciate the power and beauty of that game-forcing response convention, it will always be Baby-Over-Cliff to me.)
Contessa tapped the top of the box of flash cards and began to lift the lid. The electrodes adhesively attached to my temples and nipples started to vibrate, ominously. Okay, I tend to dramatize. I wasn’t hooked up. Rendition was all in my head, but I did brace myself. And then, miraculously, a reprieve.
“Let’s save these for later,” Contessa declared, addressing Jo Ann. (I said zilch; shuttlecocks have no voice and only one ball.) “Let’s cover one-level suit bids and one notrump. That’s probably going to be enough for one day. What do you think? Gordon?”
It was irrelevant what I thought. “Bring it on!” I exclaimed, seeking to redeem my masculinity. “Bring it on.”
To Be Continued