Teran’s hand skitters across the table, each finger like the feeler of a jungle insect, delivering the paisley red cards with swift, flicks of his thumb and index. Adeline remembers how those long fingers, now engorged with power like a tick with blood, used to encase her face, while Teran’s words built a home full of made-from-scratch cookies, choruses of laughter, and snowflake kisses.
“The game’s called Manotazo,” Teran says and slides another round of cards to the three men at the table; Baldie sits at his left, Specs on his right, and Slick straight across. Adeline sets a fresh Miller beside each man, taking away the empty cans. In the three years she’s waited on them while they played cards at her house every Thursday, she’s never earned an introduction.
Baldie reaches for the first card, already bending the corner up toward his slick head as he inches it across the table. Teran’s hand delivers the next card and pounces on top of Baldie’s hand, pinning the card’s corner between his thumb and the table. “The first time you see ‘em is when they’re flipped.” With baleful eyes and knobbed joints straining high above his paling fingertips, Teran presses Baldie’s hand flat to the table. The black hairs above his knuckles stand erect like the steel bristles on their grill brush. “Understood?”
Baldie nods and jerks his hand to his body, and Adeline watches as he massages his palm under the table. She can’t actually see him rubbing the pain out, but the attentive and stiff way Baldie holds his upper body, and the angle at which his forearms tense and release, recalls similar postures to Adeline’s mind. Teran eases back into dealing the cards until the red web has been organized to where each man has an even stack at his disposal.
“Wait, you said Mano—Whato?” Slick passes another empty can to Adeline, letting his fingers overlap hers. She glances toward Teran, but Slick might as well have been grabbing a fork. “Ain’t never heard of it. You just make that up?”
“Manotazo.” Teran laughs, takes another swig of his beer, and rattles the last of the liquid like a bell. “It’s Spanish.” Never glancing her way, Teran’s grip around the can tightens. The tendons push through the bulbous sack of flesh covering his hand, and his green veins rise like rivers through a desert. Starting with his pinky finger and moving upward, he crushes the can, one finger at a time, and then tilting the flattened aluminum toward his puckered lips, Teran sucks down the last drop of beer. Adeline slips to the area by his side. Unable to let the remains of the can touch the table, she reaches for it, slicing her palm on one of the squashed corners. As if he can smell the blood, Teran gives the can a tiny thrust, deepening the wound.
“Your field boys teach it?” Slick knocks on the table in front of Teran, causing his focus to return to the game at hand and remove his piercing fang from Adeline. “Sounds like you should be paying ‘em a little less if they’ve got time to teach you cards instead of pitchin’ melons.”
“Maybe you should focus a little more on the card game instead of how I handle my employees. God knows we get out more melons than your crew does, every damn year.”
“Yeah,” Specs says and glances up from his cards, his dark rimmed glasses nearing the end of his nose and magnifying the freckles on his cheeks. “Can’t we play something in English? Like good old Texas Hold’em. That’s a real game.”
“I’m trying to add a little culture to your life.”
As she moves into the kitchen, cradling her hand so as not to get the blood on Teran’s floor, Adeline can’t help thinking with Teran the only kind of “culture” he could have to offer would be something found in a petri dish.
“The object is to get rid of all of your cards—lay ‘em all on the table—and not have to pick any up for three rounds straight.”
“Well, how’re we going to do that when we can’t look at ‘em?” Baldie asks. Adeline can tell it’s him, by the soft clicking of his tongue that follows his question. Baldie’s method of swallowing makes it look like the biggest chore possible, and when he finally manages to get the spit down, it’s as if his tongue sighs in relief. Adeline thinks his eyes bulge out similar to an amphibian when he does it.
“I’s getting there.” As she pours the hydrogen peroxide on her hand, Adeline can picture the face Teran made toward Baldie. “When it’s your turn, you flip the card and say the next number. The first person starts by saying one, you see an Ace is one, and we go all the way up to ten, which can be a ten, jack, king, or queen. All the other cards are obviously the number on the card.”
Adeline wraps a thin black cloth around the palm of her hand.
“Well,” Specs starts, “what happens if I say two, but flip a queen?”
“Nothing,” Teran says. “Well, I mean, the next person just flips his card and says three.”
“So,” Baldie says and clicks. “What happens if I say two and flip a two?”
“There’s that damn word again.” Adeline knows that voice as Slick’s. Not only because of the smooth, deep rumble of his words, but also because he’s the only one allowed to smart-off to Teran.
“We all go for the cards in the middle of the table. You don’t want to be the hand on top because it means you’re the last to respond, and you have to take all of the cards.”
Baldie clears his throat, Adeline thinks he is doing it to cover up Slick’s response, and then asks, “And when the number count gets to ten and no one’s slapped—”
“We start the count over.” Teran sighs and then says, “And we start the count over if someone slaps, too.”
Adeline takes a deep breath, tightens the knot on her towel, walks back into the dining area, and sits in the corner where she can see when Teran needs her. Slick winks at her. She looks down at the tear on the kitchen chair cushion. She needs to fix it before Teran sees it.
The game starts; each player flipping a card and saying a number in sequential order, with the occasional pounding of hands and curse words flying. Adeline gets up and down, serving beers and removing trash, bringing in extra chips, and occasionally emptying the ash tray. Each time she stands next to Slick, some part of his body brushes against her, causing untended areas to warm, tighten, or dampen. She finds herself switching his beers out long before the other’s emptied.
Halfway through a hand, Slick stands and says, “I’ve got to take a shit.” He looks directly at Adeline, as he brushes his hand against her breast. “Adie, can you show me where the bathroom is?”
“NO way.” Teran slams his hand down in the middle of the table, causing one of the empty cans Adeline missed to tip over. The aluminum pings as it first hits the table and continues to vibrate like a freshly stuck pitch fork.
Adeline glances at Slick through the corner of her eye. He’s been shitting in Teran’s house for three years. There’s no way he doesn’t know where the toilet is, which Adeline thinks is something Teran is about to vocalize.
“Man,” Teran says, “if the turtle ain’t poking out, you can finish the game.”
“Really?” Adeline mutters.
“What’d you say?” Teran asks, for the first time all night turning to face her.
“She said, really she could just step in and cover my spot.” Slick says, and with his back to Teran, he winks, grabs her injured hand and softly squeezes, pushing the pointed edge of her diamond wedding ring into the side of her finger. She can barely feel the cut on her palm because of the tiny rock piercing her middle finger. “You know, while I dropped the kids off at the pool.”
Adeline nods and stares down at the cloth covering the palm of her left hand. It’s already covering the tiny symbol of her marriage to Teran. She tugs on the cloth and inches it up a little higher, and then turning the ring upside down, she sits in Slick’s warm chair.
“Ah, just let her Teran.” Slick starts down the hallway and hollers back, “Either that or wait an hour until I get back, so I can school you again.”
The index finger of Teran’s right hand twitches; a spastic habit he’s picked since they’ve been married and a sign that Adeline should go in the other direction. It reminds her of the movement a spider makes before curling up to die.
“Fine,” Teran says, his entire arm jerking in a bigger spasm. “Just finish this hand for him. I’ve only got two slaps left ‘fore I’m done anyhow.”
The first round goes by without Adeline having to flip a card. Baldie says three and flips a heart with a matching number. Teran’s hand pounces to the middle first and Baldie immediately covers it with his own. Since Adeline responded last, she picks up all the cards. She starts the next with a five of spades as she says one. Specs throws down a three of hearts, Teran-an eight of spades, Baldie- a queen of hearts, Adeline- a ten of diamonds, and Specs- a card with six tiny little hearts. Adeline sees her chance, and she adjusts her ring one last time.
Specs lifts his hand slightly for a quick re-slap, Baldie follows, and Teran tops the pile, giving her time for a windup and all of her strength to go straight down.